TIME privacy

Obama to Propose Laws to Protect Consumer Data, Student Privacy

President Barack Obama on Jan. 9, 2015.
President Barack Obama on Jan. 9, 2015. Carolyn Kaster—AP

U.S. companies would be required to notify customers within 30 days of their personal information being compromised

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama wants Congress to pass legislation requiring companies to inform customers within 30 days if their data has been hacked, a move that follows high-profile breaches at retailers including Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus.

A White House official said Obama will announce the proposed legislation Monday, along with a measure aimed at preventing companies from selling student data to third parties and from using information collected in school to engage in targeted advertising.

Obama’s proposals are part of a White House effort to preview components of the president’s State of the Union address in the lead-up to the Jan. 20 speech. The official, who insisted on anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the proposed legislation by name ahead of Obama’s speech at the Federal Trade Commission.

If passed by Congress, the Personal Data Notification and Protection Act could require U.S. companies to notify customers within 30 days of their personal information being compromised. Recent hackings have exposed the lack of uniform practices for alerting customers in the event of a breach.

The legislation would also make it a crime to sell customers’ identities overseas.

Obama’s proposals also follow last month’s hacking at Sony Pictures Entertainment. The White House has blamed the cyber attack on North Korea and responded with new sanctions against the isolated nation.

In addition to the customer notification legislation, Obama will also ask lawmakers to pass the Student Digital Privacy Act. The measure would prohibit companies from selling student data to third parties, a move spurred by the increased use of technology in schools that can scoop up personal information.

The White House official said the proposed bill is based on a California statute.

It’s unclear whether the new Republican-led Congress will take up either of Obama’s legislative proposals.

TIME space

Senator Ted Cruz to Head Senate Subcommittee on Space

Conservatives Speak At Values Voters Summit In Washington
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), speaks at the 2013 Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council, on October 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The appointment is part of a broader reshuffle

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was appointed the chair of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness last week — which means he will be in charge of overseeing space agency NASA in Congress.

The Republican lawmaker’s appointment is part of a larger reshuffle following the GOP’s win in the 2014 Congressional election.

The Verge reports that Cruz has previously denied climate change exists and also unsuccessfully attempted to reduce NASA’s funding in July 2013.

But Cruz, whose role at the subcommittee’s helm will be confirmed later this month, has also previously said that it was “critical that the United States ensure its continued leadership in space.”

TIME Congress

The Keystone Pipeline Is Overrated by Both Sides

Construction Along The Keystone XL Pipeline
A sixty-foot section of pipe is lowered into a trench during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Oklahoma, U.S., on March 11, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline burns so bright that it distracts from more illuminating subjects, like how much it really matters.

For the past several years, Republicans and Democrats have used the pipeline to prove their economic or environmental bona fides. The new Republican-controlled Senate will once again use it as an issue to divide Democrats and put pressure on the President to veto a bill the public largely supports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has marked the Keystone bill as the first piece of legislation the chamber will consider, while the House will pass a Keystone bill for the tenth time Friday to get the ball rolling. There’s now the question of whether or not Republicans and a handful of Democrats in the Senate will be able to get a veto-proof majority of 67 members or attach the proposal to a must-pass bill later this year.

So the pipeline, which would help link up to 830,000 Alberta barrels a day down to the Gulf Coast, has again taken on a political significance that overstates its importance. A State Department report from nearly a year ago says that while it would create thousands of construction jobs over the next few years, in the end it would only create around 50 permanent jobs in the long-term. Meanwhile, the U.S. saw an impressive and unexpected 321,000 jobs created in November, according to the federal government’s initial report.

As oil prices fall to below $50 a barrel—the lowest they’ve been in five and a half years—the pipeline will have even less of an impact on both the environment and economy, as Michael Levi, a Council of Foreign Relations energy and environment expert, wrote this week. “Lower oil prices reduce both the costs and the benefits of approving the Keystone XL pipeline by reducing the odds that it will ever be fully used,” says Levi. “What hasn’t changed is that both the climate damages and the economic benefits from Keystone XL are small in the grand schemes of climate change and the U.S. and global economies.”

Of course, some energy experts say the pipeline still matters economically, like CSIS’ Edward Chow, a former top Chevron international representative. “Beyond the safety and environmental risks of moving oil by rail instead of pipeline, a pipeline is also more economically efficient, which is even more important at a time of weak oil prices,” says Chow. “Lack of more efficient transportation would naturally lead to lower production of both Canadian oil sands and American shale oil.”

But the same State Department study found that frackers would find alternative ways to sell its oil anyway and concluded it would not pose the “enormous risk” to the environment as green thumbs like NextGen Climate, led by billionaire Tom Steyer, claimed in a statement released Wednesday. As the Boston Globe noted, oil imports from Canada have reached a record high without the pipeline and are expected to only increase.

Even former Energy Secretary Steve Chu acknowledged last February that the Keystone decision is more political that scientific. Former Obama Administration officials have split on the issue: some have even worked for TransCanada, the company who filed for the permit to build the pipeline, and the League of Conservation Voters, which opposes it. Outside lobbyists and activists have spent untold millions of dollars for years debating the pipeline, raising the issue to perhaps the highest profile environmental debate in the country. As my former colleague Michael Grunwald wrote for TIME magazine in 2013, “Keystone isn’t the best fight to have over fossil fuels, but it’s the fight we’re having.”

Even the relevance of Keystone as a political issue can be overstated, as Steyer, whose PAC spent around $70 million last cycle with not much to show for it, and former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu can attest. In a last-ditch effort in November, Landrieu tried to pass a bill authorizing the pipeline and fell one vote short. While some commenters thought it was the nail in the coffin, Louisiana political experts concluded it was too little, too late.

TIME Congress

Here’s One Thing that Boehner and Obama Agree On

Barack Obama John Boehner
US President Barack Obama (R) talks with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a meeting with the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 9, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

As he started his third term as Speaker of the House Tuesday, John Boehner noted that he hoped to find common ground with his fellow lawmakers. “All I ask is that we disagree without being disagreeable,” he said.

It was a quietly ironic moment, given that Boehner had just beaten back a conservative uprising from his own side of the aisle. But it was also perhaps a subtle olive branch to the White House.

After all, Obama gave nearly the exact same quote back in 2007 when he launched his presidential campaign, while talking about his time as a state legislator.

“It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable — that it’s possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we’re willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst,” he said.

Or maybe Obama, who has a particular love of quoting President Reagan, was just borrowing a phrase from the Great Communicator. After all, Reagan said the same thing in 1981 while talking about his time as governor.

“Yes, we had disagreements over such things as welfare reform and budget allocation, but we followed the advice of a one-time mayor of Boston who said, ‘We can disagree without being disagreeable,'” he said.

Or maybe this is just one of those Washington clichés that never goes away. You can find politicians as diverse as former Sen. Bob Kerrey and Sen. John McCain using the phrase, which litters the Congressional Record, especially when senators are heaping praise on a retiring lawmaker.

According to The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, one of the earliest uses of the phrase was an anonymous person quoted in the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator in 1927. But while everyone in Washington seems to agree that it’s a good phrase to use, the broader question is whether they can act on it.

Read next: Jeb’s Shock and Awe Catch-Up Campaign

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MONEY Social Security

Why Defending Social Security Needs to Be Next on Obama’s To-Do List

House Republicans voted to block a financial fix to Social Security's disability trust fund, which runs out of money in 2016. That would result in a 20% benefits cut.

Since the midterm elections, President Obama has taken decisive action on immigration reform, climate change and relations with Cuba. Now, the new Republican-controlled Congress has handed him another opportunity to act boldly—by leaving a legacy as a strong defender of Social Security.

House Republicans signaled this week that they are gearing up for a major clash over the country’s most important retirement program. In a surprise move, they adopted a rule on the first day of the new session that effectively forbids the House from approving any financial fix to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program unless it is coupled with broader reforms. That would almost surely mean damaging benefit cuts for retirees struggling in the post-recession economy.

Republicans see an opening for benefit cuts in the SSDI trust fund. It is under severe financial pressure and on track to be exhausted at the end of 2016, when 11 million of the most vulnerable Americans would face benefit cuts on the order of 20%.

The rational solution is a reallocation of resources from Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI). Such reallocations have been done 11 times in the past, and funds have flowed in both directions. Shifting just one-tenth of 1% from OASI to SSDI would extend the disability fund’s life to 2033.

Instead, House leaders appear to be maneuvering to push through an SSDI fix during the lame duck session following the 2016 elections. Such an 11th-hour package would likely impose cuts to the retirement program, including higher retirement ages and reduced annual cost-of-living adjustments. Legislators wouldn’t have to explain a vote for benefit cuts to their constituents before the elections, and might avoid accountability if changes to Social Security get tacked on to an omnibus spending bill or other yearend legislation.

“I don’t know why this had to be done on Day One,” said Cristina Martin Firvida, director of financial security at AARP. “It makes it much less likely that we’ll deal with the disability problem until the lame duck session—and that won’t provide a good result for American taxpayers.”

Critics say the disability program is rife with fraud, and out-of-work baby boomers too young for retirement benefits are freeloading by getting disability benefits. There’s no doubt that a program the size of SSDI is subject to some abuse, or that reform may be needed.

But SSDI’s real problems are less sensational. They include more baby boomers at an age when disability typically occurs and more women in the labor market eligible to receive benefits. Meanwhile, the increase in the full retirement age now under way, from 65 to 67, adds cost to SSDI, as disabled beneficiaries wait longer to shift into the retirement program.

This throwing down of the gauntlet should send a loud, clear signal to Democrats: It’s time to reclaim your legacy as the creators and defenders of Social Security. A small number of progressive Democrats have embraced proposals to expand benefits, funded by a gradual increase in payroll taxes and lifting the cap on covered earnings, but most Democrats have been spineless, mouthing platitudes about “keeping Social Security strong”—a pledge that could mean just about anything.

Expansion is not only doable financially—it has overwhelming public support. A poll released last fall by the National Academy of Social Insurance found that 72% of Americans think we should consider increasing benefits. Seventy-seven percent said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to finance expansion—a position embraced by 69% of Republicans, 76% of independents and 84% of Democrats.

Congressional Republicans are way out of step with Americans on this issue, and so is the White House. The administration has been all too willing to flirt with benefit cuts as it chased one illusory “grand bargain” after another.

But the unbound Obama now has an opportunity to stiffen and redefine his party’s resolve on Social Security. The president should propose expansion legislation. Democratic presidential and congressional candidates should run on Social Security expansion in 2016 and work to assure that reform isn’t tackled in an unaccountable lame duck vote.

In 2005 a young Democratic senator sized up Social Security politics during the debate over President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize the program:

“[People in power] use the word ‘reform’ when they mean ‘privatize,’ and they use ‘strengthen’ when they really mean ‘dismantle.’ They tell us there’s a crisis to get us all riled up so we’ll sit down and listen to their plan to privatize …

“Democrats are absolutely united in the need to strengthen Social Security and make it solvent for future generations. We know that, and we want that.”

That senator was Barack Obama of Illinois.

Read next: Why Illinois May Become a National Model for Retirement Saving

TIME Congress

Boehner: I’m the Most Anti-Establishment Speaker Ever

US-POLITICS-BOEHNER
Speaker of the House John Boehner attends a press conference on Capitol Hill on December 11, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

"What pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment."

A few days after enduring an embarrassing number of defections in his reelection race for House Speaker, Ohio Rep. John Boehner told reporters Thursday that he is “the most anti-establishment speaker we’ve ever had.”

The 25 Republican defections were the most against a sitting Speaker since 1923, according to National Journal, although the opposition was unorganized and not considered anything more than a symbolic protest by mostly conservatives.

Boehner said that the American people are “very frustrated” and that “they need to take it out on somebody” before touting his conservative voting record.

“It does pain me to be described as spineless or a squish,” said Boehner, hitting a sarcastic note before turning more serious. “And I tell you what pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment.”

“Now, I’m the most anti-establishment speaker we’ve ever had,” said Boehner, who was first elected in 1990. “Who was the guy who got rid of earmarks? Me. Who’s the guy who believes in regular order? Me. Who believes in allowing more members to participate in a process from both sides of the aisle. Me. I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin and I’m going to do my best to show all of our members—Democrats and Republicans and members who voted against me that I’m up to the job that I was given.”

TIME Congress

Longtime California Senator to Retire from Congress

Barbara Boxer
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference after the Senate's vote on the "Paycheck Fairness Act" in Washington on Sept. 10, 2014. Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

"I want to come home," Barbara Boxer said

Longtime California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced Thursday that she won’t run for reelection in 2016, setting the stage for one of the most expensive Senate races in the nation.

In a video posted on YouTube, Boxer, a Democrat who has been fielding rumors of her retirement for months, announced she would not seek a fifth term in the Senate. “I want to come home,” she told her grandson in the video. “I want to come home to the state that I love so much, California.”

“I am never going to retire,” she said. “The work is too important. But I will not be running for the Senate in 2016.”

Her announcement sets up a scramble in California politics, where the state’s “jungle primary” pits the top two primary finishers against each other in a general election regardless of party. Democrats already being mentioned for the seat include Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ruled himself out of contention hours after Boxer’s announcement:

Boxer’s campaign committee raised just $342,387 from Jan. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014, according to Federal Election Commission records, a stunningly small figure for one of the most senior Democrats in the Senate from one of the wealthiest states. Before Republicans regained control of the Senate this week, Boxer was the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In 2010, Boxer defeated former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina in the state by a margin of 10 percentage points.

TIME Congress

Republicans in Congress Just Made it Easier to Cut Taxes

Views Of The U.S. Capitol As Republicans Take Control Of The Senate
Nov. 5, 2014. Scaffolding surrounds the U.S. Capitol building while it undergoes repairs in Washington, D.C. Republicans roared back in the midterm elections on Tuesday, capturing control of the Senate from Democrats, winning crucial governor races and solidifying their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In one of the first items of Congressional business yesterday, Republicans gave themselves a new magic wand. When you wave it over a major piece of tax legislation, it has the effect of making the bill appear to be really good for the economy.

Republicans say the magic wand reveals the actual economic impact of the bill. But Democrats worry it’s nothing more than dangerous accounting voodoo that will have the effect of making fiscally irresponsible legislation appear good.

The magic wand at issue here is “dynamic scoring,” an accounting method for determining how a piece of legislation will affect the U.S. macroeconomy down the line.

As of yesterday, House Republicans voted on a rule change that requires the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation—both nonpartisan entities—to use dynamic scoring when analyzing the economic impact of major tax and entitlement bills. That means that from now on, CBO and JCT will analyze tax and entitlement legislation differently than they used to, and differently than they analyze other major legislation, such as education or infrastructure bills.

That could change the political calculus of upcoming tax reform legislation substantially. After all, depending on what economic models are used, the same bill could be seen to either cost the U.S. Treasury tens of millions of dollars, or save it billions. For example, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform bill last year was slated to save U.S. taxpayers either $50 billion or $700 billion in the next decade.

Analysts agree that the Republicans’ rule change mandating the use of dynamic scoring is designed to help them push through major tax cuts by underscoring the most positive impacts such legislation could have on the future economy.

Republicans, such as Georgia’s Tom Price, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, insist that it’s just a common sense tweak. “We’re saying, ‘If you think a piece of legislation is going to have a big effect on the economy, then include that effect in the official cost estimate,’” Price wrote in a statement. “So if you think a bill is going to help or hurt the economy, then tell us how much you think it will increase jobs, tax revenue—and vice versa. We need to take that into account.”

Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, have screamed bloody murder. Dynamic scoring, they say, is an accounting trick that exaggerates the real cost of some bills while masking the real cost of others.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said the rule change politicizes the accounting process. “What it means is the Republicans will be able to hide the true costs of tax cuts behind a debunked mantra that tax cuts pay for themselves. They do not,” he said on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, pointing out that deficit hawks should be up in arms, too. “This provision will allow them to explode the deficit, as they did the last time they were in charge.”

Several Democrats quoted Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration official who condemned “dynamic scoring” as a sneaky and conniving political move. “It’s not about honest revenue-estimating,” he said. “It’s about using smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.”

TIME Congress

Why One Republican Decided to Vote Against Boehner Over Just a Few Hours

Rep. Scott Rigell first learned of a challenge to John Boehner Tuesday morning. A few hours later, he voted against him.

At 11:52 a.m. Tuesday, Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Rigell was watching C-SPAN in the Capitol. He was still thinking of supporting Speaker John Boehner’s re-election, when he saw a backbencher’s name splash across the screen as a potential challenger. Rigell then sought out the upstart—Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster—on the House floor and confirmed that he would serve if he won. Even though Rigell knew the likelihood of that happening was low, he ended up voting for Webster a few hours later.

“To go to from voting for the Speaker to voting for Mr. Webster there’s an intense amount of thought in a relatively short amount of time,” he said.

In the biggest defection in at least 100 years, according to the Washington Post, 25 Republicans voted against Boehner, who nonetheless went on to win a third term as Speaker. Most of the opposition came from the right of Rigell, with representatives like Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho, two other members who officially ran against Boehner and might as well carry pitchforks when they stride into the Capitol.

But while the anti-Boehner crowd is loud and can sometimes move bills to the right, it lacks a leader. Yoho told TIME he jumped in only after an unnamed conservative who could corral their corps wouldn’t. And Webster, who got 12 votes, didn’t whip anyone to vote for him, according to Rigell, and Gohmert and Yoho received only five votes total.

For his part, Rigell’s vote was “simply [a] connection between the calendar and the appropriations bills.” He wants a Speaker which would cancel extended breaks like the summer recess “unless and until” all 12 appropriations bills have been voted upon. He holds Boehner in “high regard” for lowering discretionary spending, but talks of changing the institution itself. Of course, Boehner isn’t the only to blame; while the appropriations process has been largely negotiated behind close doors by the top congressional leaders, it has rarely passed all 12 of the aforementioned bills in decades.

Still, Boehner’s allies noted that the vast majority of House Republicans—216—voted for Boehner.

“Under his leadership in this new Congress we will pass strong, conservative legislation which will make its way to the president’s desk,” said Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the GOP Whip, in a statement. “Speaker Boehner’s commitment to bold, conservative solutions that reflect the priorities of the American people will move America forward and help get our country back on the right track.”

TIME Congress

Harry Reid Laments He Wasn’t Hurt While Boxing

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wasn’t able to make it to Capitol Hill today for the first day of the new Congress, but in a new video he pledged to keep fighting.

The Nevada Democrat, who broke bones in his face and three ribs while exercising at home on New Year’s Day, stayed at his home in Washington on the order of doctors.

But in a video posted on YouTube, he said he was feeling some “homesickness” that he couldn’t be on the Hill for what is now his 33rd year in office. Instead, he met with other Democratic leaders at home to discuss how to “continue to fight for good things for this country.”

Reid, a former amateur lightweight boxer, also lamented that he wasn’t injured in a more glamorous way.

“As most people know, I fought for a couple of years. After any one of those fights, I never looked like I do now,” he said.” However, I didn’t get this black eye by sparring with Manny; by challenging Floyd Mayweather; I didn’t go bull-riding; I wasn’t riding a motorcycle. I was exercising in my new home.”

 

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