April 30

* Health care spending rose significantly during the first quarter of 2014, and Obamacare foes are on the attack. But as Jonathan Cohn reminds us in a much-needed corrective, that was predicted a long time ago, since millions of new people just entered the system and started going to the doctor:

In the meantime, while we wait and think through the possibilities, this new report is a good opportunity to remember something that conversations about health care spending frequently overlook. Nobody likes paying a lot for health care in the abstract. But it’s not like there’s some magic threshold, beyond which health care spending becomes a problem. And that’s because there’s no economic principle that says a dollar going to health care is worse than a dollar going to other goods and services. The reason high health care spending should frustrate us is that we’re getting a lousy deal. All the available evidence suggests that the U.S. spends way more than other countries to get results that are not clearly better and in many respects worse.

It’s also a good time to remember that there has only been one serious effort in recent years to deal with the question of health care costs — both what the government spends and what’s spent in the private sector. It was called the Affordable Care Act. And yes, it’s going to be a while before we know how it has affected costs over the long run. But you can’t complain about rising costs unless you’ve got at least some idea of how to restrain them.

* Wellpoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers, had been predicting that they’d have to impose double-digit rate increases next year. Now they’re backing away from that stance, and they’ve signed up hundreds of thousands of new customers through the exchanges.

* James Downie explains why the gruesome botched execution in Oklahoma is yet another reminder that it’s long past time we got rid of the death penalty.

* Jonathan Chait looks at the recent Supreme Court ruling on EPA regulation of emissions from coal-fired power plants, and finds encouraging signs:

The Court endorsed the general principle of allowing the agency to design flexible regulations with real-world impacts in mind. It did not issue a ruling driven by a fear of plunging into an Orwellian dystopia in which remorseless, cosseted bureaucrats have extinguished the last flickering remnant of freedom.

As Chait argues, that could have long term implications for the success of Obama’s broader push to curb carbon emissions, which will probably be central to his legacy.

* Today Senate Republicans filibustered the minimum wage hike, and President Obama encouraged people angry with the vote to take out their frustrations on Republicans on election day: “Do not get discouraged by a vote like the one we saw this morning. Get fired up. Get organized. Make your voices heard.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence — yet, anyway — that the minimum wage issue will drive increased turnout this fall.

* Paul Ryan, in his ongoing effort to convince people he cares about poverty, met with the Congressional Black Caucus today, and the CBS chairwoman “told reporters after the meeting that the two sides reached a consensus that poverty affects all communities across the country.” Well that is a breakthrough. Unfortunately, Ryan’s hammock-of-dependency approach to the poor hasn’t changed a bit.

* The Republicans have found their smoking gun on Benghazi! Dave Weigel explains what really happened here: Republicans got their hands on another email that mentions Benghazi. In this case, it’s from White House adviser Ben Rhodes, who repeated what the CIA was saying about the attacks being inspired by that video, a couple of hours after the CIA said it. #impeach

* In a bizarre turn of events, a writer for the National Review tells his compatriots to calm down on the latest Benghazi revelation. He looks at the evidence and says, “That isn’t being as straightforward with the American public as they could or probably should have been; it’s also not a lie or a cover-up.”

* Meanwhile, Kevin Drum adds: “if conservatives had stuck to a reasonable line like this one in the first place, they could have caused President Obama a lot more damage.” Instead, they kept saying this was the crime of the century, and as a result, “no one but a hard core of loons and fanatics cares about Benghazi anymore.”

* Michael Tomasky takes a detailed look at what might happen if Republicans take back the Senate.

* Retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens testified before the Senate Rules Committee on campaign finance today, and in an interesting rebuff to the feelings of five of his former colleagues, he recommended amending the Constitution to make clear that money is not speech.

*And at The American Prospect, I consider whether liberal mega-donors are just as bad as conservative mega donors.