In today's On the News segment: Intelligence agencies say they're too big to follow regulations; six million Americans have gained health insurance by enrolling in Obamacare; Republicans block Sen. Elizabeth Warren's bill to help relieve student loan burdens; Vermont becomes the next state to raise its minimum wage; and more.
You need to know this. We've all seen the dangers of too-big-to-fail banks. But, what do we do when an intelligence agency says they're too big to follow regulations? In a recent response to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the NSA said that the agency is simply too large to preserve evidence. The EFF's lawsuit accuses the NSA of spying on the group's communication, but the NSA is claiming that saving evidence that could prove the EFF's claim would be a "massive and uncertain endeavor." This claim is nothing but another attempt by the NSA to avoid ever having to prove that their spying is constitutional. Isn't mining, sorting, and passing along data the entire point of the NSA? Yet, the spy agency is suddenly unable to locate and preserve specific data when it may prove them guilty of violating our Fourth Amendment. For years, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been fighting to stop the NSA from violating our privacy. Every time they get close to doing so, the agency comes up with a new excuse, a new lie, and a new way to keep spying on Americans. The NSA's latest claim presents a serious concern for our nation. If the spy agency is too massive to follow a simple court order, how can we ever trust them to comply with our Constitution? It's bad enough that the banksters use too-big-to-fail as an excuse to rip off Americans. It's simply unacceptable that a government agency with this much power claims to be too big to be held accountable. This argument from the NSA presents the perfect opportunity to call for the agency's destruction. Just like the banks – if the NSA is too big to regulate, it is too big to exist. It's time to break up the spy agency and restore our Fourth Amendment rights once and for all.
Since people began enrolling in health plans under Obamacare, six million Americans have gained coverage through public health plans. In the states that expanded Medicaid, low-income Americans finally have access to healthcare, but they're not the only ones benefiting from this expansion. States are also finding some unexpected advantages of providing healthcare. Various studies are projecting that the Medicaid expansion will not only prevent layoffs, but it will actually create jobs in the healthcare sector in many states. According to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the new health coverage will also help low-income children stay in school and earn a college degree. The Medicaid expansion is also helping millions of Americans save money on prescriptions and services, which means they have more money to spend on other products, and provide a boost to their local economies. In addition, this new coverage is helping many hospitals keep their doors open, especially in rural and low-income areas. The benefits of the Medicaid expansion are obvious to those who finally have access to care, but low-income Americans aren't the only ones feeling the positive effects of Obamacare.
Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill to allow students to refinance their loans at a lower interest rate. However, Republicans in the upper chamber refused to even allow debate on that legislation. Democrats pointed out that some student loan interest rates are seven percent or higher, and argued that today's lower rates could save borrowers more than $2000 dollars each on their student loans. Warren's bill actually got support from the majority of the Senate, in a vote of 56 to 38, and it would have been paid for with a tax on millionaires. But, thanks to our broken legislative system, the Republican minority was able to put the wishes of the rich ahead of the needs of students. In addition to proving exactly who the Republicans represent, this vote is yet another example of our dysfunctional system. The majority of the Senate wanted to help students, but 38 Republican Senators used the filibuster to protect millionaires. We can only hope that this election year, Americans will hold them accountable for this obstruction.
Undocumented students in Florida will soon see a break in college tuition costs. Last week, Governor Rick Scott signed a state-level DREAM Act that will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. In order to qualify for the lower rate, students must attend school for at least three years, graduate from a Florida high school, and apply for college within two years of graduation. Governor Scott issued a statement about the new law, saying, "Signing this historic legislation will keep tuition low, and allow all students who grew up in Florida to have the same access to affordable higher education." Before this law, undocumented students were forced to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which were often three or four times the cost of in-state tuition. Although some people discount Governor Scott's support for the legislation as a political maneuver, his motives won't stop this law from benefiting the undocumented students of Florida.
And finally... Another state has decided that they won't wait on Congress to raise the minimum wage. Last week, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislation to give low-income workers a big raise. By 2018, Vermont's minimum wage will increase to $10.50 an hour, which is higher than any other state in our nation. At the signing ceremony, Governor Shumlin said, "Sates like Vermont realize that working people can't support their families on the current minimum wage, and we're moving ahead to do the right thing on our own." Similar legislation has been passed in states like Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii, and the District of Columbia will raise pay to $11.50 an hour by 2016. Although these laws all phase in the increases over several years, they show that states are willing to step up and protect workers even as Republicans in Congress refuse to increase pay by a single cent. Slowly, but surely, wages are rising in states all around our country, and we'll keep fighting until everyone in every state can earn a living wage.
And that's the way it is - for the week of June 16, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.