Wonkbook: A policy primer for the 2013 SOTU

February 11, 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 billion. That's the amount which, out of 2012's budget cuts, was offset through "gimmicks" that avoided substantive reductions in government expenditures, according to this important story by David Fahrentold in The Washington Post.


(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The real earnings of fresh college graduates keeps falling.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Obama's State of the Union address is Tuesday night; 2) a political thaw for the sequester, or maybe not; 3) the 'best of times, worst of times' economy; 4) can Dems keep unity on gun control?; and 5) CAP's new immigration report.

1) Top story: A policy primer for the 2013 SOTU

This State of the Union, expect to hear an economic vision. "Mr. Obama's speech on Tuesday before a national audience and both houses of Congress will keep a sharp focus on job creation, a White House aide said. Hoping to boost the economy and shore up the nation's middle class, he will lay out initiatives in energy, education, manufacturing and the nation's network of aging roads, bridges and ports." Colleen McCain and Peter Nicholas in The Wall Street Journal.

@jeffzeleny: Senator Rubio's response to the State of the Union will focus on 'growing the middle class', aides say, rather than solely on immigration.

...And expect a middle-class agenda. "The president is structuring his fifth annual address to a joint session of Congress around three main economic points: making the nation a 'magnet for jobs and manufacturing'; providing Americans the 'skills they need' for those jobs; and ensuring that 'hard work leads to a decent living,' officials said." Michael D. Shear and Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.

...Job creation and the economy are at the top of the list. "President Obama will concentrate his State of the Union speech Tuesday on the economy, shifting the emphasis away from the broad social agenda of his second inaugural address to refocus attention on a set of problems that vexed his first term. Several senior administration officials involved in the speech say he will use his fourth State of the Union address to talk about jobs after the national unemployment rate ticked up last month. He will propose ways to make college more affordable to more people. And, the officials said, he will argue for the need to spend public money — on research, on roads, on education — to prepare Americans for a world where a warming climate, a nomadic labor force and new technology are shutting doors and opening new ones across the national economy." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

@noamschieber: If I'm planning to watch the State of the Union, do I need to read all the coverage in the next 48 hrs telling me what's going to be in it?

...But immigration and gun control? Those will be there too. "The economy will remain Topic A, and Obama’s speech is expected to warn of the danger automatic spending cuts known as the sequester pose to a slowly improving economy. At the same time, Obama will give due weight to other priorities such as immigration and gun control." Amie Parnes in The Hill.

Explainer: What should Obama talk about in his State of the Union? Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Obama weighs executive actions. "President Obama is considering a series of new executive actions aimed at working around a recalcitrant Congress, including policies that could allow struggling homeowners to refinance their mortgages, provide new protections for gays and lesbians, make buildings more energy-efficient and toughen regulations for coal-fired power plants, according to people outside the White House involved in discussions on the issues...The moves underscore Obama’s increasingly aggressive use of executive authority." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Raphael Saadiq, "Keep Marchin,'" 2008.

Top op-eds

SUMMERS: Do more than deficits. "[T]he US needs to think again about its priorities for economic policy...[T]his will require moving the national economic debate beyond its near total preoccupation with federal budget restraint." Lawrence Summers in The Financial Times.

MANKIW: Why economists support immigration (and you should, too!) "If an American farmer wants to hire a worker to pick fruits and vegetables, the fact that the worker happens to have been born in Mexico does not seem a compelling reason to stop the transaction...When thinking about immigration, there is little doubt that the least fortunate, and the ones with the most at stake in the outcome, are the poor workers who yearn to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: The ignorance caucus. "[W]hile Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place. The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

LEONHARDT: It's not easy being green. "The stronger argument for a major government response to climate change is the more obvious argument: climate change...In Washington, the economic case for responding to climate change has made little progress, with Democrats failing to pass a sweeping bill when they controlled Congress and Republicans remaining strongly opposed. And President Obama has subtly shifted his approach, talking less about green jobs and more about extreme weather." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.

CILLIZZA: Rubio, the Republican answer? "Rubio is indeed a politician of unusual gifts. But the spotlight that has fallen on this relatively new arrival to the national scene says as much about the state of the Republican Party as it does about the 41-year-old senator. And it remains to be seen whether he represents the solution to the GOP’s problems, or whether the party’s sky-high hopes in an untested newcomer are just another measure of its drift." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

HUNT: Cabinet all-stars are on the bench. "[M]ore than any president sinceRichard Nixon, he has concentrated decision-making in the White House. Cabinet heavyweights are underutilized...This trend has accelerated under Obama. There is a strong case to be made that presidential decision-making today would benefit from Cabinet members who have considerably more political and managerial experience than White House aides, who are predominately longtime Washington staff insiders." Albert R. Hunt in Bloomberg.

Wonkbookmark interlude: www.pundittracker.com, self-explanatory.

2) Is the ice thawing on the sequester?

McCain opens door to taxes to resolve sequester. "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that he is willing to consider supporting new tax revenue as part of a plan to avert $85 billion in looming budget cuts." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Congress may go over this cliff. "March 1 is the day when $85 billion in cuts, known as the 'sequester' in Washington parlance, begin to take effect in defense and domestic programs unless Congress acts. But the consequences of inaction are less clear than they were when Congress stared at the original 'fiscal cliff,' the Jan. 1 series of tax increases and spending cuts that neither Democrats nor Republicans wanted for fear of stunting growth and burdening millions of taxpayers." Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Many past budget cuts were imaginary. "[A]n examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee...Disillusionment with that bill has persuaded many conservatives to reject a line-by-line, program-by-program approach to cutting the budget. Instead, many have embraced the sequester, a looming $85 billion across-the-board cut." David Fahrenthold in The Washington Post.

Tumblr interlude: thingsfittingperfectlyintothings.tumblr.com

3) Will the Dems maintain unity on gun control?

Gun debate testing the Dems. "The divide is more pronounced in the Senate than in the House, where many Democrats have reliably liberal constituencies. A significant number of Senate Democrats, by contrast, represent states with deep hunting traditions or are worried about votes that might antagonize the National Rifle Association...Obama may still return to a more accommodating approach; he often says that he won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Philip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

N.M. moving to tighten gun control. "As state lawmakers around the country wrestle with whether to tighten gun laws, the fierce debate has not always fallen neatly along party lines — especially in the West.This year, though, is one of the first times in recent history that any significant effort has been made to regulate guns in New Mexico." Dan Frosch in The New York Times.

Gabby Giffords to stake career on gun issues. "Ms. Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, a gun owner, an astronaut’s wife, a shooting survivor and an incipient gun-control advocate, is settling into the third act of her public life...Now, she is the face and emotional dynamism behind a new advocacy group and a separate political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, dedicated to reducing gun violence." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

OK, one more Tumblr interlude: thingsorganizedneatly.tumblr.com

4) The 'best of times, worst of times' economy

The economy goes into 'best of times, worst of times' mode. "Sensing better times ahead, investors have pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average up this year near its record high. But a different mood is pervading U.S. companies, where executives are less optimistic about the global economy and their own prospects, and many are lowering financial forecasts." Scott Thurm in The Wall Street Journal.

Calendar: This week in economic data. Amrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

The Federal Housing Administration is looking for shelter. "The Federal Housing Administration, a significant backer of new mortgage lending over the past five years, is facing billions of dollars in potential losses, as many loans that it guaranteed during the recession have soured. The agency's independent audit last fall showed that at its current pace, the FHA would exhaust its reserves and need $16 billion from the U.S. government to cover projected losses." Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

Photographic interlude: Inside the ice castle, or what it probably feels like to be in New England right now.

5) Center for American Progress releases immigration paper

Read: The Center for American Progress' latest report on immigration, "Immigrants Are Makers, Not Takers." Marshall Fitz, Philip E. Wolgin, and Patrick Oakford.

House near immigration deal. "Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were being pragmatic about the issue, and that he was hopeful the Senate would also deliver on legislation soon...Becerra would not say whether the group hoped to release legislation next week in conjunction with President Obama's State of the Union address, which had been a target for the coalition. He said only that conversations are continuing." Bernie Becker and Russell Berman in The Hill.

Cantor wants to narrow immigration debate to children. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Sunday that Congress should begin to address immigration reform by looking at legislation to legalize those brought to the U.S. children...Cantor cautioned that Congress should first move forward by dealing with undocumented children, rather than waiting to address with immigration in a comprehensive package." Cameron Joseph in The Hill.

Animals interlude: Dog playing a piano.

Wonkblog Roundup

How accents influence the immigration debate. Dan Hopkins.

Cap-and-trade is still alive in New England. Is it working? Brad Plumer.

MA health costs are rising fast, and why that is an issue with national implications. Sarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Young, liberal, and open to 'Big Government.' Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times.

America's prison population is shrinking. Dan Strumpf in The Wall Street Journal.

Interview: Steven Mufson talks to Sen. Lisa Murkowski on energy policy. The Washington Post.

The battle over the Medicaid expansion. Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Washington Post · February 10, 2013