Wonkbook: Romney at the NAACP

July 12, 2012

Before we get started today, a quick programming note. When Wonkbook began, there was no lead commentary. Then, on days when there was something particularly worth commenting on, I began adding one. Then it became a daily part of Wonkbook.

As of today, we're moving back to the old model. In recent weeks, we've added an aggregated "top story" section that makes more sense as the lead to Wonkbook than a separate, written column. If I have something to say in the morning, it will be woven into the top story -- as it is today -- rather than set off as a separate feature. On days when there is something particularly worth commenting on, the lead might return, but only occasionally.

As always, you can reach us with comments or suggestions at wonkbook at gmail dot com, and, if you want more of my written pieces, you can read much more from me at Wonkblog.

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RCP Obama vs. RomneyObama +1.9%; 7-day change: Obama -0.7%.

RCP Obama approval46.9%; 7-day change: -0.8%.

Top story: The substance of Romney's NAACP speech

READ: Mitt Romney’s Speech to The NAACP Convention.

Romney's jobs plan: "First, I will take full advantage of our energy resources, and I will approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada...Second, I will open up new markets for American products...Third, I will reduce government spending...To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare, and I will work to reform and save Medicare and Social Security, in part by means-testing their benefits. Fourth, I will focus on nurturing and developing the skilled workers our economy so desperately needs and the future demands...And finally and perhaps most importantly, I will restore economic freedom."

Romney's other plans: "As President, I will promote strong families – and I will defend traditional marriage...federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted."

Real talk: Those excerpts are every specific policy recommendation I could find in Romney's speech. Right now, unemployment among African-Americans is 14.4 percent. Uninsurance is 20.8 percent. The poverty rate is 25.8 percent. Do those policies seem up to the task of those numbers?

And that's before you add in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the planned cuts to programs like Medicaid, and to the many income supports that exist inside the "non-defense discretionary spending" bucket. Frankly, it's hard to see how Romney's policies avoid making those numbers worse. The fact is that if your agenda is to redistribute money away from social spending and towards tax cuts and defense, it's probably not going to help with joblessness, health insurance, or poverty.

Romney's speech met with some boos. "Romney said that black families have suffered disproportionately under the Obama presidency, noting that the unemployment rate for African Americans rose to 14.4 percent last month, while the overall rate was 8.2 percent...The hundreds of African Americans in attendance at the NAACP’s national convention in Houston gave Romney polite although subdued applause. But he received a loud and sustained spattering of boos when he referenced his opposition to the health-care law he called 'Obamacare,' when he said Obama’s policies are not helping to create jobs and when he said he would be a better president for black families." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

MOYNIHAN: It all went according to plan. Republicans got exactly what they wanted...As everyone recognizes, a Romney speech to the NAACP will have almost zero impact on the number of African Americans who cast ballots against President Obama, but that wasn’t the point. This seemed to be an appeal to independent white voters, the Romney camp underscoring their man’s willingness to reach across the aisle and, by implication, to show that he isn’t a zealous tea partyer interested in expanding the partisan divide." Michael Moynihan in the Washington Post.

Question: Why is the fact that Romney got some boos on a single line in a speech before the NAACP such a big story?

WEIGEL: You can't talk about black unemployment without talking about government jobs. "The pre-speech part of his NAACP remarks that dealt with unemployment deserves another look...'In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.' Republicans love this statistic -- iron-clad proof that the first black president has been a disaster for blacks. What's usually left unsaid is the the role that public sector lay-offs have had in pumping up those numbers. Black Americans tend to seek government jobs, historically more stable than the private sector, at a higher rate than other Americans...Romney's been pretty clear about this. He wants to keep shrinking the public sector...But it's odd to talk about black unemployment and omit talk of all the educational, bureaucratic, and assorted government jobs that Republicans worked hard to cut back." David Weigel in Slate.

@daveweigel: 21.2% of black workers work for government, compared to only 16.3% of everyone else.

BOUIE: The GOP's relationship with African-Americans has fallen apart since 2008. "In the years since the 2008 election, many Republicans have adopted racially charged narratives on everything from the financial collapse — minorities and the Community Reinvestment Act are to blame — to a program meant to compensate African American farmers for racial discrimination (it’s actually 'reparations'). What’s more, in its attacks on Obama, a large portion of the Republican base has adopted an explicitly racial frame. The attacks aren’t motivated by race — the apocalyptic tenor should be familiar to anyone who remembers Bill Clinton’s presidency — but race acts as a filter for their appearance. Birthers — including prominent members of the GOP — demand evidence of Obama’s citizenship, local Republicans depict Obama’s parents as chimpanzees, and online conservatives portray Obama as an African witch doctor." Jamelle Bouie in The Washington Post.

MACGILLIS: Romney has something he could have talked about. "Here’s the thing: Romney actually had something to offer his Houston audience. He could have told them about the signal accomplishment of his term as governor, a law that disproportionately benefited blacks and other minorities in Massachusetts, and that laid the groundwork for a national law that will extend health coverage to millions of African-Americans. But of course, Romney would not do that. Instead, he reiterated his intention to repeal said national law, for which he was unsurprisingly booed... Before the speech was over, Romney was already getting media huzzahs on Twitter for standing his ground in attacking Obamacare despite the audience; but is it really standing one’s ground to disavow one’s greatest policy accomplishment?...George Romney would not have gone through a speech to the NAACP without mentioning the universal health care law he had signed." Alec MacGillis in The New Republic.

Related: Poverty in the 50 years since Michael Harrington published 'The Other America,' in five charts.

Top op-eds

1) WESSEL: The housing bust is finally over. "The housing market has turned--at last. The U.S. finally has moved beyond attention-grabbing predictions from housing 'experts' that housing is bottoming. The numbers are now convincing...Nearly 10% more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point. In something of a surprise, the inventory of existing homes for sale has fallen close to the normal level of six months' worth despite all the foreclosed homes that lenders own. The fraction of homes that are vacant is at its lowest level since 2006...The upturn in housing is a milestone, a particularly welcome one amid a distressing dearth of jobs. For some time, housing has been one of the biggest causes of economic weakness. It has now--barely--moved to the plus side." David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.

2) KLEIN: This election will be about taxes."There’s something unusual about the argument currently dominating the U.S. presidential election. Republicans think they’ve got a winning hand arguing that President Barack Obama will raise taxes. And Democrats think they’ve got a winning hand arguing that President Obama will -- raise taxes....Insofar as this election can be reduced to a single policy question, it’s this: Which is more unpopular? Raising taxes? Or refusing to raise taxes on the rich?" Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

3) RATTNER: China's economy is still going strong. "The financial weekly Barron’s recently proclaimed in a cover story that 'it looks like the Great China Growth Story may be falling apart.' On Friday, China is expected to announce new, subpar growth figures. But consider a less prominent fact: a Bloomberg survey of economic forecasters yielded an average projected growth rate for China of 8.2 percent for 2012. If that’s the oft-predicted 'hard landing' from the heights of China’s historic double-digit rates, let’s all wish for a similar fate for the United States. No other major country -- not even Brazil or India -- will grow at a rate near China’s this year...The 'pessimists-lite' -- those who argue that China’s growth rate may not re-accelerate -- may be right. No economy can expand indefinitely at China’s historic double-digit rate. But for me, China’s economy still pulsates with the confidence of its growing entrepreneurial spirit, an important factor that doesn’t fit neatly into statistical models." Steven Rattner in The New York Times.

4) YGLESIAS: Understanding how marginal tax rates work is important. "Steve Piechota of Netronix Integration in San Jose, Calif., leads the list of complainers. He explains that his business has grown from 3 employees to 50 over the past five years and that the 'growth has kept our income low, as we’ve invested back into the company in the form of additional jobs and equipment.' But thanks to tax hikes, he fears that the growth has come to an end. 'Bottom line,' he warns, 'raising our taxes means we’ll quit growing, lay off people and stay under the $250k level for income.'...The good news for Piechota, in case he’s listening, is that this isn’t how tax brackets work...The way U.S. income tax brackets work is that taxes are levied on marginal income. In other words, the rate applied to income earned over the $250,000 threshold is irrelevant to the first $250,000 worth of taxable income. If you have $250,010 of taxable earnings then only that last $10 is taxed at the higher rate." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

5) MATTHEWS: The window for repealing Obamacare will close in 2014. "If ObamaCare is to be stopped and replaced with a workable reform that gives consumers more power and control over their health-care dollars, it needs to be done now. Today, the costs and benefits of ObamaCare are small and relatively few people will be harmed if it's repealed. After 2014 the costs, financial and otherwise, will be huge--and untangling the mess it creates almost impossible." Merrill Matthews in The Wall Street Journal.

Top long reads

Phillip Longman on how Americans became obsessed over personal finance and ended up broke:"Never before in history has the great American middle class obsessed so much over financial planning as during the last forty years or so. In the 1970s, this obsession fueled the growth of hot new magazines like Money and TV shows like Louis Rukeyser’s Wall $street Week. By the 1980s, it had led to the creation of personal finance sections in almost every newspaper, and to myriad radio talk shows counseling Americans on what mutual funds to buy, how much they should put into new savings vehicles like Individual Retirement Accounts or Keoghs, and how to manage their new 401(k) plans...And yet here we are today. According to a recent study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, fully 44 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers lack the savings and pension coverage needed to meet basic retirement-age expenses, even assuming no future cuts in Social Security or Medicare, employer-provided benefits, or home prices."

Late night interlude: Tom Waits plays "Chicago" live on the Late Show With David Letterman.

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

Still to come:The Fed is split; Republicans don't have a replacement plan; postal reform won't hit the House until after August; ethanol producers are pushing E15; and Amur tiger cubs are still super cute.

Economy

The latest Fed minutes show officials divided over the next step. "Federal Reserve officials agreed at a meeting in June that unemployment would remain elevated for another five to six years, but most did not regard that as reason enough to expand the Fed’s efforts to stimulate growth, according to an official account published on Wednesday...The account of the June meeting suggested that Fed officials now viewed the risk of standing still, so clear in a crisis, as smaller and harder to measure, while the uncertain consequences of action are weighing heavily on their willingness to expand the central bank’s aid campaign." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

@DLeonhardt: Guess the year, 2010, 2011 or 2012: Fed officials surprised and disappointed by economy.

@RobinBHarding: I read a pretty high QE3 chance in the Fed minutes. A "few" members are already there. "Several others" don't need to see much more.

More economists see further Fed action as likely. "Amid mounting evidence that the U.S. recovery has slowed, more economists in The Wall Street Journal's monthly forecasting survey expect the Federal Reserve to take further action, even though most don't think such a move is warranted. 'The Fed is now behind on both goals of its dual objective,' said Allen Sinai of Decision Economics, who noted that the current unemployment rate of 8.2% is well above the central bank's perceived goal of around 6%, while annual inflation of around 1.5% is below the 2% target...When asked whether the central bank will engage in a third round of large-scale asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, or QE3, this year, 23 of 50 respondents said 'yes.' Twenty-four don't think the Fed will act this year, and the remainder declined to answer the question." Phil Izzo in The Wall Street Journal.

US Treasury bond yields hit a new low. "Investors accepted the lowest yields ever for 10-year paper in a US Treasury auction shortly before the release of Federal Reserve minutes showing a bias towards more monetary easing. The scale of demand at the auction suggests investors expect US interest rates to remain low for several years. The $21bn sale of 10-year paper sold at a yield of 1.459 per cent, the lowest ever in an auction...Wall Street dealers were stunned by the scale of investor demand in the auction, with record buying by investors such as money managers and foreign central banks electing to purchase the 10-year note directly from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York." Michael Mackenzie and Robin Harding in The Financial Times.

Baltimore is suing banks over the Libor scandal. "Dozens of states, cities and other government entities are exploring whether they lost money because of the alleged manipulation of a crucial benchmark used to set interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of loans and investments. Baltimore City is leading a federal lawsuit against the group of big banks that set Libor, the London interbank offered rate, accusing it of conspiring to suppress the benchmark. The banks named in the case include JPMorgan­ Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Citi­Bank and Deutsche Bank. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Baltimore said the banks kept Libor artificially low during the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath, robbing the city of millions of dollars in returns on investments such as interest-rate swaps." Michael Fletcher in The Washington Post.

The trade deficit narrowed again. "The U.S. trade deficit narrowed for the second straight month in May, as exports picked up and falling oil prices helped drive down imports. The U.S. deficit in international trade of goods and services decreased 3.8% to $48.68 billion from an upwardly revised $50.60 billion the month before, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The April trade gap was originally reported as $50.06 billion...U.S. exports grew 0.2% to $183.09 billion, not adjusting for inflation, while imports declined 0.7% to $231.78 billion." Tom Barkley and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

@grossdm: fun fact: through 1st 5 months of 2012, exports up 6.2% from 1st 5 months of 2011

Fiscal cliff fear may be having an impact now. "With the economy having slowed in recent weeks, business leaders and policy makers are growing concerned that the tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect at year’s end have already begun to cause companies to hold back on hiring and investments. Economists say that the magnitude of the effect remains unclear and the fiscal uncertainty is probably not the economy’s main problem, but is instead one of several factors -- along with Europe’s troubles, the spike in oil prices this spring and a continuing hangover from the housing bubble -- restraining growth." Rebecca Berg in The New York Times.

Will regulators get it right on the Volcker Rule? "Gensler, 54, has a hand on the wheel once again. As the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he is among a team of regulators racing to meet a July 21 deadline for the most controversial provision of the 2010 Wall Street reform law: the Volcker rule...Gensler notes that industry lobbyists submitted more than 30,000 comment letters, demanding clarifications and exemptions, slowing the work. Analysts and officials doubt regulators will make the July 21 deadline, set by the financial reform law known as Dodd-Frank...As a result, the latest version of the Volcker rule ballooned to more than 300 pages, prompting worries that the final regulation might drown in its own complexity." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Film compilation interlude: All 641 clapboard slates from an independent film.

Health Care

The House passed a bill to repeal Obamacare. "The Republican-led House voted Wednesday to repeal President Obama’s health-care law, a symbolic gesture meant to highlight the GOP’s commitment to ending it despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is constitutional. The vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act was 244 to 185, with five Democrats joining all of the chamber’s Republicans in voting to eliminate the measure. It was the 33rd time that Republicans have moved to repeal all or parts of the legislation since the party took control of the House in January 2011." Rosalind Helderman in The Washington Post.

@daveweigel: And now, in an action that will have a much greater effect on America, the House will rename a post office.

Republicans have no plans to replace Obamacare. "Even as they cheer their 'Obamacare' repeal vote, here’s a reality check: House Republicans have done next to nothing they promised they would when it comes to health care...Flash back to the campaign promises of 2010: GOP leadership told voters they would 'enact medical liability reform,' allow Americans to buy health insurance across state lines, expand health savings accounts, 'ensure access for patients with pre-existing conditions' and 'permanently prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion.' Eighteen months after taking the majority, they’ve passed only two of those: an abortion bill and liability legislation. Republican leaders have passed a resolution asking committees to draft a replacement for the Obama health care law, but don’t look for any thick, comprehensive proposals; they don’t exist." Jake Sherman and Matt Dobias in Politico.

@ezraklein: House Republicans have voted to repeal 'Obamacare' more than 30 times. They have voted to replace it 0 times.

The Obama administration is preparing for Medicaid opt-outs. "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to all governors last night, assessing the state of the Affordable Care Act. She urged them to act on implementing the Medicaid expansion, noting she was hopeful that 'state leaders will take advantage of the opportunity provided to insure the poorest working families.' The letter also acknowledged that some states may not. To that end, Sebelius hinted that the Obama administration has been looking at how to make the law work best in recalcitrant states...One issue they’re thinking about is how the individual mandate would work for the poorest Americans...It wants to ensure that all people below the poverty line get covered under the hardship exemption. In studying the law, Sebelius writes that she would have the authority to do so." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Domestic Policy

The House isn't likely to vote on postal reform before its recess. "The House is not expected to vote on a Republican-sponsored postal reform bill before leaving for their August recess, lawmakers said Wednesday, further delaying Congress from reaching a broad agreement on overhauling the cash-strapped Postal Service. House GOP leaders had said they would try to bring up the postal bill, from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), before the recess. But with House Republicans also looking to tackle a number of other issues before members head back to their districts -- including the George Bush-era tax rates and regulations -- members on both sides of the aisle said there was almost no chance postal reform would make it on to the floor schedule this month." Bernie Becker in The Hill.

Amur tiger cub interlude: The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has two new Amur tiger cubs.

Energy

The House Agriculture Committee passed the farm bill. "The House agriculture committee early Thursday voted to pass its version of a new farm bill that cuts $12 billion more from the food stamps program than a Senate bill passed last month and adds several new crop insurance and price support programs to protect farmers during natural disasters or when prices fall. The House bill, which passed 35 to 11, would reduce food and nutrition spending by more than $35 billion, mainly by cutting about $16.5 billion from the food stamps program. The Senate bill cut about $23 billion in spending, with $4.5 billion in savings coming from food stamps. About 80 percent of farm bill spending goes to food stamps...The House and Senate must reach a compromise before Sept. 30, when the current five-year farm bill, passed in 2008, expires." Ron Nixon in The New York Times.

Ethanol makers are pushing E15. "Intended as an additive to gasoline, ethanol in modern times was meant to stretch America’s fuel supplies, much as a cook uses chicken stock to increase the volume of a soup. By federal mandate, ethanol makes up about 10 percent of most fuel that motorists buy at the pump. Unfortunately for ethanol makers, Americans are driving fewer miles and upgrading to more efficient cars -- or to continue the analogy, eating less soup. So ethanol makers want to change the longstanding recipe, trying to persuade gas stations and motorists to buy fuel that is 15 percent ethanol, or E15." Matthew Wald in The New York Times.

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

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Suzy Khimm · July 11, 2012