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Lerner helped craft new IRS political crackdown

File: May 22, 2013: Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner is sworn in on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.

File: May 22, 2013: Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner is sworn in on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Lerner helped craft new IRS political crackdown
• Employers ready ObamaCare insurance cuts
• Obama: I can help Dems ‘in some parts of some states’
• Clinton super PAC won’t help hold Senate
• Big mouth saves the day

The official at the center of the IRS scandal involving the targeting of President Obama’s political enemies secretly helped craft new rules for the agency that critics say would make such heavy-handed tactics legal. Emails obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee show IRS executive Lois Lerner working on the new rules in secret with Obama Treasury officials at the height of the targeting. Lerner has refused to testify before Congress amid the criminal investigation into misconduct at the agency. The regulations, which are currently pending, would allow the IRS to crack down on political activity by non-profit groups. A June 2012 email from a Treasury official to Lerner suggests that they work “off plan” –bureaucratic shorthand for keeping their meetings off of publicly available schedules – to devise the rules. Critics say the rules that resulted would permit agents to shut down dissent by non-profit groups.

[Daily Caller - “The American Civil Liberties Union… stated its ‘serious concerns with the [proposed IRS regulations]… from a First Amendment perspective,’ saying that ‘the proposed rule threatens to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America.’”]

Washington Examiner: “…a Duke University survey of top companies found that 44 percent are considering reducing health benefits to current employees due to Obamacare, confirming the fears of millions of American workers…Duke also found that nearly half are ‘reluctant to hire full-time employees because of the Affordable Care Act.’ And 40 percent are considering shifting to part-time workers and others will hire fewer workers of fire some to avoid the costs of the program.”

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For the record - “[ObamaCare] creates a disincentive for people to work” – Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf during House testimony. More.

WSJ: “Insurers are facing pressure from regulators and lawmakers about plans that offer limited choices of doctors and hospitals, a tactic the industry said is vital to keep down coverage prices in the new health law's marketplaces. This week, federal regulators proposed a tougher review process for the doctors and hospitals in plans to be sold next year through, a shift that could force insurers to expand those networks. Meantime, regulators in states including Washington and New Hampshire are ramping up their own scrutiny, and lawmakers in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, among others, are weighing bills that could force plans to add more hospitals and doctors.”

Back end backup - A House committee will investigate why the ObamaCare Web site does not allow ObamaCare enrollees to appeal errors and is asking Health and Human Services officials to testify no later than February 21 to discuss the problem. More.

Study measures Obama’s enrollment exaggerations - WaPo: “Between 1 million and 2 million Americans signed up for Medicaid last year because of [ObamaCare], according to a new report suggesting that many of the people who have joined the program since the initiative’s rollout in October would have done so absent the law. The Obama administration has said that 6.3 million people were determined to be eligible for Medicaid between October and December. But the study, from health-care industry consulting firm Avalere Health, suggests that only a fraction of the enrollments are strictly the result of the health-care law.”

“Many of these insurance companies were for ObamaCare when it first came out. I mean, they thought this was going to be a huge bonanza for them. So they got involved in pushing for the law, advocating for the law. Many of them were at the table when it was drawn up. But of course, they always counted on this money being there for them at the back end. That’s not right. That isn’t fair that people and companies who can afford to hire lobbyists come up here and figure out a way to get the taxpayers to bail them out for a program that doesn’t work, was never going to work and is now worse than ever.”—Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” Watch here.

Back to the drawing board on debt limit demand - WaPo: “House Speaker John A. Boehner scrambled to sell a new debt-ceiling solution to his Republican colleagues on Wednesday… ‘Right now, Jesus himself couldn’t be the speaker and get 218 Republicans behind something, so I think Speaker Boehner is trying his best to come up with a plan that can get close to that,’ said Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-Ohio), a longtime Boehner ally…”

[Watch Fox: Boehner will face reporters at an 11:30 a.m. ET press conference.]

Should your employer be required to give your email address to unions looking to get you to join up? The National Labor Relations Board said yes, but a court ruling that President Obama’s effort to pack the board with union-backers amid a blockade by Senate Republicans could render that and other rulings by the NLRB moot. – Watch Fox: Correspondent Shannon Bream considers if this union showdown could be on the fast track to the Supreme Court.

Big Labor appm wage hike no help to poor - Less than 2 percent of Americans workers earn wages at or below the federal minimum, meaning President Obama’s proposed hike in the federal minimum wage would do little for most living in poverty. So says a new study by the conservative American Action Forum. 

AP: “A string of car bomb attacks hit commercial areas in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, said Iraqi officials… The bombings came a day after 34 people were killed in multiple explosions, mainly in the heart of Baghdad.”

‘Iraq is gone’ - “I don’t need a big hearing to figure this one out. You had millions of Americans serve. You had Americans die… It’s very simple. We’re not there anymore and we left too quickly with no leave-behind force. The Obama administration failed and now you have the disaster. Iraq is gone.” – Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., on “The Kelly File”

Daily Beast: “The Republican Senate caucus is planning to use every parliamentary trick in the book to push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a floor vote on a new Iran sanctions bill that the Obama administration strenuously opposes. The Obama White House has succeeded in keeping most Democrats in line against supporting quick passage of the ‘Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act’ which currently has 59 co-sponsors, including 13 Democrats. Reid has faithfully shelved the bill, pending the outcome of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers...”

House sets up Benghazi Web hub - Washington Examiner: “House Republicans have set up a new website focused on the Benghazi attack and the circumstances surrounding it that promises to bring the facts about the deadly assault ‘straight to the American people’”

[Watch Fox: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., discusses Benghazi in the 10 a.m. ET hour]

At Fox News Opinion, Judge Andrew Napolitano considers if President Obama can legally bypass Congress. From
Executive Order Tyranny: “The same president who claims the unlawful power to rewrite federal law on his own would use his veto power to prevent Congress from doing so lawfully. His preferences surely constitute no less than a perversion of the roles assigned to the branches of government by the Constitution.” 

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Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  42.9 percent//Disapprove – 51.9 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.1 percent//Wrong Track – 63.1 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 40.5 percent// Republicans 42.0 percent

WaPo: “The candid self-appraisal came during a policy retreat with the Senate Democratic caucus at the Washington Nationals’ stadium, part of a flurry of outreach efforts with congressional Democrats this week focused on crafting strategies for the midterms. ‘[President Obama] said he knew he is not popular in some of the states so he would not be offended if he were not invited to visit them this year,’ said one senator who requested anonymity to discuss the private meeting. ‘But he said he could be helpful in some parts of some states.”’

BuzzFeed: “The Democratic Party’s biggest super PAC, recently retooled as an early pro-Hillary Clinton effort, will sit out the midterm elections this year. A spokesman with the group, Priorities USA Action, confirmed to BuzzFeed on Wednesday night that it would not be involved in House or Senate campaigns…Sources close to the group say its leaders considered helping Democrats in House and Senate races approaching this fall. The PAC’s principal financial backer, Hollywood magnate Jeffrey Katzenberg, has shown an interest in one midterm candidate in particular: Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat gunning to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.”

If the pantsuit fits, wear it - Page Six: “Hillary Clinton went on a private shopping spree at Bergdorf Goodman early Tuesday morning, sparking further speculation that she’s suiting up for a 2016 presidential run. Hillary was spotted entering the posh department store by a side entrance at 9 a.m., with a small entourage of security and assistants.”

The Hill: “Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is launching a new campaign against proponents of Keystone XL, and one possible target is [Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.] Steyer's green group NextGen Climate Action posted a list of candidates that are strong advocates of the controversial TransCanada oil pipeline on its website, asking people to pick which one it should target for its Keystone XL television ad.”

[Ed. note: Is this just bipartisan cover for a group that has basically functioned as an extension of Team Obama or will it really spend money on this race? It would be hard to argue that Steyer’s bid to push the government into regulating his competitors in the fossil-fuel industry and pumping more subsidies to green energy outfits like his would be helped by having a Republican in Landrieu’s seat.]

North Carolina Republican Senate frontrunner Thom Tillis is painting Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., as an Obama Democrat in his latest ad. The spot asks “How many people will have to pay for Kay Hagan's loyalty to [President Obama]”

Daily Caller: “Americans for Prosperity, a well-funded conservative group, is putting more than half a million dollars behind… attacking Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor…The ad targets Pryor, who faces a tough re-election in a decidedly red state, on his support for Obamacare. It will begin running on television statewide on Thursday, and AFP has put $606,000 behind it. …the group will also have a ‘very aggressive’ ground game – knocking on doors and running phone ….”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is using the Congressional Budget Office’s report on ObamaCare’s effects on jobs to blast vulnerable Democrats. Among the candidates the NRSC is targeting: Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Al Franken, D-Minn., Mary Landrieu, D- La., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Mark Warner, D-Va. From Hagan’s version: “ObamaCare punishes additional work, professional advancement, and additional income hurting those trying to climb into the middle class most of all. Kay Hagan repeatedly lied about ObamaCare, and voters no longer trust her judgment.”

Republicans only need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. Which six seats are the most likely GOP pickups? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and Alaska.

Reader Chas Darden sees a Big Sky of opportunity for the GOP out West. “I would move Montana up to…1 in your list,” Darden wrote.

Is Montana at the top of your list?  Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

CLOSE CONTEST IN CORNHUSKER GOP PRIMARY “A newpoll has the [Nebraska] U.S. Senate race tightening considerably, with political newcomer Ben Sasse in a statistical dead heat with former State Treasurer Shane Osborn… [the poll] done for Conservative Intelligence Briefing…has Osborn leading the pack with 30 percent, Sasse nipping at his heels with 29 percent, Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale with 13 percent and Omaha attorney Bart McLeay with 4 percent… Sasse has also led the race to raise cash, raising $1.4 million last year and ending the year with more than $1 million in cash on hand. The poll indicates Sasse has the edge with anti-establishment-leaning voters: 54 percent of those surveyed said they support Tea Party ideals, and Sasse has a slight lead among them, leading 35 to 31 percent.”

[Watch Fox: Shane Osborn appears on “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt” in the 11:30 half-hour. Watch.]

AP: “Rising Democratic star and [Texas] gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has joined her top Republican rival in supporting a proposed ‘open carry’ law. It would allow people with concealed handgun licenses to wear a pistol on their hip, in full view, while in public. Davis has said she supports expanding gun rights in Texas. But in a statement to The Associated Press, she said that includes open-carry – a position that puts her at odds with her own party but could keep her from alienating gun rights advocates in a deeply conservative a state where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct… Texas State Rifle Association spokeswoman Alice Tripp noted Davis' previous calls for more restrictions on gun show sales and past votes against allowing concealed license holders to carry their guns in classrooms and buildings on college campuses. ‘Wendy Davis has a very bad record as far as gun owners go,’ Tripp said, calling Davis an ‘opportunist.’’’

Dallas Morning News: “[Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.] will be in Dallas and Fort Worth on Thursday for Republican governor fundraisers. He’s also planning on trips to Illinois, New York, Maryland, Georgia and Washington DC to raise money for the RGA. A planned stop at the Conservative Political Action Conference – or CPAC – in Washington will be an opportunity to show that he’s not damaged goods politically. Conservatives in the party haven’t been keen on Christie since his embrace of President Obama and federal assistance to New Jersey in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Likely GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott will not join Christie. An aide said Abbott will be in Houston as part of a statewide series of appearances on immigration.”

[Ed. note: Christie’s fellow Republican governors may sympathize with his claim of being the victim of a smear campaign by liberal media outlets over a dirty trick played by his subordinates on a uncooperative Democrat. But that doesn’t mean other GOPers would like to get involved. Christie’s turn as RGA chairman was supposed to be about rebuilding his brand in the party after his 2012 snubbing of Mitt Romney. Christie’s falling out with NBC News & Co. has robbed him of his main attraction for GOP governors: positive establishment press appeal. Like Romney in 2012, Christie needs help when the chips are down. If his fellows do as he did two years ago and think of their states and campaigns first, Christie’s chairmanship stands to be a painful rather than palliative experience for all involved.]

“Everybody else told [Ronald Reagan] to shut up too.  They said, ‘shut up and wait your turn.’ And he didn’t. There was a big fight over what was the direction of the Republican Party. So fighting doesn’t have to be impolite. It doesn’t have to be rude. But there needs to be a struggle over the direction of the party. We have to decide, are we going to go bold – are we going to go big – or are we going to become Democrat-lite? That debate always occurs in a party. And so we should fight; we should struggle for what we believe in and try to move the party forward.” – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaking at a gala hosted by the American Principles Project.

Sunshine State News: “Is [Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Charlie Crist losing fundraising momentum? The former Republican governor made headlines when he raised $2.1 million in November.  But, just two months later, his numbers tell a different tale. In January, a political committee backing Crist raised only $375,000. Further analysis shows an even starker picture: two donors alone made up $200,000 of the total…”

[In the latest University of Florida poll, Crist leads Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., 47 percent to 40 percent.]

Secretary of State John Kerry will not run for president in 2016. “I’m out of politics. I have no plans whatsoever. This is my last stop,” Kerry told CNN.

[Kerry will join Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at this year’s Gridiron Club dinner, the most prestigious gathering of Washington journalists. WaPo reports.]

Tampa Bay Times: “…Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to campaign… for Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink. Biden will appear at a Feb. 12 fundraiser… [Republican rival David Jolly’s] spokeswoman Sarah Bascom was not impressed.  ‘I wonder how many lobbyists will be there and solicited for a contribution and how many conversations will be had about the priorities of President Obama and Nancy Pelosi over the communities of Pinellas County.’’’ Sink, the Democratic nominee for a March 11, Tampa-area special election to serve out the remainder of the term of the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., has repeatedly hit Jolly over his background as a lobbyist. 

[George Will: “..[I]f Republican David Jolly prevails, Republicans will construe this as evidence that Barack Obama has become an anvil in the saddle of every Democratic candidate… If Sink wins, Republicans nationally can shrug; if Jolly wins, Democrats should tremble.”]

Biden: Unions keep the barbarians at bay - “And there’s a reason why the middle class is shrinking, I know I got in trouble for saying this before, but I'm going to say it again. You guys [unions] are the only guys keeping the barbarians at the gate, man. That's the deal,” – Vice President Joe Biden, in an address to the United Automobile Workers Community Action Program Conference Wednesday, via Washington Examiner.

He may have ended gasping on the floor of the crime scene, but he apparently saved the day for the proprietors of Hooked on Fishing in Rochester, Minn. Authorities say Big Mouth Billy Bass, the popular motion-activated, animatronic novelty display “as seen on TV” scared away a would-be burglar. The bass, mounted by the shop’s door, apparently broke into strains of “Take Me to the River” when the intruder broke in. The Olmstead County Sherriff’s Office said the intruder left in a hurry. Sgt. Tom Claymon told Minneapolis Star Tribune that the fake fish “took one for the team,” noting that “nothing was missing … other than Billy’s pride.”

“The statement that [White House Press Secretary Jay Carney] made is going to be emblazoned on the tombstone of liberalism. He says… that the government is giving opportunity for people to decide if they want to work. This is the liberal’s ideal of the opportunity society.” –Charles Krauthammer, on “Special Report with Bret BaierWatch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.