Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on getting Americans back in the labor force:
The low U.S. labor force participation rate has several causes, but a major one is the disincentive to work created by government programs. The Republican Party’s growth wing has spent years developing ideas for addressing these incentives not to work and rise up the economic ladder, and the results are starting to show.
Last month to almost no attention the House Ways and Means Committee moved a bill from Chairman Kevin Brady that would update the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as TANF. This program is the result of the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton 1996 welfare reform.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Robert Doar noted recently that TANF on the whole is a success. The program has declined as a share of 1996 spending while Medicaid and food stamps have exploded. One big reason is because TANF is a block grant to states, unlike the Medicaid racket that allows states to draw down more federal dollars for every new enrollee. The program even survived attempts at sabotage by the Obama Administration like expanding waivers for work requirements.
The current system requires states to engage 50 percent of families in work activities. But that means states can write off some of the tougher cases. And gimmicks like a “caseload reduction credit” allow states to buy down the 50 percent rate to a much lower benchmark or even 0 percent of families. Mr. Brady’s bill would require that 100 percent of recipients engage in work or training as a precondition of receiving benefits.
More broadly, the bill moves from a measure of participation in work to new metrics that will try to tilt at questions such as: Did this recipient get and keep a job? Health and Human Services will manage a dashboard that grades states. States have flexibility on setting goals and targets, which can dilute accountability but is an improvement over the status quo.
Some changes aren’t about the folks receiving benefits but the people who run the programs. State benefit offices are too often places to pick up a check and little else. The plan would toughen up case-management practices, which is essential for helping folks, say, making a career transition.
The bill also says that states must direct the funding toward families below 200 percent of the poverty line. Governors and state legislators have shuffled money around into other priorities that aren’t aimed at low-income individuals, and TANF funding has become a popular pot for state lawmakers to raid in a pinch.
Attacks from Democrats will not be nuanced — or accurate. Mr. Brady’s bill maintains current levels of funding. It isn’t “slashing” or “gutting” or other descriptions that are sure to appear in the coming weeks. For now the bill looks like a long shot in the Senate thanks to flight risks like Susan Collins of Maine, but welfare reform is popular. The House is also moving as part of the farm bill on work requirements for food stamps, which are a much larger share of spending on income transfers.
The timing is right for these reforms amid a 3.8 percent jobless rate and worker shortages across the country. Paying people to make it easy not to work — and thus languish for a lifetime in poverty — is not compassionate. It’s destructive of human dignity and leads to more inequality. Republicans are right that welfare reform will assist American upward mobility, and they should take the case to the public.
Palm Beach Post says Hurricane Maria’s deadly impact on Puerto Rico deserves more attention:
Here it is, the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season, and we still haven’t made a reckoning of the real damage that last year’s Hurricane Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico.
Thanks, however, to a Harvard University study ... we’re getting closer to one. Researchers determined that in the three months after Maria hit on Sept. 20, there were 4,645 “excess deaths.” That’s 70 times greater than the official, but absurdly low, death count of 64 reported by the island’s Department of Public Safety on Dec. 29.
The deaths were mainly from a lack of medical care in the weeks after the storm — what happens when you have no electricity, when roads are blocked, when hospitals are closed or overcrowded.
This is a highly credible study. The researchers surveyed 3,299 randomly selected households on the island, asking whether people knew of deaths in their barrio, or neighborhood. They compared the results to official death statistics from 2016. It’s a well-accepted technique, and they made their investigative methods and findings public in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine other researchers can check their work with their own investigations.
The Trump administration has been silent about the study’s findings as of this writing. That’s shocking, yet in line with President Trump’s seemingly dismissive attitude when he visited the storm-torn island on Oct. 3 and said officials should be “proud” of the then-low death count of 16 — as opposed to “a real catastrophe like Katrina” — and tossed paper towels into the crowd like so many basketball free throws.
But catastrophes don’t get much more real than Maria.
The Harvard numbers (which are “likely conservative,” the authors say) would make this the deadliest natural disaster to hit U.S. soil in 100 years, with a mortality rate twice that of Hurricane Katrina’s in 2005. The only other disaster with a higher death count is the Galveston hurricane of 1900, when between 6,000 and 12,000 people died.
Had this Category 5 hit the continental United States, you can bet the outcome would have been different. Just days ago, in fact, Politico magazine published the results of an extensive investigation and affirmed the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster and, initially greater, effort in Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit in October, than it did in Puerto Rico after Maria, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.
For example, the military sent 73 helicopters — critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies to Houston — within six days of Harvey; it took at least three weeks for 70 helicopters to fly above Puerto Rico. Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, vs. $6.2 million for Maria victims.
“We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the military’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, told Politico. “And (in Puerto Rico) we didn’t use those assets the way they should have been used.”
Trump visited Houston twice in the first eight days after Harvey, but waited 13 days after Maria to go to Puerto Rico. Trump sent three times as many tweets about Harvey as Maria, and what he did write about Puerto Rico was at times insulting: “They want everything done for them.”
Yes, such greedy, grasping people: On average, Puerto Ricans went 84 days without electricity, 68 days without water and 41 days without cellphone service, the Harvard survey found. Even now, eight months after Maria, Puerto Rico is broken. Almost 12,000 homes and businesses remain without power. Despite an eight-month, $3.8-billion federal effort to end the longest blackout in U.S. history, few expect the newly erected poles and wires to stand up to the inevitable next storm.
The hardships have unleashed an exodus that could reach almost half a million by 2019. At least 56,000 of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents have already resettled in Florida, school enrollments indicate, more than any other state, joining the 1 million Puerto Ricans who were already here.
Politicians sense their voting potential. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has visited the island three times since Sept. 20; Gov. Rick Scott, his Republican challenger in November’s election, made his sixth trip there ...
Granted, Puerto Rico was poorly prepared for a catastrophic hurricane before Maria hit, its government in bankruptcy, its power grid decaying over years. But the disaster should have snapped America to attention about the island’s troubles.
It didn’t. The media, obsessed with Trump’s daily dramas, has kept the island’s post-Maria miseries on the periphery. Unlike Texas, with its 38 members of Congress who could clamor for action, Puerto Rico has a lone congressional delegate with no voting power. Half of Americans — and that includes some politicians — don’t even know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, a poll in September showed.
This indifference has lingered for too long, and cost too many lives. It needs to end.
Los Angeles Times on President Donald Trump asserting he has the right to pardon himself:
Donald Trump once said during the 2016 presidential campaign that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and still not lose any voters. And who knows? He may have been right.
Now that he’s president, could he also be protected from prosecution for pulling the trigger? Trump seems to believe so. That’s the essence of his assertion Monday morning that he has the absolute right to pardon himself.
Of course the context of his tweet was not a New York shooting but the ongoing special investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election. But the claim would seem to be no more or less valid for one presidential action than any other. If federal prosecutions are merely extensions of the president’s executive power, and if he could pardon himself as readily as he could pardon Joe Arpaio or Dinesh D’Souza, then it’s hard to see how he could be held to answer for breaking any federal law. Prosecute me, Trump seems to be saying, and I will just pardon myself and we’ll move on. So why bother prosecuting me in the first place?
In this view the president is like kings and emperors of ages past. By definition, he cannot violate the law. It’s not that he is above the law. As president, the argument goes, he is the law.
That notion is foreign and unpardonable — a structurally monarchical presidency constrained by nothing but the president himself. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ later statement that “no one is above the law” offers little comfort, given that the president apparently believes that he is.
Trump is correct when he says that there are some legal scholars who back his assertion that the president can pardon himself. It is a claim not yet vetted in the courts because there has never before been a president willing to push the question very far. Richard Nixon fired his prosecutor but ultimately resigned because he knew he faced impeachment, not because of impending criminal prosecution. President Gerald Ford did pardon Nixon and shielded him from criminal accountability for his actions, but by then Nixon was out of the White House, no longer a danger to the nation or a threat to the rule of law or the checks and balances of government.
So perhaps impeachment, replete with the trappings of legal procedure but at heart a political action, is the proper check on the otherwise unfettered power of a president over how, or even whether, the law is enforced? But then there is no check at all on any president who is sufficiently popular that he can, say, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without fear from Congress, because it’s not in the political interests of the GOP majority to stand up to him. That would make us a nation of men (and women) and not of laws. And that’s not what we are.
The Salt Lake Tribune on the Supreme Court ruling for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple:
Bad cases make bad law. Nobody does — or should — know that better than the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court.
So it is not such a bad thing that in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — aka the gay wedding cake case — the court endeavored not to make a law at all.
Anyone who thinks the case was decided in favor of those who want the law to protect discrimination against LGBT people stands to be sadly disappointed.
People of faith have been given a chance, if they are wise and open enough to take it, to reverse the growing disillusionment with religion by finding a way to accommodate respect for same-sex couples within their values. If they can’t, then no number of ambiguous or even supportive Supreme Court rulings will hold back the judgment of history and further weaken the influence of organized religion.
In order to build a substantial 7-2 majority, the ruling from Justice Anthony Kennedy went out of its way to stick to the narrowest question of the case. The decision focused on the very particular matter of whether the defendant in the case, the Colorado state body charged with finding and sanctioning illegal acts of discrimination, had entered into its deliberations with a suitably open mind.
Kennedy’s ruling was largely based on comments from members of the commission that seemed to prejudice the proceedings, entering into the case with a presupposition that certain religious beliefs and motivations were invalid.
The court was having none of that. The baker, Kennedy properly wrote, was entitled to have his case considered by an unbiased body that saw its role as weighing competing interests.
But the ruling was also clear that the right of same-sex couples to be held equal before the law was not to be compromised.
Legally, the loser in this case was not the baker, and not the same-sex couple refused service when they tried to order a custom wedding cake. The loser was an arm of government that, in the view of the court, had not observed proper due process in building its ruling.
The larger question of whether there is ever any valid reason — religious or otherwise — for a public accommodation to refuse service to any customer has been left to another day.
Chicago Tribune on House Republicans working to bring four competing immigration measures to the floor this month:
In the long and bitter fight over immigration reform, Americans have staked out a patch of common ground: They don’t believe young foreigners who grew up here should be kicked out, even if they came without permission.
This year alone: A Quinnipiac University poll found 73 percent of voters support legislation to allow the so-called “Dreamers” to remain in the U.S. legally. An NPR poll found 65 percent in favor. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 87 percent would let them stay “if they arrived here as a child, completed high school or military service and have not been convicted of a serious crime.”
That last question closely tracks the requirements of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, the status of which is currently uncertain. President Barack Obama created it by executive order in 2012; President Donald Trump attempted to kill it the same way in 2017. Federal courts will decide if it lives or dies.
Think about it. The American people are strongly in favor of granting legal status to these young immigrants. Why are we waiting for the judicial branch to rule on an executive branch action while the legislative branch sits on its hands?
We’re looking at you, Peter Roskam, Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Darin LaHood, Rodney Davis, Mike Bost and John Shimkus.
It has been 17 years since the original DREAM Act — it stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — was introduced. It’s a bipartisan measure that has been reintroduced in each subsequent Congress. But despite broad public support, it hasn’t gone anywhere. Year after year, it’s been held hostage in a larger fight over how to reform the entire immigration system.
Nothing is getting done. Not even the easy fix for the “Dreamers.”
Finally, we’re seeing some leadership, though not from the top. Moderate Republicans in the House are collecting signatures to bypass the procedural roadblocks and bring four competing immigration measures to the floor later this month. They need three more members to reach the necessary 218. They are confident they can get them.
You’d think they could count on the Illinois GOP delegation to put them over the top. The American Immigration Council says 1 in 7 Illinois residents — workers, taxpayers, business owners — is foreign-born. The state has more than 36,000 young immigrants enrolled in DACA.
The Illinois Business Immigration Coalition is leaning hard on GOP lawmakers who need a reminder that immigrants are an economic plus. Coalition members who are also major Republican campaign donors have cut off funding to candidates who haven’t signed the petition to force a vote on DACA.
“I’m not supporting politicians that aren’t working hard to get this done, from the dogcatcher on up,” said David MacNeil, founder of Bolingbrook-based WeatherTech. Former Exelon Chairman John Rowe has slammed his checkbook shut, too. But Illinois GOP reps are still not on board.
In Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan and his lieutenants are holding closed-door meetings, trying to avoid an embarrassing overthrow. If they find it’s too late, they can blame themselves.
For too long, they’ve ducked their responsibility to broker a compromise. They’ve lost sight of what their constituents want and need.
If it takes an intraparty spectacle to break the logjam, then bring it.
The Toronto Star on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presiding over the G7 summit that President Donald Trump will attend:
The role of a host, generally speaking, is to make sure the guests are comfortable and no fights break out at the party.
But when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presides over the annual summit of G7 leaders starting Friday in Charlevoix, Quebec, he’ll have a very different job: speaking plain truths to the biggest, most disruptive guest of them all, President Donald Trump.
If that means the summit “fails” by traditional standards, then so be it. At this point there’s no point in Trudeau simply making nice with Trump. No one would believe it, and Canadians will rightly feel let down by their leader.
Trump has gone out of his way to sabotage the trust between Washington and its closest allies, including Canada and key G7 members like Britain, France and Germany. His latest gambit is imposing stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, ostensibly for reasons of “national security.”
As regards Canada and Mexico, it’s really just a naked pressure tactic to gain an edge for the U.S. in the talks to renegotiate NAFTA. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Kudlow, threw in another curveball this week. He says Trump wants to split up the NAFTA talks; instead of renewing the three-way deal among what used to be known as the “Three Amigos,” the president would prefer to work out separate pacts with Canada and Mexico.
Of course he would. Divide and conquer is an ancient tactic and Canada is quite right to reject that approach as a total non-starter. When it comes to dealing with Trump on trade, if Canada and Mexico don’t hang together they will surely hang separately.
Trudeau has taken a tougher public stance with Trump in past weeks, as he must given the continuous provocations from the White House. The G7 will be a major test of how he handles the petulant president, and he should not worry overly about taking a firm line.
Traditionally, prime ministers have been expected to handle their dealings with U.S. presidents with the greatest delicacy. If the American side got upset enough to show its annoyance, a good number of Canadians were ready to jump on the prime minister for “mishandling” relations with Washington.
But with Trump, the mishandling is all on one side and most of it is deliberate. Trudeau and his foreign affairs team tried the nice-guy approach for a long time, to considerable good effect. But there is a point beyond which that risks looking like weakness, and we passed that point in recent weeks.
For the prime minister, it’s time to stand up to the bully — and be seen to be doing so.