Wonkbook: Should high schoolers be reading Executive Order 13423?

December 3, 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's Number of the Day: $800 billion. That's the amount Speaker of the House John Boehner says he can get in increasing tax revenues without hiking rates, according to a story by Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post. Though the Republicans have yet to put forward a specific offer, they suggest raising those revenues by limiting deductions for upper-income taxpayers. The $800 billion bid is only half of the $1.6 trillion President Obama said he wanted to raise. For more, see Wonkbook's special section on the austerity crisis below.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Medicaid, Medicare patients most satisfied with health costs.

Today in Wonkbook: Education policy; special coverage of the austerity crisis, immigration, and the filibuster; our continuing coverage of the economy, health care, and energy.

Top story: Are we getting smart on education policy?

Common core standards become a lightning rod. "The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly 'informational text' instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them...Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration." Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

Read: the Common Core Standards.

See for yourself: Examples for a reading list under Common Core standards.

5 states to increase class time in some schools. "Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level. The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools...A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time." Associated Press.

Standardized testing costs $1.7b per year, study says. "Standardized-testing regimens cost states some $1.7 billion a year overall, or a quarter of 1 percent of total K-12 spending in the United States, according to a new report on assessment finances. The report released Nov. 29 by the Washington-based Brown Center on Education Policy, at the Brookings Institution, calculates that the test spending by 44 states and the District of Columbia amounted to $65 per student on average in grades 3-9 based on the most recent test-cost data the researchers could gather." Andrew Ujifusa in Education Week.

School's out, forever, as the nation's worst-performers close their doors. "The efforts are driven by a drop in the school-age population, the Obama administration's push to shut poor-performing schools and competition from charters, the publicly funded schools run by independent groups. During the 2010-11 school year, school districts nationwide closed 1,069 traditional public schools, uprooting nearly 280,000 students, according to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by the National Center for Education Statistics, the primary federal entity for national school data. That was up from 717 closings affecting 193,000 students in 2000-01...Proponents of school choice say closing low-performing and underenrolled campuses is a natural outgrowth of heathy competition, while many teacher unions argue that struggling schools often need more resources to fairly compete." Stephanie Banchero in The Wall Street Journal.

The American university's value to students is declining. "On the face of it, American higher education is still in rude health...Nonetheless, there is growing anxiety in America about higher education. A degree has always been considered the key to a good job. But rising fees and increasing student debt, combined with shrinking financial and educational returns, are undermining at least the perception that university is a good investment." The Economist.

BUSH AND BEST: Online education as a public policy option. "Some universities are finding a way out of this morass through online classes. Growth in online education is now outpacing traditional enrollments by a wide margin. Why? Because it is well-suited to the needs of an increasing number of learners, extending access and allowing students to both work and study...So what is the true incremental cost of serving an online student at a state university today? A study carried out by the University of Texas, comparing online versus on-campus instruction across 15 institutions serving more than 150,000 students, demonstrated a 30 percent to 50 percent cost savings for the Web-based approach." Jeb Bush and Randy Best in Bloomberg.

VANDER ARK: Will Common Core State Standards support educational innovation? "The answer is that common standards are a big boon to innovation for four reasons...Online assessment of the [common core standards] will respond for the need for better and cheaper assessments and will, in turn, accelerate shift to digital...Some critics fear that [Common Core State Standards] and tests will constrict innovation. Anti-testing folks chime in on this one. But common expectations for reading, writing, and problem solving skills will make young people college eligible and give them a shot at family wage employment is not asking too much and leaves plenty of room for innovative school models...[The Common Core State Standards] assessment in 2015 will be the pivotal event of this decade. Adoption of common standards will provide a significant boost to innovations in learning." Tom Vander Ark in Education Week.

Top op-eds

BARRO: The White House's $250k pledge is leading to bad tax policy. "Furman and Sperling warn that if we don't take that step, limiting deductions to $25,000 'would raise taxes by an average of $2,400 on 17 million households with incomes below $250,000 ($200,000 for singles).' But that number is a lot less alarming than it sounds. First of all, it means that more than 90 million households earning less than $250,000 would face no tax increase at all. Those facing a tax increase, as the Tax Policy Center shows, would be overwhelmingly likely to have incomes of more than $75,000. And the lower a household's income, the lower its typical tax increase." Josh Barro in Bloomberg View.

KRUGMAN: The big budget mumble. "In the ongoing battle of the budget, President Obama has done something very cruel. Declaring that this time he won’t negotiate with himself, he has refused to lay out a proposal reflecting what he thinks Republicans want. Instead, he has demanded that Republicans themselves say, explicitly, what they want. And guess what: They can’t or won’t do it... Republicans claim to be for much smaller government, but as a political matter they have always attacked government spending in the abstract, never coming clean with voters about the reality that big cuts in government spending can happen only if we sharply curtail very popular programs." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

PEARLSTEIN: Occupy Wall Street? Just defund it. "[W]hile most of us have been distracted by elections and fiscal brinksmanship, the financial services industry has been waging a furious, well-funded counter-attack that has been alarmingly successful in wearing down the financial regulators. There has been hand-to-hand combat about every word in every regulation." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.

CROVITZ: The brain drain. "ust as the free movement of financial capital funds growth, free movement of human capital brings innovation. The U.S. should staple a green card to every advanced technology degree earned by a foreign student at an American university. More than 25% of U.S. technology companies have at least one foreign-born founder, a majority of Silicon Valley startups have a foreign-born founder, and 40% of Fortune 500 companies were created by an immigrant or first-generation American." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.

HIATT: Who really pays for the charitable giving deduction? "Overwhelmingly, the deduction benefits the wealthy -- and the rest of the country has to make up the gap...A Congressional Budget Office study last year found that taxpayers reporting less than $50,000 in income accounted for 19 percent of charitable donations but received only 5 percent of the tax subsidy for donations. Essentially, average Americans are helping to pay for our billionaire’s generosity, though of course they have no say in where his charity goes. And they’re paying a lot: The total charitable deduction will amount to $230 billion between 2010 and 2014...You need to keep all of them in mind as you decide how much you want to pay to help renovate that hospital wing with the billionaire’s name above the door." Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post.

Top long reads

Louise Story examines Texas and its $19-billion program of business incentives: "Under Mr. Perry, Texas gives out more of the incentives than any other state, around $19 billion a year, an examination by The New York Times has found. Texas justifies its largess by pointing out that it is home to half of all the private sector jobs created over the last decade nationwide. As the invitation to the fund-raiser boasted: 'Texas leads the nation in job creation.' Yet the raw numbers mask a more complicated reality behind the flood of incentives, the examination shows, and raise questions about who benefits more, the businesses or the people of Texas."

Read also: Connecticut has sharply increased aid to companies under Governor Dannell Malloy.

Undead interlude: Hilariously bad taxidermy.

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

The Austerity Crisis

'Your turn': Obama's message to Boehner. "Amid demands from Republicans that President Obama propose detailed new spending cuts to avert the year-end fiscal crisis, his answer boils down to this: you first. Mr. Obama, scarred by failed negotiations in his first term and emboldened by a clear if close election to a second, has emerged as a different kind of negotiator in the past week or two, sticking to the liberal line and frustrating Republicans on the other side of the bargaining table." Peter Baker in The New York Times.

Boehner now says he can get an $800b increase in tax revenue. "[O]n Fox News Sunday, Boehner (R-Ohio) also told Chris Wallace that Republicans had done their part by putting $800 billion in tax revenue on the table without increasing tax rates...Republicans have yet to put out a detailed proposal -- on tax capping deductions or otherwise—that shows how you would get to $800 billion in revenue, which is only half of the $1.6 trillion revenue target that Obama is asking for." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Are Republicans worried about getting 'primaried' if they compromise? "Republican senators could find themselves with primary challenges in 2014 depending on how they handle the debt talks, a conservative group is threatening...Two Republican Senators who may end up as targets are Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), both of whom have said recently they’re open to breaking with Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform pledge against raising any new taxes." Cameron Joseph in The Hill.

The probability of 'no deal' is rising. "While it had always seemed likely that the two sides would reach a stalemate before finally coming to agreement -- as has been the pattern over the past two years -- lawmakers and congressional aides tracking the back-and-forth said there’s a growing probability that no deal will be reached in time to avoid the fiscal cliff." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Sunday shows: What each side is saying right now on the austerity crisis.

The economists who say 'relax' about taxes going up. "[S]everal economists who have studied past changes in tax rates and found that the shifts had less of an impact on investor behavior than was initially expected. That’s largely because a dwindling number of investors are subject to the taxes on investment gains that are set to rise at the end of the year, with most stocks held in accounts that are exempt from taxes...For example, only 14.7 percent of American households have mutual funds in taxable accounts, down from as high as 23.9 percent in 2001." Nathaniel Popper in The New York Times.

Sequester to bite in less than a month. "Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, there will be an immediate 9.4 percent across-the-board cut in money for defense programs and an 8.2 percent reduction in money for domestic initiatives, according to a report released in September by the White House. The Defense Department would need to delay equipment purchases and repairs, trim services for military families and perhaps compromise the readiness of military units preparing to deploy, according to the White House report. Elsewhere, the cuts could mean fewer FBI agents, federal prosecutors and air traffic controllers, significant cutbacks in federal scientific research, fewer food inspections and a possible limit to services at national parks and historic sites." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Immigration

The DREAMers' second act. "The leaders of the United We Dream network, the largest organization of youths here illegally, decided to push President Obama and Congress next year for legislation to open a path to citizenship for them and their families. The move will increase pressure on Mr. Obama and lawmakers to pass a comprehensive overhaul, rather than taking on the debate over immigration in smaller pieces to try to gain more support among Republicans." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Filibuster Reform

Debate: What is to be done with the filibuster?

Watch: Chris Hayes interviews Sen. Jeff Merkley on the filibuster.

Economy

Economic reports for the week ahead. "Data will include ISM manufacturing index for November and construction spending for October (Monday), ADP employment for November; revised third-quarter productivity, ISM service index for November and factory orders for October (Wednesday), weekly jobless claims (Thursday) and unemployment for November, Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for December and consumer credit for October (Friday)." The New York Times.

The jobs picture should brighten in 2013. "Employers have stepped up their hiring recently, adding 171,000 jobs in October and an average of 157,000 a month so far this year. That's a better pace than last year and the strongest job growth since 2006, Labor Department data show...45 economists who responded to The Wall Street Journal's latest monthly forecasting survey saw the jobless rate falling to 7.8% by next June and 7.5% by the end of 2013. Some say job growth could accelerate from its slow pace." Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Jim Croce, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," 1973.

Health Care

HHS sets new fees for insurers in federal exchange. "The Obama administration issued rules Friday that charge insurance companies new fees to pay for parts of President Obama's healthcare law. The Health and Human Services Department said insurance companies will pay a monthly fee to sell plans through a federally run insurance exchange...Running a federal exchange — especially such a large one -- will come with major administrative costs, and HHS will charge insurers a fee to cover those costs. The fee will be pegged to the number of customers each insurer has in the federal exchange. In 2014, insurers will have to pay HHS 3.5 percent of the premiums for each plan they sell through the federal exchange, according to Friday's regulations. " Sam Baker in The Hill.

Read: HHS' proposed rule (PDF).

State lawmakers gird for Medicaid expansion battles. "As state legislatures prepare to meet in January, lawmakers across the country are girding for a battle over whether to sign on to the health-care law’s expansion of Medicaid...No provision is more central to achieving the health-care law’s aim of extending coverage to the uninsured than its expansion of Medicaid. Under the new rules, beginning in 2014 eligibility for the program would be opened to people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,657 for a family of four. The law calls for the federal government to foot the the entire bill for covering the newly eligible for the first three years. After that the federal match phases down slightly, reaching 90 percent by 2020." N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post.

How the GOP is walking back to the Ryan approach on Medicare. "During the campaign, candidate Romney repeatedly hammered President Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare as part of his signature healthcare law. Romney pledged to repeal those cuts in a break from his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman, had preserved Obama’s Medicare cuts in two consecutive budget proposals that repealed the rest of the Affordable Care Act. Ryan is now back at work crafting his next budget, and Republicans on his committee say the $716 billion in Medicare cuts will likely survive." Sam Baker and Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Support for government guarantee of healthcare hits record low. "For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans say it's not the government's responsibility to ensure access to healthcare. A new Gallup survey shows an all-time low in public support for a government guarantee of healthcare coverage -- just as President Obama's healthcare law is bringing that guarantee dramatically closer to reality. Only 44 percent said it's the government's responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare coverage, while 54 percent said healthcare access is not the government's responsibility." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Photography interlude: The body in motion in amazing abstract.

Energy

Federal government to sell wind leases for East Coast. "The federal government plans to sell leases for wind farms off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia, the first time it has sold competitive leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf, officials said Friday. The leases for the two areas, which total more than 430 square miles, will be sold next year, the Interior Department and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said. One area for lease is about 10 miles off Rhode Island’s shore, and the other is about 27 miles off the southern part of Virginia. Officials said each area could be developed to generate enough electricity to power 700,000 homes." The Associated Press.

A global push to increase natural gas production is falling short. "Exporting the U.S. shale energy revolution overseas turns out to be far tougher than anyone expected -- giving the U.S. a significant competitive advantage...Among the reasons for the glacial pace abroad are government ownership of mineral rights, environmental concerns and a lack of infrastructure to drill and transport gas and oil. In addition, much less is known about the geology in most foreign countries than in the U.S., where drilling activity has been going on for more than a century. The upshot: the U.S. and Canada could remain the main countries to reap the economic advantages of shale development for some time." Russell Gold and Marynia Kruk in The Wall Street Journal.

'Saudi America' unlikely to see lower oil prices. "[T]here is one widely discussed possibility -- a sustained fall in oil prices -- that may be less of a threat to the US industry than is often feared...US shale oil producers are also vulnerable because their costs are so high. Needing break-even prices in a range of $44-$68 per barrel." Ed Crooks in The Financial Times.

High carbon dioxide levels raise warming worries. "Global emissions of carbon dioxide were at a record high in 2011 and are likely to take a similar jump in 2012, scientists reported Sunday -- the latest indication that efforts to limit such emissions are failing. Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project." Justin Gillis and John M. Broder in The New York Times.

Talk vs. walk in addressing climate change. "Major nations' policies are inadequate to limit global warming and the United States is off track even in carrying out its weak pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a scientific scorecard showed on Friday...Adding up all national pledges and taking account of rising emissions, the world was headed for a warming of about 3.3 degrees Celsius (6F), it said." Alister Doyle and Marton Kruppa in Reuters.

How BP can get permission to drill agains. "While the ban is temporary, it could be months before BP is allowed to obtain new contracts, including oil leases off the Gulf of Mexico, because an administrative agreement is just one of a number of steps BP and the U.S. government must work through." Timothy Gardner in Reuters.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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