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On Watch in Washington November 21, 2012

On Watch in Washington November 21, 2012 PDF Version

BOTH PARTIES’ TAX PLANS WOULD ADD TO DEFICIT

The “fiscal cliff” debate in Washington has been cast as a choice between runaway Democratic spending and draconian Republican cuts, but no matter who wins the argument, both parties’ tax plans add to the deficit — by a minimum of $4.3 trillion through 2022, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans, who want to extend almost all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts beyond their Jan. 1 expiration date and want to continue to delay the full alternative minimum tax, would deepen the deficit by $250 billion next year and $5.3 trillion over a decade, according to the CBO.

Democrats support delaying the full alternative minimum tax and want to extend all but the highest-income tax rates, which the CBO says would deepen deficits by $205 billion next year and $4.3 trillion over the same period.

“Everybody has forgotten that it is not just the tax cuts for the upper-income people; it is the entire package of Bush tax cuts that were unaffordable,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan deficit watchdog.

Mr. Bixby said the tax cuts should be extended only if Congress comes up with a broad deficit-reduction plan with the kinds of savings and new revenues that would make a real dent in the deficit.

Others were more blunt.

“It is time to take the plunge — let all the Bush tax cuts expire,” said David Stockman, who was a budget director for President Reagan. “They were unaffordable in 2001 and 2003, and now with $16 trillion of national debt and counting, they are a fiscal abomination.”

Lawmakers are trying to strike a deal by Jan. 1, when the 2001 income tax rate cuts expire and the 2003 cuts to dividends and capital-gains taxes also expire. On Jan. 2, $110 billion in automatic spending cuts, known as “sequesters,” take effect under the terms of last year’s bipartisan debt deal.

Both Republicans and Democrats have called for eliminating some tax loopholes and deductions, which could reduce CBO’s deficit projections. But so far, neither side has put forth a specific concrete plan to do so.

When the tax cuts were passed, Republicans controlled the Senate and House and did not offset the tax reductions with spending cuts. Because the tax cuts were passed without a supermajority in the Senate, they were scheduled to expire in 2010.

But with the economy slumping, President Obama and congressional Republicans struck a deal in late 2010 to extend most of the cuts for another two years.

The deal was part of a broader package that also extended unemployment benefits for 13 months, set the tax rate at 35 percent for estates valued at more than $5 million and included a one-year payroll tax reduction, with the employee contribution to financing Social Security dropping from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

It also included a two-year “patch” on the alternative minimum tax and a number of other tax-reducing measures, known in Beltway-speak as “tax extenders.” Once again, the revenue reductions were not offset by spending cuts or tax increases, instead lumping billions of more dollars onto the nation’s credit card.

Each of those items meant new spending or lost revenue as a result of lower taxes — and none of it was offset with spending cuts.

Mr. Obama and Republican leaders also did not fully pay for a deal they hashed out late last year that kept the 2 percentage point payroll tax cut on the books, extended unemployment benefits again, and prevented doctors’ Medicare reimbursement rates from being cut. Earlier this year, Congress once again extended the reduction in the payroll tax — adding another $90 billion to the deficit. (Contributor: By Seth McLaughlin for the Washington Times)

Pray for a clear understanding of the national debt and its ramifications in resolving the distribution of tax dollars in this next fiscal year’s budget planning. Pray that wisdom and sound counsel will prevail in the congressional budget hearings to come. Pray that Senate and House leaders will come to a beneficial understanding of how to best tackle this most important issue.

“And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.” (Luke 16:1)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

 

ISRAEL, GAZA, AND MISSILES

Intercessors for America participated in a conference call on Tuesday along with many other organizations that are standing with Israel in her time of need in prayer. Noam Katz, Minister for Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel updated Christian leadership throughout the United States on the ongoing military operation in Gaza, and expressed his appreciation for the steadfast friendship of the American Christian Community.

Minister Katz stated that Israel hopes a diplomatic effort will yield a solution that would establish a long term quiet in the south. If the firing continues and diplomatic efforts do not yield, we will take any measure necessary, including a ground operation. IDF ground forces are ready for deployment around the Gaza Strip, to carry on the primary mission to protect Israeli people and cities.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel has hit more than 1,400 targets in Gaza, targeting Hamas terrorist operatives and infrastructure. Israel has almost completely destroyed the long range missile capabilities of Hamas, in particular, Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets and launchers. Hamas’ medium-range rocket capabilities and its command and control abilities (senior leadership and infrastructure) have also been significantly damaged during the operation.

Hamas terrorists deliberately and indiscriminately target Israeli civilians, while hiding behind their civilians; this is a double war crime. They fire rockets from densely populated civilian areas in Gaza, including mosques and hospitals.

Israel operates with the utmost care and caution to protect the lives of those in Gaza who are uninvolved. IDF operations are done in the most precise manner possible to limit civilian casualties. Yesterday, the IDF dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip, warning civilians to stay away from Hamas, as well as warning others to evacuate specific neighborhoods. These leaflets follow Israel’s ongoing effort via text messages, phone calls and leaflets telling Gazans to move away from Hamas terrorists and infrastructure.

We continue our humanitarian efforts including the import of medicine, food and other goods to the Gaza Strip. Today, 120 trucks of goods were ready to enter Gaza from Israel, however, only 24 trucks made it through as Hamas rockets fired in the vicinity forced the crossing to close.

Israel abides by international law and its own high moral code of conduct. We deeply regret the loss of life of uninvolved civilians.

We want to express our deep appreciation to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, the Administration and Congress for their statements supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.  We are especially appreciative for the American support of the Iron Dome missile defense system. Since November 14, Iron Dome intercepted 389 rockets aimed at Israeli population centers, including Tel Aviv, saving countless lives.

We appreciate expressions of support from friends of Israel, and hope that show of solidarity will continue in writing and in all possible public forums. The people of Israel deeply appreciate the display of solidarity and support of Israel’s defensive action to protect its people.

Facts & Stats: Israel Under Fire

Attacks on Israeli towns and communities continue as you read this message

•         1200 rockets have been fired at Israel since November 14.

•          Average of 8 per hour, or one every 8 minutes

•         100 rockets fired towards Israel from Gaza, landed in Gaza risking civilian life

•         2000+ rockets have been fired at Israel in 2012.

•         3200+ rockets have been fired at Israel since 2009.

•         13000+ rockets have been fired at Israel in last 12 years.

•         Iron Dome has intercepted 390 rockets headed toward civilian areas, including Tel Aviv.

•         3.5 million Israelis are under the threat of rocket fire.

•         Hamas rules the Gaza strip and is responsible for all that occurs in Gaza and all that is launched from there.

•         Hamas, supported by Iran, has wielded authority over the Gaza Strip since 2007.

IDF Targets

More than 1400 targets in Gaza were hit by the IDF, including rocket launching sites, storage facilities and terrorist infrastructure.

Israeli Casualties

5 Israelis killed – Mira Scharf, Itzik Amsalem, Aharon Smadja, Yosef Fartukh, Alayaan Salem al-Nabari.

Over 200 injured.

Pray for wisdom for the Israeli leaders responding to this HAMAS-led endeavor to inflict damage upon Israel and its citizens. Pray that a peaceful solution will be reached and that Gaza will peacefully give up the missiles that they are using against innocent Israeli citizens. Pray for the protection of every innocent life in the region. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all areas in the Middle East.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.'” (Psalm 122:6)

 

 

DIVERSITY OF RELIGIONS EXPANDS ON THE HILL

The 113th Congress won’t be sworn in until January, but it’s already making history on the religious-diversity front.

Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard scored a first as the first Hindu elected to Congress, while another Hawaii Democrat, Rep. Mazie Hirono, became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate. California Democrat Ami Bera became the only Unitarian Universalist member of Congress after winning his recount against Republican Rep. Daniel E. Lungren.

A “Faith on the Hill” study released Friday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the newly elected Congress may be the most ecumenical in U.S. history. At the same time, the 113th could be seen as the least devout, with 11 members reporting their religion as either “unaffiliated” or “don’t know/refused.”

The results shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Congress tends to track the direction of American society, according to the report.

“This continues a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole,” said the Pew report. “While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations.”

In terms of the head count, the winner was the Catholic Church, whose members picked up five seats, increasing their percentage among lawmakers from 29.2 percent in the 112th Congress to 30.4 percent. Several races now undergoing recounts could also tilt Catholic.

Protestants continued to make up the majority of lawmakers, but their numbers declined from 307 in the previous Congress to 299, for 56.4 percent of the total. Every Protestant denomination listed saw its numbers decline or remain the same with the exception of Baptists, who added six members to jump from 12.7 to 14 percent of the Congress.

The biggest drop-off among the major religions was Judaism. Jewish lawmakers saw their numbers fall from 39 to 32, lowering their percentage from 7.3 to 6 percent of Congress. Most of those losses came as the result of retirements after five Jewish members declined to run for re-election.

Two Jewish Democrats lost their races: Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley, whose Senate bid fell short, and California Rep. Howard L. Berman, who was defeated by fellow Jewish Democrat Brad Sherman after they were mapped into the same district.

The number of lawmakers who declined to list a religious affiliation grew from six to 11, or about 2 percent, a record high for Congress but far lower than the national average.

“Perhaps the greatest disparity … is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion,” said the Pew study. “About one in five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ — a group sometimes collectively called the ‘nones.'”

At the same time, the body’s only avowed atheist, Democratic Rep. Fortney Pete Stark, lost his bid for re-election in California. Some atheist groups initially described Rep.-elect Krysten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, as a “nontheist,” and she was identified in the Pew study as the first lawmaker to publicly describe her religion as “none.”

But her spokesman, Justin Unga, said in a postelection statement to the Religion News Service that she does not identify herself as an atheist.

“Krysten believes the terms nontheist, atheist or nonbeliever are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character,” Mr. Unga said. “She does not identify as any of the above.”

As with the previous Congress, there was a distinct denominational divide between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans made up 69.1 percent of the Protestants, compared with 42.5 percent for Democrats. Twelve of the 15 Mormon lawmakers were Republican.

Catholics tilted toward the Democratic side by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, while Jewish lawmakers were 97 percent Democrat, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor once again listed as the sole Jewish Republican.

All other non-Christian denominations, such as Muslim and Hindu, were made up exclusively of Democrats, as were all lawmakers who declined to specify a religion.

The Pew study used congressional data compiled mainly by CQ Roll Call. (Contributor: By Valerie Richardson for the Washington Times)

Pray that the worship and recognition of strange gods would not gain further footholds in our nation’s congressional leadership. Pray for righteous leadership to prevail in all decisions of government and especially in the coming 113th Congress.

“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6:14)

“Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?” (Jeremiah 16:20)

 

FHA RUNNING OUT OF MONEY

An annual audit set for release Friday projects that the federal agency that insures millions of home loans across the country could face losses of $16.3 billion, a figure that far exceeds earlier estimates and one that raises the specter that the Federal Housing Administration could need taxpayer aid for the first time in its 78-year existence.

In announcing the estimate, FHA officials were quick to point out that the dismal numbers do not mean the agency has a current operating deficit or “insufficient cash” to pay its insurance claims.

Rather, the agency noted that any decision to draw upon taxpayer funds would not come until early next year, when the Obama administration makes that determination in its annual budget. Officials also said an improving housing market and pending changes meant to shore up the agency’s reserve fund could put it on more solid financial footing in the years ahead.

“We take the findings of the independent actuary very seriously,” FHA acting commissioner Carol Galante said in a statement. “We will continue to take aggressive steps to protect FHA’s financial health while ensuring that FHA continues to perform its historic role of providing access to homeownership for underserved communities and supporting the housing market during tough economic times.”

Not everyone is confident about the agency’s health going forward.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told reporters Thursday that the FHA “is running out of money for the first time in its history.”

Bachus said the agency is “burning through” its remaining reserves and soon will need a multibillion-dollar infusion of cash from the Treasury. “They have indicated they will have to come to the American people and ask for money,” he said.

In any case, the findings of the audit underscore how the wave of mortgage delinquencies and defaults — particularly the ones that the agency backed from 2005 to 2008 — have continued to batter the FHA’s bottom line and eroded the financial buffer that it has maintained throughout most of its history.

The law requires that the agency, which has played an outsize role in providing access to loans during the housing crisis, keep more than enough money in reserves to pay for projected losses. But the agency’s reserves have dwindled steadily in recent years.

Already, the government has spent nearly $140 billion bailing out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which along with the FHA back the vast majority of new mortgages in the country. The FHA alone insures more than $1 trillion in loans.

The FHA’s mounting financial troubles have placed increased scrutiny on the agency, which was created in the wake of the Great Depression to help revive the nation’s housing market by providing the sort of insurance that would encourage banks to lend again.

It also has deepened the debate over the agency’s mission and how it should balance its objective of providing credit to first-time and low-income homeowners while keeping itself on solid financial footing.

The FHA has offset its costs in recent years in part by raising its mortgage-insurance premiums. It’s possible that the agency could continue to raise those premiums to bring in more revenue, though some critics say that approach punishes the very borrowers the FHA is tasked with helping.

Officials have long maintained optimism that taxpayer funding wouldn’t be necessary to back the agency, partly because of the FHA’s ability to raise premiums but also because improvements in the housing market could ease pressure on the FHA’s bottom line.

The agency noted Thursday that this year’s audit used more conservative projections for home price appreciation. And the estimate did not include improvements in the housing market that have occurred since June. In addition, the agency said that historically low interest rates, while good for the broader economy, have cost the FHA revenue because borrowers often refinance or pay off their loans depriving the agency of premiums.

In fact, some previous projections have estimated that while the agency could exhaust its reserves in the short term, its financial situation could brighten over time as the housing market recovers. The Mortgage Bankers Association said in a release Thursday that overall mortgage delinquencies have declined during the past year and that “the total past due rate for FHA loans is now at its lowest level in over 10 years, and FHA’s post-2010 books are performing much better than loans originated prior to 2010.”

That said, foreclosure and delinquency rates remain well above historical averages. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a speech Thursday that while the nation’s housing market has seen marked improvement during the past year, the recovery remains “far from being out of the woods.”  (Contributor: By Brady Dennis for The Washington Post)

Pray for sound financial planning by those charged with the responsibility of managing the FHA financial institution. Pray that tax dollars will not be used to shore up mismanaged housing funds.

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

 

OBAMACARE STRONG-ARMS RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

Hopes of repealing Obamacare took a beating last week with the election results. For the foreseeable future, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will continue, including the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “contraception mandate” — a frightening glimpse of what we have to look forward to.

The genesis of the mandate is a prime example of bureaucracy in action: The Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of HHS, adopted a set of guidelines recommended by a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — guidelines that were adopted after presentations from groups that vigorously advocate for abortion and contraception, including the Guttmacher Institute, the National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. No groups from the “other side” were allowed to weigh in on the process.

What was the end result of this bureaucracy and political pandering? The definition of “preventative services” was expanded to include all FDA-approved contraceptive methods (including those with abortifacient propensities), sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling.

Employers with religious beliefs prohibiting the use of contraceptives objected to being forced to violate their conscientious beliefs through funding these “services” in employee insurance. Half-acknowledging these objections, HHS introduced the “religious employer” exemption, under which some nonprofit religious employers — essentially those qualifying as houses of worship under the Internal Revenue Code — are exempt from the mandate. This narrow exemption left numerous employers faced with violating their religious convictions or paying hefty fines.

Faced with this choice, many employers have taken to the courts for relief. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there are now 40 active cases representing more than 110 plaintiffs throughout the country challenging the mandate on religious-freedom grounds.

The plaintiffs argue that the mandate puts direct pressure on religious exercise by requiring employers to violate their sincere religious beliefs. For example, one plaintiff is Hobby Lobby, a company owned by the Green family. If the company continues to offer employee health insurance without the mandated contraception coverage, it will incur penalties of about $1.2 million per day, beginning in January 2013. If it ceases to offer employee insurance, it will face annual penalties of about $26 million per year. Compliance with the mandate means the additional cost of covering the specified contraceptive items and, more important, it would violate the sincere religious beliefs of the Green family — beliefs they have upheld consistently since their company’s inception.

The government argues that this burden is justified by its compelling interest in protecting women’s health and gender equality. This sounds good on the surface, particularly as a political talking point.

Yet, what if the premise that contraceptives promote “women’s health” is shown to be unsound?

Closely examined, the evidence on the health impact of the mandated types of contraception suggests that far from benefiting women’s health, they actually are seriously dangerous to women’s health. Some of the health hazards documented in peer-reviewed studies include higher risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular complications, and greater susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, higher risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and increased risk of liver tumors.

For example, a 2001 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that among women with no conventional risk factors for heart disease, those who took oral contraceptives had twice the risk of heart attack. If other risk factors were added, such as high cholesterol, the figures went up to as much as 23 times the risk. The evidence of these health risks has been recognized by other agencies of the government and has been acknowledged by reputable international medical authorities. For example, the World Health Organization classifies combined oral contraceptives as “Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans.”

The IOM ignored this substantial body of evidence, relying instead on a one-sided report, when it recommended the mandate. This misplaced reliance should be a key factor in destroying the legal basis for the mandate because the means chosen (free contraception) do not promote the desired end (better health for all women).

Keep in mind what the challenges to the mandate do not do: They do not argue against women being able, of their own accord and with their own funds, to choose whatever contraceptive method they desire. Women are capable of weighing health risks against desired benefits, and they do so on a regular basis. Women do not need to trample their employer’s religious freedom to achieve health or equality, nor do they need interference from a paternal government to achieve these goals.

Yet through the mandate, the government has proved to be not only paternalistic, but irresponsible as well. Protecting women’s health is a worthy goal, but mandating contraceptives is counterproductive to that end, and thus, the mandate lacks its asserted justification for forcing employers into the regime.

As Obamacare is implemented, we will probably see more of these slipshod attempts to fix perceived political problems with ill-fitting “solutions.” Will the next mandate put everyone at risk by lowering the standards on who can perform certain medical procedures? Just recently, the state of California (which has had its own state-level contraception mandate for years) has gone to the next level by allowing certain non-physicians to perform abortions. In doing so, it ignored evidence of increased injury to women from non-physician practitioners performing abortions. What was the justification for lowering standards? Increasing access to abortion and thereby promoting women’s health. Again, the means don’t fit the ends, but that increasingly doesn’t seem to matter.  Dana Cody is the president and executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, where Rebekah Millard is staff counsel. (Contributor: By Dana Cody and Rebekah Millard for the Washington Times)

Pray that this nation will be delivered from the unrighteous hands of the pro-abortion advocates. Pray for justice to be delivered into the hands of the righteous who stand against the murder of innocent life by pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:13, 16)

 

ATHEISTS SUE IRS FOR FAILURE TO MONITOR CHURCH POLITICKING

A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (Nov. 14) in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based.

The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations.

IRS rules state that organizations classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits — a tax-exempt status most churches and other religious institutions claim — cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.”

Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, a federal court ruled in 2009 that the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.

IRS rules do allow for some nonpartisan activity by religious institutions, including organizing members to vote and speaking out on issues. But endorsing or supporting specific candidates could jeopardize their tax-exempt status.

But a recent Associated Press story reported that the IRS has not challenged any religious organizations on charges of electioneering in the past three years. An IRS spokesperson told the AP that it was “holding any potential church audits in abeyance” until rules on electioneering could be “finalized.”

The lawsuit also challenges the legality of several full-page newspaper advertisements paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, another 501 (c) (3), that exhorted voters to vote along “biblical principles.” The ads ran after Graham met with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and promised to do “all I can” to support his campaign.

FFRF has filed 27 complaints about church electioneering with the IRS this year, including:

— Roman Catholic Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., who wrote an appeal on diocesan letterhead inserted in parish bulletins warning voters that they could “put their own soul in jeopardy” if they voted for a party or candidate that supports same-sex marriage or abortion rights.

— Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., who criticized President Obama in a homily and then exhorted parishioners that “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”

— Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino, who, in an article appearing in the local diocesan newspaper, wrote of “non-negotiable” political issues, and that “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for’pro-choice’ candidates (or) … for candidates who promote’same-sex marriage.'”

A similar complaint against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the electioneering of its members was filed by the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. (Contributor: By Kimberly Winston for Religion News Service and The Washington Post)

Pray for continued liberty and freedom of speech for all churches as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Pray that the truth regarding freedom of expression in the church be amplified. Pray that the nation will understand that the IRS does not have the authority to subjugate the church for freedom of speech issues.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

“…Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

OBAMACARE TAXES MEAN OBAMACARE LAYOFFS

America’s race toward the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic, massive tax increases is only part of the problem. This Thelma has her Louise — the Obamacare taxes — and hand-in-hand, these two terrors are racing toward Jan. 1.

The only thing worse than President Obama’s broken Obamacare promises are the promises he intends to keep: the tax hikes. Remember when Mr. Obama promised he’d never raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year? He’d prefer you didn’t, but when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the Supreme Court put its stamp of approval on Obamacare, Mr. Obama became a court-certified tax-raiser.

Most of the president’s health care takeover won’t begin until 2014, but Democrats just couldn’t wait that long to start taxing you. The “Top Five Worst Obamacare Taxes Coming in 2013,” compiled by Americans for Tax Reform, is worth reviewing.

Obamacare Medical Device Tax. From pacemakers to MRI machines, if your health depends on a medical device, you will pay more. Manufacturers will face difficult decisions to compensate for the 2.3 percent excise tax on gross sales — levied even if a firm is not profitable. Will these firms charge you more, lay off workers or sacrifice research and development? Answer: Yes, yes and yes.

Obamacare “Special Needs Kids Tax.” The newly imposed $2,500 cap on flexible spending accounts is “particularly cruel and onerous” to families of special needs kids whose expenses can be many times that amount.

Obamacare Investment Income Surtax. What do your investments have to do with health care? It doesn’t matter. If it moves, the Democrats will tax it. Capital gains taxes will increase by more than half and dividend taxes will nearly double. A hostile investment climate will starve business of capital and is a recipe for a double-dip recession.

Obamacare “Haircut” for Medical Itemized Deductions. Limiting the amount of medical expense deductions will impact families with sizable medical expenses — chief among them, near-retirees.

Obamacare Medicare Payroll-Tax Hike. An increase in the payroll tax by nearly a third just made you more expensive for your employer to keep around.

Of course, this is just the start. The labyrinth of new Obamacare regulations will kill businesses. The 2,700-page law has already generated tens of thousands of pages of regulations, and it’s growing. Here’s one example: The president’s crackerjack bureaucrats required an impressive 18 pages just to define what a full-time employee is. Businesses will need to hire their own in-house bureaucracies to stay in compliance with the Washington bureaucracies.

It gets worse — much worse. Obamacare imposes a $40,000 fine for daring to hire a 50th employee without providing government-sanctioned health insurance. Small businesses will start to resemble the television show “Survivor” as anyone above the magic number is voted off the island. Think this won’t have an impact? There are already 2.4 times as many businesses in America with 49 employees as those with 50. Good luck.

800,000 Jobs. That’s what Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf estimated in 2011 that Obamacare will destroy, and the day of reckoning has begun. In the wake of Mr. Obama’s re-election, companies large and small have already begun announcing layoffs, 45 so far, including (but certainly not limited to): Boeing, Hawker Beechcraft, U.S. Cellular, Husqvarna, Caterpillar, Bristol-Myers and on and on. Expect more — lots more.

Small businesses are especially vulnerable, particularly without the resources for throngs of lobbyists and lawyers. A recurring theme is unfolding: “Elections have consequences,” said one Las Vegas business owner as he explained that the survival of his company demands that he lay off 22 of his 114 employees. The Twitter aggregator website Twitchy.com has compiled distraught business owners facing the new normal. One user tweeted: “I own a small business … as of today. I will be laying off 10 of my 60 employees … Thanks Obamacare.”

These tragic stories are accumulating, and the human toll is devastating despite the administration’s assertions of a recovery. “The private sector is doing fine,” claimed the president earlier this year. This is fine? Mr. Obama came into office promising us change, and now he’s delivering it: 800,000 layoffs and lost jobs during a “recovery” would indeed be some kind of change.

Be sure to thank a Democrat.

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a radiologist and Obama’s cousin. (Contributor: Dr. Milton R. Wolf for the Washington Times)

Pray that reason will prevail in the months ahead by our national leaders who are obligated to find ways to encourage job growth for our national work force. Pray that work opportunities will be made available to all citizens that are in need of work.

“He has given food and provision to those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever and imprint it [on His mind].” (Psalm 111: 5)

 

LORD’S PRAYER IN BRENTWOOD RILES LIBERTIES GROUP

A civil liberties group is getting ready to take legal action against the town of Brentwood for reciting the Lord’s Prayer in council meetings — a practice the group says is unconstitutional.

The Washington-based group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the invocation violates the First Amendment by giving Christianity preference over other religions.

Brentwood Mayor Roger E. Rudder said that the prayer is a time-honored tradition in his town of roughly 3,000 people.

“As far as I can remember being in this town, we’ve always started our council sessions with a prayer,” he said. “We don’t question anyone of what faith they are.”

Americans United has sent three letters asking the Town Council to stop the prayer this year. They have not received a response.

“I’m very offended by the fact that they even sent me a letter,” Mr. Rudder said.

The first letter was sent in April after a complaint received from a Brentwood resident. The letter asked the five-member council to end the practice or revise it to allow other religions’ prayers.

Earlier this year, the council incorporated a moment of silence into the sessions.

“When we begin our meetings, those who wish to pray can say a short prayer,” Mr. Rudder said. “Others can observe a moment of silence.”

In a follow-up letter sent in September, Americans United said despite the moment of silence, the Lord’s Prayer was still recited. The group threatened to take legal action.

“That is still imposing a Christian prayer on the audience and that’s improper whether they couple it with a moment of silence or not,” said Ayesha Khan, legal director at Americans United.

After two months of no change, Americans United sent a third letter Wednesday asking the town for public records — including council agendas and minutes, legal opinions, complaints and correspondence — relating to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Ms. Khan said the group will use this information to build a lawsuit. If there are no changes, she said a lawsuit will be filed early next year. She said she hopes the conflict can be resolved without a lawsuit, which would be both divisive and expensive.

“I don’t care if they respond,” Ms. Khan said. “I care if they change the practice.”

The practice is unwelcoming to non-Christians and could lead them to “easily conclude that their interests aren’t represented by the council,” she said.

Mr. Rudder said he has not received complaints from community members.

“The residents called me and told me they hope I would not stop opening all meetings with a prayer,” he said. “It’s tradition. We’ve continued to do what we have always done.”

Ms. Khan said the lack of complaints to City Hall is not surprising.

“A person in the minority feels intimidated about speaking up,” she said.  (Contributor:  Washington Times)

Pray that God’s Word would be made real in all avenues of life in the United States. Pray for an increase in the witness of God’s desire to bless His creation and to bring deliverance from all forms of oppression. Pray that more Christians will shout their love for God from the house tops. The enemy of men’s souls would not want truth to be brought into the light of day.

“What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:3)

“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your alight so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15,16)

 

INCLUSION KEY IN ANTI-SUICIDE DRIVE

The anti-euthanasia movement found new life last week after voters in Massachusetts defied the conventional wisdom by rejecting a physician-assisted suicide initiative.

In a setback for the “aid in dying” movement, Question 2, known as the “Death with Dignity” initiative, lost by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent after leading by 68-to-20 in a poll released in early September by the Boston Globe. [It stands to reason that one should question the integrity of the Boston Globe’s polling methods.]

The turnaround came after the “No on 2” camp fractured the liberal coalition that approved similar measures in Oregon and Washington by building a diverse campaign of religious leaders, medical professionals and advocates for the disabled along with a few prominent Democrats and a member of the Kennedy clan.

“This is a welcome roadblock in what many supporters of assisted suicide thought would be a Shermanesque march to the sea,” said Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. “It shows that opposition to assisted suicide is not strictly a Catholic thing, nor a religious one — although that certainly plays a part.”

Joe Baerlein, whose Boston political-consulting firm, Rasky Baerlein, helped run the anti-Question 2 campaign, said the win came despite initial research showing that Massachusetts voters agreed by a margin of 2-1 that individuals should make their own end-of-life decisions.

“Truthfully, my colleagues and I looked at this and thought we had an insurmountable task ahead of us,” said Mr. Baerlein, a former Democratic campaign operative. “We mounted a campaign where even if you have these beliefs, you don’t like the way it would be handled under Question 2.”

The key was convincing voters to think about the details. Question 2 would have allowed terminally ill patients to commit suicide at home using doctor-prescribed drugs after first having two doctors sign off on the prescription.

The No on 2 camp argued that the initiative had too many flaws. No psychiatrist was required to screen patients for depression. There was no family-notification provision, and patients would fill their prescriptions at local pharmacies, leading to worries about unused pills falling into the wrong hands.

“The doctor wasn’t required to be present at the death. Voters didn’t like that,” Mr. Baerlein said. “And people were shocked that the prescription would be filled at local pharmacies. One guy in our focus group said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me — I’m there in line to get Sudafed, and there’s someone ahead of me getting poison pills?'”

While Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley was an active opponent, the campaign broadened its coalition by bringing in Jewish, Muslim and evangelical leaders.

“On Election Day, we had a rabbi, a black minister and a doctor holding ‘No on 2’ signs, which is rare,” Mr. Baerlein said.

Then there was the money. The No on 2 campaign raised nearly $5 million, thanks in large part to Catholic institutions and leaders, giving it a 3-to-1 advantage over the pro-Question 2 campaign.

“If you look at the tremendous amount of commercials waged against us, to have come within 50,000 votes is truly amazing,” said Mickey MacIntyre, chief program officer of Compassion and Choices, a pro-euthanasia group that backed the Question 2 campaign.

He said defeat of Question 2 doesn’t change the surveys showing that most Americans support “aid in dying.”

“We know the vast majority of people believe in having aid in dying, but it’s difficult in an initiative situation when you’re that badly outspent, especially when the opposition is telling voters, ‘You can believe in death with dignity but not the specifics of this measure,'” Mr. MacIntyre said.

John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts in Boston, a disability advocacy group, said the No on 2 campaign avoided being pegged as a partisan fight. Several prominent Democrats spoke out against it, including columnist E.J. Dionne; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Second Thoughts also endorsed Question 3, the successful medical-marijuana initiative, and linked the two issues under the banner of patients’ rights.

“We were able to get enough of a disabled rights perspective so that the archetypal culture war — religious conservatives versus secular Democrats — was not set up,” Mr. Kelly said. “And I think that’s what the other side thought would happen.”

After ballot victories in Oregon and Washington, the physician-assisted suicide movement has stalled in New England. A 2000 ballot measure in Maine was narrowly defeated, and bills introduced in the New Hampshire and Vermont legislatures have gone nowhere.

“Part of it is the culture,” said Tom Whalen, a political-history professor at Boston University. “In many ways, people are still conservative here and resistant to change. I think this [measure] crossed some political fissures.”  (Contributor: Valerie Richardson for the Washington Times)

Give thanks to the Lord that the gift of life and creation by God Himself was honored by the citizens of Massachusetts by their vote in this past election on the topic of euthanasia. Pray that any further attempts to circumvent God’s authority as the One who gives life and takes it away would be thwarted.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

 

CONGRESSIONAL PRAYER CAUCUS – CURRENT ISSUES FOR PRAYER

Opposing hostility towards faith in the Air Force – Congressman Randy Forbes joined Congressman Diane Black and Congressman Todd Akin in sending a letter signed by 66 Members of Congress urging Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to investigate a pattern of hostility towards faith in the United States Air Force.  Over the last year, the Air Force has repeatedly capitulated to pressure from outside groups to remove religious symbols and references to faith from the service.  The letter calls on Secretary Panetta to issue clear Department of Defense policy guidance, consistent with our Constitution, to preserve the place of religious expression in the military at large.

Supporting legislative prayer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – Thirteen Members of the House of Representatives have joined the Family Research Council (FRC) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of legislative prayer.  The Lakeland City Commission in Florida had a policy of inviting clergy to offer invocations at the beginning of its meetings.  The Atheists of Florida sued, arguing that because most of the prayers were offered by Christian clergy, the prayers were “too sectarian” and thus violated the Establishment Clause.  The brief submitted by the Members argues that courts do not have the jurisdiction to delve into the inner workings of a deliberative body’s meetings because of the constitutional separation of powers between the branches of government.

Supporting the freedom of school boards to open meeting with prayer – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting a resolution introduced by Congressman Tim Walberg that supports the freedom of school boards to open meetings with prayer.  H.Res.662 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that school boards are deliberative bodies similar to city and county councils and state legislatures, and should be treated as such for purposes of analyzing the constitutionality of their prayer policies.

Working to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.489, introduced by Congressman Doug Lamborn, which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those that celebrate Christmas.  Each year during the Christmas season, there are increasing efforts to remove religious symbols and references from the holiday.  H.Res.489 emphasizes that the First Amendment does not require bans on religious references to Christmas, and supports the use of these symbols by those who celebrate Christmas.

Fighting attempts to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance –
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus lead in sending a letter to NBC, expressing concern over the network’s omissions of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance twice in a video montage aired during coverage of the U.S. Open.  In response to the letter sent by 108 Members of Congress, the network reprimanded the employees responsible for the omissions and implemented safeguards to prevent similar instances in the future.

Opposing efforts to remove a memorial cross honoring military veterans – In January of 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cross displayed at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California was unconstitutional.  Members of the Prayer Caucus signed on to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit asking the full court to reconsider the case, and asserting that the cross’s presence at the memorial is constitutional.  After the Ninth Circuit declined to reconsider the case, Members joined the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to take up the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  In June of 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the case; however, Justice Alito issued a statement saying the appeal may have been premature and the Court may reconsider the case after the district court issues a final order on the fate of the memorial.

Urging religious freedom protections for service members –
The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military raised concerns that service members whose consciences or religious beliefs conflicted with homosexual behavior would face discrimination and disapproval.  Members of the Prayer Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, urging that specific religious freedom and conscience protections be adopted during implementation of the repeal to formally assure all Americans that our citizens need not leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.

Affirming America’s rich spiritual heritage – Co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Congressman Forbes and Congressman McIntyre, reintroduced legislation to recognize our nation’s religious history.  H.Res.253, America’s Spiritual Heritage Resolution, affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history, and designates the first week in May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week.

Working to decrease frivolous lawsuits challenging public expressions of religion – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.R.2023, introduced by Congressman Dan Burton, which would ensure that the legal system is not used to extort money from state and local governments through frivolous lawsuits against public expressions of religion.  H.R. 2023 would not prevent parties from filing lawsuits alleging Establishment Clause violations, but it would require each side to pay its own attorneys’ fees.  The bill would limit the remedies available to the suing party, so the only relief available would be that the state or local government would be required to stop its public expression of religion, if the court deems it unconstitutional.  The result would be a decrease in frivolous lawsuits and the assurance that state and local governments are not intimidated into halting constitutional public expressions of religion.

Recognizing the significant impact of the Ten Commandments on America’s development – Members of the Prayer Caucus are supporting H.Res.211, introduced by Congressman Louie Gohmert, which recognizes the significant contribution that the Ten Commandments have made in shaping America’s principles, institutions, and national character.  The bill supports designating the first weekend in May as “Ten Commandments Weekend.” (Contributor: Congressional Prayer Caucus)

On Watch in Washington November 21, 2012 PDF Version

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