Wonkbook: Obama rolls out his gun control plan today

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 84 percent. That's the share of academics surveyed by the IGM Forum, a project of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, who think the debt ceiling is a dumb idea. If both houses of Congress must approve spending and taxes, then a separate debt ceiling is redundant. For more, see Wonkbook's special section on the debt ceiling.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The best way to compare the American tax burden to those abroad.

wonk0116Today in Wonkbook: Obama presents his gun control proposal today; is it time to scrap the debt ceiling?; the ranks of the working poor are swelling; states get more time to set up health insurance exchanges; and how the U.S. failed on climate legislation.

Top story: Obama rolls out his gun control plan today

Obama's gun-control plan will be the most expansive agenda in generations. "President Obama on Wednesday will formally announce the most aggressive and expansive national gun-control agenda in generations as he presses Congress to mandate background checks for all firearm buyers and prohibit assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. The announcement will set off a fierce confrontation with Congress over an issue that has riven American society for decades. Obama’s far-reaching firearms agenda has at best tepid support from his party leaders and puts him at loggerheads with Democratic centrists." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

A helpful programming note from Wonkbook: The press conference is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. ET.

What's coming, according to Rucker: "[B]ackground checks and restrictions on military-style guns and ammunition magazines...mental health and school safety initiatives such as more federal funding for police officers in schools...enhanced federal scientific research on gun violence and a modernized federal database system to track guns, criminals and the mentally ill."

Explainer: Four more things you need to know about Obama's gun control proposal.

But an assault-weapons ban probably cannot pass either body of Congress. "The problem for gun control advocates who’ve long called for such a measure is that there are fresh signs that it could be stonewalled on Capitol Hill. For starters, two high-ranking congressional Democrats have expressed some degree of pessimism in recent days about the prospects of passing a ban in Congress." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: Is this the week where we pretend gun control legislation might conceivably pass the House?

Must-watch: The NRA's new ad campaign is called "Stand and Fight," and it calls Obama a "elitist hypocrite" for sending his kids to a private school protected by armed guards while opposing armed guards in public schools. Wonkbook guarantees this will be controversial.

@CitizenCohn: Seriously wondering whether this NRA ad is a fake by somebody out to make the group look bad

Are you a Democratic governor looking to run for president in 2016? You need to out-gun-control all your rivals. "For the first time in more than a decade, Democratic presidential aspirants see a political advantage in championing far-reaching restrictions on guns...[T]shift among Democrats is remarkable given more than a decade of near silence on gun issues within the party." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

One of the sleeper problems in gun control: We don't have good records on background checks. "Polls show that expanding background checks to cover all gun sales, not just those by licensed dealers, is one of the most popular measures being considered by the White House to curb gun violence. There's one problem: The system President Barack Obama and many lawmakers hope to expand is full of holes. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which federally licensed firearm dealers must use to check the credentials of potential gun buyers, doesn't include millions of people legally barred from owning guns, researchers and advocates say. Fourteen states list fewer than five people flagged for mental-health issues." Laura Meckler and Jack Nicas in The Wall Street Journal.

Will mental health be included? "[A]dvocates have also pushed hard for a mental-health component — perhaps in the form of long-awaited rules on mental health parity. Advocates want to see increased funding for mental-health programs, including programs administered through Medicaid. And Senate Democrats pushed the White House last week to implement mental-health parity legislation that passed in 2008 but has languished since." Sam Baker and Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Music recommendations interlude: Boston, "Peace of Mind," 1976.

Top op-eds

CROOK: Replace the debt ceiling with something that makes sense. "The debt ceiling is an instrument of economic self-harm. It’s ridiculous and should be scrapped. But Obama should be open to replacing it with something more intelligent...A more elastic rule is the so-called debt brake, as used in Switzerland. This would tie growth in spending to growth in business-cycle-adjusted tax revenues. Using this approach, structural spending (i.e., spending at full employment) can grow faster than the economy, but only if taxes are raised at the same time." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

MILBANK: The best evidence that the Republicans have moved miles to the right. "When I covered Congress in the mid-1990s, one of my favorite characters was Steve Stockman, a former street vagrant who somehow got swept to power in the Republican Revolution of ’94...Sixteen years and one failed run for railroad commissioner later, he’s back in the halls of Congress...Back then, he proved too much even for the ’94 revolutionaries...Stockman can still bring the crazy. The problem is he’s now just one of many purveyors." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

MEYERSON: The U.S. needs to see its doctor. "[A] funny thing happens to Americans’ life expectancy when they age. The U.S. mortality rate is the highest of the 17 nations until Americans hit 50 and the second-highest until they hit 70. Then our mortality ranking precipitously shifts: By the time American seniors hit 80, they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world...That isn’t natural selection but social selection — the survival of the economically fittest in a nation that rations longevity by wealth." Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post.

SPENCE: Technology and the employment challenge. "How, then, should policymakers confront the new and difficult challenges for employment (and, in turn, for the distribution of income and wealth), especially in developed economies? From recent research, we have learned a number of interesting things about how the evolution of economic structure affects employment." Michael Spence in Project Syndicate.

PORTER: When privatization works -- and when it fails. "[A] good rule of thumb to determine when a private company will outperform the public sector: if the task is clear-cut and it’s possible to define concrete goals and reward those who meet them, the private sector will probably do better...But if the objectives are complex and diffuse — making it difficult to align profit with goals without undermining some other desirable outcome — the profit motive could well make conflicts more difficult to manage. In these cases, privatization is probably not the best solution. In their rush to save money by outsourcing services, governments might forget that." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Wonkbook can't believe this actually happened interlude: 18 human heads were shipped to Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Is it time to end the debt ceiling?

Ask almost any economist: They think the debt ceiling is bad policy. "More than 80 percent of the country’s leading economists say that the nation’s debt ceiling creates unnecessary uncertainty and can lead to worsening the nation’s financial picture, according to a new survey of more than 40 academics....[B]ecause all federal spending must be approved by both houses of Congress and the executive branch, a separate debt ceiling that has to be increased periodically creates unneeded uncertainty and can potentially lead to worse financial outcomes." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Meet the Dems who want to repeal the debt ceiling. "One way out the debt ceiling showdown: getting rid of the debt ceiling altogether. A group of House Democrats is introducing legislation Wednesday that would repeal the federal debt limit. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are behind the effort. Some of the same lawmakers attempted to repeal the debt limit in 2011. Given Republican control of the House, it is incredibly unlikely that this legislation will pass." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

...And meet the Republicans who are OK with breaching it. "Some Republicans believe such an event, though potentially disruptive, would be manageable in the short run at least, and say they won't vote for a debt-ceiling increase until Democrats accept more spending cuts...Sen. Patrick Toomey (R., Pa.) said Tuesday he would introduce legislation next week instructing the White House to prioritize the government's bills." Jon Hilsenrath and Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

How the GOP wants to have it both ways on the debt ceiling. "[A]n odd two-step has emerged. On the one hand, Republicans argue that the president will have to negotiate over the debt ceiling, as the consequences of holding back will be disastrous. On the other hand, they argue that breaching the debt ceiling really wouldn’t be that bad. So long as we keep paying our bondholders back, the financial markets should remain calm. All we’d see is a government shutdown." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Maybe that's just because the GOP doesn't know what it wants. "House Republican leaders are still unsure whether they should use a debt-ceiling deadline to force a decisive showdown with President Barack Obama over government spending. Party leaders, who didn't coalesce around a specific strategy when they met this week in Warrenton, Va., will offer rank-and-file members a menu of options for achieving spending cuts at a three-day retreat in Williamsburg, Va., beginning Wednesday." Patrick O'Connor and Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Conservatives say debt-ceiling default is a myth. "[C]onservatives both on and off the Hill are uniting behind the argument that default is a myth, regardless of whether we breach the debt ceiling or not...The argument assumes that prioritizing bond and principal payments would be enough to ward off potentially calamitous market disruptions, and that postponing government payments to everyone other than investors would have legal standing." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Budget chief tells fed agencies to prepare for sequester bite. "President Obama’s acting budget director told agency heads Monday to step up their efforts to prepare for $85 billion in automatic spending cuts on March 1 by planning for furloughs, contract delays, hiring freezes, buyouts and other cost reductions." Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.

Treasury to tap another source of savings to ward off default. "The Treasury Department said Tuesday it would begin tapping civil service retirement funds because Congress has not raised the federal debt ceiling, the latest reminder that time is running out before the government is at risk of defaulting on the national debt. The action will allow the government to spend $156 billion that otherwise would have been invested in the federal Thrift Savings Plan." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Slate pitches interlude: Should bigotry against redheads be considered a hate crime?

Ranks of working poor are swelling

More and more among the working poor. "Nearly a third of the nation’s working families earn salaries so low that they struggle to pay for their necessities, according to a new report...That percentage has crept up from 28 percent in 2007, the year the recession began...Nearly three in five low-income working families were headed by at least one minority parent." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

The World Bank is getting more bearish on growth. "The World Bank has sharply reduced its estimate of global economic growth in 2013, projecting that the downturn in Europe and the United States’ fiscal problems will continue to weigh on investment and spending. The bank said it expects the world economy to expand 2.4 percent this year, compared with 3 percent growth it had forecast as of June." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

A trade pact on services? It could be. "The deal, if it comes to fruition, would be the first services-specific pact for the U.S. in nearly 20 years and could boost trade by the U.S., which is already the largest exporter of services in the world...Services exports typically don't face tariffs, as goods sold overseas often do, but barriers still persist. Those include rules that require a local presence or ownership to sell a service in another country and professional licensing requirements that could make it difficult for an accountant, architect or attorney to work abroad. A services agreement among 20 or more of the world's largest traders would provide a consistent set of rules for U.S. companies to follow." Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

What to expect from the Fed's 2007-vintage transcripts. "The Federal Reserve keeps transcripts of its meetings to set monetary policy, and releases them with a five year delay. It does not announce in advance when they will be released, but if the past is a guide, any day now we will be getting full transcripts of the 2007 meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee...It will be our first official glimpse into policymakers’ deliberations during the crisis, or at least its earliest phases. We will gain a better understanding of what the Fed knew and when it knew it." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

What the Fed is thinking now. "A speech on Tuesday by Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, underscores that debate within the central bank once again is shifting from whether to do more to when to do less." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

Long live the American consumer? "The government said retail sales rose 0.5 percent last month, compared with a 0.4 percent increase, after revisions, in November. Sales in November were previously reported to have gained 0.3 percent." Reuters.

Advertising interlude: The new way Planned Parenthood will be arguing for "safe and legal" abortion.

States get more time on health exchanges

More time to set up insurance exchanges. "The White House says it will give states more time to comply with the new health care law after finding that many states lag in setting up markets where millions of Americans are expected to buy subsidized private health insurance...Kathleen Sebelius, working with the White House, said she would waive or extend the deadline for any states that expressed interest in creating their own exchanges or regulating insurance sold through a federal exchange." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Doctor shortage? What doctor shortage? "It’s often taken as a key tenet in any discussion of health policy: The country has too few doctors, and the shortage will only get worse over time. As the population ages and the health law expands insurance, the argument goes, there are simply too few doctors to see the newly-insured and the newly-elderly. There’s just one small problem, says Linda Green, a mathematician who has spent two decades studying the health care system: It might not be true." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Interview: Anne Filipic, the president of "Enroll America," an organization to encourage Americans to get health insurance.

Bad lip reading interlude: NFL edition.

How the U.S. failed on climate legislation

A fascinating reconstruction of how the U.S. failed to pass climate legislation in 2009 and 2010. "A Harvard academic has put the blame squarely for America's failure to act on climate change on environmental groups. She also argues that there is little prospect Barack Obama will put climate change on the top of his agenda in his second term. In a research paper, due to be presented at a Harvard forum next month, scholar Theda Skocpol in effect accuses the DC-based environmental groups of political malpractice, saying they were blind to extreme Republican opposition to their efforts." Suzanne Goldberg in The Guardian.

Wind industry growth will go from gale to breeze in 2013. "The U.S. wind industry is planning new wind farms again after Congress renewed subsidies, giving idled factories that make turbines and components the prospect of a fresh set of orders in the second half of 2013. But industry officials say this year's projects are unlikely to match the record number of megawatts installed in 2012, calling into question the long-term viability of a supply chain that ramped up to match last year's surge in demand." Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: What's the future of coalBen Winkler in The Wall Street Journal.

Dealing with climate change in 'core interest,' American diplomat says. "State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, in a speech Tuesday, laid out State’s thinking about how to pull off the fraught, complex challenge of creating a new [UN climate] agreement in 2015." Ben German in The Hill.

EPA: Our new air regs reduce compliance costs while protecting public health. "The rule imposes air pollution standards for engines used in agriculture, at power plants and other industrial facilities...As compared with the original regulations, the revisions would save an estimated $287 million in capital costs and an additional $139 million annually, the agency said. " Ben Goad in The Hill.

Et Cetera

With Sen. Rubio, White House spies opening for immigration reformDavid Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez in The Washington Post.

The House has (finally) approved the remaining $50b in aid for Hurricane Sandy reliefRaymond Hernandez in The New York Times.

Why Europe's women work outside the home, and America's don'tDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Why federal crop insurance will cost the U.S $16B this year. Ron Nixon in The New York Times.

How the fiscal cliff deal slammed the Affordable Care ActSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Feel the heat: 2012 was the 10th hottest year on record, in terms of global temperatures. Ben German in The Hill.

High school graduation rates are rising. But why? Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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