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Wonkbook: Compromising on money is easy. Compromising on values is hard.

By Ezra Klein,

NIKKI KAHN THE WASHINGTON POST Striking a deal on the budget is tough, but the structure of it is pretty straightforward: if you believe we should cut $60 from the bottom line and I believe we should add $30, the deal is somewhere between those two positions. It’s arithmetic. Even Congress can do it.

But as Paul Kane reports we’re not just striking a deal on the budget --the so-called “riders.” We’re striking a deal on everything attached to the budget. And that’s harder. The middle ground between you believe abortion is murder and thus we need to defund Planned Parenthood and I believe reproductive rights are essential and thus both women and men need option to the services provided by Planned Parenthood is not a matter of arithmetic. Nor is the space between you believe that global warming isn’t real and thus the Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t be allowed to look at carbon as a pollutant and I believe the earth is rapidly warming and thus the EPA needs to do its job. It’s not even a matter of calculus. It’s a matter of values and worldview, and those are harder to compromise.

It didn’t have to be this way. The profusion of these riders is a consequence of John Boehner’s decision to offer the spending bill under an “open rule” in the House, which allowed members of Congress to festoon the legislation with policy that had little to do with the deficit and everything to do with longtime ideological crusades. There was something admirable in Boehner’s desire to open the lawmaking process to more involvement from his members, but it’s also led to a mess of an endgame.

One thing to note in Kane’s story, though, is Boehner’s presentation of his dilemma: “Boehner now thinks that if he cuts a funding deal for the remainder of 2011 that does not include any of the policy riders, the freshmen would lead a Republican revolt, according to senior GOP aides.” The conventional wisdom on the HIll has been that the GOP freshmen are more intent on cuts and the GOP veterans are more intent on riders. Freshmen have wanted to fulfill their campaign promise of $100 billion in cuts while returning members have seen an opportunity to push policy they’ve been sitting on for a long time. Viewed in that light, Boehner may be using his freshmen strategically: it’s broadly believed he can’t control them and so he’s using their tendency to revolt as a bargaining chip.

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Republicans are insisting that agency-specific riders be part of any budget deal, reports Paul Kane: “There is one big obstacle in the way of a long-term deal, one that goes beyond the arguments over dollars and cents. The budget proposal the House Republican majority approved this year included a number of unrelated amendments -- riders, in Congress-speak -- that would impose restrictions on federal agencies. One rider would prohibit federal money from going to Planned Parenthood. Another would curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to monitor air and water, and restrict the use of funds to inspect coal mines...’A bill without any riders cannot pass the House,’ a senior House GOP aide said, requesting anonymity to discuss Boehner’s internal deliberations.”

Congressional Democrats are split on Social Security reform, reports Lori Montgomery: “With momentum building to rein in record budget deficits, Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security. A growing number of Democratic lawmakers say they are willing to consider controversial measures such as raising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthier seniors as part of a compromise with Republicans to cut spending on the programs and stabilize them for future generations. But senior lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) are lining up against them, arguing that tampering with Social Security would harm the elderly.”

Growth in the Hispanic population is driving US population-and economic-growth, reports Sudeep Reddy: “In a demographic shift touching every corner of the U.S., the Hispanic population grew faster than expected and accounted for more than half of the nation’s growth over the past decade, with the group’s increase driven by births and immigration. The Census Bureau--in its first nationwide demographic tally from the 2010 headcount--said Thursday the U.S. Hispanic population surged 43%, rising to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. Latinos now constitute 16% of the nation’s total population of 308.7 million...’The Hispanic population is under-represented in the electorate and politically because of demographic factors,’ including the high share under age 18 and the high number of immigrants, said Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.”

Take away show interlude: Grizzly Bear sing “Knife” in the streets of Paris.

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

Still to come: The Fed will start holding regular press conferences; some patients could be denied life-sustaining care if health care reform were repealed; states are beginning to cut unemployment insurance programs; the nuclear industry has been negligent in reporting problems to regulators; and a corgi who’s too lazy to go for a walk.

Economy

The Fed will start holding regular press conferences, reports Neil Irwin: “Ben S. Bernanke is planning to meet the press. The Federal Reserve chairman will begin holding quarterly news conferences, marking the end of an era in which leaders of the central bank avoided any regular, on-the-record contact with the fourth estate. The Fed announced Thursday that Bernanke will hold a news briefing in the afternoon after each two-day meeting of the Fed’s monetary policy committee. Those meetings, held four times a year, focus on the Fed’s economic projections for the coming years. Traditionally, Bernanke announces the projections when the committee’s minutes are released three weeks later. Now the economic projections will be made public in advance of the minutes. The first news conference is scheduled for April 27.”

The dollar is falling: http://wapo.st/gKWlJx

Americans’ propensity to save is hurting the recovery, reports Luca di Leo: “Americans’ desire to save more could slow the U.S. economic recovery, according to a study released Thursday by the Federal Reserve, which said wealthy families were hit hardest by the financial crisis. Most Americans saw their wealth decline from 2007 and 2009 as home and stock prices fell, but the brunt was born by high-income families, the Fed said in comparing two surveys of consumer finances. Overall, median family wealth fell to $96,000 in 2007 from $125,000 in 2007. The polls were conducted in the second half of 2007, just before the recession started, and the second half of 2009, when the economy resumed growing. About 4,000 families were interviewed for each survey. ‘The data show signs that families’ behavior may act in some ways as a brake on reviving the economy in the short run,’ the study said.”

Conservatives may be ready to support defense cuts, reports Robert Dreyfuss: “According to Capitol Hill lobbyists and think-tank military analysts, a contingent of Republican stalwarts--including Senators Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo, both of whom served on the Simpson-Bowles panel, along with two senators from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson--are open to arguments about hefty military cuts. And GOP Senator Jeff Sessions, an ultraconservative who serves on the Budget Committee, cited what he calls the debt ‘crisis’ to suggest that it’s time to hack away at Pentagon outlays....On the outside, a passel of conservative activists, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and David Keene of the American Conservative Union, co-wrote a letter urging Congress not to exempt the Pentagon when looking to save money.”

Austerity wouldn’t help the U.S. grow, writes Paul Krugman: “Self-styled deficit hawks have been crying wolf over U.S. interest rates more or less continuously since the financial crisis began to ease, taking every uptick in rates as a sign that markets were turning on America. But the truth is that rates have fluctuated, not with debt fears, but with rising and falling hope for economic recovery. And with full recovery still seeming very distant, rates are lower now than they were two years ago. But couldn’t America still end up like Greece? Yes, of course. If investors decide that we’re a banana republic whose politicians can’t or won’t come to grips with long-term problems, they will indeed stop buying our debt. But that’s not a prospect that hinges, one way or another, on whether we punish ourselves with short-run spending cuts.”

Higher food and energy prices don’t cause inflation in other areas, writes Laurence Meyer: http://nyti.ms/gvgTNx

Corgis are excellent interlude: A corgi is too lazy to go for a walk, gets dragged around instead.

Health Care

Some patients’ health benefits already depend on health reform, reports Brian Beutler: “In the year since the law passed, patients and their doctors have been making treatment decisions based on current benefits, according to health care experts and providers interviewed by TPM, including the prohibition on discrimination against children with pre-existing health conditions, a ‘Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan’ for adults, and the ‘Young Invincibles’ provision that allowed Wiens to get his transplant. Like Wiens, other patients will get transplants and life-saving treatments, thanks to these new benefits. But, also like Wiens, these same patients will require lifetimes of expensive care and medication, without which they’ll reject their new organs and die, according to the experts and providers we talked to.”

We should have universal long-term care insurance, writes Howard Gleckman: http://bit.ly/hsALKs

Domestic Policy

States have started cutting their unemployment insurance programs, report Peter Whoriskey and Michael Fletcher: “Michigan moved Thursday to significantly cut its unemployment program, becoming the first of what could be a flurry of debt-laden states to reduce aid even as high jobless rates persist. The Michigan measure reduces the maximum period a person can receive state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, the lowest in the nation, officials said. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) indicated Thursday that he would sign the bill...The move comes as other Republican-dominated legislatures, including in Florida and Arkansas, are weighing similar efforts to restrict payments to the jobless, and states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana are implementing far-reaching, controversial plans to close budget gaps.”

A new bill would let the FTC enforce privacy rules: http://wapo.st/hAloDA

Farmers oppose new state anti-immigration bills, report Cameron McWhirter and Jennifer Levitz: “Arizona-style immigration bills are under attack in several states, with some of the strongest opposition to the proposals coming from agricultural interests like the cotton and peach farmers here in central Georgia. Farmers in states from Florida to Indiana are pressuring--and in some cases persuading--state politicians to rethink proposed legislation that would authorize crackdowns on illegal immigration. They argue that the legislation will drive Mexican workers out of their states, and that there aren’t enough American workers willing to pick crops. They want legislation at the federal level, which wouldn’t favor one state over another. At least 25 states are weighing proposals to crack down on illegal immigration and employers who hire them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

Wisconsin’s anti-union law could go to the state Supreme Court: http://huff.to/fDKqLC

Great moments in TV news interlude: A news anchor deals with a broken teleprompter.

Energy

Nuclear plants have failed to report problems to regulators, reports Tennille Tracy: “Nearly 30% of U.S. nuclear-power plants fail to report equipment defects that could pose substantial safety risks, a flaw in federal oversight that could make it harder for regulators to spot troublesome trends across the industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general said Thursday. The Office of Inspector General said nuclear-plant operators were confused about what they were required to report to regulators about manufacturing defects. One section of federal law, known as Part 21, requires them to report defective equipment that could cause a safety risk, while another section calls for them to report only defects that compromise safety.”

Some officials want a review of nuclear waste storage procedures: http://on.wsj.com/hT1IJC

The nuclear lobby is in crisis mode, reports Eve Conant: “If Alex Flint or any of his team gets five hours of sleep, it counts as a good night. Flint, the chief lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute--the policy arm of the U.S. nuclear industry--has practically been living on the Hill since the nuclear crisis in Japan began to unfold. The day after the tsunami he swept every other paper off his desk and went into 24/7 mode, blasting out emails three times a day and trying to reassure skittish lawmakers that U.S. reactors are safe. He is, in short, engaged in white-hot damage control. The Fukushima disaster has set off alarm bells for America’s 104 nuclear plants. By midweek Flint and his team had briefed 50 members of Congress and more than 300 staffers.”

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.

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