Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about Obama’s gun control plan

January 17, 2013

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: 23. That's the number of separate executive actions President Obama initiated on Wednesday to address gun violence. Note that an executive action is not necessarily an executive order -- "launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health" is an action, not an order -- and many of the largest policy changes will eventually need to go to Congress. More below. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The world's most polluted cities.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) A primer on Obama's gun control proposals; 2) the conservatives who could talk the congressional GOP of the debt-ceiling ledge; 3) groundbreaking new data analysis on trade; 4) young people have no idea what Roe v. Wade accomplished; and 5) the Republicans line up against the carbon tax.

1) Top story: Everything you need to know about Obama's gun control plan

Obama unveils his gun control proposals. "President Obama on Wednesday formally proposed the most expansive gun-control policies in generations and initiated 23 separate executive actions aimed at curbing what he called 'the epidemic of gun violence in this country.'...Obama called on Congress to swiftly pass legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines for civilian use and to require universal background checks for all gun buyers. His proposals include mental health and school safety measures, as well as a tough new crackdown on gun trafficking." Philip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Read: The primary source on Obama's proposals.

Read this, too: Transcript of Obama's remarks yesterday on gun control.

Mark your calendar: The first Senate hearing on gun control is scheduled for Jan. 30.  Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

To argue for gun control, Obama turns the Constitution around on the GOP. "Obama sought to turn a perceived political weaknesses — his image as an aloof intellectual — into a strength, and, at the same time, to turn a perceived strength of gun advocates — the constitutional right to bear arms — into a potential weakness...Where his past legal arguments have been directed at Congress or the Supreme Court, Obama used what he suggested was a clash of sometimes-competing rights guaranteed by the Constitution to assure Americans across party lines that his proposals amount to a modest approach to a societal problem." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

@AlecMacGillis: Your formative years matter. Obama's were spent in the gun-plagued South Side. He's ducked this issue and knows it. No more.

So that's what Obama wants. Now here's what can actually get through Congress. "President Obama announced a sweeping slate of new gun control proposals Wednesday designed to curb mass violence, including new restrictions on guns, efforts to enhance school safety, and improving treatment of mental health issues. Some items will be enacted via executive order while others will require action on Capitol Hill. Below, we take a closer look at the larger proposals that will require action from Congress and offer our best educated guess of how likely they are to pass, based on recent polling and what lawmakers have said." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Obama wants universal background checks for gun buyers. Would that work? "I asked the University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig, who has studied the issue in depth. His bottom line: A universal background check law could conceivably reduce gun violence. But it might also prove difficult to enforce...The big challenge, says Ludwig, would be enforcement. There are 300 million guns currently in circulation and the federal government doesn’t have any data on who owns what. There’s no national registry for guns. All the federal trace data shows is who originally bought the gun from a licensed dealer." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

What gun experts have to say about Obama's proposals. "So which of his proposals might have the most meaningful impact on gun violence? And which policy ideas could prove ineffective? We asked a number of gun and crime experts for their thoughts on different aspects of Obama’s proposals today. Here are five points that stuck out." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@chrislhayes:  Gun safety advocates are pretty damn happy w the President's proposals.

How to tackle violence and mental illness in schools. "[T]he White House wants $50 million to train new mental health professionals, $25 million for school-based trauma treatment and violence prevention programs, $25 million for state-based mental health programs targeting youths ages 16 to 25, $15 million to train teachers to deal with mental illness, and $40 million to help school districts direct students to the mental health services they need." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

One of the fights will be just to get an ATF Bureau director. "President Obama indicated on Wednesday that along with asking members of Congress to pass measures like an assault weapons ban, he would be ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers to do something they have refused to do for the past six years: confirm a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives." Michael S. Schmidt in The New York Times.

@davidfrum: How bold are Obama's 23 executive actions on guns? THIS bold: "11. Nominate an ATF director." There hasn't been one in 6 years.

Obama wants CDC to study link between video games and violence. "President Obama is calling on Congress to appropriate $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study gun violence, including possible links to violent video games and media images, according to a White House briefing document." Jennifer Martinez in The Hill.

Senate forecast for guns: cloudy. "Senate Democrats appear unlikely to push through much of the sweeping gun agenda President Barack Obama laid out on Wednesday — largely because of a lack of votes from Republicans and Second Amendment concerns from a handful of Democratic moderates...People familiar with the matter say the most likely scenario is that the Democratic-controlled Senate moves gun legislation on a piecemeal basis rather than in a comprehensive fashion." Manu Raju and Ginger Gibson in Politico

How the NRA reacted to Obama's proposals. "The National Rifle Association has come against President Obama’s proposals to curb gun violence, saying they will only hurt legal gun-owners while leaving children unprotected." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

@jonathanweisman: Has a single response to Obama's gun proposal surprised anyone? I'm not seeing it.

Explainer: The NRA's influence, in 6 chartsChris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

CILLIZZA: On guns, Obama goes for broke. "As the details of President Obama’s plan to curb gun violence in the country began to leak out over the past 24 hours, one thing became immediately clear: He was asking for it all...President Obama chose to unveil a sweeping package of executive actions and legislative proposals that is being described as the most expansive attempt to curtail violence with guns in decades...That approach is a marked change from Obama’s negotiating position in past legislative fights in which, Democrats often complained, he negotiated with himself." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

DIONNE: This time, the moderate fights. "This fight is especially challenging for many who view themselves as 'moderates' or 'centrists.' Moderation is a thoroughly honorable disposition, and Obama’s proposals are moderation incarnate. By international standards, they are very cautious." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

RESNIKOFF: The political philosophy behind Obama on gun control. "Republicanism as a political philosophy has roots that go as far back as the Roman republic, but in its modern form it has been best articulated by the Irish political philosopher Philip Pettit. According to Pettit’s Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, republicans view liberty as the absence of domination, not interference...[H]is speech on Wednesday reflected a way of thinking about freedom which is very much bound up in traditional republican considerations of community and active state intervention on behalf of liberty." Ned Resnikoff in MSNBC.

MILLER: What to do with the mentally ill and dangerous. "[T]he scientific view of mental illness poses huge challenges for how we think about law and the criminal justice system. Our legal system is designed to punish and isolate those who commit harmful actions, not unstable people who have yet to act." Matt Miller in The Washington Post.

MILBANK: What's at stake in the gun debate. "[I]f everyone is so concerned about the children, perhaps the grown-ups could agree to fight this out themselves — and let kids worry about their books rather than high-capacity magazines." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: The Foundations, "Build Me Up, Buttercup," 1969.

Top op-eds

KLEIN: The next political project is 'better government.' "The progressive project of building a decent welfare state is giving way to the more technocratic work of financing and managing it. How government is run, more than what exactly it does, seems set to be the main battleground of American politics in coming years. Recently, that debate has been dominated by budget politics. It won’t always be. If the basic services provided by the federal government are unlikely to change significantly in coming years, their delivery and design promise to be more contested turfs." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

SILVER: What is driving the growth of government spending? "It’s one of the most fundamental political questions of our time: What’s driving the growth in government spending? And it has a relatively straightforward answer: first and foremost, spending on health care through Medicare and Medicaid, and other major social insurance and entitlement programs." Nate Silver in The New York Times.

PEARLSTEIN: Welcome to the leadership crisis. "[A]ll the people who ostensibly might be leading the country have come to see their job as winning—winning a trench war that’s been going on, and on, and on since 1994...What we are witnessing is the very opposite of leadership, which is the ability to solve seemingly intractable problems by getting above them and redefining them." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.

YGLESIAS: What if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling? "What they’re talking about doing now—forcing the government into non-payment of bills it’s already accrued—would be a catastrophe. Corny as it sounds, they really ought to consider the option of just doing the right thing, raising the debt ceiling, and moving on to fighting about appropriations." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

HENNESSEY: How the GOP should fight the debt ceiling fight. "[T]he political deck is stacked against Republicans...There is, however, a strategy to change the political dynamic and put pressure on congressional Democrats and the administration. The strategy consists of three steps...If the president continues to dodge the country's long-term spending problem, the solution is to force him to ask Congress every few months to give him the authority to borrow more while facing questions about why he refuses to restrain spending." Keith Hennessey in The Wall Street Journal.

Wow, this seems like a bad business practice interlude: Utah smoothie shop charges "liberals" a dollar more for smoothies than "conservatives," donates that dollar to conservative organizations.

2) Can the GOP talk itself off the debt-ceiling ledge?

The Republicans are deciding their debt ceiling position during their annual retreat. "Party leaders hope the rank and file will coalesce around a strategy at the annual House GOP retreat, which begins Wednesday in Williamsburg, Va. A top goal for the three-day conference, lawmakers and aides said, is to emerge with some semblance of a plan for addressing the debt ceiling, the automatic spending cuts of sequestration and the government funding that runs out at the end of March." Russell Berman in The Hill.

Meet the smart Republicans who are terrified of the debt ceiling. "One dimension of the debt-ceiling debate that hasn’t gotten enough attention is how split Republicans are on the idea. While the working assumption in Washington is that the GOP will try to hold the debt-ceiling hostage in return for some (heretofore unspecified) spending cuts, quite a few influential Republicans are begging and pleading with the party to find another strategy, warning that it’s a hostage Republicans can’t shoot and that the two possible outcomes are 1) an embarrassing cave or 2) an economic disaster that the public blames on the GOP." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

So are top conservative economists. "I recently asked by e-mail the top economic advisers to former President George W. Bush  whether they thought it is reasonable to hold up raising the debt ceiling in order to force deep cuts in federal spending. Following are the responses of those who replied." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Business is trying to figure out where to stand in the debt ceiling debate. "Many business leaders don’t like the prospect of another nail-biting showdown over the debt ceiling, because they think it would be could very bad for business, the market, and broader economic confidence. But they don’t want to take sides, either, and that could be why legislators appear to feel that they don’t need to listen to them." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Humorous interlude: This "Daily Show" segment on Justice Thomas talking is great.

3) Groundbreaking new analysis of trade data

New approach to trade data changes picture. "The US trade deficit with China is much smaller than current official data suggest, according to a year-long study that transforms the global picture of trade imbalances between countries. In a joint study, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organisation have for the first time highlighted the flaws in labels such as 'Made in China' or 'Made in Germany,' by tracking the origin of components and services rather than final products." Chris Giles and Claire Jones in The Financial Times.

Beige Book reflects slow growth. "The U.S. economy expanded in recent weeks as consumers stepped up spending, but weak hiring is restraining growth, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. The Fed's Beige Book, a summary of economic conditions across the central bank's 12 regional districts, said the economy grew across all regions at a 'modest' or 'moderate' pace since November." Kristina Peterson and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

As manufacturing bounces back, unions don't. "U.S. manufacturers have added a half-million new workers since the end of 2009, making the sector one of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak recovery. And yet there were 4 percent fewer union factory workers in 2012 than there were in 2010, according to federal survey data. On balance, all of the job gains in manufacturing have been non-union." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

No, inflation isn't a problem. "The Labor Department reported Wednesday morning that consumer prices were unchanged in December. So-called 'core' prices – the better measure to watch, because they exclude volatile food and energy prices – rose by 0.1 percent. From December 2011 to December 2012, core prices rose by 1.9 percent. That’s just under the Federal Reserve’s official 2 percent inflation target, and well below the 2.5 percent inflation Fed officials have indicated they’ll tolerate while pursuing their latest measures to boost economic growth." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Banker pay is (finally) falling. "Being a banker or trader at the highest levels of the financial industry is hard work, full of long hours and intense intellectual demands. But it was an aberration in the 1990s and first part of the 2000s that people on Wall Street were often awarded a multiple of what other hard-working, super-intelligent professionals, such as top lawyers and consultants, were paid. But a combination of market forces and regulation are leading banks to come to the same conclusion that many people not on Wall Street arrived at a long time ago: Maybe it’s time for a pay cut." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Movies interlude: Still photos related to Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom."

4) Young people these days don't know what Roe accomplished

Most Americans don't know that Roe was about abortion. "Next week is 40 years since the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade and a new poll shows the majority of people under 30 can’t name what the case was about...62 percent of Americans overall correctly identifying that the case dealt with abortion. Another 17 percent guess incorrectly and 20 percent offer no answer for what the case was about. Awareness drops to 44 percent among those ages 18 to 29, while strong majorities of older generations know it dealt with abortion." Michelle Boorstein in The Washington Post.

...But a poll shows Democrats still hold a slight edge on the issue. "By a narrow margin, the country sides with Democrats on abortion, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey found a broad sentiment that abortion is morally wrong, combined with a strong belief that it should remain legal. Forty-one percent of respondents said the Democratic party best represents their views on abortion, compared with 36 percent who said their views are best represented by Republicans." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Dems are pushing for again for a 'public option.' "Her bill would set up a government-run plan that would provide premiums that are 5 to 7 percent lower than private insurance plans...The bill would appropriate $2 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a public health insurance plan, and would allow funds to be made available to cover 90 days' worth of claims. But the bill would require the government to repay this initial funding over a 10-year period." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

...And the Business Roundtable has backed Medicare privatization. "Business Roundtable, a trade group that represents corporate CEOs, said Wednesday that Medicare should be overhauled along the lines of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) controversial proposal." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Or is it time to fix the "doc fix"? "A House Ways and Means Committee leader vowed to permanently repeal Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, eliminating the need for an annual 'doc fix.'" Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

The link you're going to send to everyone right now interlude: A wonderful segment from BBC's "Top Gear" on the smallest car in the world, the Peel P50.

5) The past, present, and future of a failure to legislate on climate change

How the GOP is working against the carbon tax. "Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), backed by several Republicans and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), have introduced a resolution in opposition to imposing fees on fossil energy...The measure’s dozen initial sponsors include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who lead subcommittees on energy and the environment...Rahall is the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee." Ben German in The Hill.

Interview: Theda Skocpol on why climate legislation failedBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

How falling U.S. oil imports are reshaping the global market for energy. "By 2014, the U.S. will import just 6 million barrels of crude oil per day, or roughly a third of what it uses, according to a recent forecast from the federal Energy Information Administration. That’s less than half the amount of 2006, when imports accounted for 60 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. America’s domestic oil boom is revamping decades’ worth of established trading patterns." Matthew Philips in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Vistas interlude: A travel panorama of mountains you can't miss

Et Cetera

Long read: Is Scientology self-destructingAlex Klein in BuzzFeed.

Denis McDonough, the President's deputy advisor on national security, will become his chief of staffMark Landler in The New York Times.

Interior Secretary Salazar to leave in MarchAaron Blake and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Dem. congressman wants independent redistricting commissionPete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

Why Germany wants is $36b in gold backNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Events

Wednesday, January 23 at the National Press Club, Holeman Lounge: University of Chicago Professor Casey Mulligan will first present findings from his recent paper, “The ARRA: Some Unpleasant Welfare Arithmetic.”  Following the presentation, AAF’s Director of Fiscal Policy, Gordon Gray, will moderate a discussion on the paper’s implications between Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and key contributor to the design of The ARRA and Shannon Mok of the Congressional Budget Office and lead author of a recent CBO report on effective marginal tax rates on low and middle income workers. Doors open and breakfast will be served at 8:30 AM.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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