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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 5: January 31, 2017

  1. Trump’s Immigration Order Creates Chaos
  2. Cut Taxes and Federal Spending
  3. Despite Reforms, Vets’ Care Still Lags
  4. Independent Updates
  5. Independent Updates


1) Trump’s Immigration Order Creates Chaos

In his last days in the White House, President Obama reversed a long-standing policy of welcoming Cuban refugees into the United States. The move was condemned by Cuban-American senators Bob Martinez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), but the activist community didn’t come out in droves to protest Obama’s edict. Had protestors done so, the Trump administration might have better anticipated the public outcry over the new president’s recent executive order.

In addition, Trump and his advisors might have decided to look closely into the record of terrorist acts committed by refugees on U.S. soil. Had they done so, they would have learned that, “In total, in a span of forty years, ‘terrorist refugees’ have killed three people in the United States,” according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Abigail R. Hall Blanco.

Referring to Trump’s recent travel ban, Hall Blanco writes: “This executive order won’t stop terrorism, but it will disrupt the lives of thousands. It will separate families and deny a better life to those fleeing from conflict. Most importantly, by banning refugees, this executive order means that many people will undoubtedly lose their lives.”

How Many Americans Have Refugees Killed?, by Abigail R. Hall Blanco (The Beacon, 1/30/17)

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy, edited by Benjamin Powell

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2) Cut Taxes and Federal Spending

On Monday, President Trump said he would making good on his pledge to cut the corporate income tax rate to 15 to 20 percent. Easing the tax and regulatory burden on American businesses is a large step away from the policies of the previous White House—and a badly needed one—according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II.

“Doing so will reverse eight years of the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach and punitive business tax policies,” Shughart writes, citing tax and regulatory policies that have made the United States a less inviting place for investment capital. Along with lowering corporate tax rates, Shughart says the new administration should reform the tax code so as not to favor any particular company or industry. “Applying tax rates uniformly across all sectors of the economy not only is fair,” he writes, “it represents smart business practice, an oft-professed priority of the incoming Trump administration.”

Establishing fiscal credibility is critical. America’s forty-fifth president “has so far been all over the map as to the direction that his administration will take with respect to the country’s fiscal and tax policies,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann. Particularly worrisome is his failure to take the national-debt problem seriously. Major reductions in federal spending must accompany tax reform, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland. “If government spending is not cut, someone needs to pay for the tax cuts sometime.” Moreover, “unfunded” tax cuts will push America deeper into the red. “In the meantime, the government needs to borrow money to fund the deficit, thus ratcheting up costs of interest paid.”

Setting Steven Mnuchin’s Tax Priorities in 2017, by William F. Shughart II (Real Clear Markets, 1/13/17)

A Model for Making Tax Cuts Work, by Ivan Eland (The Washington Times, 12/6/16)

The New 10-Year Forecast for the Public Debt, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 1/30/17)

Tax Reform for Investment Income, by J. Huston McCulloch (The Beacon, 11/26/16)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

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3) Despite Reforms, Vets’ Care Still Lags

The VA scandal of 2014 led to Veterans Choice, a $17 billion program designed to avoid the problem of long wait lists by allowing vets to seek medical care at non-VA facilities. But don’t think for a minute that the number of vets waiting for treatment has fallen. The truth is exactly the opposite: it’s risen. “In fact, it had increased 50 percent, according to testimony from VA leaders to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John R. Graham. (His commentary, incidentally, may have set a record for the number of outlets that has run an Independent Institute op-ed: 104.)

Why have problems worsened? One reason is that Veterans Choice is an option only for vets who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Another reason is that comparatively few doctors are willing to take VA patients, as the agency has a reputation for not paying its bills on time. In addition, the agency has cut back on accountability personnel and procedures.

“The VA health system does not need more money,” Graham continues. “Rather, veterans need more freedom to make their own health care decisions. Give the VA’s hospital budget to the veterans; let them decide which hospitals to use.”

Give VA Funds to Vets and Let Them Decide Which Hospitals to Use, by John R. Graham (Arizona Republic, 1/12/17)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

The Sessions-Cassidy Health Plan, by John C. Goodman (8/25/16)

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4) Independent Updates

Entitlements may be the largest source of runaway federal spending. But to find the most egregious examples of erroneous expenditures, you often need to look deep inside the federal budget. What’s telling isn’t their size, of course, but their weirdness; do policymakers actually spend taxpayer dollars on these things?

The just-released Wastebook 2017—issued by Sen. Jeff Flake, after years under the auspices of Sen. Tom Coburn—identifies 50 bizarre, sometimes hilarious examples of wasteful spending, including a few that Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann finds especially noteworthy. Here are a few: The National Science Foundation has funded $1.3 million for research on how dogs and cats drink water. The Department of Commerce has sponsored “boot camps” for video-game developers, to the tune of $2.5 million. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has funded hamster “cage matches” to study aggression and anxiety in rodents.

“We saved the best for last,” Eyermann writes: “a $1.5 million federally funded research project that involved putting fish on a treadmill!”

The 2017 Wastebook Is Out!, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovNews & Blog, 1/28/17)

MyGovCost.org – Home of the Government Cost Calculator

Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate – The award-winning video series from Independent Institute and Emergent Order

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5) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts Featured Video News Alert

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