Wonkbook: The policy behind Todd Akin

August 22, 2012

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas’s morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +2.7%; 7-day change: Obama -1.0%.

RCP Obama approval: 48.2%; 7-day change: -0.2%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 58.1%; 7-day change: +0.3%.

Top story: Akin puts spotlight on abortion policy

Republican platform continues to support a blanket ban on abortion. "The Republican platform will continue to contain language endorsing a new constitutional amendment protecting 'human life'...The GOP’s platform has been unchanged on the issue for more than two decades. But the issue has received new attention after comments from Rep. Todd Akin (R) of Missouri on abortion and rape....That language would seem to be incompatible with laws allowing abortion in any instances except if the life of the mother was endangered, but the platform does not specifically address the issue." Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

But the GOP has added more intensely anti-abortion language this time around. "[T]hey’ve endorsed language saying that opposing abortion upholds the dignity of women. And they’ve also included language asking that drugs that end pregnancy after conception, including RU-486, not be allowed." Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@tedfrank: Given that platforms aren't binding and have no effect other than alienating independent voters, why do political parties still have them?

Wonkblog explains: The history of opposition to abortion in the GOP platform.

Akin reveals, also, how far Missouri has moved to the right. "For nearly a century of presidential elections, Missouri lived up to its regional representativeness, backing every winning presidential candidate but one from 1904 through 2004. But beginning in 1996, Missouri’s bellwether status began to show cracks. The state began to consistently vote more Republican than the nation...Instead, the state’s United States Senate contest, which was thrust into the news this week because of the Republican candidate Todd Akin’s statement on rape and abortion, may provide a better test of just how far Missouri has moved to the right."Micah Cohen in The New York Times.

@dandrezner: "Missouri politicians who have in the past tried to negotiate with Akin describe it as sort of like trying to negotiate with Ahmadinejad."

Missouri is a familiar battleground for abortion. "It’s only fitting that a candidate would take up the antiabortion cause in Missouri: The state has been at the heart of many of the country’s most heated abortion battles. Missouri is the only state that has sent multiple challenges to Roe v. Wade all the way to the Supreme Court – and saw one succeed in affirming state rights to restrict abortion access. Its legislature defunded Planned Parenthood in the early 1990s, years before other states took up a similar cause. And through the 2000s, Missouri has continued to pass some of the most aggressive abortion restrictions in the country. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the Show-Me-State an “F” on abortion access." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

The GOP's rightward lurch on abortion has left Romney behind. "The decision by Republican convention delegates to oppose abortion without explicit exceptions for rape and incest poses a tricky political challenge for Mitt Romney as he prepares to accept the presidential nomination in Tampa, Fla., next week. The vote puts the Republican Party at odds with Mr. Romney, who supports rape and incest exceptions...Aides to Mr. Romney declined to say on Tuesday whether he would call on the convention delegates to reconsider their position on abortion." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

Romney and Ryan are trying to tiptoe around abortion in campaign events. "While the furor continued over Representative Todd Akin’s remarks about rape, Paul D. Ryan did not mention his House colleague as he campaigned for the Republican presidential ticket here on Tuesday...In the past, Mr. Ryan also opposed a rape exception to abortion laws, although when the Romney-Ryan campaign condemned Mr. Akin in a statement on Sunday, it made clear that Mr. Ryan supported Mitt Romney’s long-held view that abortions laws include a rape exception." Trip Gabriel in The New York Times.

Romney to Akin: Step aside, please. "As I said yesterday, Todd Akin’s comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country. Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race."

Ad watch: Akin apologizes for comments in new spot called "Forgiveness."

@ezraklein: Akin's a case study in motivated reasoning, and a great example of why bad decisions are often followed by worse decisions

Akin puts socially-conservative Republican congressmen in a bind. " As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness. But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

@joshgreenman: Just mentioned Akin's statement to someone who went to Catholic school. First comment: "That's what they told us in Christian living class!"

And Akin is a 'godsend' to the Obama campaign. "Mr Akin’s weekend comments were a godsend for Mr Obama and the Democrats, and not just because it could hand them the Missouri Senate seat, a must-win race for the Republicans to regain control of the chamber...For an Obama campaign which wants to paint Republicans as extreme on social issues, Mr Akin has provided the kind of ammunition they could hardly have dreamt up themselves. The controversy also distracts debate from the economy." Richard McGregor in The Financial Times.

@BuzzFeedAndrew: So this is sad, Todd Akin has only raised $5K off his "I'm not quitting" campaign push.

Rape exceptions to abortion don't really work. "The Todd Akin controversy has highlighted the divide between anti-abortion politicians like Mitt Romney who support exemptions allowing women to terminate pregnancies caused by rape or incest and those like Akin and Paul Ryan who argue that the procedure should only be allowed when a mother’s life is at risk...But what does such an exemption look like? How would doctors and courts go about determining if a patient had been a victim of rape or incest?...How does the Hyde exemption work? Not as intended, for one thing...Only 37 percent of women ended up getting eligible abortions funded by Medicaid. As a consequence, a quarter of women on Medicaid who planned on getting an abortion and were eligible under the Hyde amendment ended up giving birth instead." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

@charlescwcooke: Leftists, if social conservatives thought that women who are raped can't fall pregnant, they wouldn't be worrying about abortion exceptions.

BARRO: Akin's gaffe reveals the right-wing echo chamber. "The reason Akin walked into this mess is that he lives inside a right-wing bubble, where people believe in false but politically convenient 'facts' about science and history. The claim that rape can't lead to pregnancy is just another of these false claims, periodically advanced in support of a conservative policy position. It's not that all conservatives, or even most of them, believe any given "fact" on this list. But each view is firmly held by some fraction of the conservative movement, reinforced by publications and email forwards within the conservative bubble. And in every case, elite conservatives wink and nod at the views while disavowing them personally. It's a two-track strategy...One pitch is used for the elites and the other for the conservative masses." Josh Barro inBloomberg.

@jbarro: The right, much more than the left, has gotten out of touch with reality. Of course that means GOP pols will make false, outlandish claims.

PARKER: Republicans don't understand women's bodies, let alone women's political causes. "[Republicans] keep changing the subject to a topic about which an alarming few seem to know anything at all: women. Specifically, women’s plumbing...More broadly, Akin’s comments furthered the perception that Republicans are waging a war on women. The gender gap exists for a reason. Whether mandating transvaginal probes prior to abortion under 'informed-consent' logic or misunderstanding basic biology, Republicans have managed to alienate a fair portion of the female population. Even pro-life women will have a hard time standing by men who are so willfully ignorant. These episodes not only are embarrassing, but they also shift debate from the profound to the ridiculous." Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post.

@pourmecoffee: They should really show a sex education film at GOP convention. Would help a lot. Maybe in the spot where ex-Presidents normally speak.

Top op-eds

GOOLSBEE: Romney is being dishonest on his tax proposals. "Researchers for the Tax Policy Center, a project of Brookings and the Urban Institute, found that Romney's plan would cut taxes for individuals by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years, on top of the costs of extending the Bush tax cuts, by cutting rates by 20%, abolishing the estate tax, and abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax, among other things...Bowles-Simpson is the closest we have come to a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. Is Mr. Romney's plan based on it? Actually, it's hard to think of a plan more contrary to the spirit of Bowles-Simpson." Austan Goolsbee in The Wall Street Journal.

KOTLIKOFF: Pro-Romney economists are political hacks. "Some 500 of my colleagues in economics, almost all academics, have signed a statement applauding former Governor Mitt Romney’s economic plan and condemning President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy. The statement amounts to an endorsement of Romney’s presidential candidacy. As such, it represents a disservice to the economics profession as well as to the statement’s signatories, five of whom are Nobel laureates. Economics holds itself out as a science, yet here we have supposedly impartial scientists declaring that all of Romney’s proposed economic policies are good and that everything the president has done on the economics front has been misguided and flawed." Laurence Kotlikoff in Bloomberg.

BAGWHATI: Protectionism has a xenophobic and hateful side. "[I]t would be simplistic to believe that our leaders do not add fuel to the fire of hatred, even if their chauvinism takes a more “civilized” form. Just ask the Japanese, who were continually denounced in the 1980’s as wicked traders. Or consider how the unceasing refrain against outsourcing nowadays has demonized India...Unfortunately, US President Barack Obama’s administration has continually harped on outsourcing to India as a cause of American job losses...The net result has been to fuel resentment against India that spills over into occasional violence. Groups calling themselves 'dot-busters' have attacked Indian women." Jagdish Bhagwati in Project Syndicate.

MALLABY: American labor markets are broken. "A quarter of a century ago, the US workforce was a wonder. Laid off in one corner of the economy, Americans quickly landed jobs elsewhere. But over the past decade, a profound change has come about...Why has the US lost its advantage?...Rather, the truth is that US labour market arrangements, which worked brilliantly for a generation, are no longer adequate. The US labour market formula has traditionally consisted of a stick and a carrot...Limited welfare and low taxes combined to minimise the US 'participation tax rate'...America’s low employment-tax wedge remains a huge strength. But it is no longer enough. Technological change has reduced opportunities for low-skilled men and a lousy school system has failed to equip them for this challenge...If the labour market stick has cracked, the carrot is decaying. The key challenge is low-skilled men, many of whom are not married." Sebastian Mallaby in The Financial Times.

GLAESER: What the Army Corps of Engineers reveals about American infrastructure. "[T]he regulatory authority of the Army Corps should be limited to assessing threats to navigation, not neighborhood concerns. The Army Corps’ control over navigable waterways, which dates back to 1899, should remind us just how ill-suited the U.S. transportation and infrastructure system is for the needs of the 21st century...[T]he fault lies not in the agency but in our outdated federal approach to transportation and infrastructure...A better model would use spending and regulation together to provide the right incentives for smart infrastructure. An incentive-based model, which could be adapted for transportation, is exemplified by federal education policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. In these programs, federal payments are linked to measurement of key 'deliverables.'" Edward Glaeser in Bloomberg.

Top long reads

Jeanne Marie Laskas ventures to gun stores to explore America's culture of armament: "I had come to Arizona, the most gun-friendly state, to listen to the conversation the rest of America was apparently having. One in three Americans owns a gun. About 59 million handguns, 46 million rifles, and 28 million shotguns—nearly 135 million new firearms for sale in the U.S. since 1986. We are the most heavily armed society in the world. If an armed citizenry is a piece of our national identity, how is it that I'd never even met it?...Nearly all the shoppers I met at Sprague's came in asking for something for self-protection. They wanted guns for their nightstands, guns for their purses, guns for their pickups, guns for holsters on waistbands, ankles, and bras."

Morning music interlude: The Eagles playing "Hotel California" in 1977.

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

Still to come: Housing market gets boost from policy change; Romney's plan for health reform doesn't add up; the NYPD's Muslim-spying effort falls flat; China feels pain of U.S. tariffs on solar panels; and animals eating giant popsicles.

Economy

Weak aggregate demand is keeping unemployment high. "Why is unemployment still so high? Are people still just not spending enough? Or is there a structural problem at work? Most economists think it’s the former. They will argue that the unemployment crisis is all about “aggregate demand” — that is, people just aren’t buying enough stuff. Consumers aren’t spending and businesses aren’t buying from each other, so businesses don’t have money to hire people and mass unemployment persists...Other economists, however, have challenged this picture, arguing that even if the underlying recession is due to insufficient demand, structural factors are also keeping unemployment high." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Stocks hit their highest level since May 2008 yesterday. "Stocks fell on Tuesday after the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index touched a four-year high...The S.& P. index reached 1,426.68, its highest intraday level since May 2008...The slow but steady climb over the last six weeks was partly a result of better-than-expected economic data, including payrolls, retail sales and housing numbers." Reuters.

The fate of Greece and the Euro is tied up in German domestic politics. "German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces one of the toughest choices of her career in the coming weeks: whether to risk the unraveling of the euro zone, or her government...Her junior coalition partners are especially against lending Greece more money, threatening to leave her either without a governing majority—or without a plausible way to cover Athens's funding gap...Ms. Merkel is thus unlikely to pull the plug on Greece this fall. But she hasn't yet figured out how to keep it afloat." Marcus Walker in The Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Housing Finance Administration is making it easier for homeowners underwater on their mortgages to get free. "Homeowners could soon have an easier time selling their homes for less than what they owe on their mortgages...The Federal Housing Finance Agency on Tuesday announced measures to make 'short sales' of underwater homes easier for homeowners, including extending help to people who have financial difficulties but haven't missed mortgage payments. In a short sale, holders of first and second mortgages, such as home-equity loans, must sign off on the deal because they are accepting less than the outstanding mortgage balance. [S]hort sales help borrowers avoid foreclosure and are thus thought to be in the broad interest of the lending industry and the economy, real-estate agents and home sellers have long complained that they are lengthy and difficult to complete..[they] ypically sell for a 10% discount to ordinary homes." Alan Zibel in The Wall Street Journal.

Texas sets a new record low for interest rates on its bonds. "Texas got its lowest rate ever on a sale of $9.8 billion in short-term notes, which carried an average interest rate of 0.225%. The Lone Star State, which has been selling the one-year notes every year since 1987 to fund schools and meet other cash-flow needs, beat last year's rate of 0.273%." Mike Cherney in The Wall Street Journal.

China goes forward with new urban stimulus package. "Some of China's big cities are announcing large investment plans intended to boost slowing growth rates, but just how much of a lift they will give to the economy remains uncertain...The investment goals include 300 billion yuan in the electronic communications sector, 200 billion yuan in the auto industry, 250 billion yuan in the manufacturing of advanced equipment and 150 billion yuan in the chemical industry, [the state-run news agency] Xinhua said on Monday...The plans signal a growing appetite in China for government spending to help boost slowing economic growth." Liyan Qi in The Wall Street Journal.

Giant popsicles interlude: The Rome Zoo's new idea to help its animals stay cool during the summer.

Health Care

Romney befuddles health-policy experts with questionable details of plan. "Mitt Romney’s promise to restore $716 billion that he says President Obama “robbed” from Medicare has some health care experts puzzled, and not just because his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, included the same savings in his House budgets...[R]estoring the $716 billion in Medicare savings would increase premiums and co-payments for beneficiaries by $342 a year on average over the next decade; in 2022, the average increase would be $577...Henry J. Aaron, an economist and a longtime health policy analyst at the Brookings Institution and the Institute of Medicine, called Mr. Romney’s vow to repeal the savings 'both puzzling and bogus at the same time.'" Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.

Domestic Policy

The NYPD has obtained not a single lead from spying on Muslims. "In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department's secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony unsealed late Monday. The Demographics Unit is at the heart of a police spying program, built with help from the CIA, which assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued every Muslim in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames." Adam Goldman in The Associated Press.

A federal court struck down a major rule on air pollution. "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned one of the Obama administration’s hallmark air-quality rules Tuesday, ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority in curbing pollution from power plants too sharply...The EPA issued regulations — which were to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, but were delayed by the court — which would have required utilities in 28 states and the District of Columbia to install new pollution controls. It also established a limited cap-and-trade system that would have allowed utilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to comply with the new standards." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Congressional travel under scrutiny after Sea of Galilee skinny-dipping incident. "[F]or lawmakers, the attention surrounding last summer’s trip — thanks to reports of a skinny-dipping Kansas lawmaker who was part of the delegation — has cast an unwanted spotlight once again on the practice of private groups paying for foreign travel, a source of frequent criticism in the past...[D]espite restrictions, the number of Congressional trips paid for by outside groups has actually increased since 2007, to more than 1,600 from about 1,300." Eric Lichtblau and Jodi Rudoren in The New York Times.

Accidental humor in photography interlude: President Obama appearing to fuse with a teleprompter.

Energy

Romney to release energy plan tomorrow. "Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney plans to roll out a new energy policy Thursday during a campaign stop in New Mexico. He mentioned the upcoming announcement at a fundraiser Tuesday in Houston but stopped short of revealing new details." Philip Rucker in Thw Washington Post.

@brianbeutler: RE Romney's energy plan, he's actually like the right's cartoon version of Pelosi. "You have to elect me to find out what's in it."

Chart: New energy capacity has come almost entirely from natural gas and wind in recent years.

The U.S. tariff on Chinese solar panels is leaving a mark. " China’s solar panel manufacturers, who dominate global sales with a two-thirds market share, are confronting growing trade and financial problems, a Chinese industry official acknowledged Tuesday...The Chinese manufacturers 'face challenges of decreasing margins, decreasing exports, lack of capital, protectionism and an external environment that continues to deteriorate,' said the official, Chen Huiqing, the deputy director for solar products at the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products." Keith Bradsher in The New York Times.

@bdomenech: when your trade platform pleases Donald Trump, you're doing it wrong.

New York roils during debate over fracking. "As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration finishes up new regulations on where and how to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York State, groups on both sides of the issue are turning to the airwaves in a late-inning effort to press their cases...The State Department of Environmental Conservation, which received tens of thousands of submissions in a public-comment period that ended in January, has not revealed just when it will release its rules regarding hydraulic fracturing. But opponents of the technology, also known as hydrofracking or fracking, are working with an increased urgency amid speculation that Mr. Cuomo’s administration could finish its work soon." Thomas Kaplan in The New York Times.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Sarah Halzack.

SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Sarah Kliff | August 21, 2012