The buddy system. Republicans are bristling today over a sly move by the Obama administration to relieve unions of their duty to pay for Obamacare. “Despite endorsing Obamacare and working fervently to get it passed, unions are now experiencing the ugly reality of this law, and they want out,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in a statement. The White House published proposed federal rules for 2015 yesterday afternoon that would exempt union healthcare plans, known as Taft-Hartley plans, from the Obamacare reinsurance tax. That tax was designed to raise funds for covering people with pre-existing conditions by taxing self-insured plans, or those in which employers do not use a third-party administrator to insure workers. Thune has introduced a bill that would block a union exemption to the reinsurance tax.
Tax on pastors. A federal judge has struck down a law that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances in a decision that could have far-reaching financial ramifications for pastors across the United States. In her decision Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin wrote that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the lawsuit against U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel. Christian groups are expected to rally in support of pastors keeping the tax exemption, which will not take effect until appeals efforts are exhausted.
Just sign here. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is holding out on signing an agreement that would allow the United States to keep a security force in his country beyond 2014. The Loya Jirga, an assembly of Afghani tribal elders, approved the deal, called the Bilateral Security Agreement, on Sunday. But Karzai refuses to sign it, saying that, among other demands, the United States must first release the nearly 20 Afghanis currently imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Elections are scheduled for April to choose Karzai’s replacement, whom Karzai insists should be the one to sign the agreement. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the United States would begin planning a total troop withdrawal from Afghanistan for 2014 if the agreement is not signed soon.
The pope’s manifesto. Pope Francis issued an 85-page mission statement today that carves a path of modernization and social justice for the Catholic Church under his papacy. In the document, the pope chastises priests for spending too much time in their sacristies and not enough time ministering to people out on the streets. He approved of dismissing some church traditions “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful.” He also attacked the “idolatry of money” and called on politicians to work to alleviate the suffering of the poor. The pope espoused a strong commitment to the pro-life and pro-family agenda, bemoaning how marriage has become “a form of mere emotional satisfaction.” Regarding abortion, he said, “[The] defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”