ObamaCare enforcers under fire

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Buzz Cut:
• ObamaCare enforcers under fire
• Reid bolts on Obama’s trade push
• Paul taunts Christie on bridge woes
• Planet Hillary and the Asteroids
• Got the flu? Forget the coup

With just two months until the IRS begins enforcing penalties for Americans who fail to comply with President Obama’s health law, the troubled tax agency is back at center stage for critics of the law and the administration. Attorney General Eric Holder faced a barrage of questions during Senate testimony about his agency’s investigation of wrongdoing at the IRS. The sharpest exchange came with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was outraged over Holder’s allowing a Democratic donor to be the lead investigator of a scandal involving the targeting of President Obama’s political adversaries by the agency. When Cruz told Holder that the “integrity of the Department of Justice has been compromised,” the attorney general was not amused. Cruz pointed out that it has been more than eight months since Obama said he was “angry” about the scandal and promised to root out abuses in the IRS. Holder dismissed the criticism, saying “I don't know if you have ever conducted an investigation, but they take time.”

Legalize it - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned that proposed new rules to tighten IRS controls on non-profit groups’ activities would legalize the kind of tactics used in the targeting scandal. McConnell said the pending regulations are meant to silence conservative critics of President Obama ahead of midterm elections. McConnell told Megyn Kelly: “I think what they have decided to do is to take these people off of the playing field, and if it hits a few liberals, fine, but I think what they are really worried about are their conservative critics.” Watch the full interview from “The Kelly File.”

[The latest Kaiser Health poll finds uninsured Americans view ObamaCare unfavorably by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Seventy-nine percent said they are aware of the law’s tax penalties.]

First things last - Aside from the seemingly stalled investigation and the deepening worries about the tax agency’s ability to manage huge new powers under ObamaCare, the IRS isn’t faring very well when it comes to its existing work. A new report released just as Americans begin submitting their federal tax returns finds the agency in crisis. For example, a staggering 20 million calls to the IRS went completely unanswered last year. More. – Watch Fox: Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen looks at the troubles ahead for the IRS.

Boundless - How does ObamaCare change the role of America’s tax collectors? George Will considers: “By dispensing subsidies through federal exchanges, the IRS will spend tax revenues without congressional authorization. And by enforcing the employer mandate in states that have only federal exchanges, it will collect taxes … without congressional authorization. If the IRS can do neither, it cannot impose penalties on employers who fail to offer [ObamaCare]…approved insurance to employees. If the IRS can do both, Congress can disband because it has become peripheral to American governance.”

President Obama
wraps up his post-State of the Union sales pitch with stops in Wisconsin and Tennessee on today. The president will speak at a GE plant in Waukesha, Wis. and a high school in Nashville. Obama will tout his plans for increased spending on job training and education programs.

[Washington Examiner: “President Obama’s 43-point State of the Union speech and second term agenda laid out to Congress on Tuesday [would] cost taxpayers nearly $40 billion more annually…”]

She just couldn’t make it work - Wisconsin Public Radio: “Governor Scott Walker will meet President Obama when the president visits Wisconsin… but Walker’s Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, will be out of town… a spokesman for Burke said she would not meet personally with the President, citing a full day of campaigning scheduled for western Wisconsin.”

WSJ: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier…. Reid told reporters he opposed legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of free-trade agreements, a vital component to negotiating any deal, and pointedly said supporters should back down. ‘I'm against fast track’ Mr. Reid (D., Nev.) said, using the shorthand term for legislation that prevents overseas trade agreements from being amended during the congressional approval process. ‘I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now.’’’

No fix: Union leaders blast ObamaCare carve out as insufficient – Fox News: “Leaders of major labor unions are pushing back against proposed regulatory changes that could affect some union-sponsored health plans under ObamaCare, arguing the proposals do nothing to help workers suffering under the law. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the presidents of two high-profile labor unions said they are "bitterly disappointed" with the administrations' proposed rules… ‘If the administration honestly thinks that these proposed rules are responsive to our concerns, they were not listening or they simply did not care,’ the letter said.”

Leaker Edward Snowden could soon share something in common with President Obama. Snowden is being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Snorre Valen, one of the two Norwegian lawmakers who put forward Snowden’s nomination, believes that Snowden’s disclosures have sparked a public debate and changes in policy that have contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order. UK’s Independent has the story.

[Fox News: A little more than a year after President Obama confidently declared on the campaign trail that Al Qaeda was on the run, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified Wednesday that he can’t say the threat from the terror network “is any less” than it was a decade ago.]

Dean not keen on Iran deal - Washington Free Beacon: “Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke out against the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by a controversial Iranian dissident group on Wednesday.”

Judge Andrew Napolitano poses some difficult questions for readers in his new Fox News Opinion piece Sorry State of the Union: “What if the state of the union is a mess? What if the government spies on all of us all of the time and recognizes no limits to its spying? What if its appetite for acquiring personal knowledge about all Americans is insatiable? What if the government uses the microchips in our cellphones to follow us and listen to us as we move about?... What if the president has discussed none of this in his State of the Union address? What if the president believes that during his second term in office he answers to no one? What if the president lives and works surrounded by those who reinforce his beliefs? What if he has rejected his oath of fidelity to the Constitution? What will he do next? What will we do about it?”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.1 percent//Disapprove – 51.6 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.5 percent//Wrong Track – 63.0 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 41.0 percent// Republicans 41.5 percent

Sean Hannity
pressed Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the state of his public feud with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Paul, appearing in a joint interview with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, demurred. Sort of. “Oh, no, no. We’re all one big happy family now,” Paul said. “It’s all under the bridge.”

[WMUR/UNH GOP N.H. Primary poll: Rand Paul 16 percent//Kelly Ayotte 13 percent//Scott Brown 11 percent //Chris Christie 9 percent //Paul Ryan 6 percent //Marco Rubio 6 percent]

From WFOR: “Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been rumored to be a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016 and Wednesday he did nothing to end the speculation when asked about a possible run. ‘I’m going to think about it later (a run for president),’ Bush said during a school tour Wednesday. ‘I don’t wake up each day saying, ‘what am I going to do today to make this decision?’ Bush continued, ‘I’m deferring the decision to the right time which is later this year and the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits. It’s a pretty pessimistic country right now; and, is it right for my family? So I don’t even want to think about that till it’s the right time and that’s later on.’”

From WaPo: “Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a commanding 6 to 1 lead over other Democrats heading into the 2016 presidential campaign, while the Republican field is deeply divided with no clear front-runner, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Clinton trounces her potential primary rivals with 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, reinforcing a narrative of inevitability around her nomination… Her lead is the largest recorded in an early primary matchup in at least 30 years of Post-ABC polling.”

How about the early primary states? Yup. There too - WMUR/UNH Democratic N.H. 2016 Primary poll: Hillary Clinton 74 percent //Joe Biden 10 percent //Andrew Cuomo 2 percent //Mark Warner 1 percent.

From Deena Winter of Watchdog.org on the first Nebraska GOP Senate debate: “When asked how they would fix Obamacare, rather than repeal it, [former state Treasurer Shane Osborn] had the misfortune of answering first and said he’d get rid of the individual mandate, not bail out insurance companies and make members of Congress live by it. But [Midland University President Ben Sasse] evaded the question, saying, ‘You can’t fix this. It’s broken beyond repair.’… Osborn said politicians often change when they get to Washington, but said he can handle pressure. Osborn was thrust into the international spotlight in 2001 after his U.S. Navy plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane and he landed the plane on a Chinese island, where he and his crew were held captive for nearly two weeks. ‘If I can stand up to 12 days of Communist Chinese interrogations, I can handle Harry Reid,’ he said. Sasse said he believes in term limits, but also thinks there’s a crisis in the conservative movement. ‘Democrats are giving away free doughnuts and we’re trying to sell Stairmasters,’ he said.

[Sasse announced his endorsement by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., via Twitter after the debate. Ryan responded: @PRyan: Thanks, Ben. Proud to support a conservative reformer. RT @Sasse4Senate: Grateful to have the endorsement of Rep. Paul Ryan.”]

No split on immigration - The Lincoln Journal Star report tried to find GOP divisions on immigration, but both Sasse and Osborn rejected any discussion of legal status for illegal immigrants until the U.S. border was secured. There will be two more debates, March 11 and May 7.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, took the Center Seat to face questions from the All-Star Panel on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” Pressed on the contentious divide between the Republican establishment and conservative insurgents, Lee said the answer was a new agenda. “I think there is a hole within the Republican Party that is exactly the size and shape of a conservative reform agenda,” Lee said. “There’s a natural tension that exists between a party's base, and its elected political leadership, and that's kind of where this gulf comes in...” Watch here.

[Watch Fox: Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, appears in the 9 a.m. ET hour to discuss President Obama’s use of executive orders to go around Congress.]

Richmond Times Dispatch: “Robert Sarvis, the 2013 Libertarian candidate for governor, said Wednesday that he wants to run for U.S. Senate, challenging Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va.” Sarvis, who supports access to elective abortion, could be a stumbling block for Republican frontrunner Ed Gillespie, who is staunchly pro-life. Libertarian Sarvis drew 6.5 percent of the vote in last year’s gubernatorial contest despite being repudiated by former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and the revelation that Sarvis’ largest political benefactor was a billionaire Obama Democrat. Warner could use Sarvis to pry pro-choice Republicans away from Gillespie, as now Gov. Terry McAuliffe did to 2013 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

Democrats do triage - “There is no question that Democratic donors are shifting towards the Senate in 2014. They will continue to support Nancy, but everyone agrees that the emphasis is going to be on the Senate.” – Joe Cotchett, Democratic donor and longtime backer of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, talking to Politico.

A net change of six Senate seats would put Republicans in control of the Senate. Democrats are seeking to protect a dozen seats. Which six do you feel are most likely to flip? Based on Fox News First reader e-mails and tweets, the consensus is (in order of times selected): Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and Alaska. But readers Rich & Penny Nelson say: “Don't forget that Michigan probably will go Republican.” With former State Treasurer Terry Lynn Land catching Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., in fundraising and polling showing a tight race, Republican strategist Rick Wiley told National Journal, “Everyone is bullish about Michigan right now.”

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

Sunshine State News: “Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrats Charlie Crist and Nan Rich came out swinging on Wednesday at the first event where all three gubernatorial candidates appeared in advance of the November election. Scott used the release of his election-year budget proposal to take aim at his predecessor without calling out Crist by name, accusing his opponent of ‘raiding’ state reserves while hiking taxes during Crist’s four years as Republican governor… Crist largely ignored Rich and instead slammed the incumbent...”

[A new Quinnipiac poll released this morning has Democrat Charlie Crist leading Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., 46 percent to 38 percent.]

Florida’s Republican Party is not holding back in its criticism of Democrat Charlie Crist’s efforts to get his old job back. A new ad blasts the former Republican governor turned Democrat saying, “Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist. What's worse, he didn't stay to fix the mess. He ran away, tried to go to Washington instead.” The ad concludes with, “Charlie Crist. Slick politician, lousy governor.”

From Watchdog.org: “An ethics complaint filed against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis this week argues that Davis has failed to disclose all of her sources of income and ties to lobbyists, as required by state law. According to the complaint, Davis failed to disclose more than $25,000 in interest and dividends she earned from 2010 to 2012 on the personal financial statements she filed those years. Davis also failed to disclose that she was paid by the employer of a lobbyist…”

The Hill: “Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), fresh from a farm bill victory, told reporters Wednesday that he would decide on his political future next month. ‘I haven't decided. I am going to take some time,’ Peterson said. ‘I have been in limbo here, in farm bill hell for three years and it affects you.’ If he doesn't run, Peterson's departure would hand Republicans another top pickup opportunity in his Republican-leaning northwestern Minnesota that's been heavily targeted by the GOP.”

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych isn’t feeling very well. You might think that the days of civic unrest in the streets of Kiev are the problem, as protesters demand the ouster of the pro-Putin Yanukovych. But that’s not it at all. AP reports the embattled leader has gone on sick leave. “A statement on the presidential website said Yanukovych has an acute respiratory illness and high fever. There was no indication of how long he might be on leave or whether he would be able to do any work.”

[Ed. note: If he likes Russia so much, Yanukovych surely knows what happens to Russian political leaders who get the sniffles at inopportune times. Don’t check in to the Andropov Clinic, comrade…]

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.