Thursday, July 27, 2017

Congress

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Budget Committee
"Ok, how do we want to waste taxpayer money this year fellas?"

The budget resolution of $1.1 trillion from the House Budget Committee has a questionable future as an internal conflict arose among the representative of the GOP over the $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts.

After an extensive session where the democrats were expected to propose 28 different amendments, the budget committee is set to finally pass the budget. The steps that follow are not concrete yet as the Republicans are still short of votes needed to pass the resolution on the House floor.

The chairwoman of the committee, Diane Black, says that she will make sure each and every member understands the value and significance of whatever they decide to add in the resolution before everyone reaches a general consensus.

The Freedom Caucus have managed to secure reductions worth $53 billion as a result of weeks of pushing higher mandatory spending cuts to offset discretionary spending in the proposed resolution. However they are asking for almost twice the previous amount coming mostly from Medicaid, welfare programs, nutrition assistance as well as education. Few of those savings would be the result of adding work requirements for Medicaid and the Welfare Support Programs.

According the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, Todd Rokita, the economic growth has been said to be slower than anticipated while millions of citizens are choosing not to even look for a job.

Centrist Republicans say the mandatory cuts are too much to be pushed through as part of the reconciliation process. According to them, the proposed budget resolution is oblivious of the political realities that exist.

Democratic support in the Senate will be required to pass any spending package. Same goes for lifting the budget caps to appropriate significant increases for the defense budget.

As the legislative weeks come to an end of the fiscal year 2017, they say that instead of negotiating a deal at the eleventh hour, the Republicans should negotiate with the Democrats otherwise it will yield different spending levels.

“We are writing the appropriations bill with numbers that are not real,” said Tuesday Group co-Chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), citing the budget’s $511 billion allocation for nondefense discretionary spending and $621.5 billion allocation for defense.

The Co-Chairman of the Tuesday Group, Charlie Dent, says that the appropriation bill is being drafted by them is using numbers that are far from reality while citing the $621 billion budget allocation for the defense and $511 billion for non-defense discretionary spending.

While referring to a republican plan of speeding up the process by combining all 12 appropriation bills into a single bill called the ‘omnibus’ he said, “Everyone knows that there will be a bipartisan, bicameral budget agreement at some point, and that 511 number will come up, the 621 number on defense will come down, those will be the real numbers, and the real omnibus will be later this year.”

Some members of the GOP are still concerned that they need more time to read the complex bills before the vote while others want to proceed with the plan as is.

Another complication for the budget is the fact that the efforts to repeal Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, also collapsed in the Senate.

The Republicans will be patient and let Senate do their job with the proposal as they have no plans to alter the healthcare assumptions of the budget plan. Whereas, the groups leaning to the left and the Democrats stood up against the budget plan, considering them to be cruel cuts,

“House Republicans have devised a toxic budget whose sole purpose is to hand tax breaks to billionaires on the backs of seniors and hard-working Americans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.).

Budget Committee ranking member John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said that Black had not invited him for any discussions on the budget and predicted that the resolution would fail on the House floor.

According to John Yarmuth (D-KY.), ranking member on the Budget Committee, Black did not invite him or any discussions on the budget. He further expects the resolution to fail on the House floor.

“The problem with the whole exercise is that it is designed to pave the way for a huge tax cut,” he said.

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ISIS Fighter
Wipe that smug look off your face, or a Tomahawk missile will do it for you!

A Louisiana Republican congressman took to Facebook to show his anger towards radical islamic terrorists; calling for terrorists to be wiped off the face of the earth, no matter where they are and which country they belong to.

Representative Clay Higgins posted a statement on Facebook, which has since received over a thousand comments and about 3000 reactions. He wrote:

“The free world… all of Christendom… is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Higgins, locally popular as “Cajun John Wayne,” is a former police chief. He has also hosted crime shows in the past, where he called criminals “thugs,” “animals” and “heathens.”

When Higgins resigned from his position in law enforcement, he said Jesus was the reason behind his decision.

“I begin each day on bended knee, but I kneel to our savior,” Higgins said in 2016 when announcing his resignation from the police force. “I will not kneel to violent street gangs, I will not kneel to murderers or the parents who raised them. I will not kneel to a discredited wannabe black activist that doesn’t really have the best interest of his people in mind. I will not kneel to bureaucrats from Washington, Baton Rouge or anywhere else. I would die rather than sacrifice my principles. If I would sacrifice my life for my principles, surely you understand I must sacrifice my job.”

In a statement to Baton Rouge’s The Advocate, the congressman refused to back down from his comments and elaborated on what he intended to say by “kill them all.”

“We are a world at war,” he said. “The enemy is radicalized Islamic jihadists. The terrorists certainly take advantage of the politically correct madness that consumes the West.”

He further added that there are many people in the west who are “frightened to speak freely.” He continued, saying that he’s never been politically correct and that he calls “things the way I see them.”

“The meaning of candid speech is frequently mischaracterized or misunderstood,” he noted. “This is about prioritizing national security and protecting American lives. Every measure must be taken to eliminate radical Islamic terrorism and the threat it poses to the free world. My only concern is protecting the people that live in my district, my state, and my country. We must stand strong against radical Islamic terror. The fate of the free world will be determined by the courageous, not by the intimidated.”

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TSA Search
Hey, I wonder if this traveler has a phone charger in here - I've been needing a new one!

Much has been said of the ineffectiveness and intrusiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) over the last decade and a half. However, when newspaper headlines start mocking the agency for asking a passenger “Is that a cookie or a bomb?”, it becomes clear that we have a real problem.

To be sure, there is a vital need for pre-flight security. That has never been in question. What has been questioned is the amount of power granted to a single federal agency for performing functions that can, could, and should be undertaken by private agencies under contract with the federal government. At least private contractors could be fired for the troubling behavior demonstrated by the TSA over the years, including beating-bloody passengers with special needs, humiliating teenagers over choice of clothing, and making incredibly rude remarks about passengers – including U.S. Olympians.

Despite numerous incidents of this nature, the TSA is routinely rewarded each year with billions of taxpayer dollars, out of blind deference to the golden calf of “national security.” And now, federal officials are poised to give the agency even more power over you.

Responding to recent terror threats in the same, often ham-fisted and reactionary methods typical of federal agencies in the post 9/11 world, the TSA currently is testing new screening procedures that require passengers to remove food and reading materials from carry-on bags. In addition to demanding that passengers place their shoes, coats, laptops, “liquids,” and any other bulky items in separate bins, new procedures being applied in several airports require passengers to separate out books, magazines, and snacks for extra inspection by TSA agents.

Where today passengers are advised to arrive at their departure airport at least two hours before a scheduled flight, one can only imagine the additional time delays this will create with TSA screenings; though, this should be the least of passengers’ worries. According to TSA officials, screeners may “fan” reading materials while checking for contraband, but promise they are not actually paying attention to what travelers are reading. Never mind that it was revealed only two years ago that TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program employs subjective behavioral markers such as excessive body odor and sweating, for secret scorings to determine if an individual passenger likely is a terrorist. Yet, have no fear — the content of a person’s reading material is completely off-limits. Sure.

Try as they might to convince us of their trustworthiness, nothing in the TSA’s history of gratuitously punitive, if not deliberately petty behavior, leads us to believe this to be true. Rather, what is more likely is that reading material specifically will become the focal point of TSA screeners’ discretion as to whether passengers warrant additional screening. A passenger’s magazines and books will then be subject also to callous remarks from agents; all of which passengers must silently endure. After all, what other recourse do they have when faced with abuse from federal agents – submit or miss your flight, or find yourself facing criminal charges.

Passengers, who long ago should have abandoned hope for even a modicum of privacy or dignity when attempting to fly, must also endure the embarrassment of pulling out their choice of reading for other passengers to see and judge. Ready to fly? You must also be ready for your fellow passengers to know if you are dealing with marriage issues, depression, or a have a predilection for erotica. It will soon be all on display as agents “fan” through your reading material with the restraint and professionalism demonstrated with other luggage items.

To its credit, TSA’s Pre-Check program, in which passengers apply to be vetted before flying and then are allowed expedited screening without all the dehumanizing antics of going through non-Pre-Check screening, is a significant step in the right direction. However, rather than double-down on what has so far been a relatively successful program, TSA fritters away its budget on other highly questionable projects like SPOT, and now what might be called its “Approved Reading Materials Assessment Program” (“ARMAP” for short).

Congress, of course, should step in and undertake serious oversight of TSA, including this latest foray into inspecting an individual’s reading materials.  Unfortunately, considering the deference with which the Congress has approached funding TSA year after year, it is unlikely the legislative branch of our federal government will do more now, than issue some stern warnings followed by approving increased funding for yet another year.  And the privacy rights of the citizenry – at least those who wish to exercise their right to travel by commercial air carriers – will have suffered another blow in the name of “national security.”

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Porky Politicians get a taste of the Trump Diet

In March of last year, the Heritage Foundation released their recommendation for a 2017 federal budget in a document titled, “Blueprint for Balance.”

According to numerous reports, President-Elect Trump plans to use the blueprint for his incoming administration and push Congress to pass the plans that include a $1.3 trillion tax break.

The Left is up in arms about the plan as it cuts programs preferential to minorities, women and the arts.

But the plan doesn’t just target the pet projects of Democrats, it cuts spending for non-combat research within the Department of Defense as well as subsidies to military commissaries.

The word “eliminate” occurs 230 times in the 180 page document.

As a reference, “reduce” occurs only 107 times.

The plan is an ambitious attempt to curb government spending and reduce its size and as such, is likely to face significant resistance in Congress.

A similar plan was proposed in 2015 and lost the House vote by a significant margin.

President Elect Trump will have to brow-beat pork-barrel politicians to give up their special projects and ear marks if he wants to abide by the spirit of the blueprint and make progress towards creating a smaller government.

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Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton today made the following statement regarding the proposed change to House rules that would eliminate its Office of Congressional Ethics:

It is shameful that House Republicans are trying to destroy the Office of Congressional Ethics, the most significant ethics reform in Congress when it was established nearly a decade ago. This drive-by effort to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics, which provides appropriate independence and transparency to the House ethics process, is a poor way for the Republican majority to begin “draining the swamp.” The American people will see this latest push to undermine congressional ethics enforcement as shady and corrupt. The full House should seriously consider whether it wants to bear the brunt of public outrage and go through with the rule change this afternoon.

Background: Judicial Watch worked with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Special Task Force on Ethics Enforcement to push for an independent body to help handle ethics investigations of House members. This effort led to the establishment of the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2008. Today’s proposed rule change by the House majority would eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics and create a new entity under the complete control of the House Ethics Committee that is less transparent and subject to severe restrictions on any investigations of allegations of misconduct by House members.

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congress

No sooner had the election results rolled in late last Tuesday night, heralding a Donald Trump victory and continued Republican control of both houses of the Congress, than many Republicans began calling on Speaker Ryan to get the House ready to start passing Trump’s agenda. The better call would have been to remind both Ryan and Trump that it is not when the House of Representatives serves as a rubber stamp for the President, that good and fiscally conservative actions result. Rather, it is when there is a degree of positive tension between the House majority and the President of the same or a different party that the system constructed many decades ago by our Founders, actually works best.

It is a team effort, to be sure, and President Trump has every right to press for enactment of his legislative and fiscal agendas. But Paul Ryan, as Speaker and Leader of the House of Representatives, has an equally important responsibility to ensure that the President’s agenda fits within the budgetary and legislative agendas of the House and of the majority of members elected thereto. Truly, the last thing President Trump should want, is a Speaker who salutes and says “Yessir” whenever the President calls.

While many students of history focus on the differences between the House and the Senate in terms of their procedural powers; the perhaps more relevant focus should be on the relationship between the House of Representatives and the President.

Recent history is full of examples of the bad things that happen when the House forgets or willfully ignores its separate responsibility to carefully consider and amend a president’s legislative proposals; or blindly pushes a president’s budgetary proposals simply because that president happens to be of the same political party as the majority. President George W. Bush’s vaunted “No Child Left Behind Act,” sent to the House in January 2001 and rushed though both houses with little real consideration, turned out to be a law widely panned by educators and many Republicans as costly and unworkable.

Just a couple of years later, Bush demanded the GOP-controlled House pass the prescription drug benefit bill, despite cries by conservatives that its projected costs were drastically and artificially under-estimated. It passed, and has in fact turned out to be hugely more expensive than the Bush Administration’s projections.

The good news is that in Trump and Ryan, there appears to be the ingredients for success in this regard. For one thing, and unlike the current President who almost never dismounted from his high horse to climb the steps of Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress (even of his own Party), Trump shows no such arrogance. In fact – and as he notes in his books – Trump enjoys the art of negotiating; a critical component of good legislation. Moreover, he respects a tough and informed adversary and is disposed to run roughshod over weak opponents – a characteristic some of his early GOP Primary opponents recognized too late.

Ryan, too, seems to have a good head for negotiating; although his job in a Trump-Ryan tete-a-tete will be more difficult since Trump only has one point of view (his) to worry about, while Ryan has many to keep in mind and in line.

The House and its leadership must never forget that its fiscal responsibility is owed not to the incoming or any president, but to the people and the future of our country. Thus, and here again unlike during the first Administration of George W. Bush, if President Trump asks the House to pass a budget that, for whatever great reasons he cites, busts the budget and increases the federal deficit, Ryan must say “No.” As we recall, it took less than two budget cycles for new President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress to bust the balanced budget so laboriously crafted in 1997 between then-Speaker Gingrich and then-Democratic President Bill Clinton; and Washington has never looked back since.

The runaway budget deficits that became a hallmark of the George W. Bush Administration were a primary factor in the GOP losing control of the House in 2006 for two cycles; and it was in those few years that Obamacare became law, Dodd-Frank was enacted, and all manner of other legislative and executive actions decisions made, which now are ripe to be addressed and undone.

America is on the cusp of an historic opportunity to once again enact constitutionally- and fiscally-sound legislative and budget measures. While it may appear counter-intuitive, to aid in accomplishing this, President Trump should resist demanding a House of Representatives that rubber stamps his every decision. Instead, he should welcome one that will sometimes challenge him and occasionally say “No” – because that’s a recipe for real change, good change, and long-lasting change.

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illegal teen

The Department of Homeland Security told Congress that, during the entire Obama Administration, it deported just six percent of minors entering the United States illegally.

Those illegal teens are catching on–and now they’re bragging about it to their friends back home.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a leading group that fights against illegal immigration, these illegals are also urging their friends from back home to come over to the United States illegally too.

“Border Patrol agents have confirmed that the new arrivals are saying that they know they will be released after they are processed,” explained Jessica Vaughan, the Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.

“They have heard this from family and friends who have gone before and shared their experience. They use social media to communicate this, sometimes even texting pictures of what they call their ‘permiso,’ which is the document they get showing them to appear for a court date years in the future.”

According to DHS, they caught 122,700 unaccompanied minors crossing the border. And yet, they only sent 7,700 back–just barely 6 percent. That’s a clear failure of DHS’s ability to do their job–or, considering Barack Obama’s attempts to force the so-called DREAM Act through with executive orders, an unwillingness to do so.

Even more surprisingly, this seems to be a problem that’s getting worse, not better. In 2015, up to 3,000 unaccompanied minors a month have come across the border–and most of them have been allowed to stay.

A 100+ page report from Congress, released by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) last month, was blunt and scathing about DHS’s failures to keep illegals out:

“America’s borders are not secure,” said the report. “This current state of affairs is clearly unacceptable. A secure border is not only a prerequisite to a functioning legal immigration system, but it is essential to maintaining national security and protecting public health and safety.”

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social-security-insolvent

Washington D.C. has been telling America for years that the Social Security system is headed to inexorable demographic doom. Typically, though, the estimates have been far enough into the future for present politicians to safely ignore what has been called “the third rail of American politics.”

That illusion of safety in distance from the event was shattered Wednesday, as trustees of the Social Security disability trust fund reported that the program will be insolvent next year. The retirement fund will make it longer – until 2035, according to the trustees – but calls are already emerging for congress to take action to prevent the bankruptcy of the disability portion of the Social Security programs.

Of course, congress’ actions are limited. They can either raise taxes which is never a winner in an election year, they can borrow money from the retirement fund, they can take on more debt, or they can cut the programs. All of these options are bad for individual politicians who have to answer to voters, and the temptation to simply take on more debt and allow the Federal Reserve to Quanititatively Ease our way out of the immediate emergency is surely powerful.

President Obama advocates a different path of little resistance, that of raiding the retirement fund to prop up the disability fund. “The president has proposed a common-sense solution to improve the solvency of this fund in the short run so that Americans who rely on it will continue to receive the benefits they need,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said.

Meanwhile, the two houses of congress are fighting over proposed highway funding bills that advocate taking that same Social Security money. There is no clear indication of how many programs that are not Social Security the Social Security funds are actually expected to finance.

Currently, 11 million Americans receive Social Security disability benefits to the tune of $1,017 per beneficiary per month. Insolvency triggers an automatic 19% cut in benefits. In a rational world, insolvency would end the program entirely. Regrettably, our politicians left rationality far behind.

Untrammeled entitlement spending is a huge part of the financial meltdown currently ongoing in Greece, and the US would do well to learn some lessons from the Greek situation. The population stopped working, government programs paid them to do so, Greece borrowed money to fund its unsustainable programs, and eventually ran out of other people’s money.

Some parallels are evident in America’s current economic situation. Since Obama’s election in 2008, home ownership has declined across all demographics, childhood poverty has jumped from 18% to 22%, dependence payouts have doubled to $74 billion annually, the national debt has doubled to $18 trillion, the median household income has declined almost $3,000 annually, and 17% of the middle class fell out of the middle class. In short, we’re earning less, owning less, working less, borrowing more, and living more off the government. Too bad we don’t have an oppressive Euro Zone to blame.

Another huge similarity between the US and Greek situations is immigration. In America, illegal immigration across a porous border leads to pockets of mostly Mexican illegals associated with lower employment, higher rates of violent crime, and increased drug use. In Greece, illegal immigration across a porous border leads to pockets of mostly Islamic illegals associated with lower employment, higher rates of violent crime, and increased drug use. In both countries, the influx of illegals also strained the government entitlement systems, leading to more borrowing and, in the case of the USA, more taking from Social Security.

It’s hard to see the Social Security crisis as the tipping point for the American economy entering a Greece-like death spiral. After all, Greece has a debt-to-GDP ratio over 200%, while America’s is only at 104%, about the same as Cyprus when Cyprus… entered a Greece-like death spiral.

Clearly, the country must make some difficult changes in how it approaches Social Security. A great first step would be to stop raiding the funds for whatever harebrained scheme needs a few bucks. Another good idea is to crack down on fraud, which cost the program $14 billion over the last decade according to one study.

Whatever is done, kicking the can down the road and letting the next person deal with the problem is not going to make it easier. It’s just going to make it less painful for the Obama administration and the present congress.

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Here’s one Democrat who wants to help the “poor”: by giving himself (and the rest of Congress) a raise, apparently.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Illinois, said that Congressmen like himself are underpaid–and that they deserve a raise, right away!

All Congressmen, including Hastings, make $174,000 per year. The average American earns just $42,693 per year.

“We are entering our seventh year without a pay raise,” the well-paid public servant complained. “Now, I think we’ve proven to the American people that we are responsible. And I know that it has impacted me personally.”

Hastings continued: “We have more than 50 [Members of Congress], probably as many as 75 or more, living in their offices. They’re not there because of any other reason than they can’t afford it. Now if people want us in sackcloth and ashes than they will get what they rightly deserve as representation.”

In short, Hastings wants the American people to pay up or shut up about our horrible representation in Washington.

Aside from the brazen idea that Congress has “proven [they’re] responsible” enough to get a big raise–they’re not–it’s ridiculous to insist that someone making well into a six-figure salary is somehow “in sackcloth and ashes.” Of course, that’s the typical liberal response: rich Republicans are evil; rich Democrats are underpaid martyrs.

An income of $174,000 per year means Hastings and his colleagues earn more than 92% of American households. Many of which are, like Hastings, not even close to poverty.

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IRS-Building

The House Ways and Means Committee released a report yesterday saying that the IRS “deliberately” cut public information services to make this year’s tax season more frustrating and painful than it needed to be.

According to House Republicans, the IRS cut customer service personnel and phone capacity budgets rather than cuts in the millions of dollars the IRS spent on pet projects, “performance” bonuses and other discretionary spending. The report said that:

“…close review of the agency’s spending shows the IRS deliberately cut $134 million in funding for customer service to pay for other activities. Spending decisions entirely under the IRS’s control led to 16 million fewer taxpayers receiving IRS assistance this filling season.”

With respect to Congresses role in funding, the report revealed that:

“Congress made these cuts in part to lower unsustainably high federal spending, but also in response to waste and misconduct at the IRS.”

The report suggested that IRS spending choices were driven by a desire to retaliate against Congress revealing that call wait times averaged 34.4 minutes and that roughly half of all calls were never answered because they were dropped by the automated IRS phone system.

Rep. Peter Roskam, (R-IL), Chairman of the Ways and Means oversight committee said that “Fiscal year 2014 bonus money could have been used to answer 7.2 million additional phone calls” – a charge that irked IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who said he was forced to make customer service cuts because Congress reduced his agency’s budget.

Koskinen added that filings were up and that the IRS had taken on more duties including enforcement of Obamacare’s individual mandate fines and penalties.

Mr. Koskinen also bristled at what he called “deeper targeted cuts” imposed by Republican law makers in retaliation for the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and conservative organizations leading up to the 2012 elections – targeting that many believe sidelined conservative groups that spent time and resources dealing with politically motivated delays, paperwork and costs.

According to the report:

“In May 2013, it was revealed that the IRS was targeting organizations applying for tax-exempt status solely because of their names and policy positions. According to an audit conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), targeted groups were subject to extraordinary delays and intrusive questioning, including wholly inappropriate demands for donor lists.”

“An internal IRS document discovered in the course of the House Ways and Means Committee’s investigation revealed that the IRS flagged groups for special scrutiny if their case files included any of the following: the name “tea party” or “patriot,” references to issues such as “government debt or taxes,” or criticism of “how the country is being run.”

Rep. Mike Kelly, (R-PA) said Koskinen made things worse himself when he told IRS employees they would have to do “less with less.” Kelly added:

“You cannot go to the troops and tell the troops that things have never been darker, days have never been longer, the winters have never been colder, but you know what, we have a solution to that, we’ll just do less with less.”

In response, Koskinen, who was characterized as arrogant, sarcastic, uncooperative and less than truthful during Congressional hearings into the IRS targeting scandal, spent $1.2 billion on implementing Obamacare over the last four years – money that could have been better spent in other areas.

Republicans also questioned why the IRS was paying salaries to federal employees for doing labor union work on “official time” – a widespread practice among federal agencies where public employees perform union work on the taxpayer’s dime – an indirect subsidy to public employee unions.

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