Reason Roundup

Democrats Overwhelmingly Vote to Give Trump's People More Spying Power

Plus: Sondland worked "on Ukraine matters at the express direction of" Trump, why hospital prices are so screwy, D.C. gets pushback for ditching sex work bill, and more...


Don't like being spied on by federal government snoops? Too bad. Mass surveillance of American communications is likely to continue, with the Trump administration calling the shotsand we have both ruling parties to blame for that.

Democrats are "just as responsible for warrantless surveillance as Trump and the GOP," as libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) tweeted yesterday.

Nearly every Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to fully reauthorize the Patriot Act through March 2020, extending the right of federal agents to use all sorts of secret surveillance against Americans. 

That's right: "At the same time that Democrats are holding impeachment inquiries to determine if President Donald Trump abused his executive power, they apparently have no qualms about letting him continue to spy on Americans," as Reason's Eric Boehm wrote yesterday.

Only 10 House Democrats voted against it and three—including 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)—didn't vote, leaving a whopping 219 Democratic representatives who voted in its favor. Meanwhile, just 12 Republicans voted for the measure.

House Democrats who joined Amash in voting no included freshman members (and Trump scapegoats) Alexander Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.)

Some have defended affirmative votes by pointing out that the Patriot Act reauthorization was tucked into a stopgap spending measure designed to avoid imminent "government shutdown." But there's no reason for the Patriot Act extension to outlast the stopgap spending approval, which only funds things through December 20. In fact, there's no reason for the Patriot Act extension to be tucked into this spending measure at all. Yet House leadership rejected an Amash amendment that would have removed the Patriot Act provision from the spending bill.

The extension "has no business being in there," but "just like GOP leaders, Dem leaders ruled my amendment out of order," complained Amash on Twitter Monday.

In the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats lent a lot of support to the spending measure and its Patriot Act reauthorization.


Yesterday in impeachment proceedings:

And so far this morning:


Disruption at D.C. City Council meeting after prostitution decriminalization bill was tabled. Activists from BYP100 and DECRIMNOWDC interrupted a city council committee meeting yesterday to protest the lack of support for sex work decriminalization by Vince Gray, Ward 7's council member.


Why is hospital pricing so screwed up? A podcast discussion between economist Russ Roberts and Keith Smithfounder of the free market oriented Surgery Center of Oklahomahelps illustrate that. They bring up a hospital that billed a patient more than $101,600 for a surgery, only $13,000 of which was then covered by the insurance company.

Before anyone starts cursing insurance companies: the price charged directly to patients at Smith's center for the same surgery is $10,000. The hospital was billing the insurer way above a reasonable rate. Why? Because it can claim that disparity as a loss and use that to get money from the government:

Keith Smith: So, a $100,000 bill, the hospital collects $13,000. They claim that they lost $87,000. This $87,000 loss maintains the fiction of their not-for-profit status, but it also provides the basis for a kickback the federal government sends to this hospital in the form of what's called Disproportionate Share Hospital payments.

But the insurance companies still share some blame here:

Smith: I mean, why would an insurance company agree to play along with this hospital? Well, the insurance company actually wants an inflated charge because then, for employers they work with, they can show that the savings that dealing with that particular insurance company generates is very, very large…. Now, what the insurers actually do is ask the hospital administrators, "Can you do a brother a favor and actually charge $200,000 for that, so that our percentage savings actually looks larger?"

Listen to the whole podcast here. Read a longer except here.