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It’s the state of the country, stupid #wonkbook

By Ezra Klein,

Tis the season for Democratic discontent with the Obama campaign. The president has had a bad week or two and now every Democratic campaign consultant who isn’t a paid member of the president’s reelection team is emerging to say that they gave the Obama campaign the exact piece of advice that could have vaulted them far ahead of Romney but -- can you believe it? -- they were ignored.

Meh. Before the end of this election, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are going to go through a couple of cycles each where they suddenly look like they can’t do anything right. In fact, they already have. I’m old enough to remember all the way back to February of this year, when the Hill reported that “Congressional Republicans are worried Mitt Romney’s propensity for verbal gaffes will hurt him in the fall.”

Images of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, courtesy of Bloomberg News.

But as I read the events of the last few weeks, there’s not much of a campaign story at all. First, the Obama campaign received a devastating jobs report. There’s no way to spin that. Then, at a press conference, Obama spoke inartfully about the state of the private economy, a subject he’s covered a thousand times before without incident.

If the jobs report had been better and Obama’s comments about the private sector worded slightly differently, this conversation over the Obama campaign’s incompetence wouldn’t be happening. And yet, it’s hard to see what the campaign had to do with the jobs report, or with the precise wording Obama used to answer a reporter’s question. Meanwhile, for all the Obama team’s apparent incompetence, they still lead in the polls.

They may well lose that lead -- and the election. Or perhaps they’ll keep it. Either way, the day after the election, a thousand reporters will rush to etch the losing campaign’s incredible strategic incompetence into the history books. Can you think of a single presidential election in which we say the loser ran a pretty good campaign, but it just wasn’t enough for him to win? No -- we blame McCain’s erraticism, Kerry’s indecision, Gore’s stiffness, Dole’s age, Bush’s out-of-touchness, Dukakis’s roboticism, Mondale’s promise to raise taxes, etc, etc. No one ever does a good job and falls short. They were always unappealing weirdos listening to terrible strategic advice.

A more persuasive view can be found in this wise commentary from TPM’s Josh Marshall. “When a campaign faces head winds, they have to try different messaging,” he writes. “But messaging is usually in an uneven fight with reality. So that means they try different types of messaging in succession. Then they seem confused and floundering. The root isn’t that they’re idiots. More likely, it’s the underlying realities they’re up against.“

Or, to put it more pithily: It's the state of the country, stupid.

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +0.8%; 7-day change: Obama -2.2%.

RCP Obama approval: 47.9%; 7-day change: +0.2%.

Top story: Bad news abounds in Europe

Greek bank withdrawals are accelerating. "Withdrawals by customers at Greek banks have been rising before Sunday's elections, two banking sources said Wednesday, reflecting growing unease among Greeks ahead of crucial national elections that could determine the country's future in the euro zone...'There has been a deterioration in the situation in the past few days; I estimate that between €600 million euros ($750 million) and €900 million have been leaving the system per day,' said a senior banker at one of Greece's leading lenders...Since the start of Greece's debt crisis in late 2009, Greece's banks have lost about one-third of their deposit base as nervous savers have taken their money out of the banks and either sent it abroad, or else stashed it away for safekeeping. According to the latest data from the Bank of Greece, Greece's banking system had €165.95 billion of deposits at the end of April." Alkman Granitsas in The Wall Street Journal.

Greece's main conservative party pledged to try to delay austerity. "The leader of Greece's conservative New Democracy party on Wednesday pledged to seek a two-year extension on deadlines set under the country's painful austerity program if he wins Sunday's general election--a campaign promise likely to run into stiff opposition from Athens's international creditors. Antonis Samaras said his party will do all it can to form a government after last month's inconclusive vote, provided potential coalition partners support Greece's efforts to stay in the euro zone and help renegotiate terms of the country's €130 billion ($160 billion) second bailout agreement...In the most recent polls, two weeks ago, New Democracy appeared likely to emerge from the election as the strongest party, followed closely by the leftist Syriza party, which strongly opposes the bailout's stiff terms." Stelios Bouras in The Wall Street Journal.

But Greece's creditors rejected delaying the budget targets."Greece’s creditors say they would consider only minor tweaks to the country’s €174bn bailout following Sunday’s elections, a message intended to dispel any illusions among voters as they head to the polls in a contest that could prove pivotal for the euro. Senior officials in Brussels and Berlin acknowledged that they would be willing to discuss with a new Greek government how it would hit budget targets in the bailout programme. But they would not alter or delay those targets - nor would they supply additional money from the EU or International Monetary Fund to pay for any slippage by Greece, they said. The fate of the unpopular loan agreement has become the central issue in Sunday’s election, with the far-left candidate, Alexis Tsipras, rising in the polls by promising voters that he will tear it up and seek a new bargain."Joshua Chaffin, Peter Spiegel, and Quentin Peel in The Financial Times.

Cyprus may get a loan from Russia. "Even as Cyprus mulls a European aid request it also appears close to securing a bilateral loan from Russia, a senior finance ministry official said Wednesday, while another official said funding for the island may come from both Europe and a separate sovereign state. 'Cyprus is close to securing a bilateral loan from the Russian Federation,' the senior finance ministry official said...The comments come in response to reports that Cyprus has asked Russia to grant it a loan for €5 billion ($6.2 billion), first disclosed by Cypriot newspaper Alitheia Wednesday. The amount accounts for more than a quarter of the Mediterranean island's annual gross domestic product. Last year, Cyprus secured a 2.5 billion-euro loan agreement from Russia that staved off the immediate need for a bailout...The issue of whom to turn to appears to have divided the Cypriot government, with President Dimitris Christofias believed to favor a bilateral loan from Russia." Nektaria Stamouli, Michalis Persianis, and Alkman Granitsas in The Wall Street Journal.

Rising Italian bond yields are raising worries. "Rising Italian bond yields are casting doubt on the ability of Prime Minister Mario Monti and his technocrat cabinet to extract the country from the escalating euro-zone debt crisis. The 4% Italy paid on Wednesday to sell one-year Treasury bills--twice the yield of a month ago--underscores the urgency of finding a master plan for the region's currency union. Meanwhile, the Treasury will sell as much as €4.5 billion ($5.6 billion) on Thursday in longer-term bonds, on which yields have also risen...There is now a 32% difference between Italian and German 10-year zero-coupon bonds, even though the securities are both denominated in the euro. Strikingly, unit labor costs--a standard measure of competitiveness--between Italy and Germany have also diverged 32% since 2001, said Charles Gave, a Stockholm-based strategist at GaveKal consultancy. The gap is also a signal of the implicit foreign-exchange risk should the euro disappear, he added." Christopher Emsden in The Wall Street Journal.

Factory output in the eurozone fell. "Factory output in the euro zone fell sharply in April, an early indication the 17-nation economy may shrink again later this year after it narrowly escaped recession in the first quarter. Industrial production fell in Spain and Portugal, two of the southern European countries engulfed in the region's debt crisis, as well as in Italy, which is fighting to overhaul its economy and avoid the need for outside help. Germany, the currency bloc's industrial powerhouse, also saw production fall sharply, raising doubts about its ability to withstand the downturn affecting its weaker neighbors. Industrial production fell 0.8% month-to-month in April, the steepest decline in four months, after a 0.1% reduction in March, statistics agency Eurostat said Wednesday. That left the overall level of industrial output in the 17 nations that use the euro at its weakest since September 2010." Alex Brittain in The Wall Street Journal.

Moody's cut Spain's credit rating to the brink of junk. "Moody's Investors Service downgraded its rating on Spain to the brink of junk territory and placed its ratings on review for possible further downgrade, and it also put Cyprus two notches deeper into 'junk' territory, as the latest flare-up in Europe's sovereign-debt problems continue to worsen. Pointing to the country's plans to borrow €100 billion, or about $125 billion, for a bank bailout, the government's limited financial-market access and continued weakness in the economy, Moody's lowered Spain's bond rating three notches to Baa3 from A3, placing it one level above junk, or noninvestment grade, territory. The firm said Spain's decision to seek up to €100 billion of external funding from the European Financial Stability Facility or the European Stability Mechanism, will materially worsen the government's debt position. Moody's now expects Spain's public debt ratio to rise to about 90% of gross domestic product this year." Nathalie Tadena and Ben Fox Rubin in The Wall Street Journal.

Geithner wants more action from the eurozone. "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called the bailout of Spain's banking system 'a good, concrete signal' of the euro-zone commitment to financial integration, but said the currency union must act quickly with more measures to quell its crisis...Mr. Geithner, who will travel to the G-20 summit with President Barack Obama, said the Continent's leaders could boost confidence around the world by providing more clarity about their plans on three critical fronts: building a banking union across Europe, using Europe's financial firewall to restrain borrowing costs for Spain and Italy and implementing broader measures to boost underlying economic growth...The U.S. is making dollars available to Europe through the Federal Reserve, and providing advice and guidance to European officials working through the details of their plans. But Mr. Geithner said pressuring Europe more loudly would not be helpful, and writing a check to Europe wouldn't be defensible." Sudeep Reddy in The Wall Street Journal.

WESSEL: The Balkanization of Europe's banking system is a huge deal. "The biggest threat to the survival of the euro may not be a Greek exit. It may be the Balkanization of Europe's banking system. Financial markets are braced for the growing likelihood that Greece will abandon the euro sooner or later. That raises the prospect that another euro member will leave, but it's ever easier to cast Greece--with its crippling government debt and political chaos--as sui generis. A bigger deal is the unraveling of the decadelong cross-border integration of European banks. This not only threatens to starve southern and Eastern Europe of credit, exacerbating their economic woes, but also puts at risk the notion of Europe as an economic entity...Monetary union, it turns out, was dangerously incomplete. Europe created a single currency, but most euros are bank deposits, not paper notes. That, as is now evident, requires a unified system of bank supervision. Europe is realizing the significance of that." David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.

CHAMLEY AND KOTLIKOFF: Limited purpose banking could be the way out of Europe's mess. "There is, however, a truly new way to cut Europe’s vicious is called limited purpose banking. LPB transforms all banks into mutual fund holding companies that do one thing only - issue 100 per cent equity-financed mutual funds. These mutual funds (unit trusts) give investors shares, not IOUs, in exchange for their money. The mutual funds then invest these monies in the securities in which they specialise, such as mortgages, small business loans, corporate stock, sovereign bonds and cash. In moving money from those who buy the mutual funds’ shares to those who sell securities to the mutual funds, mutual funds act like small banks. But they are small banks that cannot fail because they never borrow. Conduct all financial intermediation through LPB mutual funds and you have an entire banking system that never fails." Christophe Chamley and Laurence Kotlikoff in The Financial Times.

Top op-eds

1) KLEIN: The best and brightest should skip Wall Street and join a startup. "Dartmouth College has four valedictorians this year: Wills Begor, Glynnis Kearney, David Rogg and Jie Zhong. They are impressive kids. All have stratospheric GPAs. Most pulled off two majors and a minor. One developed a new social networking platform for the iPhone. So what are they doing next? Investment banking, mostly. Begor is headed to Morgan Stanley. Rogg and Zhong are headed to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Kearney is the rebel. She’s going to McKinsey & Co...Nothing against finance or management consulting, but do they really need such a big chunk of our best and brightest? Two years ago, Mike Mayer appeared headed in the same direction. A high school valedictorian, he attended the University of Pennsylvania...Last summer, he worked at Credit Suisse Group AG as a research analyst. They quickly offered him a job, which he turned down. Instead, Mayer signed on with Venture for America, a young startup with a slightly odd mission." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

2) ZINGALES: Tuition aid should be linked to the future incomes of graduates. "To avoid the next credit bubble and debt crisis, we need to eliminate government subsidies and link tuition financing to the incomes of college graduates...The venture-capital industry has shown that the private sector can do a good job at financing new ventures with no collateral. So why can’t they finance bright students? Investors could finance students’ education with equity rather than debt. In exchange for their capital, the investors would receive a fraction of a student’s future income -- or, even better, a fraction of the increase in her income that derives from college attendance. (This increase can be easily calculated as the difference between the actual income and the average income of high school graduates in the same area.) This is not a modern form of indentured servitude, but a voluntary form of taxation, one that would make only the beneficiaries of a college education -- not all taxpayers -- pay for the costs of it." Luigi Zingales in The New York Times.

3) LAZEAR: Obama administration policies are to blame for our economic woes. "Picture this scenario in baseball: Pitcher Smith replaces a starting pitcher in the fourth inning, when his team is down by three runs. The team scores two runs in the next inning, almost tying the score. But in the sixth inning, Smith gives up five runs, putting his team hopelessly behind. After the loss, Smith tells reporters that he did not pitch well in the sixth inning because the team was behind before he entered the game in the fourth. Claiming that the U.S. economy has slowed during the past couple of years because it was in poor shape when a new president took office in January 2009 makes no more sense than Smith's explanation of his disastrous sixth inning. Just as poor pitching by Smith doomed the home team, ineffective and counterproductive policies of the past three years have put us back on the brink of recession. The logical conclusion is that what has happened since 2010 is a result of more recent policies, not ancient ones." Edward Lazear in The Wall Street Journal.

4) KINSLEY: Wealth inequality is even worse than income inequality. "The current debate about rich and poor -- the 1 percent versus the 99 percent -- is a bit misleading because the evidence usually is data about income, not wealth. Looking at wealth would make the comparison even starker...The Federal Reserve released new numbers on Monday. Unsurprisingly, wealth distribution is even more skewed than income distribution. In 2010, the median family had assets (including their house but subtracting their mortgage) of $77,300. The top 10 percent had almost $1.2 million, or more than 15 times as much...Let me tell you about my favorite American named Henry George...He was as concerned about income equality as the most bleeding-heart liberal and as concerned about economic growth as the noisiest supply-side conservative. George’s solution to everything was to eliminate all taxes on working, saving and investing, and to put the entire tax burden on unproductive land, which can’t escape the tax by moving." Michael Kinsley in Bloomberg.

5) MILLER: Young people are getting a raw deal. "As many as 100 million Americans live in households today that are earning less than their parents did at a similar age. And this is happening well before we feel the full impact of global economic integration with rising economies like India and China. Now, I can’t entirely blame the two political parties for this downward mobility -- globalization and rapid technological change are the big culprits. But no one’s saying a word or doing a thing about it...Our roads, bridges, sewers, airports and power grids desperately need upgrades. Our investments in research and development as a share of our economy trail that of our peers. Republicans don’t seem to care. Democrats care enough to propose token sums that would fund a fraction of the need. There’s no cash for such investments in the future because pension and health-care programs for seniors (plus a bloated Pentagon) take up so much of the budget." Matt Miller in The Washington Post.

Top long reads

James Stewart tells the story of broccoli's rise to a symbol of the healthcare debate: "If the court strikes down the health care law -- which many constitutional experts on both the right and left long doubted it would do -- many lawyers say they believe one reason may be the role of broccoli in shaping the debate. It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10. Even those who reject the broccoli argument appreciate its simplicity. Whatever the Supreme Court rules, Mr. Rivkin and his libertarian allies have turned the decision into a cliffhanger that few thought possible."

Ben Austen on the decline and fall of Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing development: 'The scary 'Cabrini-Green' vision of project life certainly plays some part in the now widespread sentiment that public-housing residents are undeserving of government 'handouts.' This disdain helped ensure that Chicago’s projects really did become unlivable, as the CHA neglected to repair and refill many units when they became vacant (what a successful lawsuit filed against the agency in 1991 called 'de facto demolition'), which allowed gangs and squatters and decay to settle in. Price recalled how on a Jamaican vacation not too long ago an Australian man spotted Price’s Bulls cap and declared that he knew just two things about Chicago: Michael Jordan and Cabrini-Green. Price revealed that he actually worked at the housing project, and the Aussie’s eyes just about popped out of his head. 'Oh my God! Do they walk on all fours there?' Steele cried, mimicking a half-wit’s surprise."

Canadian New Wave interlude: Metric plays "Youth Without Youth" at Rolling Stone.

Got tips, additions, or comments?  E-mail me.

Still to come: Jamie Dimon vs. Congress; the Senate says no to cutting food stamps; cybersecurity is stalled in the Senate; OPEC mulls cutting production; and grownups talk about their school photos.


Jamie Dimon faced Congress. "Jamie Dimon, the outspoken chief executive of JPMorgan Chase under scrutiny for a multibillion-dollar trading loss at his firm, apologized for the mishap on Wednesday even as he mounted a fierce defense of his bank. Testifying at a much-anticipated hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Dimon said that he was 'proud' of the bank, highlighting the firm’s 'fortress' balance sheet and its performance during the financial crisis...The hearing on Wednesday was the latest chapter of the trading debacle, which has stained the bank’s reputation and prompted wide-ranging inquiries from regulators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The concerns have centered on the bank’s chief investment office, which placed a big bet tied to credit derivatives that ultimately soured...He received a particularly warm welcome from Republican senators, who praised JPMorgan and allowed the chief executive to offer criticisms of forthcoming financial rules." Ben Protess and Michael De La Merced inThe New York Times.

@AdamSerwer: Dimons are forever

@ddayen: Merkley takes bright side on Dimon hearing: "While it wasn’t his intention, Jamie Dimon today made the case for a strong Volcker Rule.”

@mattyglesias: Dimon should just say: "thanks to the filibuster, no one here can touch me" and drop the mic.

Retail sales dropped again. "There’s more bad news for the economy: Americans spent less at retail shops in the past month, according to figures released Wednesday by the Commerce Department. It was the second decrease in a row for the monthly retail trade numbers. Sales dropped to $404.6 billion in May, a decrease of 0.2 percent from April, the department’s report said. The last time a drop occurred for two consecutive months was in 2010. Falling gas prices over the past four months should have meant more money for consumers to spend, retail industry economists said. Gas prices have decreased by 3 percent since February...Although overall sales were down, spending on big purchases such as furniture, automobiles and electronics were up, according to the retail report. Grocery stores and building-material sectors saw slight drops...Retail sales were at $404.7 billion for February and $406.2 billion for March." Amrita Jayakumar inThe Washington Post.

Some Senators want a package of business tax breaks before the election. "Top Senate Democrats and Republicans have launched an effort to renew tens of billions of dollars in business tax breaks, which could send a signal to financial markets that the two parties can find some common ground ahead of the looming fiscal cliff facing Washington at year’s end. At a closed-door Senate Finance Committee meeting this week, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) implored members on both sides of his tax-writing panel to help advance a pre-Election Day package covering an array of business tax breaks known as 'tax extenders,' which could cost up to $35 billion depending on the scope of the plan. But Baucus’s pitch came with a catch: Lawmakers need to keep the expiring Bush tax cuts, the so-called Buffett rule and other politically charged issues out of the debate. The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, is working with Baucus on the tax extenders." Manu Raju and John Bresnahan in Politico.

Economic woes are pushing down commodity prices. "Businesses big and small are getting a break these days as the European financial crisis and slowing growth in China, India and the United States have pushed down the prices of a wide array of commodities in recent weeks. If the trend continues, businesses and consumers are likely to reap benefits through cheaper prices for goods ranging from cotton shirts to copper wiring and coffee beans. So far, however, businesses seem to be benefiting a lot more than their customers. Over the last month, global oil prices have declined by about 12 percent, while corn, copper, lead, cocoa and coffee have all dropped by 5 percent or more. Prices of corn, cocoa, oats, cotton, rubber, coffee, aluminum, silver, zinc and nickel are all more than 20 percent lower than a year ago. Gasoline prices are falling precipitously, too, down nearly 20 cents over the last month alone, to a national average of $3.54 a gallon on Wednesday."Clifford Krauss in The New York Times.

@greg_ip: This is so cool. My Reinhart-Rogoff "Cycles of Financial Crises 1810-2010" wall poster just arrived!

YouTube interlude: 12 minutes of the best "15 seconds or less" videos.

Health Care

The Senate rejected cuts to food stamps. "The decades-old farm and food stamps coalition held in the Senate on Wednesday, as 13 Republicans joined Democrats in blocking a tea party-led effort to cut nutrition funding almost in half and shift control back to the states. The 65-33 roll call came just minutes after a much narrower 50-46 vote in which sugar beet and cane growers beat back a bipartisan effort to phase out the farm bill’s sugar support program, which has long been criticized for shifting costs on to American consumers...The food stamp vote was significant because the amendment, offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), mirrors a proposal by House Republicans that would also convert the program to a state block grant and cut funding -- albeit not as much as the tea party conservative proposed. Paul was proposing a $37 billion, or 45 percent cut, from the projected funds for next year. The House GOP budget plan would save about half as much over roughly the same period." David Rogers in Politico.

@noamscheiber: Sen Barrasso on MSNBC: Critical to cover people w/pre-existing conditions... so we should repeal the bill that's the only way to do that.

Domestic Policy

The cybersecurity bill is stalled. "No cybersecurity compromise is jelling in the Senate -- and the finger-pointing has begun. The window for legislative action this year is rapidly closing. Democrats, faced with the real possibility that the Senate won’t be able to pass a bill, are openly blaming Republicans. Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday accused GOP lawmakers of failing to work with Democrats on critical infrastructure provisions in a bill by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)...Reid has been signaling imminent floor action on Lieberman’s bill for months. But Lieberman said Tuesday he doesn’t expect his bill to go to the floor until after the July 4 recess -- leaving just a few weeks before the scheduled August recess. If the impasse drags on until August, it’s unlikely the Senate will act on the issue this year -- barring the kind of major cyberattack that experts warn is on the horizon...Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) are trying to hammer out a compromise, but it’s proving to be a tough sell both on and off Capitol Hill." Jennifer Martinez in Politico.

Immigrant-owned small businesses are branching out from big cities. "Immigrants are more inclined to own small businesses than native-born Americans and are increasingly opening shop in areas beyond the major cities in which they have traditionally settled, a trend that is energizing local economies and reshaping communities. Immigrants accounted for 18% of the country's 4.9 million small-business owners in 2010, a six-percentage-point increase from two decades earlier, according to analysis of census data by the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute. Immigrants, who represent 13% of the population, accounted for a third of the increase in the number of small-business owners between 1990 and 2010. Small businesses are defined as companies with fewer than 100 employees. Small businesses owned by immigrants employed 4.7 million people in 2010 and generated an estimated $776 billion in revenue, according to FPI calculations." Miriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal.

Nostalgia interlude: Adults talk about their old school photos.


OPEC is divided over cutting production and propping up oil prices. "With the global economy at a tipping point, a deeply divided Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna wrangled over whether to cut production and prop up crude oil prices. Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and the cartel member with the greatest latitude for tightening or opening its taps, arrived vowing to maintain its output and hold the line on quotas for the group. Other OPEC members, led by Iran and Venezuela, have wanted to trim output quotas to boost the price of oil. Analysts said they expect no change in the end. With the approach of the traditional summertime surge in oil demand and with the imminent imposition date for international sanctions on Iranian oil sales, the Saudi government and other key OPEC nations have indicated their concern over stabilizing the oil market." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Negotiators are still far from a highway bill deal. "In a bleak sign for the highway bill conference committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) today released a statement expressing disappointment that Senate negotiators have yet to take up House proposals. Senate conferees, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), have expressed optimism a deal can get done before the June 30 deadline, when the current authorization expires. But Mica, the top House Republican on the conference committee, indicated today that House negotiators’ positions have not been taken seriously...Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the conference committee, expressed pessimism that the group can strike a bipartisan deal. He penned a letter to Illinois House Republicans urging them to pressure Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into bringing up a vote on the version of the transportation bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate." Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.

The Interior Department is preparing to approve Shell's Arctic drilling plan. "The Interior Department is taking pains to show it’s dotting every 'i' before approving Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to begin drilling in fragile Arctic seas off Alaska’s coast this summer. The department’s offshore drilling safety chief on Thursday will personally review the 'capping stack' -- a vital piece of equipment if there’s a blowout -- that Shell will have positioned in the Arctic (it’s in Portland, Ore. right now). On Wednesday, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James Watson was in Seattle to check out the two drilling rigs that Shell plans to use for its long-planned -- and long-delayed -- drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s coast...Shell, which is pledging robust safety measures, has received a series of federal sign-offs in recent months. But Shell has not yet received final drilling permits from Interior." Ben Geman in The Hill.

Nuclear regulator nominees are set to win confirmation."Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the qualifications of NRC nominees Allison Macfarlane and Kristine Svinicki had a few moments of rancor but nothing that appeared likely to upset the delicate deal aimed at securing seats for both candidates...Svinicki has drawn strong support from Republicans, who say she helped blow the whistle on abusive management by Jaczko. Democrats, meanwhile, are backing Macfarlane, whom President Barack Obama nominated after Jaczko announced plans to step down...Meanwhile, committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other GOP lawmakers were critical of Macfarlane’s lack of management experience, but they also didn’t apply a laser-like focus on the issue...Both nominees expected to sail through committee and onto the Senate floor before the end of the month."Darius Dixon in Politico.

@grossdm: The day will come when solar/wind generated power in many areas is cheaper, more financially viable than coal.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Sarah Halzack.

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