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It's the economy, dummkopf #wonkbook

By Ezra Klein,

The idea that the 2012 election in the United States will be decided by the actions of a handful of leaders in Europe is gaining traction. Fast.

"Could Europe cost Barack Obama the presidency?" Asks Niall Ferguson in Newsweek. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank writes, "if you really want to know who will win the White House in November, you should ask the Europeans." Politico's Ben White agrees: "If Europe takes a sharp turn for the worse...the American economy could easily slip back into recession or even depression and a very close election would likely slip out of the president’s grasp."

Jock Fistick

BLOOMBERG

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, second right, speaks with Werner Faymann, Austria's chancellor, left, Mario Monti, Italy's prime minister, second left, as Francois Hollande, France's president, right, looks on during the European Leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium on May 23, 2012.

Wonkbook readers will know I've long been in sympathy with this argument. Back in October, I wrote, "in 1992, James Carville, an adviser to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, used to constantly remind his candidate, 'It’s the economy, stupid.' In 2012, it may well be the European economy, dummkopf."

A caveat, though: It doesn't have to be this way. Europe is in economic shock. But policymakers have a range of shock absorbers meant to help the the United States ride out bumps in the global economy. Congress can cut taxes, put people to work building roads and bridges, and provide money to state and local governments who might otherwise have to make layoffs, to name just a few options. The Federal Reserve can cut rates, tell the market to expect an extended period of easy money, or buy assets.

But while policymakers have these shock absorbers, they don't seem interested in using them. Republicans in Congress are staunchly opposed to further bills to support the U.S. economic in the short-term. That's what President Obama's now-infamous Friday press conference was actually about. "Given the signs of weakness in the world economy, not just in Europe but also some softening in Asia, it's critical that we take the actions we can to strengthen the American economy right now," he said. But then he said that "the private sector is fine" -- a statement he later walked back -- and his original message got lost.

Mangled messaging aside, it's a case Obama has made before: More jobs spending, in addition to helping a weak labor market, would provide insurance against further turmoil on Europe. But no one expects Congress to take his advice.

Similarly, the Federal Reserve is practicing a form of "watchful waiting." If economic conditions get much worse, they promise they'll do more. Probably. But they're not pulling out the stops right now, nor are they expected to unleash any particularly massive policy response even in the event that they do act.

So amidst global economic turmoil, America's economic policymakers are likely to do nothing, or close to it. That means the future of our economy -- and arguably the outcome of our election -- is in the hands of others. It doesn't have to be that way. But, for now at least, it is.

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RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +1.3%; 7-day change: Obama -0.3%.

RCP Obama approval: 48.2%; 7-day change: +0.9%.

Top story: Bail so hard

Spain officially requested a bailout for its banks. "Spain is to seek EU aid to rescue its struggling financial sector, in a bailout that will impose no new economic reform conditions on Madrid other than existing EU budget rules. After months of denials by Spanish leaders that the country needed a bailout, it fell to Luis de Guindos, the economy minister, to declare in Madrid on Saturday that 'the government of Spain declares its intention to request European financing' for its banking system. Although Mr de Guindos did not say how much money Spain would seek, the eurogroup of finance ministers said in a statement it was prepared to lend 'up to' €100bn." Peter Spiegel and Victor Mallet in The Financial Times.

Q&A:  How the bailout differs from Greece's.

@mattyglesias: Just-announced EU bailout of Spanish banks with no new austerity conditions is a huge step toward a banking union.

@AndyHarless: Once again leaders succeed in hitting the eurosnooze button.

@dsquareddigest: this is basically just a great big can kick for Spain, isn't it? No further austerity is good news, but we're no nearer a solution

The question remains: Will Spain itself need a bailout? "Spain's acquiescence to a bailout of as much as €100 billion ($125 billion) for its banks is a prelude to a much bigger question: Will Spain need a bailout for itself? Some in financial markets say it ultimately will, and that Spain faces a daunting struggle convincing reluctant creditors that the country is a viable borrower...Whether Spain can avoid another bailout, for itself, is crucial to the future of the euro zone as it enters a tumultuous summer. Greece holds elections next Sunday that could set it on a path to leave the currency union. Italy is laboring to refinance its own giant debt pile under immense scrutiny. Amid these threats to the euro, a full bailout of Spain could be a cataclysmic event. Spain's economy is the fourth-largest in the euro zone--larger than those of Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined. Finding the funds for a rescue would greatly strain the euro zone's bailout vehicles." Charles Forelle and Gabriele Steinhauser in The Wall Street Journal.

Greece's crisis pushed Spain over the brink. "Spain was forced to seek a bailout this weekend, becoming by far the largest country to need help during Europe’s 2 1 / 2-year-long economic crisis...Fears that a Greek rejection would send markets into panic about the currency union’s future pushed Spain to seek the aid ahead of Greece’s election. But the mere possibility of a victory for anti-bailout forces in Greece helped exacerbate Spain’s problems in the first place, boosting its government’s borrowing costs and causing a slow-motion bank run that weakened its financial system. That spiraling confidence problem -- in which the 17 countries that share the euro currency are united enough to spread their problems to one another but not enough to guarantee an end to them -- is what Europe’s leaders are racing to fix with a road map to further economic integration that could come at the end of the month." Michael Birnbaum in The Washington Post.

The Greek left is seizing on the Spanish bailout. "Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s leftwing Syriza coalition, seized on news of the Spanish bailout to bolster his position ahead of next week’s crucial general election, which may determine whether the country stays in the euro. 'The developments in Spain confirm the position we adopted from the start - that the crisis is a pan-European problem, and the way it has been handled so far has been socially catastrophic and completely ineffectual,' Mr Tsipras, who opposes the bailouts, told a newspaper. Antonis Samaras, the pro-bailout conservative leader, said the Spanish bailout terms showed 'the benefits of taking the road of responsibility'. Greek political leaders have pledged to renegotiate part or all of the current bailout deal, shrugging off warnings from Brussels and Berlin that they must abide by its terms or leave the eurozone. Mr Samaras hopes to avert further cuts in wages and pensions." Kerin Hope and Jamie Smyth in The Financial Times.

KRUGMAN: Banks get bailouts while the unemployed suffer. "Oh, wow -- another bank bailout, this time in Spain. Who could have predicted that? The answer, of course, is everybody. In fact, the whole story is starting to feel like a comedy routine: yet again the economy slides, unemployment soars, banks get into trouble, governments rush to the rescue -- but somehow it’s only the banks that get rescued, not the unemployed...Spanish banks did indeed need a bailout. Spain was clearly on the edge of a 'doom loop' -- a well-understood process in which concern about banks’ solvency forces the banks to sell assets, which drives down the prices of those assets, which makes people even more worried about solvency. Governments can stop such doom loops with an infusion of cash...Even as European leaders were putting together this rescue, they were signaling strongly that they have no intention of changing the policies that have left almost a quarter of Spain’s workers -- and more than half its young people -- jobless. " Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

FERGUSON AND ROUBINI: Germany is ignoring the lessons of the 1930s. "Is it one minute to midnight in Europe? We fear that the German government’s policy of doing 'too little too late' risks a repeat of precisely the crisis of the mid-20th century that European integration was designed to avoid. We find it extraordinary that it should be Germany, of all countries, that is failing to learn from history. Fixated on the non-threat of inflation, today’s Germans appear to attach more importance to 1923 (the year of hyperinflation) than to 1933 (the year democracy died). They would do well to remember how a European banking crisis two years before 1933 contributed directly to the breakdown of democracy not just in their own country but right across the European continent...There needs to be a programme of direct recapitalisation - via preferred non-voting shares - of eurozone banks, in the periphery and the core, by the European Financial Stability Facility and its successor, the European Stability Mechanism." Niall Ferguson and Nouriel Roubini in The Financial Times.

SAMUELSON: Germany can't save the euro zone. "Can Germany save Europe? It’s tempting to think so. Costs are mounting; over the weekend, European leaders offered Spain up to $125 billion to prop up its shaky banks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been cast as Europe’s Scrooge dispensing austerity and discouraging recovery. If Germany would only open its wallet, Europe’s instability and suffering would shrink. Well, maybe. But this seductive theory may be wishful thinking, overstating Germany’s power and understating Europe’s problems. The dark truth may be that even a willing Germany can’t rescue Europe...Germany’s costs of saving the euro could be immense. A report by Carmel Asset Management, an investment company, puts the bill at more than 500 billion euros, an amount that would raise Germany’s debt/GDP ratio from 2011’s 81 percent to 103 percent."Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post.

Top op-eds

1) ROMER: Only the Fed can help the economy now. "The Fed is the only plausible source of immediate help for the American economy. It was set up as an independent body precisely so that somebody can do what’s right when politicians can’t or won’t. I find a related argument even more frustrating: that the Fed shouldn’t act because Congress wouldn’t like it and might retaliate. This argument exposes the important truth that the Fed is only as independent as Congress lets it be. But it also raises a key question: what are Fed policy makers saving their independence for? If rescuing millions of Americans from the torment of unemployment isn’t a reason to risk their independence, what is?...The policy-making committee could adopt the proposal of Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, that the Fed pledge to keep rates near zero until unemployment is down to 7 percent or inflation has risen to 3 percent." Christina Romer in The New York Times.

2) JAHNCKE: Germany should leave the euro. "Stripped of its German export powerhouse, the euro would depreciate sharply, but would not become a virtually worthless currency, as, for example, any re-issued Greek drachma surely would. With the euro devalued, a Greek exit and devaluation would be relatively pointless. So, no contagion or bank runs. With new exchange rates making all the non-euro financial havens prohibitively expensive, and with the threat of forced conversion into devalued national currencies removed, depositors in southern Europe would lose their impetus to run. Germany’s exit would provide immediate benefits to all the remaining euro-area nations. The currency depreciation would radically improve their trade competitiveness -- exactly what many observers have said the weaker nations in the south need most. The euro area’s balance of payments would improve, providing sorely needed funds to service its external debt. " Red Jahncke in Bloomberg View.

3) FERGUSON: Europe needs Alexander Hamilton to solve its problems. "Imagine that the United States had never ratified the Constitution and was still working with the 1781 Articles of Confederation. Imagine a tiny federal government with almost no revenue. Only the states get to tax and borrow. Now imagine that Nevada has a debt in excess of 150 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Imagine, too, the beginning of a massive bank run in California. And imagine that unemployment in these states is above 20 percent, with youth unemployment twice as high. Picture riots in Las Vegas and a general strike in Los Angeles. Now imagine that the only way to deal with these problems is for Nevada and California to go cap in hand to Virginia or Texas—where unemployment today really is half what it is in Nevada. Imagine negotiations between the governors of all 50 states about the terms and conditions of the bailout. Imagine the International Monetary Fund arriving in Sacramento to negotiate an austerity program." Niall Ferguson in The Daily Beast.

4) WILL: Student loans are driving the rising cost of college."Many parents and the children they send to college are paying rapidly rising prices for something of declining quality. This is because 'quality' is not synonymous with 'value.'...Since 1961, the time students spend reading, writing and otherwise studying has fallen from 24 hours a week to about 15 -- enough for a degree often desired only as an expensive signifier of rudimentary qualities (e.g., the ability to follow instructions)...In his 'The Higher Education Bubble,' Reynolds writes that this bubble exists for the same reasons the housing bubble did. The government decided that too few people owned homes/went to college, so government money was poured into subsidized and sometimes subprime mortgages/student loans, with the predictable result that housing prices/college tuitions soared and many borrowers went bust. Tuitions and fees have risen more than 440 percent in 30 years as schools happily raised prices -- and lowered standards -- to siphon up federal money." George Will in The Washington Post.

5) ZINGALES: Glass-Steagall is a good way to deal with risk-taking. "I have to admit that I was not a big fan of the forced separation between investment banking and commercial banking along the lines of the Glass-Steagall Act in the US...Over the last couple of years, however, I have revised my views and I have become convinced of the case for a mandatory separation. There are certainly better ways to deal with excessive risk-taking behaviour by banks, but we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. In the absence of these better mechanisms, it makes perfect economic sense to restrict commercial banks’ investments in very risky activities, because their deposits are insured. Short of removing that insurance - and I doubt commercial banks are ready for that - restricting the set of activities they undertake is the simplest way to cope with the burden that banks can impose on taxpayers." Luigi Zingales in The Financial Times.

Top long reads

Ryan Lizza looks at what Obama would do with a second term:"Obama has an ambitious second-term agenda, which, at least in broad ways, his campaign is beginning to highlight. The President has said that the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change, one of the few issues that he thinks could fundamentally improve the world decades from now. He also is concerned with containing nuclear proliferation. In April, 2009, in one of the most notable speeches of his Presidency, he said, in Prague, 'I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.' He conceded that the goal might not be achieved in his lifetime but promised to take 'concrete steps,' including a new treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons and ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty."

Sarah Kliff on Philadelphia's efforts to end food deserts:"Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate and poorest population of America’s big cities. It also has an ambitious plan -- launched out of 632 corner stores -- to put healthy food on every table. The $900,000 investment in better health depends on apples and oranges, chips and candy, $1,200 fridges and green plastic baskets. The results could steer the course of American food policy. Philadelphia is trying to turn corner stores into greengrocers. For a small shop, it’s a risky business proposition. Vegetables have a limited shelf life, so a store owner must know how much will sell quickly -- or watch profits rot away. He also lacks the buying power of large supermarkets and is often unable to meet the minimum orders required by the cheaper wholesalers that grocery stores use. With shelf space at a premium, shop owners must pick and choose the products they think will sell best. Chips and candy and soda are a sure bet. Eggplant? It’s hard to know."

Jill Lepore on the Supreme Court and judicial independence: "In a 1788 essay called 'The Supreme Court: They Will Mould the Government into Almost Any Shape They Please,' one anti-Federalist pointed out that the power granted to the Court was 'unprecedented in any free country,' because its Justices are, finally, answerable to no one: 'No errors they may commit can be corrected by any power above them, if any such power there be, nor can they be removed from office for making ever so many erroneous adjudications.' This is among the reasons that Hamilton found it expedient, in the Federalist No. 78, to emphasize the weakness of the judicial branch. Jefferson, after his battle with Marshall, came to believe that 'in a government founded on the public will, this principle operates . . . against that will.' In much that same spirit, a great many states began instituting judicial elections, in place of judicial appointment. You might think that elected judges would be less independent, more subject to political forces...But timeless political truths are seldom true and rarely timeless."

Julie Creswell on South Carolina's high-octane public pension system: "Many mornings, the yellow Lamborghini would swing into view, sweep past tree-softened streets with a low, smooth rumble and throttle down outside an office near the State House downtown. Behind the wheel was a financier named Robert L. Borden. Around Columbia, a city decidedly more Ford than Lamborghini, his exotic supercar gave him the air of a Wall Street hotshot. In truth, Mr. Borden was a civil servant -- a very highly paid one. Until recently, he was the investment chief of South Carolina’s giant public pension system. It turns out that Mr. Borden liked his investments the way he liked his cars. Which is to say, fast. With the help of some big names on Wall Street and a nod from officials here, he transformed this state’s go-slow public pension system into one of the most high-octane in the nation. So far, though, the results have been mixed. The long-term consequences -- for retirees, public workers and taxpayers here -- are as yet unknown."

@mattyglesias: Mismanagement of state pension funds is a national tragedy

Minneapolis hip-hop interlude: P.O.S plays "De La Souls" live in Seattle.

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

Still to come: Exports are down; states wait on exchanges; lawmakers look for money for college; a multiyear highway bill is looking less likely; and root beer is really mindblowing when you have it for the first time.

Economy

U.S. exports declined for the first time in months. "As the global economy weakens and the dollar strengthens, U.S. companies are finding it harder to sell their goods abroad. U.S. exports declined in April for the first time since November, dropping $1.5 billion from March, or 0.8%, to $182.9 billion, the government said Friday. Imports also sagged, suggesting Europe's economic turmoil and slowing in China are affecting U.S. trade. In the first four months of the year, U.S. exports of goods to the 27-member European Union grew just 3.5% from the same period a year ago. That compares with the 15.3% growth of exports to the EU in January-April of 2011 from the year-earlier period. The pace of the increase in sales of goods to China slowed to 4.3%, from 22.4% in the first four months of 2011. Growth of exports to Canada, Brazil and Germany also slowed...The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in April to $50.1 billion, from an upwardly revised $52.6 billion in March, since imports slid faster than exports." Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.

@grossdm: Exports fell a bit in April, but still second highest level ever

The unemployed are drawing Social Security earlier. "Even as most Americans are delaying retirement to bolster their savings accounts, the recession and its protracted aftermath have forced many older people who are out of work to draw Social Security much earlier than they had planned. According to an analysis by Steve Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, about 200,000 more people filed initial claims in 2009 and 2010 than the agency had predicted before the recession and he said the trend most likely continued in 2011 and 2012, though that is harder to quantify. The most likely reason is joblessness...Those who collect early get 20 to 30 percent less a month than they would get if they waited until full retirement age...According to an analysis by Richard W. Johnson, director of the retirement policy program at the Urban Institute, 37 percent of older workers who lost their jobs between 2008 and 2011 and did not return to work ended up claiming Social Security as soon as they turned 62." Motoko Rich in The New York Times.

Big banks are bracing for expected credit downgrades. "Banks, bond issuers and investors are bracing for aftershocks from a wave of bank downgrades expected to hit the U.S. as soon as the coming week. Moody's Investors Service has said it is likely to reduce by the end of June credit ratings for 17 large global banks, including five of the six biggest U.S. financial firms by assets. The downgrades are expected to raise borrowing costs and crimp some lucrative trading businesses at the banks, including at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. The ratings adjustments also could affect how municipalities raise money to provide services and build schools, how money-market funds invest cash from companies and savers, and how banks raise capital to support their lending and trading. Already, money-market funds are curbing some lending to banks, and cities and states are switching bankers." Kelly Nolan, Kirsten Grind, and Anusha Shrivastava in The Wall Street Journal.

Businesses, but not consumers, are taking advantage of low interest rates. "As interest rates have been dropping to new lows seemingly by the week, American companies have been taking advantage of the cheap borrowing costs, but consumers have been largely left on the sidelines. New data this week from the Federal Reserve shows that in the first quarter of this year, American businesses were taking on new debt at the fastest rate since the financial crisis in 2008. American households, though, were heading in the opposite direction, increasingly shedding debt...Of course, the declining debt load of households is not necessarily bad. Many economists see it as a welcome shift from the borrowing binge that helped cause the financial crisis, and the Fed data shows that the lack of new debt has freed consumers up to spend more...But the new data underscores the polarizing impact of the central bank’s policy of pushing down interest rates on different segments of the American economy."Nathaniel Popper and Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times.

Time lapse interlude: Five months of Manhattan.

Health Care

The largest health insurer will keep key parts of the ACA no matter what. "The nation’s largest health insurer will keep in place several key consumer provisions mandated by the 2010 health-care law regardless of whether the statute survives Supreme Court review. Officials at UnitedHealthcare will announce Monday that whatever the outcome of the court decision -- expected this month -- the company will continue to provide customers preventive health-care services without co-payments or other out-of-pocket charges, allow parents to keep adult children up to age 26 on their plans, and maintain the more streamlined appeals process required by the law. UnitedHealthcare would also continue to observe the law’s prohibitions on putting lifetime limits on insurance payouts and rescinding coverage after a member becomes ill, except in cases where a member intentionally lied on an insurance application." N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post.

State size matters for health exchanges. "A lot of states will find out later this year if they’re going to have to depend on the Department of Health and Human Services to start up their health insurance exchange. Delaware won’t have to wait that long. The small mid-Atlantic state already knows it needs to partner with HHS to build its exchange -- not because it has been dragging its feet or because its lawmakers oppose the national health law. For Delaware, and a handful of other states, it all comes down to size. People involved in planning Delaware’s exchange last year expected that Democratic Gov. Jack Markell would issue an executive order to start up an exchange with little fuss. But based on past efforts to expand insurance coverage in the state, there was always a concern about whether there would be enough people to make the exchange viable...For some smaller or sparsely populated states, the partnership model is just about the math. Instead of too big to fail, some are just too small to succeed." Jason Millman in Politico.

Many states are waiting for the SCOTUS to set up exchanges."Seventeen states have put implementation on hold until the court’s decision, expected this month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An additional 13, plus the District of Columbia, have authorized their creation. Many of the others, including Illinois, have legislation pending. The exchanges are supposed to function as online marketplaces where consumers can compare health plans and determine their eligibility for programs such as Medicaid or subsidies to help buy coverage. States must submit their blueprints by Nov. 16 and get conditional approval for their plans no later than January 2013 to begin enrolling residents 10 months later. If states are deemed unable or unwilling to act, the federal government must offer a federally sponsored exchange...In addition to the tailor-made state exchange or a one-size-fits-all federal exchange, there is now a third option: a 'state partnership exchange' with the federal government." J. Duncan Moore Jr. in The Washington Post.

Domestic Policy

Federal student aid may mean higher prices at for-profit schools. "Rising student debt levels and fresh academic research have brought greater scrutiny to the question of whether the federal government's expanding student-aid programs are driving up college tuition. Studies of the relationship between increasing aid and climbing prices at nonprofit four-year colleges found mixed results, ranging from no link to a strong causal connection. But fresh academic research supports the idea that student aid in the form of grants leads to higher prices at for-profit schools, a small segment of postsecondary education. The new study found that tuition at for-profit schools where students receive federal aid was 75% higher than at comparable for-profit schools whose students don't receive any aid. Aid-eligible institutions need to be accredited by the Education Department, licensed by the state and meet other standards such as a maximum rate of default by students on federal loans." Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers can't find the money to control interest rates on college loans. "The partisan clash over extending low student loan interest rates underscores a dilemma Congress faces as it considers a myriad of options in the coming year to control rising college tuition costs. Lawmakers want to help. They just don’t have the money...In a political skirmish that has characterized the 112th Congress, lawmakers are currently wrestling with how to fund a student loan interest rate extension that affects more than 7 million people and has become a top priority for President Barack Obama. But the bigger question is what comes next. Capitol Hill will begin exploring the options to control college costs next year, when lawmakers begin to work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, a wide-ranging piece of legislation that sets federal policies and aid concerning colleges and universities. It’ll be a significant undertaking that won’t be easily completed; the last reauthorization effort, which began in 2003, wrapped up five years later." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

Tasting for the first time interlude: Noah has his first drink of root beer.

Energy

Romney's energy plan has some questionable claims. "The energy chapter of Mitt Romney’s 'Believe in America' economic plan is chock-full of statistics and job claims -- numbers that will get a closer look after the recent dismal employment figures. One of the controversial estimates in the plan is that new ozone regulations under President Obama would cost the U.S. economy 7.3 million jobs -- more than all of the Americans who are now working for makers of apparel, automobiles, airplanes, machinery, paper, plastics and rubber, rail cars, beverages and cigarettes, and food and livestock products, as well as those working in mining or oil and gas extraction. Some economists say the number is a stretch. And it may be moot, since Obama overruled the Environmental Protection Agency and shelved new ozone regulations in September, angering environmentalists...It is just one in a slew of Romney attacks on Obama’s energy policies." Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

A multiyear highway bill may be out of reach. "House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) suggestion of a possible six-month highway bill extension last week is causing transportation observers to worry that a multiyear bill is now out-of-reach. A 47-member conference committee has been trying for a month to find a compromise between the House and Senate on a bill that would provide transportation funding for at least the next 18 months. But one transportation industry source said on Friday that Boehner raising the possibility of what would be a tenth temporary extension of current highway funding, as well as the recent barbs thrown between Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), showed the talks are now on life support.'...Supporters of a multiyear bill found reason to cheer Friday when the House voted to defeat a motion to instruct conferees to limit spending levels on the proposed transportation bill." Keith Laing in The Hill.

U.S. oil output hit a 13-year high. "U.S. oil output in the first quarter of 2012 rose 12% from a year earlier and topped six million barrels a day for the first time in 13 years, the federal Energy Information Administration said Friday. The rise came on higher output from North Dakota, Texas and from federal lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The EIA said that North Dakota, which passed California in December to become the third-largest oil-producing state in the nation, moved ahead of Alaska in March to take the role of second-biggest oil producer on rising output from the Bakken shale oil region...After registering output of 5.5 million to 5.6 million barrels a day in each of the first three quarters of 2011, EIA estimates that U.S. average quarterly oil production climbed to more than 5.9 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter, then averaged 6.2 million barrels a day in the 2012 first quarter. The EIA said the last time U.S. quarterly oil production was above six million barrels a day was in the fourth quarter 1998." David Bird in The Wall Street Journal.

@R_Thaler: Did I miss it when those who were (stupidly) blaming Obama for high oil prices are crediting him now for their fall?

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Michelle Williams.

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