Wonkbook: House votes today on debt-ceiling suspension

January 23, 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: 70. That's the percentage of Americans who say they support the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade, which struck down a Texas law criminalizing abortion. Only 24 percent want the ruling reversed. The poll, completed by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, comes on the 40th anniversary of the decision. More below.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as "food stamps."

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) the 3-month debt ceiling suspension goes up for a vote; 2) the inaugural's echoes for a second term; 3) Some new names for Trade and Interior; 4) the endgame for filibuster reform; and 5) 70 percent support Roe v. Wade.

1) Top story: House votes today on suspending debt ceiling

House to vote today on the three-month debt-ceiling suspension. "The House late Tuesday took steps to provide for Wednesday debate and a vote on a GOP bill that would allow the government's debt to increase for three more months. The House Rules Committee approved a rule for the bill, H.R. 325, and filed it with the House clerk at the end of the day. That rule is closed, meaning no amendments can be proposed when the bill is on the floor Wednesday." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

Read: The GOP's debt-ceiling legislation.

Explainer: Five key facts about the debt-ceiling billDonald Marron in TaxVox.

Obama OKs debt-ceiling plan. "House Republicans are advancing a novel plan to suspend enforcement of the federal debt limit through May 18, a move that would lift the threat of a government default and relieve the air of crisis that has surrounded their budget battle with President Obama...The White House tacitly endorsed the proposal Tuesday, issuing a statement that said Obama 'would not oppose' the temporary respite." Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@damianpaletta: WH isn't exactly enthusiastic about House GOP debt ceiling plan, but not vowing to stop it. "Would not oppose" reads like a shoulder shrug.

Conservatives say they'll go along with the debt-ceiling deal. "Any doubts about passage of the GOP debt plan were allayed Tuesday when a small but influential clutch of conservative lawmakers signaled that they will go along with the plan, as long as top leaders keep to a promise to vote soon on a 2014 budget plan that would balance within the next decade." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Why the GOP's debt-ceiling bill is strange. "By picking a date rather than a dollar amount to raise the debt limit, the proposal raises some significant questions about how the government will deal with spending during that three-month period. The debt-limit deal is only meant to cover obligations that require payment before May 19." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@justinmiller: Hey who knew you could just *suspend* the debt ceiling? Would've been nice to know in say 2011

Next up: The House will begin working on a budget. "One day before voting on a measure to lift the debt ceiling for three months, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said House Republicans would work on passing a budget that balances the nation’s books in the next decade." Jake Sherman in Politico.

Reminder: Paul Ryan's previous budget balanced around 2040. So to balance in 10 years, the cuts need to be much harsher, taxes need to be much higher, or growth assumptions need to be much more unrealistic.

...Also, what are we going to do about the sequester? "The House GOP’s bill would prevent a debt-ceiling stand-off in February. But even if everything goes according to plan, the agreement won’t do anything to stop the automatic, across-the-board cuts from taking effect on March 1, which both parties insist they want to avoid." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@AnnieLowrey: New numbers from @macroadvisers: Encounter the debt ceiling, knock half a percentage point off annual GDP. Full sequester hits? 0.75 p.p.

KLEIN: Suspending the debt ceiling is a great idea. Let's do it forever. "House Republicans aren’t voting to lift the debt ceiling. They’re voting to suspend it for three months. It’s an entirely political, meaningless distinction, but it points the way towards an entirely sensible, overdue solution...Congress will have shown it can make the debt ceiling disappear. For three months, the debt ceiling simply won’t exist." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: The Band, "Stage Fright," 1970.

Top op-eds

THOMPSON: A middle road on gun control. "Many people on both sides also agree that everyone who buys a firearm should go through a comprehensive background check. No one wants convicted criminals or people with a history of dangerous mental illness to have access to guns. Yet our laws allow people to buy firearms privately or at some gun shows without going through a background check, and many states remain deficient in transferring important records to the federal database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers. This needs to change." Rep. Mike Thompson in The Wall Street Journal.

PORTER: We should consider a broad-based tax increase to protect public services. "To make ends meet, both parties agree, spending must be drastically cut...This is not, however, the only option we have. There is an alternative: raising more money from all taxpayers, including the middle class...Americans would benefit from a discussion of this possibility...A good way to start the debate might be to explain what higher taxes would entail for middle-class families, so they could balance the bill against the benefits they would otherwise lose." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Can Obama's second term unleash the policies of his first? "U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term confronting a familiar and frustrating incongruity: the gap between how much change he has fostered and how little about the country seems different. A partial accounting of Obama’s first term reveals more accomplishments than most presidents secure in two...Yet despite it all, the status quo seems strangely undisturbed." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

WOLF: America does not have a fiscal crisis. "The US confronts huge challenges, at home and abroad. Its fiscal position is not one of them. This is a highly controversial statement. If one judged by the debate in Washington, one would conclude that the federal government is close to bankruptcy. This view is false." Martin Wolf in The Financial Times.

BARTLETT: When tax cuts were a hard sell. "Those who don’t know the history probably assume that the tax cut was a slam-dunk for Kennedy, something that was overwhelmingly popular. In fact, a big tax cut was highly controversial because at that time Republicans actually cared about the deficit and recognized that tax cuts would increase it. This view was shared by the large bloc of conservative Southern Democrats then in Congress and the general public as well." Bruce Bartlett in The New York Times.

ORSZAG: As corporations' foreign profits rise, their tax rates fall. "[B]oth Democrats and Republicans in Congress are committed to corporate-tax reform in response to globalization. Yet they are unlikely to accomplish much, because each party’s desired reforms are pretty much the opposite of the other’s." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

ORSZAG: ...And why health care is the real American problem. "Healthcare costs are the core long-term fiscal challenge facing the US – and yet also the best hope for cushioning workers from globalisation. This is why the recent deceleration of these costs is so encouraging – and why we should double down on them." Peter Orszag in The Financial Times.

SLAUGHTER: Exports sagging? Try some free trade. "When the latest U.S. trade statistics came out this month, they conveyed one sobering message: President Obama's National Export Initiative is in danger of failing. Success can still be snatched from the jaws of defeat—but only if the president and Congress quickly and aggressively pursue freer trade and liberalize many other policies connected to the global economy." Matthew J. Slaughter in The Wall Street Journal.

YGLESIAS: Obama and the triumph of low expectations. "As Obama begins his second administration, the reality is that, as with most incumbent presidents, his biggest legacy-defining achievements are behind him. His mostly successful response to the financial crisis is in the past, and it seems unlikely that he will sign into law any bills on the scale of his health care overhaul. But whether that legacy looks good or bad four years from now will hinge largely on the pace of the ongoing economic recovery—something that he has remarkably little control over." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

Every gadget in James Bond movies should exist in real life interlude: A license plate flipper.

2) How the inaugural will echo through the second term

Some conservative Democrats are worried. "President Barack Obama's sweeping liberal agenda, as laid out in Monday's inauguration speech, has some centrist Democrats worried the focus on issues such as gun control and climate change could dilute efforts to boost the economy and create jobs." Colleen McCain Nelson, Janet Hook, and Sara Murray in The Wall Street Journal.

What the Republicans have to say about that address. "House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday accused President Obama of attacking 'straw men' in his second inauguration speech, arguing that the president mischaracterized Republicans’ position on federal entitlement programs." Felicia Sonmez and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

The speech might not matter anyway. "A quick reality check: The president’s inaugural address probably won’t much matter come, say, next Thursday. And on the off-chance that it does, it will probably make President Obama’s life harder rather than easier.[W]hen we look back from, say, the elevated vantage point of next month, the realist in me says politics will look much as it did last week, and so too will the Obama administration’s approach to governance." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Interview: Yale political scientist and sociologist Juan Linz on why presidential systems end in disasterDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Four more years? Try one year, politically. "The Constitution may promise President Obama another four years in the White House, but political reality calls for a far shorter time frame: he has perhaps as little as a year to accomplish his big-ticket goals for a second term." Jeff Zeleny in The New York Times.

A post-crisis presidency. "The greatest economic challenge for President Obama in his second term are to manage these negotiations with House Republicans so as to enact deficit reduction in a careful, gradual way that doesn’t cause an austerity-induced recession. He showed a remarkable calm in the storm of four years ago, but this is a different type of challenge; it demands a skilled legislative tactician more than a crisis manager." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Obama's climate-change remarks were unusual. "[H]is remarks Monday after taking the oath of office, Obama chose to make a moral case — rather than an economic or national security one — for taking action...The decision to frame global warming as a defining aspect of his legacy encouraged his environmental allies and reignited concerns among congressional Republicans and industry opponents. And it signaled that the issue continues to weigh on Obama, even as he and his aides have placed budget negotiations, immigration and gun control higher on their agenda." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

What does the public support in the inaugural address? "Polls show that the president has at least a slim majority of Americans in his corner on almost all of the issues he highlighted. Here’s a look at the most recent polling on some of the agenda items Mr. Obama laid out." Micah Cohen in The New York Times.

What can Obama accomplish in his second term? "President Obama on Monday delivered a second inaugural address that stood out for its specificity when it comes to the agenda items the president would like to achieve over the next four years. So, what are the chances of success for those proposals? Here’s a look at five of the main agenda items he mentioned, along with the current state of play." Felicia Sonmez in The Washington Post.

Animal interlude: Life, from the point of view of a penguin.

3) Stocking the Cabinet

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk exports himself from Cabinet. "U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, announced Tuesday that he’s leaving the administration at the end of February...Possible successors include Fred Hochberg, a businessman who had been acting Small Business Administration chief in the Clinton Administration and is now chairman of the Export-Import Bank; Francisco Sanchez, currently Commerce undersecretary for international trade and before that assistant secretary of transportation in the Clinton administration; and Jeff Zients, former CEO of The Advisory Board Co. and now acting director of the Office of Managment and Budget." Al Kamen in The Washington Post.

Sen. Tom Udall for Interior Secretary? "Add another name to the possible candidates for Interior secretary, a post that will be vacant when Ken Salazar departs the agency in March: Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)...Other names we’ve heard that might fit that bill include outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Office of Personnel Management chief John Berry (who would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)." Emily Heil in The Washington Post.

Strange firsts interlude: The first duel fought between two hot air balloons happened in 1808.

4) What will happen to the filibuster?

We've hit the endgame, says Reid. "The Senate will reform the filibuster within the next day and a half -- whether Republicans go along or not, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday afternoon. 'I hope that within the next 24 to 36 hours we can get something we agree on. If not, we're going to move forward on what I think needs to be done,' Reid told reporters. 'The caucus will support me on that,' he added." Michael McAuliffe in The Huffington Post.

Reid's strategy is carrot-and-stick: Either McConnell deals, or Reid goes around him. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Democrats will take the unprecedented step of changing filibuster rules on a party-line vote if Republicans don’t agree to a bipartisan deal this week. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met Tuesday on a proposal to pare back the use of the potent stalling tactic, but the Nevada Democrat then publicly threatened to change the filibuster rules with 51 votes, rather than 67 votes, if a deal can’t be reached soon, a tactic critics warn could fundamentally transform the Senate away from a body meant to protect minority party rights." Manu Raju in Politico

If McConnell doesn't take Reid's deal, Reid is eyeing a policy that will flip the burden of the filibuster. "Right now, to reach cloture, the majority needs to put together 60 votes. The new idea (credited to Sen. Al Franken) would put the onus on the minority to find 41 'no' votes. That, swear reformers, would prevent the current practice of delaying bills or nominees for months, holding the vote, and finding that there were only a dozen or so senators who actually cared enough to block it. There are only four or five Democratic senators still seen as holdouts, believers in either the old filibuster system or skeptics of the nuclear option. They don’t hate this 41-vote idea. 'I like that,' said Levin on Tuesday, as he walked into the meeting where Democrats would talk over their options. 'I’d love to be able to do that.'" Dave Weigel in Slate.

Reminder: Here's how filibusters work.

Poetic interlude: Richard Blanco, the second inaugural's poet.

5) 40 years after Roe v. Wade

Americans still alright with Roe v. Wade. "A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, 70 percent of Americans want the landmark abortion rights ruling to stay. Only 24 percent would like Roe v. Wade to be overturned. In the same Pew poll, 54 percent think abortion should be always legal or legal most of the time. Another 35 percent think abortion should be illegal but with exceptions; only 9 percent think it should be illegal with no exceptions.Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Longread: What choice? Kate Pickert in Time Magazine.

The return of the HMO? "It's back to the future for insurers, which plan to sharply limit the choice of doctors and hospitals in some policies marketed to consumers under the health law, starting next fall...[L]mited network plans -- which have begun a comeback among employers looking to slow rising premiums -- are expected to play a prominent role in new online markets." Juliet Appelby in Kaiser Health News.

Many Medicaid patients could face higher fees. "Millions of low-income people could be required to pay more for health care under a proposed federal policy that would give states more freedom to impose co-payments and other charges on Medicaid patients. Hoping to persuade states to expand Medicaid, the Obama administration said state Medicaid officials could charge higher co-payments and premiums for doctors’ services, prescription drugs and certain types of hospital care, including the 'nonemergency use' of emergency rooms. State officials have long asked for more leeway to impose such charges." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Return patients vex hospitals. "Hospitals fearing new Medicare penalties are trying to reduce the number of patients who need to return soon after discharge, a problem that new research suggests is widespread and without an easy fix...Several studies published online Tuesday in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest that poor coordination among different providers after patients leave the hospital is largely to blame for many readmissions, and the focus should be on improving that care." Laura Landro in The Wall Street Journal.

Never stop dreaming interlude: Will we be mining asteroids by 2015?

Et Cetera

High-school graduation rates are risingStephanie Banchero in The Wall Street Journal.

E.U. moves towards a financial transactions tax. Gabriele Steinhauser and Vanessa Mock in The Wall Street Journal.

Bank of Japan to coordinate policy with Japanese governmentNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Study: Job placement programs don't work. Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

States considering picking up Amtrak tabMark Peters in The Wall Street Journal.

These 14 fossil-fuel projects could make our climate goals impossibleBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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