Maine Rejected Medicaid Expansion and Found Success. Now, House Health Bill Would Send Us Backward.

As conversations swirl on Capitol Hill and across the nation regarding the repeal of Obamacare and Medicaid reform, I would like to describe Maine’s success in reducing Medicaid enrollment by 24 percent in the last five years and why our experience is relevant to the ongoing debate.
In our corner of the United States, we have made tough decisions to restore fiscal discipline and strengthen our financial commitments within Medicaid for our elderly and disabled.
To understand how far we’ve come, you need a bit of background about where we were.
From 2000 to 2010, previous administrations expanded Maine’s Medicaid program, causing it to double both in enrollment and cost. Due to annual shortfalls, the state was unable to pay hospital bills and provider rates were constantly slashed to bail out the Medicaid program.

The worst of it all, these prior expansions came at the direct expense of our elderly and disabled as nursing facility costs were ignored, home care services were grossly underfunded, and wait lists for home and community services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities grew longer.
It is important to note that throughout these expansion years, Maine’s uninsured rate remained largely unchanged as individuals dropped their employer-sponsored insurance coverage to enroll in Medicaid.
For more than a decade, Maine’s finances were in perpetual crisis because of explosive Medicaid growth and out-of-control spending. This is the very same scene that we see playing out today in many of the expansion states as they grapple with sizable state budget shortfalls.
With their significant federal matching rate, these states are turning to rate cuts on services supporting the elderly and disabled to fill their state shortfalls and balance their budgets as states must do.
A disturbing trend not discussed nearly enough but is painfully obvious: Obamacare has essentially created a golden circle around the able-bodied adults on Medicaid with the substantially higher federal matching rate.
This is why we’ve spent the last six years reining in Maine’s Medicaid program. As we’ve reduced enrollment by 24 percent, we’ve contained spending to an average 2 percent rate of growth compared to the national average of 6 percent.
This year, we are forecasting a 0.7 percent increase.
At the same time, however, we have been able to increase funding to nursing facilities by over 40 percent, increase rates to home care by 60 percent, and add an additional $100 million to support the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Additionally, we’ve invested in increased support for primary care to better manage individuals with chronic diseases and to integrate primary care and mental health for those struggling with mental illness.
None of these priorities would have been funded in Maine had we expanded Medicaid. And unlike Maine’s previous expansion years, our uninsured rate has declined.
With Medicaid’s fiscal crisis now behind us, and with Gov. Paul LePage’s leadership, Maine has reduced taxes, stimulated job growth, and is experiencing one of the lowest unemployment rates in nearly 10 years at 3.8 percent.
The federal government must now take a similar approach in repealing Obamacare.
We must reduce the size of this massive government entitlement program, lower the tax burden on our states to promote job growth, and re-establish Medicaid’s core mission of supporting our elderly, disabled, and extremely low-income families.
Specifically, here are four actions Congress should take to reform federal Medicaid:
  1. Repeal the Medicaid expansion.
  2. Enact an immediate freeze on new enrollment.
  3. Roll back higher the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage by 2019.
  4. Mandate work requirements for able-bodied adults, similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The current House proposal that delays the repeal of the Medicaid expansion will absolutely trigger a push to expand Medicaid in nonexpansion states—Maine included—by the same advocacy groups that have been trying for the last several years.
Such an effort will bankrupt our state and send us backward from the economic stability we have achieved today.
We cannot afford to go back. We have reined in the out-of-control Medicaid spending that failed to prioritize our neediest citizens, exacerbated Maine’s tax burden, and overshadowed other state priorities.
There is still more for us to do, but we’ve been headed in the right direction and cannot afford this shift in course.
We must remember that federal tax dollars are never free, and the insatiable appetite of some states for more federal funding should never be confused with economic development. Fiscal responsibility is imperative.
Maine’s success should be a lesson to other states currently caught in the grips of uncontrollable growth and spending. It also shows what is possible at the federal level as Washington now looks to correct the fiscal mess that Obamacare left behind.

Commentary by Maine Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Trump's Voters Have Been Betrayed on Healthcare, Bigly

It’s now clear where this “repeal and replace” thing is headed. A small cadre of the GOP House leadership hammered out a few tweaks of Obamacare in secret. All the essentials of Obamacare were left in place: the mandates, the regulations, the strictures, the entitlement expansions, the preset packages, and many taxes.
The glorious reform had "lame" written all over it. A mandate with penalties paid to government is replaced with a mandate to pay insurance companies plus a refundable tax credit which might actually cost more in the future than the present system.

You might say, as Reason observed, that it is “better than nothing.” True, and Khrushchev’s economic ideas were an improvement on Stalin’s. Still, it’s another central plan, providing no real substantial room for new innovation, competition, or genuine market forces.

When the bill was released on March 7, Trump tweeted: “Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation.”

This tweet shattered the illusion that something dramatically pro-freedom would actually happen. Despite GOP control of the House, Senate, Executive Branch, and even a free-market minded head of the Health and Human Services, the proposed reform is something that these very same people would have decried as socialism eight years ago.

Revolt Against the Regime

A few smart, principled people in the party quickly objected, with Rand Paul in the Senate and Justin Amash in the House leading the charge. They know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix a healthcare system that has been getting structurally less functional for many decades, burdened down ever more with a thicket of control, subsidies, pressure-group payouts, and bureaucratic layers of rules.

They were there as Obamacare became the final disgrace of the welfare state, so bad that the former president himself didn’t even mention it, much less brag about it, in his farewell address. The election was an opportunity, finally.

During the election’s final weeks, Trump opposed everything about Obamacare and brought out his rhetorical blowtorch against it in the final weeks, just as premiums rose astronomically. Clinton, in contrast, promised only tweaks to make the existing system work better.

Voters revolted, hoping for some relief. Exit polls from the 2016 presidential election told the story. Trump had temporarily dropped even his obsessions with nationalism, protectionism, and strongman symbolism for just a few days to say something sensible: repeal and replace this monstrosity. The outrage against the prevailing system launched him into the presidency.

Now it is mid-March and the great moment has arrived. As it turns out, nearly everything is left just as it was. It’s not as if Trump is doing his best to support the best-possible option. There are plenty of good plans out there. He has just rejected them in favor of the most watered-down reform possible.

Indeed, he has used the full weight of the presidency, all the power of his influence, and every bit of political clout he has to support the worst-available plan for dealing with the utter and complete failure of the status quo. He went so far as to invite his free-market critics to the White House and the Oval office, gave them a chance to speak, and then finally laid out his conditions for negotiations: stop criticizing the thing he supports as merely Obamacare-Lite.

Sensing that he had a problem, Trump then tweeted that this was only the first stage of three, and the good stuff will come later.

Now the Congressional critics have a problem. The more they criticize the proposed reform, the less influence they will have over the process going forward. Or they can take a gamble that Trump might ultimately improve the bill under their influence, but they have to muzzle their criticisms themselves in order to be in the game at all.
And here we have the “art of the deal” in action. It is about getting something, anything, shoved through, with the right people given what they need to take credit or cast blame, depending on their appointed role in the political drama. The deal is what matters, not the actual results. I’m the last person to be a pessimist, but it looks to me like the end result will be: the codification of Obamacare in principle and practice.

It could have been otherwise, and so easily. Just imagine the power of the Trump presidency, in its earliest weeks, pushing for a real free-market solution. It might have worked. At least it would have defined the right terms: freedom vs. control. Now that theme is lost and so is the chance for real reform.

Why Am I Shocked?

On a personal note, the course of events has hit me like a sucker punch. My friends keep telling me that I was ridiculous to expect anything else. “Did you really expect something good to come of this presidency? That’s so naive. You, more than anyone, predicted that there would be no net increases in liberty from this.”

The truth is that my brain can’t work without having some hope. There had to be some good that would come from the election outcome, and surely doing something about the healthcare problem is it.

After all, even the worst US presidents have often done at least one good thing. Clinton reformed welfare. Reagan cut tax rates. Carter deregulated. Nixon opened diplomatic relations with China. Even FDR deserves kudos: his first act as president was to repeal liquor prohibition.

So, I had it worked out in my mind that the full repeal of Obamacare and its replacement by a market-based system would be the one great thing that would happen in the Trump years. We might still get trade wars, a dangerous military build up, police-state controls on association, and travel restrictions, but at least something as important as healthcare would be brought into the 21st century.

Up with Freedom

The root problem is that the health care system is not free from government control. It’s why the far-less-regulated sectors of veterinary medicine and cosmetic surgery are just fine, with declining prices, better technology, and more access. There is nothing special about medicine relative to the economic forces that manage every other good and service.
Meanwhile, my Google Home robot can bring any product to me with a voice. I can summon a burrito to my desk with a click on my watch. I can get a personal trainer to show up to my place on schedule. Everyone is competing to bring me cool stuff, often for free. With markets, everything works for you and me. Healthcare is not only failing to improve but getting more expensive, less accessible, more stuck in a bureaucratic mire.

Rand Paul offers one salient example: how about new models for price negotiation with large insurers? If regulations allowed it, people could join co-ops of any size that would work like insurance mutual funds, and managers could shop around for the best policies at the best prices. This is only one example but in order to see it, we need massive deregulation.

It is not entirely crazy that a passionate Rand Paul and his colleagues will finally prevail and get a better bill. Their commitment is obvious, and it is not just about political posturing. There are millions of human lives at stake. We are, after all, talking about health, which is at the core of the quality of life itself. Only freedom can be trusted to manage it. 

However, keep this in mind: should something good finally emerge, whether this year or next, it will be due not to the “greatness” of the executive and all his bluster, but rather to the courage, character, and commitment of a handful of people who still believe that freedom is that best path. It is not the political system that will have worked; it is that moral passion triumphed over politics.

And here we have the best possible precondition for liberating the medical sector from government: a deep and broad cultural commitment to human freedom in every area of life. (See ten principles for real healthcare reform.) Politics is not the agent of change but rather the thing that is changed. There is always hope, rarely in the political process but always in the human heart and mind.

Jeffrey A. Tucker
Jeffrey A. Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Socialism Requires a Dictator

The idea of communism – the common sharing of productive property and its resulting output – is as old as the ancient Greeks and Plato’s conception of the ideal Republic in which the guardians all live and work in common under the presumption that a radical change in the social institutional setting will transform men from self-interested beings into altruistic servers to some defined needs of society as a whole.

This highlights a fundamental difference in the conception of man in the classical liberal versus socialist worldviews. Does man have a basic and invariant human nature that may be multi-sided and complex, but no less fixed in certain qualities and characteristics? Or is human nature a malleable substance that can be remolded like clay in the sculptor’s hands by placing human beings into radically different social arrangements and settings?

Classical liberals have argued for the former, that human beings are basically what they are: fairly reasonable, self-interested beings, guided by goals of personal improvement and betterment as the individual comes to define those for himself. The social dilemma for a humane, just, and widely prosperous society is how to foster a political and economic institutional order to harness that invariant quality in human nature so that it advances human betterment in general rather than becoming a tool of plunder.  The classical liberal answer is basically Adam Smith’s system of natural liberty with its open, competitive, free market order.

Members of what was emerging as the socialist movement in the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century argued the opposite. They insisted that if men were selfish, greedy, uncaring and insensitive to the circumstances of their fellow men it was due to the institution of private property and its related market-based system of human association. Change the institutional order in which human beings live and work and you will create a “new man.”

Indeed, they raised to the ultimate human societal ideal, a world in which the individual would live and work for the collective, the society as a whole, rather than only for his own bettered circumstances, presumably at the expense of others in society. Socialism heralded the ethics of altruism.

The interested student can read through a huge range of socialist literature by a host of advocates of collectivism. Some longed for a more agrarian and rural paradise; others envisaged an industrial future for mankind in which productivity will have reached the point at which machines did virtually all the work. Humanity would be set free, to use a version of one of Karl Marx’s imageries, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and sit around the fireplace discussing socialist philosophy with one’s comrades who had all been liberated from work and worry by the arrival of the communist post-scarcity heaven-on-earth. (See my article, “Marx’s Flight from Reality.”)

Changing Human Nature Needs a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”

But the core conception of the coming paradise-on-earth is that man’s nature could and should be made to change. There are few places in Karl Marx’s writings in which he actually speaks of the institutions and workings of the socialist society that will come after the downfall of capitalism. One is in his 1875 work, Critique of the Gotha Program, the policy agenda of a rival socialist group that Marx strongly disagreed with.

The dilemma, Marx explains, is that even after the overthrow of the capitalist system, residues of the previous system would permeate the new socialist society. First, there would be the human remnants of the now discarded capitalist system. Among them would be those who want to restore the system of worker exploitation for their own ill-gotten profit gains. Equally a problem would be the fact that the “working class,” although freed from the “false consciousness” that the capitalist system under which they had been exploited was just, would still bear the mark of the capitalist psychology of self-interest and personal gain.

Thus, there had to be in place and in power a “revolutionary vanguard” of dedicated and clear seeing socialists who would lead “the masses” into the bright, beautiful future of communism. The institutional means of doing this, said Marx, is the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

In other words, until the masses, the workers, are freed from the individualist and capitalist mindset that they had been born into and mentally made to act within, they needed to be “reeducated” by a self-appointed political elite that has liberated their minds, already, from the capitalist false consciousness of the past. In the name of the new socialist-era freedom-to-come, there must the reign of a dictatorship made up of those who know how humanity should think, act, and associate in preparation for the full communism awaiting mankind.

At the same time, the dictatorship is necessary to suppress not only any attempts by the former capitalist exploiters to restore their power over the, now, socialized property they used to own. These voices from the capitalist past also must be prevented from speaking their self-serving lies and deceptions about why individual, self-interested liberty is morally right, or that private property serves the betterment of all in society including workers, or that freedom means those “bourgeois” liberties of freedom of the press, or speech or religion or democratic voting. The masses must be brought to, and indoctrinated in, the “true” consciousness that freedom means the collective ownership and direction of the means of production and the selfless serving of society that the socialist revolutionary vanguard in charge knows to be true.

This also explains why the socialist phase of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” could never end in any of the Marxist-inspired revolutionary regimes over the last one hundred years. Human nature is not waiting to be remolded like wax into a new human form and content. Human beings seem generally not be hardwired to be altruistic, selfless eunuchs. Thus, self-interest always rises to the surface in people’s conduct, and if it is to be ethically denied, there must be political force to keep repressing it and trying to constantly extinguish it.

In addition, as long as there were capitalist enemies anywhere in the world, the dictatorship of the proletariat had to be preserved in the socialist countries to assure that the reeducated minds of the workers already lucky enough to live under socialism were not re-infected by capitalist ideas coming in from outside the people’s collectivist paradise. Hence, the “iron curtain” of censorship and thought control in the Marxist parts of the world, in the name of the people over whom the revolutionary vanguard ruled.

Socialist Economic Planning Equals Commanding People

Also, once private enterprise was abolished through the socialization of the means of production and brought under the control and direction of the socialist government, a central economic plan was now essential. If not the profit-motived individual entrepreneurs in directing the private enterprises under their ownership to satisfy consumer demands guided by the competitive price system, then someone must determine what gets produced, where, when and for which purpose and use.

The direction of “the people’s” collectivized means of production requires a centralized plan concerned with designing, implementing and imposing it on everyone for the good of the society as a whole. This means not only lumber and steel must be assigned a use in a particular place in the socialist society, but so must people. Hence, in the communist economies of the twentieth century the state’s central planning agencies determined who would be educated for what skills or expertise, where they would be employed and the work they would do.

Since the state educated you, assigned you work and served as your only employer in that job, the state also determined where you would live; not only in what city, town or village, but what apartment in which government-owned residential building would be made your abode. Recreational facilities, places for rest and vacations, the types of consumer goods to be produced and distributed where and for whom: these, too, were all centrally determined by the socialist planning agencies following the orders of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Not one corner of everyday life – its form, content, quality, or characteristics – was free from the control and determination of the all powerful and all-encompassing socialist state. Its design and attempted implementation was truly “totalitarian.” It may have been Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism, who coined the term, “totalitarianism” as meaning “everything in the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State.” But nowhere over the last century was this more insistently, pervasively, and coercively imposed than in the communist countries molded on the model of the Soviet Union as created by Vladimir Lenin and horrifyingly institutionalized by Josef Stalin and their successors.

Based on a presentation delivered as the John W. Pope Lecture sponsored by the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism at Clemson University on March 1, 2017.
Richard M. Ebeling
Richard M. Ebeling
Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Trillions in Debt and We're Just Scratching the Surface

As the federal debt has gone from astounding to unbelievable to incomprehensible, a new problem has emerged: The US government is actually running out of places to borrow.

How Many Zeros Are in a Trillion?

The $20 trillion debt is already twice the annual revenues collected by all the world’s governments combined. Counting unfunded liabilities, which include promised Social Security, Medicare, and government pension payments that Washington will not have the money to pay, the federal government actually owes somewhere between $100 trillion and $200 trillion. The numbers are so ridiculously large that even the uncertainty in the figures exceeds the annual economic output of the entire planet.

Since 2000, the federal debt has grown at an average annual rate of 8.2%, doubling from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in the past eight years alone. Who loaned the government this money? Four groups: foreigners, Americans, the Federal Reserve, and government trust funds. But over the past decade, three of these groups have cut back significantly on their lending.

Foreign investors have slowed the growth in their lending from over 20% per year in the early 2000s to less than 3% per year today. Excluding the Great Recession years, American investors have been cutting back on how much they lend the federal government by an average of 2% each year.

Social Security, though, presents an even bigger problem. The federal government borrowed all the Social Security surpluses of the past 80 years. But starting this year, and continuing either forever or until Congress overhauls the program (which may be the same thing), Social Security will only generate deficits. Not only is the government no longer able to borrow from Social Security, it will have to start paying back what it owes - assuming the government plans on making good on its obligations.

With federal borrowing growing at more than 6% per year, with foreign and American investors becoming more reluctant to lend, and with the Social Security trust fund drying up, the Fed is the only game left in town. Since 2001, the Fed has increased its lending to the federal government by over 11% each year, on average. Expect that trend to continue.

Inflation to Make You Cry

For decades, often in word but always in deed, politicians have told voters that government debt didn’t matter. We, and many economists, disagree. Yet even if the politicians were right, the absence of available creditors would be an insurmountable problem—were it not for the Federal Reserve. But when the Federal Reserve acts as the lender of last resort, unpleasant realities follow. Because, as everyone should be keenly aware, the Fed simply prints the money it loans.

A Fed loan devalues every dollar already in circulation, from those in people’s savings accounts to those in their pockets. The result is inflation, which is, in essence, a tax on frugal savers to fund a spendthrift government.

Since the end of World War II, inflation in the US has averaged less than 4% per year. When the Fed starts printing money in earnest because the government can’t obtain loans elsewhere, inflation will rise dramatically. How far is difficult to say, but we have some recent examples of countries that tried to finance runaway government spending by printing money.

From 1975 to 1990, the Greek people suffered 15% annual inflation as their government printed money to finance stimulus spending. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia printed money to keep its government running. The result was five years over which inflation averaged 750%. Today, Venezuela’s government prints money to pay its bills, causing 200% inflation which the International Monetary Fund expects to skyrocket to 1,600% this year.

For nearly a century, politicians have treated deficit spending as a magic wand. In a recession? We need jobs, so government must spend more money! In an expansion? There’s more tax revenue, so government can spend more money! Always and everywhere, politicians argued only about how much to increase spending, never whether to increase spending. A century of this has left us with a debt so large that it dwarfs the annual economic output of the planet. And now we are coming to the point at which there will be no one left from whom to borrow. When creditors finally disappear completely, all that will remain is a reckoning.

This article first appeared in InsideSources.
Antony Davies
Antony Davies
Antony Davies is an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University in Pittsburg.
He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

5 Reasons the GOP’s Obamacare Plan Isn’t Real Repeal

Republicans have promised time and again to repeal Obamacare—not fix it, not try to make it better—they promised to repeal it.

Here are five reasons the American Health Care Act put forward by GOP leadership does not fulfill that promise.

1) The bill does not fully repeal Obamacare. If you have a faulty foundation, nothing you build on top of it is stable or sustainable. Tweaking a little here and there is not going to get the job done. Obamacare should be completely repealed before any replacement or reforms are introduced.

Republicans already have the model for this in their 2015 repeal bill. Every single GOP senator voted for that legislation. There was just one problem at the time: Barack Obama was president. Now, under a President Donald Trump, there’s no impediment to finishing the job.

2) There is no real expectation that this bill will lower costs and make it more affordable for all Americans. It fails to correct the features of Obamacare, namely insurance regulations, that drove up health insurance costs and premiums in the first place.

And that means that the 25 million Americans who get their insurance on the private market or through small-employer plans will see little to no relief. Obama promised that you would be able to keep you doctor. Seven years later, we know that’s not true. Republicans said they would fix this by repealing Obamacare. Now, the very people who have suffered under Obamacare are at risk again of being on the losing end of the deal—again.

3) The bill does not repeal Medicaid expansion. In fact, it encourages states to sign up even more people over the next three years. The costs of this policy are not sustainable without driving states and taxpayers further into debt. But equally wrong is that this bill does not address the problem of states increasingly steering Medicaid dollars originally intended for the truly needy and disabled to able-bodied adults.

4) The tax treatment of health care should be at the center of true reform, but this bill fails to tackle that issue head on or to ask and answer the hard questions.

Should tax credits be used to finance the purchase of health insurance on the individual market?

If so, who gets these tax credits and who will pay for them?

That’s a debate we can have after Obamacare is fully repealed and we are starting from square one. But we are not starting from square one and the current bill runs the risk of expanding our already massive health care entitlement programs.

5) Unlike previous attempts to repeal Obamacare, there is serious concern that the current bill does not adequately prevent the use of taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions. Obamacare is a faulty foundation and Congress should not attempt to build anything on top of it.

For the past four elections—2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016—voters sent a message and consistently elected Republicans to Congress because they promised to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Unfortunately, it appears this Congress is trying to treat the symptoms of a failing program as opposed to going after the cause of the disease.
The time for full repeal is here. No more excuses.
Commentary by Genevieve Wood. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

House Panel Votes to Preserve, Expand DC School Vouchers

A House committee voted Friday to continue a school voucher program for poor children in the District of Columbia, signaling Republicans’ intent to follow through on President Donald Trump’s promise to expand school choice throughout the country.

The program, known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, provides federally funded scholarships to low-income families in the nation’s capital. The scholarships enable them to take their children out of a failing public school and send them to a private school of their choice.

The scholarship program currently serves more than 1,200 students each year, but would be able to expand under the legislation before Congress.

“Public schools in D.C. have struggled for decades, with some of the worst academic outcomes in the nation,” Lindsey Burke, an education policy expert at The Heritage Foundation, said. “While there have been some improvements recently, kids in the scholarship program have gotten an immediate exit pass to better options that fit their unique learning needs.”

“This is a great first step to securing a program that had been under constant threat of defunding under the Obama administration. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a lifeline for poor children living in the nation’s capital,” Burke said.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a voice vote Friday morning, advanced the bill to the full House, despite continuing opposition from many Democrats.

Three attempts to amend the bill by committee Democrats failed by votes along party lines.

During the Obama administration, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program faced an uncertain future because it was opposed by teachers’ unions, which pressured Democrats. On multiple occasions, the administration attempted to defund it.

Among those against the program’s renewal are the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the country, and a majority of the D.C. Council. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, supports the voucher program, however.
Eight of the 13 D.C. Council members sent a letter Tuesday to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the oversight committee, expressing “staunch opposition” to any expansion of the scholarship program, and asking Congress to phase it out completely.
“The voucher program should be phased out because participation in the program and similar initiatives has not only failed to improve students’ academic performance, but worsened it, as found in a series of recent studies,” the city lawmakers wrote.
A 2010 evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education found “no conclusive evidence” that the D.C. school voucher program affected student achievement. However, that same report found that the program “significantly improved students’ chances of graduating from high school.”
According to that evaluation, 91 percent of students participating in the program graduated high school, versus 70 percent of students in the control group, which represented parents of children who applied for a scholarship but weren’t awarded one.
Many low-income students served by the program live in Anacostia, a neighborhood of Southeast Washington where 64 percent of children are raised in poverty. Last year, the local high school graduated only 42 percent of its students.
In December, The Daily Signal interviewed Anacostia resident Shakira Butler, a single mother whose daughter Kariah, 10, is a scholarship recipient. Because of the voucher program, Butler said, she is able to afford tuition at St. Francis Xavier Academy, a Catholic school in the area.
“For those who are naysayers of the program,” Butler said, “put yourself in our shoes.”
Despite the latest objection from the D.C. Council, made up of Democrats except for two independents, Bowser reaffirmed her support for the program Tuesday, The Washington Post reported.
“It’s a delicate balance in the District that I think is a model for choice across the nation,” the mayor said.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program achieved increased graduation rates among scholarship recipients by spending less than half what is spent annually per child in the D.C. public school system—$12,600 compared to $29,400.
The program is the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative. State programs exist in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio.
According to the American Federation for Children, nearly 6,600 children from low-income families have been awarded scholarships since the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program began 12 years ago, and more than 19,800 have applied.
In addition to providing scholarships for low-income students, the program’s reauthorization includes additional funding for D.C. public and charter schools.
Report by The Daily Signal's Kelsey Harkness. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Clarence Thomas Casts Doubt on the Constitutionality of Civil Forfeiture

This week, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his belief that civil asset forfeiture laws have strayed too far from their narrow historical precedent and questioned whether “modern civil-forfeiture statutes can be squared with the Due Process Clause and our nation’s history.”

The news stems from a case, Lisa Olivia Leonard v. Texas, which—like so many forfeiture cases—began along the side of a road.

James Leonard, the petitioner’s son, was stopped for a traffic violation along what Thomas’ statement describes as a “known drug corridor.” Leonard’s vehicle was subjected to a search, which turned up a safe in the trunk.

Officers reported that Leonard and his passenger gave “conflicting stories” as to its contents, though Leonard noted it belonged to his mother, Lisa Leonard. Police executed a search warranted, discovered $201,100 in cash and “a bill of sale for a Pennsylvania home” inside, and seized the funds as alleged drug proceeds.

During the forfeiture proceeding that followed, Lisa Leonard asserted that the money was hers, and that she was an “innocent owner.”

To make an innocent owner defense, Texas law required Leonard to prove that she either did not know about, or reasonably could not have been expected to know about, the alleged offense allowing forfeiture. The trial court rejected her claim, and the Court of Appeals offered her no relief.

Leonard appealed to the Supreme Court, and this week the justices denied certiorari. Thomas concurred with the denial on procedural grounds, but issued a statement roundly critical of modern civil forfeiture practices.

Thomas argued that they permit “egregious and well-chronicled abuses” in which wholly innocent people are coerced into surrendering cash and property, and dragged through costly and lengthy legal processes that offer only long odds of ever recovering what was seized.

How is it possible to strip people of their lawfully obtained private property for allegedly committing a crime without ever proving in criminal court that they committed the alleged crime?

The answer, in short, is that civil forfeiture actions are in rem proceedings, meaning they target property, not people, based on an ancient legal fiction that the inanimate property itself can be guilty of a crime. As Thomas noted:
In rem proceedings often enable the government to seize the property without any predeprivation judicial process and to obtain forfeiture of the property even when the owner is personally innocent … Civil proceedings often lack certain procedural protections that accompany criminal proceedings, such as the right to a jury trial and a heightened standard of proof. [Emphasis added]
Despite these deficiencies, the Court has long upheld civil forfeiture as a law enforcement tool, based primarily on the argument that forfeiture “existed at the time of the founding.”
This practice “took hold in the United States,” where the “First Congress passed laws subjecting ships and cargos involved in customs offenses to forfeiture. Other early statutes also provided for the forfeiture of pirate ships.”

These historical examples are undeniable, but for Thomas, they may not be sufficient to justify the broad reach of modern forfeiture. As he wrote,
I am skeptical that this historical practice is capable of sustaining, as a constitutional matter, the contours of the modern practice, for two reasons.
First, historical forfeiture laws were narrower in most respects than modern ones. Most obviously, they were limited to a few specific subject matters, such as customs and piracy. Proceeding in rem in those cases was often justified by necessity, because the party responsible for the crime was frequently located overseas and thus beyond the personal jurisdiction of United States courts. These laws were also narrower with respect to the type of property they encompassed …
Second, it is unclear whether courts historically permitted actions to proceed civilly in all respects. Some of this Court’s early cases suggested that forfeiture actions were in the nature of criminal proceedings. Whether forfeiture is characterized as civil or criminal carries important implications for a variety of procedural protections, including the right to a jury trial and the proper standard of proof. [Emphasis added]
Thomas is correct that forfeiture laws have strayed far beyond their historically limited role. In 1984, Congress ramped up forfeiture for the narrow purpose of targeting the property and ill-gotten gains of criminal kingpins, interstate drug gangs, and other worst-of-the-worst offenders, and in the decades since, it has not been constrained even to this expanded usage.

Today, more than 400 federal laws authorize seizure and forfeiture of cash and property for myriad alleged offenses. Far from seizing pirate ships on the high seas, the most common use of forfeiture today is to seize relatively small amounts of cash on suspicion that the money was involved in a drug deal.

The ballooning scope of forfeiture may ultimately prove to be its undoing. In concluding his statement, Thomas signaled his willingness to hear future cases challenging civil forfeiture: “Whether this Court’s treatment of the broad modern forfeiture practice can be justified by the narrow historical one is certainly worthy of consideration in greater detail.”
Commentary by The Heritage Foundation's Jason Snead. Originally published at The Daily Signal.