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.
RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +3.7%; 7-day change: Obama +0.2%.
RCP Obama approval: 50.0%; 7-day change: +0.2.
Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 71.0%; 7-day change: +8.0%.
Top story: The right to vote at risk
Voter laws may disenfranchise 10 million Hispanic Americans. "In a report to be released Monday, the civil rights group Advancement Project cites the potential impact of newly restrictive photo identification laws, proof-of-citizenship requirements and late efforts in a few states to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls...In-person voting fraud is rare, studies have shown, but there have been recent cases of absentee ballot fraud, and small numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote. In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office estimated last year that as many as 11,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. But after checking a federal immigration database, the state announced this month that 141 noncitizens were registered and as few as 35 had cast ballots." Krissah Thompson in The Washington Post.
@kwcollins: I'm continually surprised that positive right to vote isn't more central to the D platform, campaign message. Instead just playing defense
Litigation has snared Texas' plan to purge the dead from voter rolls. "Texas' effort to clear the dead from its voting rolls is being challenged in state court, in the latest dust-up over who can cast votes this election season...Gov. Rick Perry recently asked county officials to send out written notices to Texans who might be deceased based on Social Security death records. The notices said people could be removed from the rolls if they didn't verify within 30 days that they were alive and eligible to vote...But many people receiving the notices are in fact not dead, and a group of them in Austin sued, contending that the state initiative improperly risks disenfranchising voters." Nathan Koppel and Tom Fowler in The Wall Street Journal.
@resnikoff: [V]oter ID usually gets framed as a partisan issue, but it's only partially that. It's 70% a who-counts-as-full-and-equal-citizen issue.
Maps make everything better: Voter requirements by state, from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Studies show that in-person voting fraud is extremely rare. "A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent. The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters…The analysis found that there is more alleged fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than in any of the other categories." Natasha Khan and Corbin Carson in The Washington Post.
Conservatives pretend otherwise. "It might as well be Harry Potter’s invisible Knight Bus, because no one can prove it exists. The bus has been repeatedly cited by True the Vote, a national group focused on voter fraud. Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s leader, told a gathering in July about buses carrying dozens of voters showing up at polling places during the recent Wisconsin recall election...Officials in both San Diego and Wisconsin said they had no evidence that the buses were real...The buses are part of the election fraud gospel according to True the Vote, which is mobilizing a small army of volunteers to combat what it sees as a force out to subvert elections...True the Vote’s plan is to scrutinize the validity of voter registration rolls and voters who appear at the polls. Among those in their cross hairs: noncitizens who are registered to vote, those without proper identification, others who may be registered twice, and dead people." Stephanie Saul in The New York Times.
There are several challenges in progress to new voter laws on grounds of effective or potential disenfranchisement. "Legal battles across the nation over who is eligible to vote and whether and how their ballots will be counted are far from settled, even as early voting in some states is set to begin this month...[A] series of court decisions and appeals [ ] illustrate the murky nature of the nation’s voting debate...Democrats, minority groups and civil rights organizations have had a successful few weeks challenging an unprecedented number of voting-law changes enacted largely by Republican-led states where officials said they were trying to prevent voter fraud." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
Brennan Center Policy Brief: "The Truth About Voter Fraud."
There's a history to these efforts. "During the run-up to the 1964 presidential election, the Republican National Committee launched Operation Eagle Eye, the nation’s first large-scale anti–voter fraud campaign. As part of the program, the RNC recruited tens of thousands of volunteers to show up at polling places, mostly in inner cites, and challenge voters’ eligibility using a host of tools and tactics, including cameras, two-way radios, and calls to Republican-friendly sheriffs. After this, anti-fraud campaigns became commonplace, but they could backfire, as the RNC learned in 1981. That year, the party hired a swashbuckling 29-year-old named John Kelly to organize “ballot security” for New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. Kelly, who turned up in the state wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat, arranged to have hundreds of thousands of sample ballots mailed to voters in black and Latino neighborhoods. His team then compiled a list of people whose ballots were returned as undeliverable, and allegedly tried to have them struck from the rolls. This technique, known as caging, is controversial because it can purge eligible voters. In this case, an outdated address roster was used—meaning that an unusually large share of the people on Kelly’s list may have been wrongly targeted." Mariah Blake in The Atlantic.
NOAH: Where voter suppression fits into Romney's theory of the race. "Like all great works of literature, Mitt Romney’s peroration on the unwashed 47 percent requires multiple readings if you want to appreciate its rich complexity. One meaning that eluded me initially was its implicit rationale for the voter suppression Republicans are promoting in the name of fighting election fraud. If 'there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what' because they are 'dependent upon government' and “believe that they are victims' who 'are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,' and if the only sensible thing for Romney to do is 'not to worry about those people' because 'I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives' -- if all that is true, then ignoring them really isn’t going to be enough. Not if they constitute fully 47 percent of the electorate. You need to block their path to the polls. Nothing too overt here -- just a little petty harassment. They aren’t the best-organized people to begin with, so all you have to do is shut down their ministers’ souls-to-polls bus operations on Sundays, require a driver’s license and maybe even proof of citizenship. That sort of thing." Timothy Noah in The New Republic.
DREW: This is worse than Watergate. "Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then. Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party. But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right." Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books.
STEVENSON AND WOLFERS: Romney plans to cut tax rates but not tax revenue. The difference matters. "If elected, [Romney] would lower taxes for everybody. Or would he?...A central part of his charm offensive will be his proposal to cut tax rates by a fifth. Problem is, Romney has also promised that his tax reforms will be revenue neutral. This means the government will take the same number of dollar bills out of our collective wallets. Although tax rates might fall by a fifth, the tax burden won’t change. It will simply be rearranged...[H]e plans to take a smaller share of each dollar of income, but make more of that income taxable. He could achieve that, for example, by limiting deductions such as those for mortgage interest, retirement savings or charitable contributions...We don’t know the implications for your family, because Romney has refused to spell out just what base-broadening changes would offset the lower statutory rates...He’s proposing a large-scale redistribution of income without saying who will gain and who will lose." Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in Bloomberg.
RUBIN: How high oil prices cap economic growth. "For most of the last century, cheap oil powered global economic growth. But in the last decade, the price of oil has quadrupled, and that shift will permanently shackle the growth potential of the world’s economies...[A]n economy can’t grow if it can no longer afford to burn the fuel on which it runs. The end of growth means governments will need to radically change how economies are managed." Jeff Rubin in Bloomberg.
ZINGALES: Why Romney would have made a better 44th president. "The U.S. economy has improved under President Barack Obama. But by all the measures Democrats use, Americans would be better off today if Mitt Romney had led the country for the past four years...Heading into November’s election, voters should be asking which president would have done a better job with the cards Obama was dealt. Although such hypothetical questions are hard to answer, a quick look at the record suggests the winner would be Romney...Romney the pragmatist would have been more likely to focus on the most effective measures to reduce unemployment, rather than on pushing a liberal agenda." Luigi Zingales in Bloomberg.
@DKThomp: The charisma gap between Obama and Romney tightens dramatically in sit-down interviews @60minutes
KRUGMAN: Romney as confidence fairy. "Mitt Romney is optimistic about optimism. In fact, it’s pretty much all he’s got...As many people have noticed, Mr. Romney’s five-point 'economic plan' is very nearly substance-free. It vaguely suggests that he will pursue the same goals Republicans always pursue — weaker environmental protection, lower taxes on the wealthy...In his Boca Raton meeting with donors, however, Mr. Romney revealed his real plan, which is to rely on magic...Yet here comes Mitt Romney, declaring, in effect, 'I am the confidence fairy!'...It’s all kind of sad. Yet the truth is that it all fits together. Mr. Romney’s whole campaign has been based on the premise that he can become president simply by not being Barack Obama. Why shouldn’t he believe that he can fix the economy the same way?" Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
@amconmag: Romney is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is the party he is leading.
PEARLSTEIN: Airbus vs. Boeing. "As Washington stories go, they don’t get much bigger or more interesting than the proposed merger between Airbus and BAE Systems...It is hardly coincidental that the proposed merger is coming against a backdrop of declining military spending in the United States and around the world. Consolidation is natural response to a shrinking market. Up to now, however, the Pentagon has indicated that it would oppose more consolidation among its top contractors to preserve competition in the defense industrial base." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.
Top long reads
Peg Tyre profiles New Dorp High School, which turned itself around through a writing-based curriculum: "For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance—not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject—one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform."
Mary Makarty, a doctor, explains five ways to make health care safer: "The world of American medicine is far deadlier: Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers. As doctors, we swear to do no harm. But on the job we soon absorb another unspoken rule: to overlook the mistakes of our colleagues. The problem is vast. U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week. Roughly a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind. If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America."
Zachary A. Goldfarb tracks the change in direction at the Federal Reserve under Chairman Ben Bernanke: "In what might be his final years as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke is transforming the U.S. central bank, seeking to shed its reclusive habits and make it a constant presence in bolstering the economy. The new approach would make the Fed’s policies more responsive to the needs of the economy -- and likely more forceful, because what the Fed is planning to do would be much clearer. A key feature of the strategy would be producing a detailed set of scenarios for when and how the Fed would intervene, which would mark a dramatic shift for an organization that throughout its history has been famously opaque."
@greg_ip: By waiting until he had won over hawk(s), odds rise Bernanke policy outlives Bernanke chairmanship
Mourning interlude: The National Zoo's newborn giant panda cub had died.
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.
Still to come: Extreme detachment from the labor force; states prepare for insurance exchanges; the most important banking regulator you've never heard of before; the future of coal in the U.S.; and suicide has overtaken automobile accidents as a cause of death among Americans.
Economic data due this week: "Data to be released will include the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index for July, and consumer confidence for September (Tuesday); new-home sales for August (Wednesday); weekly jobless claims, durable goods for August, second-quarter gross domestic product (final) and pending home sales for August (Thursday); and personal income and spending for August, the Chicago purchasing manager index for SeptemberThomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for September (Friday)." The New York Times.
Extreme discouragement and detachment from the labor market is a problem in the U.S. "Economists, analyzing government data, estimate about 4 million fewer people are in the labor force than in December 2007, primarily due to a lack of jobs rather than the normal aging of America's population. The size of the shift underscores the severity of the jobs crisis. If all those so-called discouraged jobseekers had remained in the labor force, August's jobless rate of 8.1 percent would have been 10.5 percent...The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one has fallen by an unprecedented 2.5 percentage points since December 2007, slumping to a 31-year low of 63.5 percent...The participation rate would be expected to hold pretty much steady if the economy was growing at a normal pace. Only about a third of the drop in the participation rate is believed to be the result of the aging U.S. population." Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.
Another important death-related interlude: Suicide overtakes automobile accidents as a cause of death among Americans.
Nation's elite medical schools look to the foundations. "Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell -- what do all these medical schools have in common? Beyond their first-rate reputation, they’re also on the short list of 10 U.S. medical schools that don’t have Departments of Family Medicine. Elite schools have always focused on training specialists and researchers, but with the federal health law’s increased emphasis on primary care, some schools are expanding their missions to include family medicine." Jenny Gold in Kaiser Health News.
States are preparing to implement their end of the Affordable Care Act. "Republican-led states say they are also working to have a framework [for health-insurance exchanges] ready by Nov. 16, the deadline for states to commit to running an exchange or leave it to the federal government to run it for them...The law requires all states to have exchanges, which are essentially online marketplaces where small businesses and individuals can shop for private health plans, in place by January 2014, when a requirement takes effect for most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty...People with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level can get federal tax subsidies through exchanges to make the price of coverage more affordable...Only 13 states and the District of Columbia have formally committed to running their own exchanges." Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.
They also have to decide what constitutes essential care. "It is among the health-care law’s most important -- and most daunting -- questions: What health-care benefits are absolutely essential?...Policy experts expected the Affordable Care Act to establish a basic set of health benefits for the nation, but the Obama administration instead empowered each state to devise its own list. When all Americans are required to purchase health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty, they will find that the plans reflect the social and political priorities of wherever they live. That nationwide patchwork highlights the difficulty of agreeing on what constitutes good basic health care, as well as the tricky balances that states face in weighing coverage vs. cost...States do have guidelines to work within: They must cover 10 broad categories outlined in the Affordable Care Act, including doctor visits, maternity care and prescription drugs." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
The top banking regulator you've never heard of before: Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo. "Bankers have been spending a lot of time bending Daniel Tarullo's ear. The top banking regulator at the Federal Reserve met in person or talked on the phone more than 60 times during one recent year with top U.S. bank executives. That is five times more often than bankers spoke with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Even U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met face to face with top bank executives less frequently during his tumultuous first year in office, when the financial crisis was raging...During that period, he also communicated with U.S. and international regulators about 150 times...The calendar shows the extent to which Mr. Tarullo serves as the de facto vice chairman of supervision, a new role at the Fed board created by the Dodd-Frank law...Under Mr. Tarullo's direction, the Fed has backed tougher capital and other rules that sparked outcry in the industry. He has pushed for regular and vigorous annual stress tests for the biggest banks. And he has publicly pondered whether the biggest banks need to remain as large as they are now." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.
In some states, legalization and/or decriminalization of marijuana possession moves from the political fringe onto the ballot. "Two years after California voters rejected an initiative to legalize marijuana, advocates are promoting similar measures on the ballot this fall in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state -- and recent polls suggest at least a couple of the campaigns have realistic chances of success. Details vary, but all three measures would legalize possession of small quantities of the drug for anyone above age 21 and allow taxable retail sales, going well beyond laws in 17 states that permit marijuana use for medical purposes...The initiatives underscore the evolution of public attitudes about marijuana use, as young people and others critical of criminalizing the drug become a bigger part of the voting population. A Gallup poll last year found a record 50% of Americans favored legalizing pot. When Gallup began asking the question in 1969, only 12% did." Miguel Bustillo and Joel Millman in The Wall Street Journal.
Music for the month interlude: Earth, Wind, and Fire performs 'September'.
Is the future of coal on the ballot in 2012? "A handful of utility companies are determined to buck the trend toward natural gas and break ground on what could be the last new conventional coal-fired power plants in the U.S. The moves come as the presidential campaigns spar over the future of coal power. The companies -- in Texas, Georgia and in other states -- are pushing ahead with roughly a half-dozen coal-burning plants that have long been in planning, and have until April 2013 to begin construction before new curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions start to take effect...In the last year, citing environmental standards and changing market conditions, power companies have announced the retirement of 31,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity, or 10% of the total, according to an analysis released last week by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a group that represents coal producers." Tennille Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.
@TPCarney: If I were the coal industry, I'd fund some of those anti-fracking groups.
The global politics of energy are changing the Russian-U.S. relationship. "The foundations are starting to crack at Gazprom, the giant energy company that is the central pillar in the economic and political system constructed by Russian President Vladimir Putin...Neither at home nor abroad does the company appear to have a competitive answer to the dramatic decline in gas prices worldwide -- sparked by the rapid development of American shale gas." Will Englund and Kathy Lally in The Washington Post.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.