Morning Action: How Harshly Should Drug Offenders Be Penalized?

DRUG SENTENCING OVERHAUL.  Congress may consider legislation to reduce criminal penalties for drug offenders (sub. req’d):

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called on Congress Thursday to pass bipartisan legislation that would reduce criminal penalties for some drug offenders, even as Senate Judiciary Committee aides expressed new optimism about the bill’s chances after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The bill is aimed at reducing criminal penalties that some lawmakers and many criminal justice advocates say are excessive, particularly for low-level offenders, and have become a major factor in the growing size and cost of the federal correctional system.

The legislation would reduce the mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes and give judges discretion to impose lighter penalties than those currently required for certain drug offenders. It also would allow crack cocaine offenders to seek lighter penalties under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act (PL 111-220), even if their convictions pre-dated that statute, which reduced the disparity in criminal sentences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses.

OBAMACARE.  The insurance industry may benefit from the presence of a risk corridor, which is a euphemism for an insurance industry bailout under Obamacare:

The law depends upon the voluntary participation of insurers. Private citizens are compelled to purchase insurance, but insurers are free to walk away from Obamacare. To prevent that from happening, congressional Democrats put in place guarantees to cover insurance industry losses for the first few years of the program. The total cost of this bailout could feasibly run into the tens of billions of dollars. 

Conservative thought leaders have begun to sound the alarm. In a Washington Post column in early January, Charles Krauthammer argued that ending the bailout should be the “first order of business” for conservatives in 2014. Similarly, James Capretta, Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru, and others have argued that the bailout should be a focus of conservatives looking to stop Obamacare.

This is all to the good. Yet the impending bailout of Obamacare insurers is part of a much larger story about the growing entanglement of business and the federal government. To attack Obamacare as effectively as possible, conservatives must understand this story better, and situate the bailout within the broader narrative of how businesses’ rent-seeking—their manipulation of the political process to increase their wealth—has come to dominate public policy.

TAX CREDITS.  A bipartisan proposal in Congress would create a new renewable energy tax credit (sub. req’d):

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is taking the lead on a bipartisan proposal to create a tax incentive for utilities to increase their investment in wind and solar power production.

The measure would provide an incentive called a consumer renewable credit to a utility based on its renewable energy production and its renewable portfolio, or its share of total production from renewable sources.

The credit would start at 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour of renewable energy produced for utilities with a renewable portfolio of about 6 percent to 8 percent, and range up to 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour for utilities with a renewable portfolio of more than 24 percent.

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