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Wonkbook: Moderation is winning in the Republican primary

By Ezra Klein,

In the end, the polls were right. Mitt Romney took first, Ron Paul took second, and Jon Huntsman took third. Huntsman's weak finish led many to suggest that the GOP was no place for moderates. But the truth is that Huntsman's campaign didn't prove that, or anything like it. For all Huntsman's signaling and hinting, his policy platform is no more moderate than Romney's. In fact, it might be less moderate.

Evan Vucci

AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman shakes hands after speaking at an primary election night rally Jan. 10 in New Hampshire.

Huntsman's tax plan is more radical than Romney's. It wipes out every deduction and exemption and then uses the savings to cut the tax on capital gains and dividends to zero. That amounts to a massive tax cut for the wealthy -- and it comes at the expense of benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which go to the poorest Americans, and the mortgage-interest tax deduction and the exclusion for employer-based health insurance, which go to many middle-income Americans. Romney's plan, by contrast, only cuts the rate on capital gains and dividends for those making less than $250,000. The two candidates have mostly the same position on corporate taxation -- drop the rate from 35% to 25% -- but Huntsman adds a temporary tax holiday for overseas profits.

Similarly, Huntsman's spending cuts are more radical than Romney's. Though his entitlement reforms remain vague, he promises they will be "based on the Ryan Plan." Romney, meanwhile, broke with the Ryan plan to preserve traditional fee-for-service Medicare as an option in his entitlement reforms.

Huntsman has gotten mileage out of attacking too-big-to-fail banks and discussing a cap on bank assets, but his proposed remedy doesn't go very far: "Impose a fee on banks whose size exceeds a certain percentage of GDP to cover the cost they would impose on taxpayers in a bailout" and limit leverage. Romney's plans are similarly vague: "Greater transparency for inter-bank relationships, enhanced capital requirements, and provisions to address new forms of complex financial transactions are all necessary elements of effective financial reform."

Huntsman does support a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and civil unions. Romney doesn't favor either policy. And Huntsman has been willing to pick fights with the conservative base-- notably on the existence of climate change and evolution -- in a way Romney hasn't. But these fights haven't translated into policy differences. So it is hard to say that, on balance, Romney's ideas are to the right of Huntsman's. If I was scoring the two plans, I'd say Huntsman's tax and entitlement proposals put him to the right of Romney.

Which is not to say Romney's plans make him a moderate. On taxes, for instance, he is well to the right of George W. Bush. Where Bush proposed his tax cuts to spend down a surplus, Romney, in a time of massive deficits, is proposing to make Bush's tax cuts permanent (price tag: $4 trillion) and then add trillions more in cuts that heavily favor wealthy Americans. On Medicare, too, he is well to the right of Bush: A more moderate version of Ryan's plan is vastly more conservative than anything Bush ever attempted.

Nevertheless, he is, of the Republicans running for president, the least extreme in his policy proposals, and also the most likely to capture the nomination. If Huntsman counts as a moderate, then so does Romney -- and so, in their presidential preferences so far, do a plurality of Republican primary voters. They have, after all, not only backed Romney, but they have decisively rejected Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, the candidates aimed most squarely at Tea Party wing of the GOP.

Top stories

1) Mitt Romney won decisively in New Hampshire, reports Dan Balz: "Mitt Romney got virtually everything he needed out of the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night. He won a decisive victory that put him in a dominant position to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he will move on to South Carolina with his opposition badly splintered and running out of time to stop him. The Palmetto State, which has far more evangelical Christians than New Hampshire does, will provide a different test for the former Massachusetts governor. But he will begin that contest in a stronger-than-expected position, based on his success in Iowa and New Hampshire and the disarray among his rivals...New Hampshire voters did nothing to answer the question of which candidate is the conservative alternative to Romney. In fact, they further muddied that race in ways that may simply help the former governor. Instead of rewarding San­torum or Gingrich, who was endorsed by the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, Granite State voters gave another boost to the libertarian candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who remains one of the genuine surprises of the race. Santorum hoped that his near-victory in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, coupled with a good showing in New Hampshire, would position him in South Carolina as the main Romney challenger. Instead, after an uneven campaign over the past week, he was battling Gingrich for fourth place."

WATCH: Romney's victory speech in NH.

FLASHBACK: Obama's concession speech in NH in 2008.

@jpodhoretz: So in the end it appears Romney got 40 percent and turnout is up over '08. Hard to argue he "underperformed."

@PatrickRuffini: Mitt Romney is the nominee. Resistance is futile.

2) Few chances to stop Romney remain, report Neil King Jr. and Gerald Seib: "Mitt Romney is a long way from claiming the Republican nomination, but he leaves New Hampshire with significant advantages in a field where no single opponent seems well-positioned to stop him or become the obvious alternative to him. The attacks in New Hampshire on Mr. Romney's record running private-equity firm Bain Capital, accusing him of being a job-killer rather than a job-creator, have pointed out an area of vulnerability that his foes now will try to exploit. And a shortage of enthusiasm among conservatives continues to nag the Romney effort. Still, no foe emerged from New Hampshire as the plausible anti-Romney. The second-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, has a distinctly limited audience within the Republican Party nationally, and third place went to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who didn't even compete in Iowa and whose campaign hasn't managed to get on the ballot in a number of states yet to come. The candidate who once appeared to be the most formidable Romney foe--former House Speaker Newt Gingrich--was struggling for a fourth-place finish, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry essentially skipped the New Hampshire primary entirely. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has accumulated considerable support from the GOP establishment. And the calendar appears relatively friendly to him."

@philipaklein: Good luck to reporters planning "how Romney could still lose" stories. Takes more creativity than I have.

3) The race now moves to states with more economic struggles, reports Sara Murray: "As the Republican presidential nomination race heads to the South, the candidates will get their first taste of battle in states mired in economic downturns. The next primary states, South Carolina and Florida, are struggling with housing busts and high unemployment. Times are tougher there than in Iowa and New Hampshire, which have much healthier economies...South Carolina, where primary voters cast ballots Jan. 21, has a 9.9% unemployment rate. More than half the state's jobless had been out of work for more than six months in 2010, the most recent data available. Home values are depressed and default rates continue to rise. In Florida, which has a Jan. 31 primary, unemployment is 10%. Employment in construction, information services and government is below year-ago levels. The housing market remains one of the weakest in the country...The question for Mr. Romney is whether his job-creation message resonates with Southern voters more than the attacks he is facing for his tenure as the head of private-equity firm Bain Capital. "

@justinwolfers: The Republican primaries may look very different when we turn to recessionary states: SC has 9.9% unemployment, FL is at 10%, Nevada 13%

4) The campaign is shining a spotlight on private equity, report Peter Lattman and Annie Lowrey: "The titans of private equity have long feared this moment. As Mitt Romney has established himself as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, not only has his record at Bain Capital come under intense scrutiny and withering attacks -- but so has the private equity industry...Economists differ on the effectiveness and impact of private equity firms, which often borrow large amounts of debt to buy companies before selling them, hopefully for a profit. Despite the critics and the defenses mounted by the industry, the research is a little less than clear, partly because much of what these companies do is private and not subject to full disclosure. A working paper released in September shows that private equity-owned companies shed slightly more jobs than similar companies, though the difference was quite small. In total, they shed about 1 percent more jobs. The study -- by Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago; John C. Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland; Josh Lerner of Harvard, and Ron S. Jarmin and Javier Miranda of the Census Bureau -- looked at about 3,200 buyouts conducted between 1980 and 2005. It found that companies bought by private equity firms let go a larger proportion of workers than similar firms, shrinking their work forces about 6 percent more over a five-year window. But companies bought by private equity firms also tend to open more new branches, offices and factories and hire more new staff members, partly offsetting the job losses."

5) Small business owners are becoming more optimistic, reports Kathleen Madigan: "Small-business-owner confidence increased again in December, according to data released Tuesday. The National Federation of Independent Business‘s small-business optimism index rose 1.8 points to 93.8 last month from 92.0 in November. It was the fourth consecutive increase. Despite the recent gains, 'the level of the index is consistent with weak growth,' said the NFIB which also pointed out the index is close to recessionary readings. 'About half of the gain was due to reduced concerns about business conditions 6 months ahead and improved expectations for real sales gains,' said the NFIB report. The subindex of expected business conditions in the next six months rose 4 percentage points to -8% in December, and the expected higher real sales subindex increased increased 5 points to 9%. The new-jobs subindex fell 1 point to 6%. Last week, the NFIB said the net change in employment per firm turned negative again last month. Small businesses lost an average 0.15 worker per firm."

Top op-eds

1) It's time to let the clash of worldviews begin, writes Jonathan Cohn: "Mitt Romney’s win in the New Hampshire primary makes his nomination almost inevitable. I say, fine, let’s get to it. I know, political writers are supposed to root for a long, drawn out nomination fight. But the general election is shaping up as a dramatic clash not just of candidates but also of worldviews. We got a pretty good preview of it this week, as Romney’s history at Bain Capital became the focus of attention...Obama also does not believe in mandating equal outcomes, as Romney frequently suggests. But Obama does believe in guaranteeing equal opportunity - and that the economy, as currently structured and regulated, will not do that. That is why Obama signed health care reform, to protect Americans from crippling medical bills, and financial reform, to protect Americans from predatory lenders. Going forward, it’s why Obama is pushing to tilt the tax code, so that the wealthy pay more, while protecting existing programs (Medicare and Social Security) that protect elderly and disabled Americans from falling into poverty. This is not the radical agenda Romney would have you believe. It is merely a liberal agenda, and a moderately liberal one at that. But Romney has committed himself to overturning it. He's proposing to scale back regulation, reduce taxes on the wealthy, severely limit the federal government's resources, repeal the Affordable Care Act and chip away at Medicare. Is this the kind of country most Americans want? I think it's about time we find out."

@mattyglesias : Obama vs Romney is a near-perfect distillation of politics as culture war between dueling factions of the top 20 percent.

2) Romney's biggest threat is now anti-Bain attacks from Republicans, writes Ed Kilgore: "Last night was, by all accounts, a good night for Mitt Romney. He went into the New Hampshire primary needing two things: to win by a significant margin and to leave no one else with a plausible path to victory. The results from the Granite State fulfilled both of these Romney criteria, and it’s now extremely likely Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential nomination this year. But it’s still unclear whether he will emerge from the process with his reputation, and his polling numbers, intact...The biggest boulder in the road ahead for Mitt, the vicious anti-Bain ads being bought in South Carolina by the pro-Gingrich Winning the Future group, may not hurt him immediately, if only because no rival is poised to take advantage of it: At this point it appears the only effect would be to depress turnout. But Romney should be concerned for their impact beyond the Palmetto State--particularly in the general election. There is almost nothing in these ads that could not be directly repeated in a pro-Obama ad. The big question now is whether conservative opinion-leaders, who have basically resigned themselves to Romney as nominee, begin to denounce Gingrich for his anti-Romney nastygrams in SC. If they fail to do that, it might tempt the struggling survivors of the competition so far--not only Newt, but Paul, Santorum and perhaps even Rick Perry, who desperately needs a southern breakthrough fast--to go collectively nuclear on Mitt."

@ed_kilgore: You have to go back to '80 (Dems) or '64 (GOP) to find nomination fight as potentially damaging to winner as this one could become.

3) And he's making the wrong argument about Bain, writes Ezra Klein: "Mitt Romney did an excellent job running Bain Capital. His purpose was to create wealth for shareholders. He more than doubled their investment. But he’s doing an awful job selling Bain Capital. Romney has taken to suggesting that what he did at Bain was 'create jobs.' That’s not true. Worse, it’s an argument Romney can’t win. It’s impossible to net out the effect of the hundreds of investments Bain made into different companies. It’s impossible to say how many of the companies that Bain managed into bankruptcy would have gone bankrupt anyway. It’s impossible to calculate how much credit Bain deserves for growth that happened after it let go of a company. But it’s very, very, very possible for Romney’s Republicans challengers -- and, eventually, the Obama campaign-- to find people who were fired while Romney was in charge. And Romney’s fuzzy math is no match for their heartrending stories...Perhaps Romney had no choice. Perhaps he was always going to have to answer for Bain’s record on jobs rather than its record on wealth, and his best hope was to define the conversation first. But I doubt it. He could have pitched himself as the guy who understood the creative destruction inherent in capitalism and thus understood how the modern economy worked. Or he could have played down his work at Bain, as he did in past elections, and played up his work governing Massachusetts and saving the Olympics...Romney invited the electorate to judge his economic chops by judging his success at something he wasn’t trying to do and that isn’t relevant to the policies he would pass as president. The more energy he invests in this narrative, the larger his eventual losses will be."

4) 2012 will be the most important election yet for health care, writes David Blumenthal: "The 2012 election will be the most important in the history of our health care system because it will determine whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is implemented or repealed. The consequences for Americans and their health care will be huge. Three possible federal electoral outcomes seem most likely. All assume that the Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives, though perhaps with a diminished majority. Under the first scenario, the status quo continues with President Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate; in the second, Obama is reelected but the Senate goes Republican; in the third, the Republicans recapture the White House and control both houses of Congress...Each scenario has different implications for the ACA and its agenda (see table). If the status quo persists, the President will continue implementing the legislation unless the Supreme Court rules the entire law unconstitutional. If the Court overturned just the individual mandate to obtain health insurance, the administration would push forward with many other ACA provisions, including establishment of health insurance exchanges, expansions of Medicaid, federal subsidies supporting the purchase of insurance, and employer penalties for not providing coverage. The same would apply to provisions intended to spur innovation and improvement in the efficiency and quality of health services, including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, value-based purchasing programs, and other initiatives...Speculative as this analysis may be, it highlights the extraordinary health care stakes riding on the 2012 election. We will live with its health care consequences for decades to come."

5) Defense cuts face an uphill battle, writes Peter Orszag: "At some point in every negotiation over fiscal policy, once the high-minded speeches and other pleasantries have been delivered, the disagreeable details poison the atmosphere. Everyone is in favor of tax and entitlement reform, after all, until they see the specifics. The reaction to the cost-cutting strategy that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed last week suggests this is about to happen with regard to Pentagon spending. Let me be very clear: Substantial efficiencies can and should be wrung from the defense budget, and Panetta’s approach has many attractive features. But the strategy he sketched out -- most of the details have yet to be provided -- reveals the underlying tensions that arise whenever significant defense cuts are promised...The game is to feign concern about medium-term deficits by promising big discretionary spending cuts in the future, without saying exactly which programs would be reduced. Once the specifics are revealed, though, it’s extremely unlikely the promises will become reality. Secretary Panetta knows all this. I wish him well in overcoming the odds."

Glam-rock interlude: Smith Westerns play "Weekend" live on KEXP.

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

Still to come: The Fed has a limited ability to help; states ask for Medicaid expansion repeal; Obama backs the EPA; and what books do when no one is looking.

Economy

The Fed can do little for those who need help the most, reports Neil Irwin: "In the most difficult economy in a generation, middle-income and poor Americans are hurting the worst. Congress is tied in knots, barely able to pass even the most basic measures to help. That has put pressure on the one arm of government with the power and the flexibility to try to boost ordinary Americans’ fortunes: the Federal Reserve. But the limited policies the Fed has at its disposal mostly put money in the hands of the affluent, at least through their direct effects. The affluent, in turn, are less likely than most to spend that money in the wider economy. That may be a key reason that a series of dramatic steps by the central bank has not done more to raise living standards for American workers. The Fed has aimed to strengthen growth and lower joblessness by pumping cash into the economy, buying vast amounts of government bonds using newly printed money...If Fed policies succeed in invigorating the economy, millions of people looking for work -- or worried about losing it -- would be among the big winners, and leaders of the central bank see a need to do whatever they can to try to get the overall economy back on track. But the success of those policies are limited by their very nature. The Fed, as a central bank, largely acts through bond market purchases and interest rate changes that do not equally affect segments of society."

The Fed turned over $77 billion in profits to the Treasury in 2011, reports Binyamin Appelbaum: "The Federal Reserve said on Tuesday that it contributed $76.9 billion in profits to the Treasury Department last year, slightly less than its record 2010 transfer but much more than in any other previous year. The Fed is required by law to turn over its profits to the Treasury each year, a highly lucrative byproduct of the central bank’s continuing campaign to stimulate economic growth. Almost 97 percent of the Fed’s income was generated by interest payments on its investment portfolio, including $2.5 trillion in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, which it has amassed in an effort to decrease borrowing costs for businesses and consumers by reducing long-term interest rates."

Many in Greece are questioning austerity, reports Anthony Faiola: "Deeply indebted and nearly bankrupt, this Mediterranean nation was forced to adopt tough austerity measures to slash its deficit and secure an international bailout. But as Greece’s economy slides into free fall, critics are scanning the devastated landscape here and asking a probing question: Does austerity really work? Unemployment has surged to 18.8 percent from 13.3 percent only a year ago. Overburdened public hospitals are facing acute shortages of everything from syringes to bandages because of budget cuts, with hiring freezes forcing the mothballing of operating rooms even as more unemployed are relying on the public health system. Rates of homelessness, suicide, crime and HIV cases from intravenous drug use are jumping...increasingly, critics of the quick-cuts theory are pointing to the worsening recession here as evidence that the medicine is killing the patient, with the nation’s sharp, sustained decline leading some economists to suggest that the country has entered a more serious depression. Some are calling for more-staggered cuts, an increased focus on modernizing the economy, and tax incentives -- as opposed to recent tax increases -- that could spur growth or at least ease the downturn."

Big banks are facing facing an investigation over home insurance, reports Louise Story: "A New York State financial services agency is investigating several large banks to see whether they fraudulently steered homeowners into overpriced insurance policies. The investigation centers on so-called force-place insurance that has become increasingly common since the downturn of the housing market began and homeowners had trouble keeping up with payments on their home insurance. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are among the major companies involved in the inquiry by the office of Benjamin M. Lawsky, the superintendent of New York State’s Department of Financial Services, according to a person briefed on the investigation who asked to remain unidentified because the matter was private...The investigation is yet another legal battle for the nation’s largest banks and points to the sorts of problems they may continue to face nationwide. The banks, in separate negotiations with federal and state authorities over suspected foreclosure abuses, have been trying to negotiate a settlement with state and federal officials to avoid future investigations, but it is not clear if businesses like home insurance would be covered if a deal were reached. It also points to one of the many problems that may be holding up the housing recovery. Some homeowners have found it more difficult to refinance their loans after banks tied this compulsory insurance to their loans."

Fannie Mae's CEO resigned, reports Nick Timiraos: "Fannie Mae Chief Executive Michael J. Williams resigned Tuesday, saying he will depart as soon as the mortgage-finance giant's board names a successor. His exit leaves the government scrambling to find new caretakers for Fannie and its sibling, Freddie Mac, at a time when policy makers at the Federal Reserve and the White House have singled out housing as a key obstacle to an economic recovery. Just three months ago, Freddie's chief executive, Charles E. Haldeman Jr., said he planned to leave his post this year. Both companies have seen many changes within the senior ranks since the government takeover in 2008. Mr. Williams, who is 54 years old, joined Fannie Mae in 1991 and was promoted to the top job nearly three years ago. He is the second chief executive to leave the company since the government replaced management following the takeover...His departure comes as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac face competing pressures. The firms' regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is focused on limiting losses, while other policy makers want the companies to do more to help the housing market, even if that requires absorbing greater upfront costs."

It's time to close the tax gap, writes Bruce Bartlett: "In keeping with its apparent policy of releasing important economic reports late on Friday afternoons in the hope that no one will notice them, the Obama administration published new estimates of the so-called tax gap on Jan. 6. They deserve more attention. For many years, the Internal Revenue Service has been studying the tax gap, which is the difference between aggregate tax liabilities and revenue collected. The data just released are for the 2006 tax year and update the most recent previous data, which were for the 2001 tax year...One solution to the tax gap is to increase reporting and withholding requirements. However, previous efforts by Congress to do so have been met with huge political resistance. People don’t like the intrusion into their privacy -- and the diminution of their opportunities for tax evasion -- and businesses don’t like the cost or the alienation of their customers...Federal revenues are at a historically low level and are a key cause of the federal budget deficit. Sooner or later, taxes will have to be increased. It would be better to minimize that increase by ensuring that taxpayers pay what they owe. It’s unfair to honest taxpayers and undermines tax morale when large numbers of people and businesses don’t pay their taxes."

Interspecies friendship interlude: A kitten adopts a litter of puppies.

Health Care

Raising the Medicare age would save $148 billion, reports Sam Baker: "Raising the Medicare eligibility age would save the federal government money while shifting more costs to seniors, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday. CBO also said the effects of raising the Medicare eligibility age would be 'less onerous' if President Obama's healthcare reform law remains in place. Proposals to raise the Medicare age have surfaced in nearly every round of budget-cutting talks in Congress since Republicans took over the House majority, and Obama put the idea on the table during negotiations last fall. According to a CBO report released Tuesday, gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would save the federal government about $148 billion over 10 years. But it would increase costs to seniors, and some seniors would become uninsured or would pay higher prices for private insurance."

States asked the Supreme Court to overturn health reform's Medicaid expansion, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "Twenty-six states on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to overturn the health care reform law’s mandatory state expansion of the Medicaid program, a sleeper issue in the health care reform lawsuit that could determine how much leverage the federal government has with the states on any issue. The states, led by Florida, argue that the federal government can’t force them to expand the Medicaid program, which has operated as a partnership between the feds and the states, as part of the 2010 health reform law. They argue that the Medicaid expansion is possibly more coercive than the law’s individual mandate...The Medicaid argument, one of four issues in the health care law that the court has agreed to consider, is thought to be the toughest climb for the law’s challengers. But if the Supreme Court takes the states’ side, the ruling could limit whether the federal government can use money as an incentive for the states to act on any issue. The states argue that the law’s Medicaid expansion is an illegal 'commandeering' of states' autonomy. Beginning in 2014, Americans who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify for coverage, and the states will have to cover them if they want to stay in the program."

Domestic Policy

Indiana Democrats walked out over "right to work" again, report Mary Beth Schneider and Chris Sikich: "The truce apparently only lasted a day, as House Democrats -- angered by Republicans’ refusal this morning to debate or consider their amendments to the controversial 'right to work' legislation -- remained behind closed doors this afternoon. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, tried and failed to bring the House in to session at 1:30 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m., but did not have the needed 67 lawmakers on the floor to do business...Democrats were lodging an official protest of the morning’s committee hearing to be put in the House journal, arguing that the handling of the hearing amounted to 'a flagrant violation of House rules.' Democrats wanted public testimony, in addition to the chance to debate and offer amendments. A House rule says that all committee meetings 'shall be open to the public, and citizens shall have the right to be heard.'...It was not clear if Democrats would return Wednesday, though Bauer said he would be on the floor tonight for Gov. Mitch Daniels’ State of the State speech. Whether other Democrats joined him was up to them, he said."

A proposed green card law is facing controversy, reports Pamela Constable: "Under current law, the U.S. government can issue 140,000 green cards each year to immigrants who have temporary work visas. Hundreds of thousands of foreign-born workers are recruited to this country as teachers, nurses, engineers and other professionals on such temporary visas, which must be renewed about every two years. They must be sponsored by an American company or public agency that is able to show that they cannot find an American worker who is able or willing to do such jobs. But the slowness of the process has left a permanent backlog of hundreds of thousands of applicants, including many who have lived here for years on temporary visas. Many of the applicants come from a few Asian countries, led by India and China. But because the law also limits each country to 7 percent of the green cards, workers from smaller countries tend to get their green cards much faster. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act would change the rules of the game, eliminating the individual country limits and granting work-based green cards to qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. Supporters say the measure, which zipped through the House of Representatives in November with bipartisan support, would give people of all nationalities a more equal chance to attain permanent residency. But it unexpectedly screeched to a halt in the Senate last month, when Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) complained that the bill would do 'nothing to protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs in this time of record-high unemployment.'"

Stop-motion interlude: Books reorganize themselves after hours.

Energy

Obama pledged his support in a stop at the EPA, reports Andrew Restuccia: "President Obama reassured employees at the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday that he will stand by their work amid growing attacks from Republicans and a decision by the White House last year to scuttle the agency’s smog regulations. 'I want you to know that you’ve got a president who is grateful for your work and will stand with you every inch of the way as you carry out your mission to make sure we’ve got a cleaner world,' Obama told EPA staff during a visit the agency’s headquarters...The speech Tuesday was aimed partly at boosting morale at the agency, which suffered a brutal defeat when Obama punted on highly anticipated regulations aimed at lowering ozone pollution...The remarks were also intended to deliver a clear message to the Republican White House hopefuls - who have made bashing the EPA a top priority - that Obama doesn’t intend to shy away from environmental issues on the campaign trail. Obama, who was greeted with loud cheers and applause by EPA staff, praised the agency for crafting national standards to limit mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants that have been linked to developmental disorders and childhood asthma."

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


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