Tag Archives: administration

Trump team rolling back data collection on older LGBT adults

Hardly two months into the Trump administration — and only one month after Congress confirmed notoriously anti-LGBT Tom Price as health secretary  — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has eliminated questions about LGBT people from two critical surveys.

The administration is already rolling back data collection on LGBT people who receive certain federal programs, making it impossible to assess whether key programs for seniors and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of LGBT Americans.

Putting LGBT older adults at risk

The National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants is an annual, national survey of people who receive select services funded under the Older Americans Act, or OAA, the primary vehicle for delivering social support and nutrition programs to older adults in our country.

These essential programs include home delivered meals, congregant meals, transportation, caregiver support, and senior centers. The survey obtains performance outcome information, identifies service gaps, and supports program improvements. Policymakers and advocates rely on data to ensure OAA programs are meeting their goals without leaving anyone out.

The National Survey started collecting data on LGBT program recipients in 2014, and continued to do so in both 2015 and 2016 (available on file with CAP).

HHS’ proposed 2017 protocol, publicly announced on March 13, omits the survey’s only question about sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the fact that LGBT people have been erased from the survey, the notice announcing the proposed survey alleges that “no changes” were made to the survey.

LGBT older adults face acute levels of economic insecurity, social isolation, and discrimination — including difficulty accessing critical aging services and supports. Data on LGBT program recipients would help HHS ensure its programs are meeting the need of LGBT seniors.

By rolling back data collection on LGBT people, HHS is giving up the tools it needs to ensure its effectively and equitably reaching all elders, including LGBT elders.

Ending data collection on LGBT people with disabilities

The Trump administration is also targeting LGBT individuals with disabilities, removing questions on LGBT identities from the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living.

A proposed redesign of the performance report was issued in January 2017 and did include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity; however, a revised version, issued in March 2017, omits these questions.

The Annual Report helps HHS evaluate the effectiveness and equity of programs designed to serve people with disabilities and ensure they can live independently in their homes and communities.

Available research suggests that LGBT people, especially LGBT older adults, face significant barriers to accessibility services. For this reason, it is particularly concerning that HHS is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the programs it funds equitably serve LGBT people with disabilities.

Why data matters

Data on LGBT program recipients could reveal disparities in how these HHS programs—which provide a critical safety net for to seniors and people with disabilities—serve LGBT people, potentially indicating discrimination or other barriers to access in the programs.

By rolling back data collection, the Department of Health and Human Services is throwing away the tools to ensure the department reaches vulnerable LGBT people in programs ranging from home delivered meals and senior center group meals, to transportation, caregiver support, and health promotion services.

Federal data collection on LGBT people is already scarce, but rolling back collection on crucial safety net programs is particularly disturbing. LGBT people experience overt and systematic discrimination across all areas of life—from education to housing, healthcare, employment, and the public square.

As a result, LGBT people face acute levels of income insecurity, making it particularly important that federal safety net programs meet the needs of the LGBT community.

By removing this data, the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Price risk erasing the experiences LGBT seniors and people with disabilities and making it impossible for HHS to identify and end disparities and discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

Sejal Singh is the Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Laura E. Durso is the Vice President of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Aaron Tax is the director of federal government relations for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

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Groups decry USDA removal of puppy mill reports

An online tool has disappeared for people to find out whether they are buying puppies from humane breeders or callous operators of puppy mills.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would return some animal welfare reports to public view online, but those reports deal with federal research facilities — not commercial pet breeders.

The industry contends that removing the online reports protects breeders from being tarred by a few sloppy operations. But animal welfare groups say the loss of the reports leaves consumers and some state regulators in the dark about how dogs are treated.

“We’ve cautioned people when they go to buy a dog from a breeder to check on the conditions of the seller,” said Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. “That just got much harder.”

For years, the federal reports could be found within a few minutes on the web. Those records remain public documents, but getting them now requires a Freedom of Information Act request that can take months. Inspections from the Missouri Department of Agriculture can be had by request more quickly, although they’re not listed online.

After the inauguration of Donald Trump, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it removed the inspections from its website because “the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy.”

The agency, which compiles the reports, maintains the change was in the works before Trump’s administration. It blamed litigation for the move.

Hank Grosenbacher, president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, said the online posting of the reports mostly served to give the Humane Society something to sensationalize. He suggested buyers ask the breeder for the inspection report, and go elsewhere to buy their animal if the breeder refuses to provide it.

Critics say move will make it harder for states to enforce various laws that make pet sales contingent on clean inspection reports.

“For what? So a puppy mill operator can get some privacy? That’s nuts,” said John Goodwin, who heads the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign. “This information should be accessible so that people can understand where the animals come from and how they’re being treated.”

Poll: Voters evenly divided on impeachment for Trump

New  data from the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling  finds Donald Trump’s popularity as president has declined dramatically over the past two weeks.

PPP’s first poll of Trump’s presidency showed voters were evenly divided, with 44 percent approving of him and 44 percent disapproving. Trump’s approval rating now is 43 percent, while his disapproval has gone all the way up to 53 percent.

If voters could choose they’d rather have both Barack Obama (52/44) or Hillary Clinton (49/45) instead of Trump, according to the survey.

And, three weeks into his presidency, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump, with 46 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed.

Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35 percent two weeks ago to 40 percent last week to its 46 percent on Feb. 10.

Here’s what else the PPP survey showed:

• Voters think Trump is over-reaching to make a country safe that they already consider to be safe. About 66 percent of those surveyed consider the United States to be a safe country, to only 23 percent who consider it unsafe.

About 45 percent of voters support Trump’s executive order on the travel ban.

PPP emphasized that those who do support the order may be under-informed — or something else. About 51 percent of Trump voters told PPP that the Bowling Green Massacre — which his administration has referenced  but which did not happen — shows why Trump’s immigration policy is needed.

In another question, 32 percent support a 20 percent tax on items imported to the United States from Mexico. And in general, only 37 percent of voters want the wall if U.S. taxpayers have to front the cost for it.

• Voters are concerned by the implications of Trump’s fight with the Judiciary.

About 53 percent of voters say they trust judges more to make the right decisions for the United States; about 38 percent trust Trump more.

However, among Trump voters, 51 percent think he should personally be able to overturn judicial decisions he doesn’t like.

 

• Voters continue to have a lot of basic transparency concerns when it comes to Trump. About 62 percent think Trump needs to fully divest himself from his business interests and 58 percent want him to release his tax returns.

• Voters are concerned about a repeal of Obamacare. About 47 percent of voters say they support the Affordable Care Act and 65 percent want Congress to keep the ACA and “fix parts that need fixing.”

Trump administration removes animal welfare reports from USDA site

The Agriculture Department has removed animal welfare inspection reports, enforcement records and other information about the treatment of animals from its website, citing privacy and other laws.

Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirmed the removal of the information but would not say if the removal was temporary or permanent in the new Trump administration.

The information is used by advocacy groups and other members of the public to look up information on commercial dog and horse breeders, some of whom have had a history of abuse.

The reports included lists of animal welfare violations at those facilities and also at animal testing labs, and whether those violations have been corrected.

In place of the online database is a new message from the department saying it is “implementing actions to remove documents” related to the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act that contain personal information.

The records have been removed “based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals,” the online message says.

The statement said the documents will still be available through Freedom of Information Act requests, which can be costly for the general public and sometimes take months or years to obtain.

Advocacy groups said the lack of documentation of violations would immediately affect their work.

“What the USDA has done is given cover to people who neglect or harm animals and get cited by USDA inspectors,” said John Goodwin, who runs the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign at The Humane Society of the United States. “The public is no longer going to know which commercial dog breeders, horse trainers, which zoos, which research labs have horrible animal welfare track records.”

As justification, the online notice cities ongoing court decisions and guidance from the Department of Justice regarding privacy and Freedom of Information laws. The notice does not cite any specific cases or guidance, and a spokesman for the Department of Justice referred questions back to the department.

The message says the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which maintains the records, with the support of the department’s Office of General Counsel, “continuously monitors these sources of information and makes refinements to APHIS’ practices, as needed.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what personal information is at issue. Some of the reports already redact locations of facilities to protect privacy.

The move came two days after Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., introduced a bill to require more public information on animal testing. The bill is backed by a group called the White Coat Waste Project, which seeks to reduce the amount of federal dollars spent on that testing.

“There was already before today a disturbing lack of transparency in how animals are used,” said Justin Goodman, a vice president for the group.

Immigrants’ rights must be protected from further attack

Earthjustice, Sierra Club, NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife are calling for an end to the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants. Earthjustice also is supporting the Bridge Act, which would extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for three years.

The statement from Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen:

Earthjustice holds as a foundational principle that every human being has a fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.

Inherent in that right is the ability to participate in democratic decision-making affecting one’s health and access to a fair and impartial judiciary to ensure that the laws and rules meant to protect public health and the environment are enforced with fairness and equality.

Unfortunately, millions of individuals are denied this ability to protect their own health and that of their children because to do so would risk retaliation, incarceration, deportation and separation from their families.

The short-sighted measures taken yesterday by the Trump administration will bring dire consequences and compromise the future of mixed-status households with U.S. citizens who depend on their undocumented family members and share the fears, apprehensions, and exclusions with their loved ones.

In 2014, we applauded the Obama administration for taking steps to eliminate the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants who have become an intrinsic part of our communities and the nation as a whole. Their contributions to this country exemplify the best in our values. We stand firmly by the belief that without the fear of intimidation or removal, immigrant communities will be better positioned to stand up for their fundamental rights, including a right to a safe and healthy environment for their families. To shut down their voices by planting fear with ill-conceived walls, counterproductive enforcement procedures, and by trying to defund sanctuary cities undermines basic rights and is inherently un-American.

Rather than try to tear families and communities apart, the administration and Congress should step up to its responsibility to provide relief. This is why we are joining in solidarity with our partners in the Latino and civil rights community in urging Congress to pass the “BRIDGE Act;” a bill that would provide Dreamers with a temporary reprieve from deportation on terms similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This bill would protect many of the millions of aspiring Americans whose ability to secure justice and thrive is hampered by their immigration status. Immigrants play a fundamental role in our country, they live, work, and pray among us yet they are forced to remain in the shadows.  Silence and inaction are breeding grounds for injustice, and Earthjustice will not stand by while this reality continues.

RESISTANCE: Scientists go rogue on Twitter in defiance of Trump

Employees from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have established a network of unofficial “rogue” Twitter feeds in defiance of what they see as attempts by President Donald Trump to muzzle federal climate change research and other science.

Seizing on Trump’s favorite mode of discourse, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and other bureaus have privately launched Twitter accounts — borrowing names and logos of their agencies — to protest restrictions they view as censorship and provide unfettered platforms for information the new administration has curtailed.

“Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS,” one anonymous National Park Service employee posted on the newly opened Twitter account @AltNatParkService.

“You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”

The @RogueNASA account displayed an introductory disclaimer describing it as “The unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account.”

It beckoned readers to follow its feed “for science and climate news and facts. REAL NEWS, REAL FACTS.”

The swift proliferation of such tweets by government rank-and-file followed internal directives several agencies involved in environmental issues have received since Trump’s inauguration requiring them to curb their dissemination of information to the public.

Last week, Interior Department staff were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee re-tweeted posts about relatively low attendance at Trump’s swearing-in, and about how material on climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the official White House website.

Employees at the EPA and the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services have since confirmed seeing notices from the new administration either instructing them to remove web pages or limit how they communicate to the public, including through social media.

The restrictions have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change skeptic, is out to squelch federally backed research showing that emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are contributing to global warming.

The resistance movement gained steam on Tuesday when a series of climate change-related tweets were posted to the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, administered under the Interior Department, but were soon deleted.

A Park Service official later said those tweets came from a former employee no longer authorized to use the official account and that the agency was being encouraged to use Twitter to post public safety and park information only, and to avoid national policy issues.

Within hours, unofficial “resistance” or “rogue” Twitter accounts began sprouting up, emblazoned with the government logos of the agencies where they worked, the list growing to at least 14 such sites by Wednesday afternoon.

An account dubbed @ungaggedEPA invited followers to visit its feeds of “ungagged news, links, tips and conversation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to tell you,” adding that it was “Not directly affiliated with @EPA.”

U.S. environmental employees were soon joined by similar “alternative” Twitter accounts originating from various science and health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Weather Service.

Many of their messages carried Twitter hashtags #resist or #resistance.

An unofficial Badlands National Park account called @BadHombreNPS also emerged (a reference to one of Trump’s more memorable campaign remarks about Mexican immigrants) to post material that had been scrubbed from the official site earlier.

Because the Twitter feeds were set up and posted to anonymously as private accounts, they are beyond the control of the government.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

ACLU files Freedom of Information request for Trump documents

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken legal action seeking documents on conflicts of interest and violations of the Constitution and federal law posed by Donald Trump and his family’s business interests.

The organization also released a plan laying out how it intends to challenge other Trump policies and protect the Constitution.

The efforts are made possible by the organization’s new Constitution Defense Fund, which was established following the election.

The first legal action, filed yesterday, is a Freedom of Information Act request asking several government agencies to turn over all documents relating to President Trump’s actual or potential conflicts of interest to his business and family connections.

The request seeks legal opinions, memoranda, advisories, and communications from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Government Ethics, the General Services Administration, and the office of Personnel Management from Nov. 9, 2016, to Jan. 20, 2017. The request includes email and all other communication to and from the presidential transition team.

“We are bringing this first legal action using the Freedom of Information Act to underscore the fact that President Trump is not above the law. Trump took the oath, but he didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure that he and his family’s business interests comply with the Constitution and other federal statutes,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “Freedom of information requests are our democracy’s X-ray, and they will be vitally important to expose and curb the abuses of a president who believes the rules don’t apply to him and his family. We also know that more legal action will be needed when the new administration attempts to enact some of their unconstitutional proposals. The ACLU’s charge, laid out in our Seven-Point Plan, is to stand ready to confront any unconstitutional elements of the administration’s agenda — today on day one and for the next four years.”

The ACLU’s plan details potential legal challenges to the Trump administration’s enacting of unconstitutional policies, including:

• Demanding government accountability and transparency
• Protecting the rights of immigrants
• Defending reproductive rights
• Securing the First Amendment
• Advancing LGBT rights
• Defend core civil rights and civil liberties from erosion
• Mobilizing Americans to defend our Constitution

Over the next four years, the ACLU will implement its plan by adding up to 100 full-time employees across the country, paid for by its Constitution Defense Fund, which has attracted nearly 400,000 donations since Election Day.

The FOIA request https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/trump_conflicts_foia_request.pdf

Extensive stock trading by Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services raises questions

Public Citizen says the Office of Congressional Ethics and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should look more closely at the stock trading activity of U.S. Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Chris Collins of New York for conflicts of interest and possible insider trading.

Price is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Extensive stock trading activity in industries that Price and Collins oversee as congressmen, and unusually good timing and financial benefits of those stock trades, raise red flags about the potential use of insider information,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The public information available falls short of hard evidence of insider trading, but the patterns of trading activity certainly warrant further investigation to determine if it occurred.”

Since 2009, according to congressional financial disclosure reports, Price has conducted over 630 trades on the stock market, many of which involve the pharmaceutical and health care sectors that he oversees as chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee and as a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.

Price’s colleague Collins also is a prolific trader of health care investments on the stock market, according to news and disclosure reports.

Collins, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, is a board member and the largest shareholder of a major biotech company, Australia’s Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited — a company in which both Price and Collins made major stock purchases within days of each other, according to financial disclosure reports.

“Collins purchased 4 million shares in August in the company whose board he sits on , and Price followed up with his own major stock purchase in the company two days later,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The stock value doubled in the three months following their investments. That’s quite good luck. This is worthy of investigation to determine whether any wrongful conduct occurred.”

Since passage of the STOCK Act in 2012, members of Congress have been subject to the same laws against insider trading that apply to everyone else. Additionally, congressional ethics rules warn members to avoid substantial conflicts of interest that may cast aspersions on the integrity of their office. Rules also mandate that members may not use their office for personal gain.

Public Citizen’s letter asks that the OCE and SEC investigate the stock trading activity of Price and Collins for potential violations of insider trading laws and conflict of interest rules and regulations.

On the Web

Read Public Citizen’s letter.

Obama administration announces rule to deal with illegal fishing, seafood fraud

The Obama administration on Dec. 8 issued a final rule to implement the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to address illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the United States.

This rule will require imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud to be traced from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border, helping to stop illegally caught and mislabeled seafood from entering the United States.

This is a statement by Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell:

Today’s announcement is a groundbreaking step towards more transparency and traceability in the seafood supply chain. We applaud President Obama for his ambitious plan to require traceability for imported seafood ‘at-risk’ of illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

For the first time ever, some imported seafood will now be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish, helping to level the playing field for American fishermen and reducing the risk facing U.S. consumers.

But the problem doesn’t stop here. We must continue to build on this important work and expand seafood traceability to include all seafood sold in the U.S. and extend it throughout the entire supply chain.

Without full-chain traceability for all seafood, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking, honest fishermen will continue to be undercut, and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy.

American consumers deserve to know more about their seafood, including what kind of fish it is, and how and where it was caught or farmed. While Oceana celebrates today’s announcement, there’s still more to do in the fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

 

About Oceana…

Oceana’s investigations of fishshrimpcrab cakes and most recently salmon, in retail markets and restaurants found that, on average, one-third of the seafood examined in these studies was mislabeled — the product listed on the label or menu was different from what the buyer thought they purchased, often a less desirable or lower-priced species. Oceana has observed threatened species being sold as more sustainable, expensive varieties replaced with cheaper alternatives and fish that can cause illness substituted in place of those that are safer to eat.

In September, Oceana released a report detailing the global scale of seafood fraud, finding that on average, one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested worldwide was mislabeled. In the report, Oceana reviewed more than 200 published studies from 55 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, and found seafood fraud in 99.9 percent of the studies. The studies reviewed also found seafood mislabeling in every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing.

The report also highlighted recent developments in the European Union to crack down on illegal fishing and improve transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain. According to Oceana’s analysis, preliminary data out of the EU suggests that catch documentation, traceability and consumer labeling are feasible and effective at reducing seafood fraud.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop seafood fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.

US court blocks overtime expansion pay rule for 4 million

A federal court this week blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season, dealing a major blow to the Obama administration’s effort to beef up labor laws it said weren’t keeping pace with the times.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor’s rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress. Overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

“Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. “Today’s preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government.”

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it’s wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.

Under the rule, those workers would have been eligible for overtime pay as long as they made less than about $47,500 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages.

The Department of Labor said the changes would restore teeth to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which it called “the crown jewel of worker protections in the United States.” Inflation weakened the act: overtime protections applied to 62 percent of U.S. full-time salaried workers in 1975 but just 7 percent today.

The agency said it’s now considering all its legal options.

“We strongly disagree with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans,” the labor department said in a statement. “The department’s overtime rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rulemaking process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule.”

Opponents fought hard against the rule, saying it would increase compliance costs for employers who would have to track hours more meticulously and would force companies to cut employees’ base pay to compensate for overtime costs that kick in more frequently.

“This overtime rule is totally disconnected from reality,” said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “The one-size-fits-all doubling of the salary threshold demonstrated ignorance regarding the vast differences in the cost-of-living across America.”

The court agreed with plaintiffs that the rule could cause irreparable harm if it wasn’t stopped before it was scheduled to take effect next week.

The Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, which might end up at a Supreme Court that includes some Trump appointees.

But the injunction takes political pressure off the incoming administration at an opportune time, according to labor law professor Ruben Garcia of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. With no new overtime changes kicking in Dec. 1, Trump can accept the status quo and won’t have to risk angering workers by walking back overtime benefits shortly after employees start receiving them.

His administration could choose to make its own rule changes through the lengthy administrative process. Or Congress could amend labor laws.

The impending rule wasn’t front and center in the presidential campaign, but Trump did tell the news site Circa in August that he would love to see a delay or carve-out for small businesses in the overtime regulation. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was more vocal against it, saying it would be an “absolute disaster” for the economy and was being rushed through by Obama to boost his political legacy.