Category Archives: Strassel

Why We Are Covid Broke

WSJ, 3/31/2022 by Kimberly Strassel

Washington dysfunction is so comprehensive, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. So there is usefulness in a recent White House missive to Congress—which in a few short pages neatly sums up the dishonesty and malpractice of today’s Beltway.

“Dear Madame Speaker,” begins the March 15 letter, devoted to the topic of Covid poverty. “We are notifying you of the following actions necessitated by the lack of critical funding.” Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and White House Covid coordinator Jeffrey Zients explain that unless Congress supplies tens of billions more in taxpayer dollars, the federal government will no longer be able to “secure sufficient booster doses,” will end “the purchase of monoclonal antibody treatments,” will halt “critical testing,” and will scale back “preventive treatments for the immunocompromised.”

We are, somehow, Covid broke. How? Didn’t Washington, under the cry of “emergency,” spend $6.6 trillion in fiscal 2020 and $6.8 trillion more in 2021? Both years equaled at least 50% more in spending than in 2019—and all for “Covid.” Only a year ago, Democrats waved through a sixth Covid relief bill, President Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan—enough money to buy every Covid vaccine, ventilator, and hospital chain on the planet. Only this week, the White House put out a $5.8 trillion 2023 budget proposal. Yet the administration insists that without $22.5 billion in emergency dollars now, we again face Covid apocalypse.

Where did all the money go? Everywhere but to Covid. The Rescue Plan handed $350 billion in “relief” money to the states, and the Associated Press recently described its uses. Some $140 million is going to a high-end hotel in Broward County, Fla. Colorado Springs, Colo., is dumping $6.6 million into golf-course irrigation systems. An Iowa county is using $2 million to purchase a privately owned ski area. Massachusetts is ladling $5 million to cover the debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate.

Crain’s reports that even dollars earmarked for Covid aren’t safe. New York is sitting on funds that were supposed to go to homeowner assistance and small-business recovery but may not be needed as the pandemic wanes. Crain’s notes that “one watchdog raised the notion that the relief money—particularly $12.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds—could become a pile of unassigned dollars for the state government to use as it deems necessary.”

And that’s just the legal waste, fraud and abuse. One of Congress’s first Covid-relief bills created a committee of inspectors general to provide oversight of Covid funds. It’s done a good job—even as Congress studiously ignores its findings. The inspector general of the Small Business Administration reported that fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program and other loans was “unheard of—unprecedented.” “In terms of the monetary value, the amount of fraud in these Covid relief programs is going to be larger than any government program that came before it,” he told ABC News in August.

The Labor Department inspector general now estimates that more than $163 billion of $872 billion in Covid unemployment dollars might have been improperly paid, “with a significant portion attributable to fraud.” That’s a 19% improper-payment rate and more than seven times the $22.5 billion the White House recently insisted it needed in emergency additional Covid dollars.

Democratic “moderates” are expressing outrage over this mismanagement, with Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger calling the state boondoggles “outrageous” and “nuts.” Yet the Rescue Plan passed on an entirely partisan vote (including Ms. Spanberger’s), and these Democrats were nowhere to be found when Republicans were trying to limit how the money was spent. Many Democrats even now are resisting Republican demands that additional money come from repurposed, unspent Covid funds.

Not that Republicans have much to brag about. They boycotted the final $1.9 trillion Rescue Plan, but they were partners in crime in the five Covid bills that preceded it. Those bills included hefty checks to households that didn’t need the cash, blue-state bailouts, and giant new infusions to federal government agencies.

Americans are increasingly realizing that Congress is barely capable of anything but spending money—and that only via shadowy back-room deals and last-minute votes. In recent years it’s proved unable to pass policing reform, any trade bills, or desperately needed changes to immigration policy, to name a few failures. But dangle in front of lawmakers a juicy infrastructure blowout, or an omnibus plumped with earmarks, or a payoff to states and the education lobby disguised as a Covid “relief” bill—and they’re all over it.

The mismanagement of Covid funds highlights the absurdity of the White House’s new demand for more, not to mention Mr. Biden’s $5.8 trillion budget. If Republicans can’t make spending discipline central to their midterm message, they risk alienating a voter base that is disgusted with Washington largesse.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/kimberley-strassel-covid-broke-emergency-spending-pandemic-relief-american-rescue-plan-washington-budget-negotiations-boosters-testing-waste-fraud-11648735209

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Justice. Rebuke.

Ms. Strassel’s conclusions say it all.  mrossol

WSJ. 11/26/2020 By

Chief Justice John Marshall once described the presidential pardon as “an act of grace.” In the case of Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s pardon was something more. It was a requirement of justice.

Mr. Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d granted Mr. Flynn a full pardon. Liberals and the media are (as per their tedious usual) claiming the president stepped in to aid a corrupt crony. This has it exactly backward. The Flynn pardon was necessary—to correct a corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation, a rogue special counsel, an unprincipled federal judge, and an embarrassingly complicit media.

This story dripped out over years, so it took until recently to get a full accounting of the government’s Trump-by-proxy takedown of Mr. Flynn. A decorated veteran, Mr. Flynn advised the Trump campaign and in November 2016 was named national security adviser. The FBI had spent months monitoring him as part of its Russia-collusion fantasy, yet by Jan. 4, 2017, it had found nothing and moved to close its case.

In rushed Peter Strzok—the now-disgraced then-FBI agent—to keep the investigation open. The FBI had snooped on a Flynn call to the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S. This is perfectly legal; ask Joe Biden’s team, which is making such calls now. The FBI nonetheless debated a ludicrous Logan Act charge, before settling on a simpler course. As former FBI counterintelligence head Bill Priestap put it in handwritten notes, one FBI option was “to get [Mr. Flynn] to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”

The FBI didn’t need to interview the National Security Agency about his conversation; it had the transcript. Yet the bureau’s then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe sandbagged Mr. Flynn, arranging for him to meet with FBI agents without a lawyer. Former FBI Director Jim Comey later gloated over the setup. The FBI also chose not to provide Mr. Flynn a standard warning against lying, to keep him comfortable. Despite all this, the agents reported—according to government notes—that they “believe that F. believes that what he said was true.” He didn’t intentionally lie.

Fast forward to Robert Mueller, who didn’t care. The FBI knew in January 2017 that its collusion investigation was a bust; it confirmed the Steele dossier was a fabrication. So Mr. Comey engineered a special counsel to salvage the FBI’s reputation by ginning up unrelated “crimes.” Mr. Mueller dredged up the Flynn interview and threatened to prosecute the former national security adviser’s son unless Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying. Facing bankruptcy, Mr. Flynn succumbed to this naked abuse of power.

Hope came with a new lawyer and Attorney General William Barr’s 2020 decision to review the case. But even as the executive branch moved to right its wrongs, a federal judge took up the persecutorial torch. In May the Justice Department moved to drop its case, presenting Judge Emmet Sullivan with veteran prosecutor Jeffrey Jensen’s assessment that the FBI never had a legitimate purpose in interviewing Mr. Flynn, that he should never have been prosecuted. The department also presented papers documenting the FBI’s shocking behavior.

The Justice Department, not judges, makes the call on whom to prosecute. Yet Judge Sullivan refused to accept the withdrawal, instead indulging his politics and his inner petty tyrant. He went so far as to appoint a fellow conspiracy theorist, retired Judge John Gleeson, to spout evidence-free claims that prosecutors were giving special treatment to Mr. Flynn. Judge Sullivan’s behavior was so outrageous that a federal appeals panel in June ordered him to dismiss the case. The full appellate court in August agreed to let him hold a hearing while warning him to get his act together.

Judge Sullivan held his hearing in September but by this week had yet to rule. Mr. Trump might have waited, in hope that Judge Sullivan would feel mounting pressure to regain some credibility by dismissing. Then again, there was every reason to believe the judge would string this out beyond Jan. 20. He’s made clear all along he wants Mr. Flynn subject to an avenging Biden Justice Department. Not because Mr. Flynn broke the law, but because Mr. Flynn is a stand-in for a president the judicial, prosecutorial and media elites despise.

That’s the sad reality of the Flynn mess. In a better world, the Flynn case would have been dismissed with prejudice, an on-the-record censure of appalling FBI and Justice Department behavior. But that’s why the judge refused to do it. It had nothing to do with guilt or innocence—but rather reputation. We remain in the last gasps of Never Trump world, where people of power told themselves it was OK to break rules, norms, standards—even the law—in their quest to take the president down. To dismiss the Flynn case would have been to acknowledge that this behavior was wrong. And that would have been too painful, too embarrassing, too galling for the haters.

So it was left to the White House to make this right, to take a wrecking ball to a rigged system. Mr. Trump acted correctly. And there could have been no more fitting, final rebuke to four years of drive-by shootings than to release the man the cabal claimed as its very first victim. Justice indeed, and on many levels.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

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The James Comey Election

People rightly ask whether Donald Trump has the “character” to be President. But what of the “character” of so many others who inhabit ‘the swamp’? Does abusing power for political gain fall under “character”? mrossol

WSJ 10/2/2020 By Kimberly Strassel

The political elite remain puzzled—and in agony—over how Donald Trump could still be in the race. A bullying debater! A purveyor of mistruths! A would-be autocrat! How has our country come to this?

The answer sat staring at them on a videolink this Wednesday, in the smug countenance of James Comey.

This obvious truth will be missed by the left and the media, which continue to comfort themselves with the fiction that Mr. Trump won in 2016 by preying on the weak and ill-informed. The opposite is true. The businessman was propelled to office on the fury of those who had seen too much. They’d watched for decades as an insulated elected class—Democrat and Republican alike—broke promises, failed to solve problems, and blamed it on the system.

These voters had watched the swamp take over—IRS targeters, self-righteous prosecutors, zealous regulators—armed with stunning powers and a mentality that they were entitled to make the rules, to tell the little people what was best for them. Voters fumed over the double standard. Hillary Clinton deleted government emails with abandon, while a 77-year-old Navy veteran went to prison for building a pond in contravention of “navigable water” rules.

 

Mr. Comey personifies what enrages those Americans. His testimony this week was a vivid reminder that the election won’t hinge only on the issues as defined by the media elite. Tuesday’s brawl was mostly about the virus, the economy, violence in the streets, the Supreme Court. But November’s vote for many Americans will be a choice between an administration that believes we the people should run Washington, and those who believe the swamp should rule the masses. Mr. Biden wouldn’t challenge the mandarins; he’d unleash them.

 

Chairman Lindsey Graham hauled the former FBI director in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee ostensibly to answer for stunning new details in the bureau’s Trump-Russia probe. But the hearing more broadly resurrected the breathtaking arrogance of the swamp. This was the crew that in 2016—based on the thinnest of tips—launched a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign, complete with secret surveillance warrants and informants. Mr. Comey triggered the public release of the collusion accusations. He secretly kept memos of his conversations with a president, for future leverage. He leaked them, to provoke a special counsel and two years of hell.

FBI agent Peter Strzok in 2018 lectured Congress that the bureau had too many “safeguards” and “procedures” ever to allow “improper” behavior. Yet this past week provided evidence the FBI leaders blew through red light after red light. We already knew they based the probe on a dossier that came from a rival campaign. We knew the bureau was warned early on that the dossier was potential Russian disinformation. And now we know it discovered that the man who was the dossier’s primary source had been under FBI investigation as a suspected agent for Moscow. The bureau hid all of this from the surveillance court. It even doctored an email to conceal exculpatory information.

Mr. Comey highlighted the double standard again on Wednesday, as he danced around accountability. The probe’s biggest problem was that it was run at the top with no checks or oversight. Yet according to Mr. Comey, the top didn’t include the FBI director. “I can’t recall.” “I don’t remember learning anything.” “I don’t recall being informed of that.” “That’s about all I can recall.” “I don’t know.” “That doesn’t ring a bell.” So responded Mr. Comey for hours. His claims of obliviousness contrast with recent documents showing widespread concern in the FBI about the probe’s problems, with agents and analysts fretting about future “tough questions” and rushing to purchase professional liability insurance.

Mr. Biden has yet to be asked on the campaign trail if he approves of this FBI behavior, including its misrepresentations to a surveillance court. Or what he thinks of Mr. Comey, who has been excoriated in three inspector general reports. Or of former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired for leaking and for lying to investigators. But Biden’s failure to voluntarily weigh in on such a consequential scandal may be viewed by voters as evidence that Mr. Biden is fine with it. And why wouldn’t he be? This all took place in Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s Washington.

Those eight years featured plenty of other swamp monsters, and don’t underestimate the number of Americans who fear a return to that world. Lois Lerner harassing conservative nonprofits. Supervisors at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives loosing guns in Fast and Furious. The Environmental Protection Agency minions who burned companies with ever-changing rules. The Bureau of Land Management harassment of ranchers and farmers. Energy Department officials steering stimulus payouts to Solyndra and other projects of Obama donors.

No one knows who will win this election. But the Comey testimony warns against thinking this battle will swing on candidate personalities alone. No matter how much the elite media wills it so.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-james-comey-election-11601594306?mod=opinion_featst_pos1

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The GOP’s ‘D’oh!’ Moment

Why Republicans can’t seem to think politically straight is not only frustrating, but incomprehensible.

WSJ 7/31/2020  by Kimberley A. Strassel

Senate Republicans experienced their “D’oh!” moment this week, and better late than never. If even Homer Simpson can experience moments of clarity, maybe the GOP can yet do a virus economy—and itself—some good.

As Congress spent another tortuous week nonnegotiating a fifth virus-relief bill, it finally dawned on Republicans that they are being played for fools. Democrats don’t want a bill; they want to win an election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who may go down as one of Washington’s greatest cynics—knew exactly what she was doing in May, when she cooked up the $3 trillion monstrosity known as the Heroes Act. If the GOP said no to her outlandish demands, Democrats would brand them as uncaring, unable to lead, unworthy of controlling Washington. If instead she bludgeoned them into swallowing her spendathon, Democrats would wave the win as proof they should control Washington. Heads Democrats win; tails Republicans lose.

 

The GOP did its mightiest to aid this strategy, by having no alternative of its own. By May, Congress had spent nearly $3 trillion on the virus, and Republicans had plenty to pack into a message: The bills provided generous aid to the unemployed, small businesses, families, vital industry, schools, states, renters and health providers. The goals were to stave off economic collapse, provide a lifeline during a national shutdown, lay the groundwork for reopening. All that was accomplished—not that you hear Republicans noting it. The bills, moreover, provided a cushion to deal with lingering needs; as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson recently noted, more than $1 trillion of those original packages has yet to be spent or obligated.

 

Instead of making these points, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled the GOP was open to tacking Democratic demands on to the Republican priority of liability protection for businesses and organizations. The White House rolled out Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who invited Mrs. Pelosi to dictate the GOP bill. Instead of putting together a plan focused on pro-growth economic policies, the Senate GOP cobbled together a hodgepodge of its own spending demands—money for schools, aid for farmers and, yes, $1.75 billion for a new FBI building. Cue a revolt by fiscal conservatives and party infighting—and two weeks of headlines about Republican “chaos.”

 

All the while, Democrats have broadcast—in plain English—that they have no intention of letting legislation succeed. Mrs. Pelosi this week described the two bills as a “giraffe” and a “flamingo” and said they were “not mateable.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer won’t even try, refusing to engage in regular order—to bring a bill to the floor, to hold amendments and votes, and to send a rival product to a House-Senate conference. Democrats have a plan—blame Republicans for the bill’s failure and, by laughable extension, the nation’s economic woes.

And so it was encouraging to see Mr. McConnell acknowledge reality and move to put the GOP back on offense. Stepping back from talks on a big bill, the Senate GOP tackled the most pressing deadline—the Friday expiration of federal enhanced unemployment benefits. Sen. Johnson proposed renewing these benefits at about two-thirds of lost wages, or roughly $200 a week. This would allow the federal government to continue providing some aid, though not the current, crazy $600 a week that is discouraging so many from returning to work. Senate Republicans asked for unanimous consent on that plan, and Democrats blocked it. That means Democrats own the expiration.

Not that the press will put it that way, which is why it is also encouraging that Mr. McConnell now intends to put a legislative version of that unemployment extension on the floor next week and put Democrats on record voting it down. The only way to expose Democratic cynicism and intransigence is to beat the public over the head with proof—something the GOP failed to do with policing reform. A GOP vote would force Democrats to explain why two-thirds of regular pay is not enough—especially given prior Democratic proposals that set virus sick leave and family medical leave at two-thirds regular pay. When Democrats vote it down, Mr. McConnell needs to bring it up again. And again.

The GOP meantime also has an opportunity to rethink and put together proposals sharply tailored to economic growth. Then bring them up again, and again. Hammer home that Democrats are blocking economic revival. (You can bet that is what Mr. Schumer would be doing to Republicans right now, were the situation reversed.)

 

If Republicans allow this election to become a contest over which party can spend more taxpayer dollars, they will lose. Better to treat it as an opportunity to present true competing visions—between a GOP that has a plan for a bigger and better economy, and a Democratic Party that wants a vastly larger entitlement state. Yet making that contrast first requires Republicans to get there themselves. Get a plan, make the case.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gops-doh-moment-11596149323?mod=opinion_featst_pos3

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