Wonkbook: The 3 ways the Court could rule against Obamacare's mandate

at 07:52 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Tuesday was a bad day for Obamacare supporters. It also made the severability questions that will be discussed today vastly more consequential. Here's Sarah Kliff with the rundown of how those could go:


In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)
By nearly all estimates, yesterday’s oral arguments were not good for Obamacare supporters. Solicitor Donald Verrilli, who represented the Obama administration, stumbled in his opening defense of the health reform law’s individual mandate. Paul Clement, representing the law’s opponents, proved a strong opponent. Justices aggressively questioned Verrilli, showing some signs of skepticism over Congress’ authority to require Americans to buy insurance.

That all could lend even more gravity to the issue that the Supreme Court takes up today: If it does toss the individual mandate, what else would have to come down with it? In legal jargon, it’s an issue of “severability:” How much of the law could, or couldn’t survive, if the Court rules the mandated purchase of insurance to be unconstitutional. Here are the three outcomes that will be presented to the Court this morning, and what they would mean for the health reform law:

If the mandate falls, the rest of the law stands.

The outcome: The narrowest ruling the Supreme Court could issue would be one where the individual mandate falls by itself but leaves the rest of the law intact. Americans would no longer be required to purchase health insurance - but health insurance plans would still be required to accept all customers. A bevy of insurance reforms, things like barring insurance companies to to charge sick customers significantly more than healthy ones, would remain intact.

The impact: Insurance premiums would increase, as sicker Americans would be more likely to purchase coverage than those who don’t foresee significant health care costs. Various health care economists have estimated that the cost of health insurance, in the individual market, could increase anywhere between 2 to 40 percent without a mandate. The breadth of the insurance expansion would be significantly reduced by as much as 24 million. Congress could pass a variety of policies to patch the hole, but it’s hard to see Republicans voting to fix “Obamacare.”

The backer: Neither the Obama administration nor the law’s opponents wants to see this outcome. The Supreme Court actually had to appoint an outside lawyer, H. Bartow Farr III, to make this argument to them. Farr does have some precedent on its side: When a district court in Virginia ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional, it did so without striking down any other parts of the health reform law.

The mandate takes down the Affordable Care Act’s insurance reforms.

The outcome: The Supreme Court could find that, if they strike the mandate, the rest of the health reform law’s insurance expansion unravels. Insurance becomes too expensive without the mandate, they could find, and increasing coverage to 32 million Americans becomes unworkable. In this scenario, the Court would strike down the health reform law’s requirement that insurance companies accept all applicants, allowing them - as they do now - to reject sicker Americans who would cost more to cover.

The impact: Health reform’s insurance expansion gets pared back significantly, but not totally wiped out. If the expansion of Medicaid up to 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, for example, survives unscathed, that would be expected to bring coverage to 16 million more Americans. Insurance subsidies, if also left standing, may do some leg work to make insurance more affordable. This outcome would likely be the worst for the sickest Americans, who could still face very expensive premiums.

The backer: This is the argument that the Department of Justice will present this morning. “The minimum coverage provision is essential to ensuring that the Act’s guaranteed-issue and community-rating reforms advance Congress’s goals,” the administration argued in its brief to the Supreme Court. Without it, those provisions would create an adverse selection cascade...because healthy individuals would defer obtaining insurance until they needed health care leaving an insurance pool skewed toward the unhealthy.”

If the individual mandate falls, so does the entire Affordable Care Act

The outcome: When Congress wrote the Affordable Care Act, it left out one crucial provision: A severability clause. Quite often, legislators include a boilerplate language specifying that, even if a small portion of it is determined unconstitutional, the bulk of it still stands. But the Affordable Care Act doesn’t have that clause, leading the law’s opponents to argue that, if the mandate falls, so does the entire 905-page bill.

The impact: Overturning the entire law would, unsurprisingly, have the most wide-reaching effect. It would eliminate the private insurance expansion, the Medicaid expansion and a slew of Medicare payment reforms. Some of those changes have already begun taking effect, changing the way doctors get paid. If those got repealed by the Supreme Court, and the financial incentives to do medicine differently were taken away, those changes could get rolled back.

The backer: The 26 states opposing the law will make this argument in front of the Supreme Court this morning. While many constitutional scholars think that such a ruling is unlikely, because of its sweeping nature, the opponents also have precedent on their side: The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the entire health reform law in its ruling, because it lacked a severability clause.

Top stories

1) The mandate did not have a good day in court. "The Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday that a key component of President Obama’s sweeping health-care law is constitutional, endangering the most ambitious domestic program to emerge from Congress in decades. In an intense interrogation of the government’s lawyer, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the justices posed repeated and largely unanswered questions about the limits of federal power. At the end of two hours, the court seemed split on the same question that has divided political leaders and the country: whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The answer is likely to come from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy or perhaps Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Both men fully joined in the rough 60 minutes of questioning for Verrilli. But they indicated that the case might be a closer call for them than for their colleagues." Robert Barnes and N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post.

DENNISTON: It's down to Kennedy and Roberts. "If Justice Anthony M. Kennedy can locate a limiting principle in the federal government’s defense of the new individual health insurance mandate, or can think of one on his own, the mandate may well survive. If he does, he may take Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and a majority along with him. But if he does not, the mandate is gone. That is where Tuesday’s argument wound up -- with Kennedy, after first displaying a very deep skepticism, leaving the impression that he might yet be the mandate’s savior...Justice Antonin Scalia led the charge against the mandate in the first part, but remained largely silent in the second. When he was on the offensive, he seemed to have the Chief Justice and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., clearly with him, and there were repeated signs that Kennedy, too, was against it." Lyle Denniston in SCOTUSblog.

What happens with no mandate? "If the Supreme Court were to invalidate the 2010 health-care law’s requirement that virtually all Americans obtain insurance, would the rest of the law become unworkable? Even among supporters of the statute, opinions vary widely about the practical impact of a decision to strike down the mandate but leave everything else intact -- one of several options available to the court...The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that without the mandate, insurance premiums on the individual market -- the sector most vulnerable to fluctuations -- would be 15 to 20 percent higher than with it. One respected researcher puts the difference as low as 10 percent, another at 27 percent. Similarly, while the CBO estimates that the number of Americans remaining uninsured would jump by about 16 million without the mandate -- about 40 percent more than if the health-care law were implemented intact -- other analyses suggest that the number could be nearly half that." N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post.

LISTEN: The full audio of Tuesday's oral argument.

READ: The full transcript of Tuesday's oral argument (PDF).

INTERVIEW: Randy Barnett reacts to Tuesday’s oral arguments.

@CitizenCohn: Well, folks, I wasn't worried after oral arguments yesterday. I am today.

@sam_baker: Have covered SCOTUS cases before where the questions did not predict the opinion. But it's at least a sign that this is far from a lock.

UP NEXT: Severability. "The Supreme Court wraps up its last day of hearings Wednesday over the future of health care reform with renewed focus on an issue once dismissed by many legal and political analysts as trivial....It follows Tuesday's fascinating, monumental court discussion about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's key provision: the individual mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance or face a financial penalty. The mandate's future appeared to be in trouble, based on questioning from the court's conservative majority. That tees up Wednesday's arguments. At issue: Must the entire law's 450 or so provisions be scrapped if the mandate -- the key funding mechanism of the law -- is found unconstitutional?...Suddenly the question of 'severability' -- whether the rest of the law can stand if one part of it is invalidated -- becomes more important since the mandate's legal survival remains much in constitutional jeopardy." Bill Mears in CNN.

AND: Medicaid expansion. "The court is spending most of its health law oral arguments on questions pertaining to the individual mandate. Later, the court will devote the sixth and final hour to Medicaid expansion. And even though court-watchers are not expecting a precedent-shattering ruling on the question, the fact that the court is addressing this element of the health law signals that the justices are taking it seriously. A broad ruling by a conservative majority in June against Medicaid could shake the shared legal foundation of landmark legislation, including unemployment benefits, the Civil Rights Act and the Clean Air Act...Most legal experts -- including conservative legal analysts critical of the law -- are skeptical of the states’ argument. After all, Congress has used its spending power to add many new groups to Medicaid since it began in 1965, primarily to cover kids. It has never been successfully challenged in court, and none of the lower courts that ruled on the health law found merit in the states’ Medicaid claims." Lester Feder in Politico.

@ezraklein: The irony of all this is that if SCOTUS overturns mandate, ACA looks like Obama's campaign proposal, but w/o public option.

@petersuderman: OK then! Everyone go have a drink and/or read up on Medicaid and severability.

2) Home prices fell again, but may be near a bottom. "Home prices fell to new lows in January, but the rate of decline appeared to be easing, offering the latest hint that prices may be at or near a bottom. Prices dropped 0.8% in the three-month period that ended in January, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index that tracks 20 U.S. metro areas. While that lowered the index to levels not seen since the end of 2002, the monthly decline improved from a drop of 1.1% in December and 1.3% in November. House prices tend to weaken during the winter months, when sales activity slows and the share of 'distressed' home sales, such as foreclosures, rises. After adjusting for seasonal factors, prices were flat in January compared with December...Tuesday's report 'adds to other evidence that the housing market is on the mend,' said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist for Capital Economics. 'We expect that 2012 will go down in history as the year that the most severe house-price crash on record ended.'" Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

@ryanavent: My guess is that we'll have monthly Case-Shiller increases by March and y/y increases by August.

3) The House punted again on the highway bill. "The House is once again at a standstill on the highway bill, just days before federal funding would be shut off and Congress skips town for its two-week recess. Republicans yanked a 60-day extension of highway programs late Tuesday, after it became clear that Democrats would withhold their support for a short-term bill until Republicans agree to also pass a longer-term bill that will serve as their negotiating position in a few weeks when they conference the bill with the Senate...There’s a serious timing issue in play: House Republicans want to leave town Thursday afternoon for a two-week recess...It’s the second time in as many days that Republicans have had to abandon plans to extend highway funding, and things are starting to look bleak. The situation is looking eerily similar to previous struggles, when Congress tried to pass government-funding bills, an increase of the nation’s statutory borrowing cap and the payroll tax holiday." Jake Sherman, Burgess Everett, and Adam Snider in Politico.

4) House Democrats rolled out their budget. "House Democrats want to make a clear, election-year statement: they’re not going to touch Medicare and they’re going to raise taxes on the wealthy. Determined to set their party apart from the Republicans’ fiscal blueprint that will dominate much of the campaign season, Democrats rolled out a $3.7 trillion spending plan that they say better protects the middle class in the still-recovering economy...It has no chance of passing, but the House Democratic budget is expected to be one of several alternative budget proposals to be considered on the House floor later this week...House Democrats want to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich and close corporate tax loopholes, while keeping steady the tax rates for lower- and middle-income families. It also incorporates the 'Buffett Rule,' which calls for the wealthy to pay for a higher share of their income in taxes." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

5) A standoff over nominees is undercutting key agencies. "Senate Republicans’ refusal to approve at least seven other financial regulator nominees in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray has left key agencies in limbo, complicating the implementation of major aspects of the Dodd-Frank reforms. Nominees for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Treasury Department have been stopped since Obama’s decision not to wait on putting Cordray in place at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in January. The move torpedoed a potential deal with Republicans to get dozens of sure-fire candidates through the Senate...The Republican blockade has been strong enough that Obama hasn’t even put forward a new candidate to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. His initial pick, former North Carolina Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith, withdrew 14 months ago, frustrating government efforts to ease mortgage expenses for millions of Americans." Josh Boak in Politico.

Top op-eds

1) LITHWICK: The Supreme Court's conservatives have an outdated definition of freedom. "This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of 'liberty.' This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804." Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.

2) FELDMAN: There's a clear limiting principle for health-care reform. Verilli just didn't explain it. "The answer is that health care insurance is different because if the healthy people fail to get themselves coverage, it becomes extremely difficult -- under some conditions, impossible -- for the insurance market to operate. That is, as the healthiest people leave the pool, the market for health insurance starts to unravel, as people who would buy it at a price where the insurance companies would be willing to provide it will be unable to do so. In other words, when it comes to the strange and unusual case of health insurance, inaction causes the whole market to break down. By not buying health insurance, the healthiest person is depriving everyone of a public good. By sitting on their hands -- and acting rationally -- people who do not purchase insurance are unintentionally causing the market to fail. The limiting principle that Kennedy was seeking is therefore readily at hand." Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View.

3) SOMIN: It was a good day for the individual mandate's opponents. "Before the oral argument, I thought that the plaintiffs had about a 30-40% chance of winning. I believed it was likely that the federal government would manage to persuade at least one conservative justice to buy one of their many 'health care is special' rationales for the mandate. Now, I think the chances of the mandate being invalidated is at least 50%. The conservative justices just don’t seem to be biting on the 'health care is special' hook. On the other hand, it is still too early for mandate opponents to celebrate. The federal government has a whole raft of different 'health care is special' arguments (I go through them and their weaknesses in Part I of this article). If the feds can persuade just one of the conservative justices to accept just one of these theories, they can still win. We certainly cannot rule out such a scenario. It could still easily happen. But unlike in high school debate, quantity of arguments in a major Supreme Court case is rarely a good substitute for quality. And the quality of the government’s 'health care is special arguments' is at the very least highly suspect." Ilya Solmin at the Volokh Conspiracy.

4) COHN: Everybody calm down. "Everybody calm down. And when I say everybody, I include myself. Tuesday’s oral argument at the Supreme Court was not the finest hour for health care reform, for the philosophy of activist government, or for Solicitor General Don Verrilli. But oral arguments don’t typically change the outcome of cases. They are important primarily for the signals they send about the justices’ thinking. And those signals can be difficult to interpret. Administration officials on Tuesday were quick to remind reporters that Judge Laurence Silberman gave the government a very hard time when it argued the same case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But Silberman went on to uphold the law, in what was by any standard a stinging rebuke to the critics. In the Sixth Circuit, Justice Jeffrey Sutton also put administration lawyers through tough questioning before issuing his own, equally unambiguous decision upholding the law." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

5) DIAMOND AND ORSZAG: Social Security reform must include new revenue. "The basic contours of Mitt Romney’s approach to Social Security reform are coming into focus, and the results aren’t pretty...Romney has not yet filled in the details, but his approach appears to match the 'Social Security Solvency and Sustainability Act' proposed last year by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. That plan would, by 2032, raise the normal retirement age under Social Security from 67 to 70, and it would adopt 'progressive price indexing,' which would reduce the future growth rate of benefits for the top 60 percent of earners...The need for such balance in Social Security reform is a reflection of the broader struggle over the nation’s fiscal gap. To restore long-term sustainability to the budget as a whole, we need to combine spending cuts and revenue increases -- both of which should be delayed, for the present, to avoid harming a weak economy." Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

6) PORTER: Raising taxes on the rich doesn't hurt growth. "The math is easy: the federal budget over the next decade cannot be made to square without raising a lot more money. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if we stay on our current path, federal debt held by the public will grow from about two-thirds of gross domestic product today to roughly 100 percent in a decade and twice that much by 2040. It is unlikely that even the most committed Republicans could reverse the trend without higher taxes...A growing body of research suggests not only that the government could raise much more revenue by sharply raising the top tax rates paid by the richest Americans, but it could do so without slowing economic growth. Top tax rates could go as high as 80 percent or more...The research suggests there is much more money available to close the budget deficit than we previously thought, if only we were willing to raise tax rates to where they were back in the early ’70s, in the administration of Richard M. Nixon." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Cover interlude: Feist and M. Ward cover Jesus and Mary Chain's duet with Hope Sandoval "Sometimes Always" at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Still to come: The foreclosure settlement may do less than it appears; imagining a world without the mandate; FCC reform clears the House; hard times for some oil refiners; and ragdoll kittens rest peacefully.

Economy

The foreclosure settlement credits banks for things they already do. "In February, JPMorgan Chase donated a home to an Iraq war veteran in Bucoda, Wash., and Bank of America waived the $140,000 debt that a Florida man still owed after the sale of his foreclosed home. Over the last year, Wells Fargo has demolished about a dozen houses in Cleveland. Banks do things like this -- real estate transactions that do nothing to prevent foreclosure -- all the time. But beginning this month, they can count such activities as part of their new commitment to help people stay in their homes. That commitment comes under the landmark $25 billion foreclosure abuse settlement between the government and five major banks announced last month. The settlement promises that of the $25 billion, the banks will give $17 billion 'in assistance to borrowers who have the intent and ability to stay in their homes,' according to a summary of the settlement. But more than half of that money can be used in ways that will not stop foreclosures, including some activities that are already standard bank practices." Shaila Dewan and Jessica Silver-Greenberg in The New York Times.

The House will vote on Bowles-Simpson this week. "A small bipartisan group of House lawmakers, bucking their Democratic and Republican leaders, is advancing a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. A vote on the measure could come as soon as Wednesday. It is widely expected to fail, but the degree of support for the plan could prove a bellwether of whether Congress decides to pursue a broad bipartisan budget deal this election year. The proposal pushed by Reps. Steve LaTourette (R., Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D., Tenn.), largely reflects the outline offered in 2010 by the White House's deficit-reduction commission chaired by Republican former Sen. Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles. The new plan comes amid a number of budget proposals in recent weeks, including from the White House and Republican leaders. But the new House proposal is the first to be pushed in Congress this year with any level of bipartisan support." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

The Ryan plan's revenue cap puts the GOP in a tight spot. "Call it the 19 percent solution. As House debate begins Wednesday, that’s the bottom line of the new Republican budget blueprint, which breaks with the August debt accords and substitutes a vision of capping revenue at 19 percent of gross domestic product and scaling back government to fit into that suit. It’s a bold, even bellicose election-year challenge. But the strict revenue limits could postpone for a generation the conservative promise of a balanced budget. At the same time, deep cuts to health care and education most likely will make it harder for GOP front-runner Mitt Romney to appeal to independents and women voters in the presidential campaign. Indeed, it’s a tight box that Republicans have put themselves in and one that literally requires a transformation of government to escape." David Rogers in Politico.

The Obama administration is trying to boost international tourists. "President Barack Obama is trying to take advantage of what’s quickly becoming the country’s largest service export: international tourists. With overseas visitors pumping $153 billion into the U.S. economy last year -- an increase of $19 billion that Commerce Department figures show put it ahead of the combined benefits of the new trade pacts signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama -- the administration has launched a task force to issue more travel visas to Brazil and China, among other developing countries. Already, the number of Brazilian tourists jumped 26 percent last year to 1.5 million, while Chinese visitors were up 36 percent to more than 1 million. Tourists are a special kind of stimulus: They spend their money here and head back home without imposing costs for health care or education on taxpayers, essentially allowing the United States to siphon some of the prosperity in developing countries, where there have been large, albeit uneven, wealth explosions." Josh Boak in Politico.

LUCE: Jim Yong Kim was the wrong choice for the World Bank. "Every now and then something crystallises how rapidly the world is changing. Last week’s nomination by President Barack Obama of Jim Yong Kim as the next president of the World Bank presents one such moment. The story ought to proceed by tradition - a US president chooses an American for the top job and the other big shareholders fall into line. The chances are that the gentleman’s agreement will be upheld: the Europeans have even more to lose than the US by ending their duopoly over Bretton Woods (France - oops, Europe - gets to appoint the head of the IMF). It would take an unlikely rupture to embolden the Europeans to vote against Dr Kim’s candidacy next month. What could possibly go wrong? Very little, which is precisely the problem. Were the process genuinely meritocratic - if the World Bank board was required to find the best-qualified candidate for the job - Dr Kim would be unlikely to find himself on a shortlist of three." Edward Luce in The Financial Times.

Just because interlude: Backflips in unexpected locations.

Health Care

Massachusetts offers a test case of how the mandate would work. "As the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on the constitutionality of the national health care law and its requirement that most Americans be insured or pay a penalty, Massachusetts offers a real-world laboratory of how such a mandate might work. Roughly 48,000 people in the state were subject to penalties for not having coverage in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, down from 67,000 in 2007. The maximum penalties range from $228 to $1,212 a year, depending largely on income. (Anyone with an annual income of less than 150% of the federal poverty line pays no penalty.) The penalties are paid on state tax returns...For individuals facing penalties, who are often young, male and healthy, the state appears to have been generous in granting one-year waivers. From 2007 through 2010, the state approved 65 percent of the appeals filed by people who had been given penalties, or 7,163 out of 10,992, according to the Health Connector." Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.

@jbarro: If Obamacare goes down, single payer will instantly become the #1 activating cause of the Democratic base.

Domestic Policy

The House approved a bill putting limits on the FCC's power over mergers. "House Republicans approved legislation Tuesday that would limit the Federal Communications Commission's ability put conditions on mergers, but the measure faces an uncertain future. While the House approved the legislation 247-174, Senate Democrats have signaled they have no intention of following their House colleagues and approving the bill...The legislation would impose new requirements on the FCC, including requiring the agency to justify the costs and benefits of new rules and follow shot clocks when making decisions. It would also require the agency to publish its proposed rules before taking final action on them. Democrats were particularly opposed to a provision in the bill that would limit the agency's ability to impose conditions on mergers or license transfers. Companies routinely agree or voluntarily propose conditions on their deals to get FCC approval, even if the FCC couldn't require such conditions because they fall outside of the agency's jurisdiction." Amy Schatz in The Wall Street Journal.

The Senate voted down a postal reform bill. "The Senate on Tuesday voted down a motion to begin work on legislation that would have overhauled the financially ailing Postal Service, a measure that postal officials said did not go far enough in allowing them to cut costs, and that some postal unions said would make the post office’s financial situation even worse. The measure fell nine votes short of the 60 needed to move forward. The Senate will consider taking up the measure again in mid-April, when lawmakers return from recess...In recent interviews, Patrick R. Donahoe, the postmaster general, has repeatedly said that the Senate’s postal reform bill did not go far enough in allowing the service to act more like a business and cut costs more aggressively. But on Tuesday the agency issued a more restrained statement. David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the post office, said the agency would continue to work with Congress on comprehensive legislation to reform and improve the business model." Ron Nixon in The New York Times.

Adorable animals being sleepy interlude: Six ragdoll kittens sleep.

Energy

Some oil refiners are struggling. "Prices at the pump stand at 10-month highs. But even that isn't enough to save some U.S. oil refiners, who are finding it a terrible time to be in the gasoline business. U.S. drivers are losing their thirst for gas. The national average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas climbed to $3.898 on Tuesday. Yet high crude costs are proving difficult to pass on to the consumers. That has made refining--which once was considered a must-have business for many large energy companies--unprofitable and unfashionable...The culprit for many refiners' woes: a combination of declining U.S. gasoline demand and expensive foreign crudes...Not all refiners are running into trouble, but the industry's problems are highlighting the divide between winners and losers--and thinning the ranks of competitors--at a time when rising gasoline prices are threatening to break previous records." Tom Fowler in The Wall Street Journal.

The Solyndra probe is running out of gas. "House Republicans look like they’re running out of ammunition on Solyndra. Gone are their threats of hauling Rahm Emanuel and Carol Browner up to the Capitol to testify about how they helped the now bankrupt California solar company. The White House hopes to soon remove the GOP's threat of a contempt of Congress vote by turning over the final scraps from thousands of pages of internal documents...More than a year into a probe that's extended to the Energy Department loan guarantee portfolio, Republican investigators even acknowledge they've fallen short of substantiating their allegations that the administration helped political allies like Tulsa oilman George Kaiser secure hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies through a loan guarantee to Solyndra...n some respects, Republicans have accomplished their mission. Even if no one goes to jail, they've turned Solyndra into a four-letter word, vilified the Nobel laureate Chu and left a popular DOE program in shambles." Darren Samuelsohn in Politico.

LONGREAD: Are small reactors the future of nuclear?.


@drgrist: In other words, avoiding extremely dangerous climate change is no longer an option. Avoiding the catastrophic kind, maybe.

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

 
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