House chaplain allowed to keep his job after rescinding resignation, daring Ryan to fire him

House chaplain Father Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation on Thursday, nearly a week after news broke that he had tendered his resignation to Speaker Paul Ryan at the Speaker’s request. But Ryan announced later in the day that he would allow Conroy to keep his job, saying that he accepted the chaplain’s explanation for why he should stay.

Ryan said, “I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.”

In his letter to Speaker Ryan explaining the priest’s reasoning for his change of heart, Conroy said: “I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain.”

Conroy was asked to resign last month by Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks. In recalling the conversation, the chaplain said, “I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t Catholic. He also mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily.”

The prayer referenced was one given on the House floor during last year’s tax cut debates, in which Conroy requested, “May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Ryan later told Conroy, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

No formal reasoning has been given for Ryan asking Conroy to leave his post. Former chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) stepped down from the selection committee conducting the search for a new chaplain, after comments he made were dubbed “anti-Catholic.”

Walker reportedly said that the next chaplain should be “somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans or Democrats as far as what we’re going through back home — you’ve got your wife, the family, things you encounter — that has some counseling experience or has managed or worked with people, maybe a larger church size, being able to have that understanding or that experience.”

Members from both parties have come to the chaplain’s defense, questioning why he was asked to resign so abruptly. While opposition to the firing has been public by mostly Democrats, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said that he’s been approached privately by conservatives in the House.

He said, “I know for a fact that some members of the Freedom Caucus felt this was handled badly and sends a signal of bigotry they don’t want to be associated with. I’ve never seen members so angry about something in this House in my 10 years. Because it’s not only political and not only about your faith. It’s personal.”

In his rescission letter, Father Conroy pointedly tells Ryan, “You may wish to outright ‘fire’ me, if you have the authority to do so, but should you wish to terminate my services, it will be without my offer of resignation, as you requested.”


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Giuliani puts the kibosh on Stormy ‘payoff’ claim, and throws Laura Ingraham for a loop

Rudy Giuliani dropped what many are calling a bombshell during an interview on Fox News Channel’s Hannity, saying that President Donald Trump paid back his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

And while Giuliani was adamant that the pay off didn’t involve campaign money, the revelation sent the left into a frenzy because Trump stated on April 6 that he was not aware of the payment — even Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, a former defense attorney, said “that’s a problem,” but is there a simple explanation that’s being missed?

In a panel discussion Wednesday night on FNC’s The Ingraham Angle, contributor Byron York suggested that Giuliani “may not have thought this whole thing through,” prompting an interesting reply from Ingraham.

“If you go on ‘Hannity,’ you better think it through,” she said. “I love Rudy, but they better have an explanation for that, that’s a problem.”

Giuliani told Hannity that the $130,000 payment was “perfectly legal.”

“That money was not campaign money, sorry,” he claimed. “I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”

When Hannity asked if this was because the money was “funneled” through Cohen’s law firm, the former mayor said, “Funneled it through the law firm, and the President repaid him.”

But Giuliani would also say Trump “didn’t know the specifics” of the payment.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a participant on Ingraham’s panel, had a ready explanation that proved to be much closer to the truth, based on a later clarification by Giuliani.

“I don’t think somebody with President Trump’s income level writes all of his checks, you know what I mean?” he told Ingraham. “It would not surprise me if he authorized a payment and it gets lost in the shuffle. I know that sounds crazy perhaps on a certain level but here’s a guy with a massive income and he’s dealing with a lot of things.”

In a later interview with the Washington Post, Giuliani insisted the disclosure was no gaffe, saying he discussed it with Trump beforehand.

With the anti-Trump forces whipped into a lather over the possibility that Trump has been caught in a lie, Giuliani added more context to his comment with Fox News’ John Roberts — which is being described as “damage control” by the media.

“Rudy Giuliani told me that while reimbursed Cohen for the $130k SD payment, POTUS didn’t know what the money was used for. Giuliani says Cohen merely told the President he had “expenses” for which POTUS reimbursed him,” Roberts tweeted.

The payment is being described in the media as a “loan” because Trump reimbursed Cohen and anti-Trump forces insist it is related to his campaign, which will ensure wall-to-wall coverage.

But there’s so much vagueness in Giuliani’s revelation. In the end, it’s more likely to serve as another rabbit hole the president’s detractors will go chasing down in their quest to destroy him.

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Conservative groups gear up for farm bill fight

A spokesman for Heritage Action did not respond to a request for comment. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has pressed for free-market reforms to farm policy, has scheduled a forum for May 3, while the House is in recess …

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Early thoughts on the Sprint and T-Mobile merger – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

After a multiyear on-again, off-again courtship, last weekend Sprint and T-Mobile finally announced they would merge. The $26 billion all-stock transaction would combine America’s third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers into a titan comparable in size to industry behemoths Verizon and AT&T. It is far, far too early to predict whether regulators will permit this deal. But this blog post addresses some reasons why, despite the optics, this merger may be a closer call than one might expect.

Sprint T-Mobile merger


At first glance, the merger seems a long shot for regulatory approval. The transaction would reduce the number of national wireless carriers from four to three. Traditional antitrust analysis presumes that increasing the concentration of a market is likely to reduce competition and therefore risks harm to consumers. Columbia law professor Tim Wu makes precisely this point in a New York Times op-ed this week, noting that T-Mobile in particular has punched far above its weight class in recent years to push the industry toward eliminating termination fees, introducing zero-rated music and video, and ultimately ushering in the return of unlimited plans. Fear of consumer harm prompted the Justice Department to block AT&T’s bid to acquire T-Mobile in 2011, and fear of similar regulatory intervention ultimately scuttled an earlier Sprint and T-Mobile merger attempt in 2014.

But deeper analysis shows this is more than a simple four-to-three merger scenario. In the competition for consumers’ wireless dollars, the four national carriers are not equals. In terms of total subscribers, Verizon (150.5 million) and AT&T (141.6 million) tower over T-Mobile (72.6 million) and Sprint (53.6 million). More importantly, Verizon and AT&T hold significantly more low- and mid-band spectrum than their competitors, which gives them an insurmountable advantage in terms of network quality. Sprint has lost money for years and was saved only by significant bailouts by Japan’s SoftBank, which owns about 80 percent of the company. T-Mobile has gained significant market share in recent years, funded in part by the spectrum licenses and $4 billion breakup fee the company received from AT&T when regulators blocked the 2011 merger. But these customer acquisitions have been costly and appear to be slowing down. In a sense, T-Mobile has become a victim of its own success: By pushing the wireless market toward unlimited plans, the company has limited the planes of competition, giving a significant advantage to the two companies with the greatest scale.

The industry’s impending 5G transition also factors in the analysis. Sprint holds a dominant share of high-band spectrum, which has limited utility for current networks due to its short range but is important to 5G networks because it can carry large amounts of data. Indeed, the quest for millimeter-wave spectrum drove last year’s bidding war for Straight Path, a small carrier that Verizon purchased for $3.1 billion, six times its pre-transaction trading price. Recent filings suggest that T-Mobile participated in this auction but could not compete with its rivals. Sprint thus offers T-Mobile an alternative source of 5G-friendly spectrum — assets that Sprint will find difficult to exploit alone because of its significant debt position. The marriage of Sprint’s holdings with T-Mobile’s capital helps both companies better weather the 5G transition.

Moreover, wireless markets face unusual competitive dynamics. A paper by Professor Gerald Faulhaber (a former Federal Communications Commission chief economist), Professor Robert Hahn, and economist Hal Singer suggests that while wireless industry consolidation rose from 2003 to 2009, cell phone prices fell significantly, contrary to traditional antitrust assumptions. The International Center for Law and Economics’ Geoffrey Manne recently updated these data through 2015, showing the same result. This would cast significant doubt on the assumption that industry concentration will inherently harm consumers. Moreover, cable companies are entering the wireless space, which further complicates regulators’ views of the market.

The companies must secure regulatory approval from both the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, which has traditionally been more merger-friendly during Republican administrations but showed surprisingly aggressive hostility to the AT&T–Time Warner merger. Regulators must decide: Is this a play to increase concentration, reduce competition, and arrest wireless price declines? Or is it a last-ditch effort by two also-rans to build a viable third competitor to the duopoly currently positioned to dominate the 5G industry? Whatever the answer, the analysis is far more nuanced than appearances suggest. Contrary to many hot takes, it is far too early to handicap this merger’s chances of success.

Read more from American Enterprise Institute…

Student loan forbearance enables colleges to dodge accountability – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

The complexity of the federal student loan program has long been a nuisance to borrowers. But a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog, shows that the program’s complexity has also enabled colleges receiving taxpayer money to avoid a key accountability rule. While many observers have focused on the institutions’ chicanery, GAO’s findings also highlight the need to rein in forbearance, a few-questions-asked tool borrowers can use to delay paying their loans.

student loan forbearance college accountability

@linashib via Twenty20

For colleges that receive student aid funds from taxpayers, the Department of Education calculates the percentage of alumni who default on their student loans within three years of entering repayment. (Default is defined as failure to make a loan payment for 360 days.) If this percentage, known as the “cohort default rate,” rises above a certain threshold, the college may lose access to federal student aid.

Naturally, colleges have an incentive to ensure that, if their students are going to default, they do so after the three-year window has closed. For students who are unable or unwilling to make their student loan payments, loan servicers have the option to place their loans in forbearance for up to – you guessed it – three years. Many students who go into forbearance simply delay a forthcoming default until after the cohort default rate window has closed and their colleges can no longer be held accountable.

The federal government gives loan servicers power to grant a forbearance request for any reason. To that end, many colleges hire “default management consultants” to steer borrowers towards this option. According to GAO, these consultants contacted borrowers and urged them to request forbearance. Some consultants engaged in unethical behavior, such as falsely telling borrowers that defaulting on a student loan would mean losing eligibility for food stamps.

Borrowers are now more likely than not to place their loans into forbearance at least once. For student borrowers who entered repayment in 2013, 68% used forbearance during the three-year cohort default rate window. A fifth used forbearance for more than a year and a half. Such widespread use of forbearance is enough to artificially reduce default rates by several percentage points, and keep afloat many colleges that should have failed the cohort default rate test.

Source: GAO

GAO calculated the number of colleges which would have failed the test had cohort default rates excluded borrowers who used forbearance for more than eighteen months. Two hundred sixty-five colleges would have failed that modified test and risked losing access to aid. (Just ten actually failed.) Contrary to perceptions, this is not just a question of for-profit colleges: more than half of the should-have-failed colleges are public or private nonprofit schools.

Observers have drawn attention to the sleaze of the default-management business and problems with the cohort default rate as an accountability metric. But the forbearance fiasco highlights a more uncomfortable reality: how easy it is for student borrowers to avoid paying their loans.

To receive forbearance on their loans, all borrowers need is the approval of their loan servicer. It is not necessary to prove a legitimate hardship to delay making loan payments. Over two and a half million borrowers are currently in forbearance, with most of those forbearances granted at the servicer’s discretion.

In addition to helping colleges avoid sanctions, forbearance also increases total loan payments for borrowers. Interest continues to accrue on loans in forbearance, meaning a borrower who uses forbearance will pay more on his loans over his lifetime. GAO calculates that a borrower who uses forbearance for three years on a $30,000 loan will pay an additional $6,742 in interest.

Rather than ceasing payments on their loans entirely, it’s better for borrowers facing financial difficulty to reduce their monthly payments by choosing a different repayment plan. A borrower can choose a longer term with lower monthly payments, or simply link payments to her income. Tools like forbearance, wherein the borrower stops making payments entirely, should be allowed only in rare circumstances such as severe economic hardship or medical issues.

Ultimately, the issues highlighted by GAO are problems of policymakers’ own making. As forbearance is a perfectly legal option for borrowers, it’s unsurprising that colleges have figured out how to manipulate it to their own advantage. Policymakers who want to stop colleges from gaming the system should make the system less gameable.

Read more from American Enterprise Institute…

EPA’s Effort To Save An Industry From Obama Regulations Is Being Held Up By Bureaucrats

Daily Caller: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of Obama-era regulations that could put an entire industry out of business has been slowed by bureaucratic delays and an unexpected request from the White House. EPA has been working for months to finalize its repeal of [Read More]

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