Wonkbook: The number of the day is 5,400

at 07:56 AM ET, 09/13/2011


The Capitol Dome is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
The number of the day is 5,400. That's how many congressional staffers have left the Hill and become lobbyists over the last 10 years. An impressive 2,900 of them are lobbying for clients this year. And they're not alone: They have been joined by almost 400 former lawmakers. But their numbers have been slightly reduced by the loss of 605 of their colleagues who went from being staffers to lobbyists and, over the past decade, back to being staffers again.

All these numbers come from a new report by the online-disclosure site LegiStorm, which T.W. Farnam wrote up in this morning's Washington Post, and to some degree, they doubtlessly sound worse than they really are.

Some of these ex-staffers are working for causes or companies that their former boss would find perfectly uncontroversial: environmental groups, say, or the National Rifle Association. Many aren't really lobbying at all, but are registering just in case they need to do some lobbying. But the exceptions don't disprove the rule: a lot of experienced Hill hands head to K Street. As Jock Friendly, founder of LegiStorm, told Farnam, "for every person the American people have elected to sponsor legislation of public benefit, special interests have more than one former legislative advocate now working on the inside in Congress."

But this isn't a migration driven by corruption, and it's not even necessarily driven by greed -- though the K Street payout certainly doesn't hurt. Like any high-pressure job, there's high turnover on the Hill. But unlike a lot of high pressure jobs, there aren't all that many other jobs that Hill experience qualifies you for. There are only so many positions at think tanks and sinecures at universities. Longtime staffers decide it's time to move on and keep normal hours and untether themselves from the Blackberry only to find that their time as as chief of staff is enormously valued by one industry and of almost no use in any other industry. So they become lobbyists.

That's not good for the public. There are too many skilled veterans with long and numerous relationships working on behalf of moneyed interests, and too few simply working for good policy. It's not good for the Hill. Congress is less trusted because most people assume it's been bought by corporations. Increasingly, it's not even good for the ex-staffers, as the rules are tightening year-by-year, and many who thought they would, say, get a job with the next Democratic presidential administration found their hopes dashed by the Obama administration's restrictions on hiring lobbyists (which, to be sure, the White House broke in certain cases).

But it's easier to say why it's a bad situation than how it can be fixed. Perhaps the public would be well-served by funding a pleasant retirement community for exhausted staffers. In the end, it would probably be cheaper for the taxpayers to create the Institute for Government Expertise than to let Exxon hire those same former staffers to secure billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. But it's not going to happen. Which means the revolving door is going to continue to revolve.

Five in the morning

1) Obama wants higher taxes on the rich to fund his jobs plan, report Rosalind Helderman and David Nakamura: "President Obama announced plans Monday to fund his $447 billion jobs bill largely by raising taxes on wealthier families, provoking immediate opposition from congressional Republicans...The White House said Congress should pay for the jobs plan by imposing new limits on itemized deductions for individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year and families earning more than $250,000. Eliminating those deductions would bring in an additional $400 billion in revenue, aides said. The administration also recommended ending subsidies for oil and gas companies and changing the depreciation rules for corporate airplanes. Altogether, White House aides said the tax package would raise $467 billion, more than enough to pay for the new jobs bill."

See how the tax proposal breaks down: http://wapo.st/rcEVuc

2) Over five thousand former Congressional aides became lobbyists in the last decade, reports T.W. Farnham: "Nearly 5,400 former congressional staffers have left Capitol Hill to become federal lobbyists in the past 10 years, according to a new study that documents the extent of the revolving door between Congress and K Street. The data published by the online disclosure site LegiStorm found close to 400 former U.S. lawmakers also have made the jump to lobbying. The report, which tallies a greater number of workers moving between Congress and lobbying than found in previous studies, underscores the symbiotic relationship: Thousands of lobbyists are able to exploit experience and connections gleaned from working inside the legislative process, and lawmakers find in lobbyists a ready pool of experienced talent. Of the 5,400 lobbyists with recent Hill experience, the study found that 2,900 were registered to lobby on behalf of clients this year."

3) Republicans have discussed reneging on the debt deal, reports David Rogers: "So much for comity. Last week’s love seemed just that in Congress on Monday -- past and fading in the rear-view mirror. In a surprising bit of hardball, House Republicans confirmed that they had been actively considering a plan to tamper with the August budget agreement by cutting even more from 2012 spending in order to put pressure on Senate Democrats to come to terms faster on domestic bills for the coming fiscal year. Instead of the agreed-upon appropriations target of $1.043 trillion, a stopgap continuing resolution or CR this week would be calibrated at a lower $1.035 trillion level. The idea - promoted by Speaker John Boehner -- was to effectively withhold about $8 billion for the first two months of the fiscal year, with the money becoming available only as Senate Democrats come to terms with the House on the dozen annual spending bills that cover government operations."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel responds: “$1.043 trillion will be the final FY 2012 number.”

4) Fears are growing that Greek default is imminent, reports Anthony Faiola: "Europe’s economic crisis escalated sharply Monday as investors bet on a messy default in near-bankrupt Greece that could cost its creditors billions in losses, threatening an array of major European banks sitting on massive stockpiles of troubled debt. Concern was mounting amid indications that European leaders -- particularly in Germany, the largest donor to Greece’s bailout -- may be tiring of the two-year-old fight to prop up Athens through rescue loans. Those fears drove stock markets down and sent the borrowing costs of other troubled European economies, including Italy, soaring. The crisis was fast evolving from one that centered on the debts of profligate nations into one pivoting on the big banks that hold large amounts of those debts on their balance sheets. Underscoring the threat, France’s three largest banks -- which own tens of billions of euros’ worth of bonds issued by Greece -- suffered dramatic losses in share value Monday."

5) The GOP debate was low on specifics, reports Karen Tumulty: "'We have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face,' Texas Gov. and GOP front-runner Rick Perry said when he was asked about Social Security. 'It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. But no one’s had the courage to stand up and say, here is how we’re going to reform it.' Nor did Perry...Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, struggling to regain the lead he once enjoyed in the polls, promised again to cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product. But he offered no specifics as to what would have to go...Nor did any of them see any need to repeal or even trim one of the most expansive new federal programs of the past decade -- the addition of a prescription drug plan to Medicare."

@DLeonhardt: "A market-moving debate: Mitt Romney has reclaimed his place as the GOP favorite on Intrade (38%, to Perry's 35%)."

'90s cover interlude: Girl Crisis plays "The Sign" by Ace of Base.

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Still to come: Obama would sign a partial jobs bill; the administration's rural jobs programs' effectiveness is in doubt; the debt deal won't save as much from Medicare as predicted; Barney Frank wants to reform the regional Federal Reserve banks; IBM's Watson is coming to health care; and a panda on a rocking chair.

Economy

Obama would sign a partial bill, reports Carol Lee: "President Barack Obama is making a strong push for his $447 billion jobs bill, but at the same time he’s acknowledging what many observers believe: that Congress may not pass it in full. 'Obviously if they pass parts of it I'm not going to veto those parts,' Mr. Obama said Monday in a roundtable interview with Hispanic journalists. 'I will sign it but I will say then 'give me the rest', and I will keep on making that argument as long as the need is there to put people back to work.'"

The administration has little to show for its rural jobs programs, reports Ron Nixon: "The Obama administration is investing billions of dollars to promote economic development in rural areas by bringing broadband service and small-business financing to regions with chronic poverty and high unemployment. But critics say the administration has little to show for its efforts, which highlight the difficulties of creating jobs in remote areas. They say the money has gone to areas where it is not needed, to promote broadband where it already exists and for industrial parks designed to attract business and jobs that may never materialize. The Agriculture Department said it had provided more than $6.2 billion to help nearly 10,000 small and emerging rural businesses expand, creating or saving more than 250,000 jobs since 2009."

A large group of former lawmakers and businessmen are pushing for the supercommittee to go big, reports Felicia Sonmez: "The list of leaders urging the 12-member debt supercommittee to aim higher than its $1.5 trillion mandate grew longer Monday with a letter to the panel's members by five dozen prominent former lawmakers, officials and business executives. Those signing the letter include four former co-chairs of federal deficit-reduction commissions -- Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici -- as well as economists, former administration officials and former lawmakers of both parties, such as former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, former senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) and Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi."

Barney Frank wants to reform the regional Fed system, reports Luca Di Leo: "U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) Monday renewed his attack against the Federal Reserve‘s district presidents, saying their presence has become a 'significant constraint' on the nation’s economic policy-making. In a position paper updating a bill he introduced in May to take away regional Fed officials’ power to shape monetary policy, Frank accused them of worrying too much about inflation -- in economic jargon, of being inflation 'hawks' -- and too little about high unemployment...'The 7-3 vote of the FOMC in August in favor of keeping interest rates low is stark evidence of how much of a constraint' district Fed presidents have become, Frank said. He signaled that a clear-cut 10-0 vote would have been more effective in easing financial conditions."

Whichever party wins next year's election will get to take credit for the recovery, writes Ezra Klein: "As Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, has written, globally, the pattern is clear: Whichever party was in power when the Great Depression hit was booted out of office, and whichever party was in power when the global recovery took hold reaped huge political benefits. 'In the U.S.,' wrote Bartels, 'voters replaced Republicans with Democrats and the economy improved. In Britain and Australia, voters replaced Labor governments with conservatives and the economy improved. In Sweden, voters replaced Conservatives with Liberals, then with Social Democrats, and the economy improved...In every case, the party that happened to be in power when the Depression eased dominated politics for a decade or more thereafter.'"

The payroll tax cut should be paid for with entitlement cuts, writes Edward Glaeser: "More than half of the plan’s $447 billion cost comes from cuts to the payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare. This could increase the incentives to hire and work, and get money to poorer Americans. But to avoid making our perilous fiscal situation worse, those cuts should be paid for with future increases in the retirement age, and the plan’s proposed spending on infrastructure and unemployment insurance should be substantially reduced...Raising the retirement age was always going to be part of any sensible entitlement reform, and this is the right time to start paying for current tax cuts with future benefit cuts. Inserting an offsetting retirement-age increase into the American Jobs Act would be a good way to show the world that the U.S. is getting serious about its finances."

Obama stands alone in having a serious jobs plan, writes John Cassidy: "The President has taken an important step in the right direction. The fate of the economy still depends on many things that aren’t under his control: oil prices, more monetary stimulus from the Fed, and a resolution of the European debt crisis. (On Wall Street, reaction to Obama’s speech was overshadowed by the resignation of a member of the European Central Bank.) But, going into an election year, the President can say that he has presented a credible proposal to create jobs and give the economy a boost. Which Republican candidate can make the same claim? Perry, with his support for a balanced-budget amendment? Mitt Romney, with his fifty-nine-point plan to slash federal spending, make a bonfire of federal regulations, and impose trade sanctions on China? Herman Cain, with his '9-9-9' plan? As far as the unemployed are concerned, the answer is clear."

Adorable animal who thinks he's people interlude: A panda on a rocking chair.

Health Care

IBM's Watson is coming to health care, reports Sarah Kliff: "The computer can analyze about 200 million pages of data in less than three seconds, which could allow physician to more accurately diagnose and treat complex cases. Physicians could, for example, use Watson to consult medical records and the latest research findings for recommendations on treatment. Nussbaum met Watson last April at IBM headquarters in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. The session, a few months after the 'Jeopardy!' victory, included Watson’s animated avatar, IBM officials and Wellpoint executives (Watson’s hardware, stored elsewhere in the building, was not in attendance.) Nussbaum very quickly saw how Watson could fit into the increasingly data-driven business of delivering health care. 'Historically, if you look at our use of artificial intelligence, we use a lot of claims data to identify gaps in care and have done analysis on that,' Nussbaum says. 'This really is an extension of that.'"

The debt deal's automatic Medicare cuts would save $123 billion over ten years, reports Sam Baker: "An automatic 2 percent cut to Medicare would save the federal government roughly $123 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The 12-member supercommittee is charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. If it fails to reach an agreement, automatic cuts kick in across a broad spectrum of federal agencies, including 2 percent cuts in almost all Medicare programs. CBO said Monday that the automatic Medicare cuts would total about $123 billion over the next decade. The structure of the automatic cuts limits their potential savings, CBO said. For example, the government would lose about $31 billion in Medicare Part B premiums under the trigger mechanism."

Health care "co-ops," the compromise version of a public option in health reform, are taking shape, reports Brett Norman: "In the heat of the health reform negotiations two years ago, Democrats sacrificed the public option for a program that tasted like weak tea to liberal critics: the small and relatively cheap health insurance cooperatives meant to compete with major insurers around the country. Despite the initial declarations of irrelevance, though, groups in at least 20 states are now scrambling ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline to apply for the first round of $3.8 billion in funding to start Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, called CO-OPs. The efforts are as different as the states where they’re brewing, from rural Montana, where the state’s former insurance commissioner has joined prominent physicians and leaders in labor and business to found a CO-OP, to The Freelancers Union, based in New York, which hopes to bring in some portion of its 150,000 members, among others."

Mandatory vaccination is becoming a major campaign issue in the GOP presidential primary, reports Dan Eggen: "Religious conservatives in Texas were stunned in 2007 when Republican Rick Perry became the first governor in the country to order young girls to get a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. The vaccine would encourage promiscuity, according to many conservatives, who had long supported Perry’s views against abortion and same-sex marriage...The vaccine in question, Merck’s Gardasil, protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer, a disease that strikes about 10,000 American women a year and kills about 3,700. The federal government approved Gardasil in June 2006, and medical authorities began recommending that all girls get the shots at ages 11 and 12, before they are likely to be sexually active."

Domestic Policy

Mitt Romney is campaigning against the chief federal union regulatory board, reports Amy Gardner: "Mitt Romney’s harsh critique Monday of the federal government’s efforts to block Boeing from bringing thousands of non-union jobs to South Carolina was not a new line of attack for Republican presidential candidates...But the moment did provide a chance for the former Massachusetts governor to take a position fully in step with his party’s conservative wing...'It’s the most egregious example of political payback, where the president is able to pay back the unions for their hundreds of millions in political contributions at the expense of American jobs,' Romney said of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to sue Boeing for trying to move thousands of jobs from unionized facilities in Washington state to a new $1 billion facility in South Carolina, a right-to-work state."

Rick Perry is outside the mainstream on Social Security, writes Ramesh Ponnuru: "Conservatives often say that the Social Security Trust Fund lacks assets that will help pay for the program (because it merely contains IOUs from the rest of the federal government). But both polling and history suggest that Republicans have no fund of trust to rely on, either. It’s not going to be easy to persuade Americans to go along with major changes to Social Security, and it’s going to be impossible for anyone who seems opposed to the program on principle. Americans might listen to someone who calls Social Security a 'Ponzi scheme,' if he goes on to explain that what he means is that it cannot deliver the benefits it promises without significant reforms. But someone who seems eager to get the federal government out of the business of ensuring retirement security altogether will find a less receptive audience."

Bonus adorable animal interlude: Glow-in-the-dark cats.

Energy

Coal companies are sending millions to John Boehner, reports Brody Mullins: "U.S. coal companies have pumped $1.5 million into House Speaker John Boehner's political operation this year, a sign of the industry's beefed-up efforts to fight new and proposed regulations from the Obama administration. The coal industry now ranks as one of the top sources of cash for the Ohio Republican, rivaling such perennial GOP donors as Wall Street and the real-estate industry. A large part of the coal industry's donations came in a single week at the end of June. Donations from coal-industry interests account for more than 10% of the $12.5 million Mr. Boehner collected from Jan. 1 to June 30 for fund-raising accounts he directly controls. Mr. Boehner's personal campaign account collected less than $200,000 from the coal industry during the entire 2009-10 election cycle."

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

 
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