Wonkbook: Is an immigration deal at hand in Senate?

March 18, 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: 7. That's how many times larger the Irish-American population is than the population of Ireland itself. Hope you had a good St. Patrick's Day.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Immigration rates over the past 150 years.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Immigration reform is close -- but how close?; 2) the Fed plans a long exit; 3) what's the difference between expenditures and tax expenditures?; 4) the SEC is all but done with 2008; and 5) why our energy policy goes back to the 1970s.

1) Top story: Senate is ready to make a deal on immigration

Senate panel close to immigration reform deal with a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. "Immigrants who are in the United States illegally could become citizens in 13 years under a plan being developed by a bipartisan Senate group, matching the overall wait proposed by the Obama administration, a person familiar with the negotiations said Sunday...The 10-year wait for a green card for illegal immigrants would help ensure that the existing backlog of more than 4 million people who have applied for visas through legal measures would be processed first." David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: What’s gained by restricting immigration from Canada? Worried that moochers will come here in search of unaffordable health care?

Senate plans to alter immigration waiting periods. "The arrangement would shrink the amount of time it takes to become a naturalized citizen, to three years from five years. But in an appeal to Republicans, it would also extend to 10 years, from 8, the amount of time that illegal immigrants must wait before receiving permission to work in the United States permanently...Negotiations among the senators have intensified significantly in recent days as they push toward a goal of announcing comprehensive immigration legislation in early April." Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker in The New York Times.

Legal immigration has plummeted over the past 150 years. "The White House’s new economic report points out that about 10.5 million foreign-born people received green cards between 2001 and 2010. In absolute terms, that number is slightly above the levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, when there were few restrictions on newcomers so all immigrants were essentially “legal.” But legal immigrants make up a far smaller proportion of the general population now than they did in the 19th century, and that percentage has actually declined in the 2000s." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

BLOOMBERG VIEW: In defense of family visas. "There is a push in Congress to expand visas for highly skilled immigrants, which would be very good for the economy. Unfortunately, some lawmakers seem determined to expand high-skills visas at the expense of family visas, which are already subject to sharp quotas...What is less appreciated, however, is the crucial role that stable families play in helping immigrants acquire an education, hone skills, build businesses and create jobs." Bloomberg View Editorial Board.

Music recommendations interlude: David Gilmour, "Marooned."

Top op-eds

BUTLER: Gideon's muted trumpet. "A poor person has a much greater chance of being incarcerated now than when Gideon was decided, 50 years ago today...[This is] because of prosecutorial policies that essentially target the poor and relegate their lawyers to negotiating guilty pleas, rather than mounting a defense." Paul Butler in The New York Times.

COWEN: The egalitarian inside the economist. "Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality. Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently." Tyler Cowen in The New York Times.

SARGENT: The Republican non-concession on taxes. "[I]t’s now sinking in that: 1) Republicans are not getting the entitlement cuts they want without agreeing to new revenues; and 2) Republicans are explicitly confirming that there is no compromise that is acceptable to them to get the cuts they themselves say they want. The GOP position, with no exaggeration, is that the only way Republican leaders will ever agree to paying down the deficit they say is a threat to American civilization is 100 percent their way." Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.

KRUGMAN: Marches of folly. "[N]ow as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. It has been especially striking how often questionable assertions are reported as fact. How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?" Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

BBC interlude: They did this cool series called "Inventions that Changed the World." Here's the one on the computer.

2) The Fed plans its exit strategy

The Fed is playing a long game. "Economists who follow the Fed, on average, expect more than another year of bond buying, more than two more years of rock-bottom short-term interest rates, and a Fed portfolio of securities holdings that will remain bloated more than a decade after the financial crisis started." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: This week in economic dataAmrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

Fed: We're not ending stimulus prematurely. "Each time in recent years that the Federal Reserve has paused in its efforts to stimulate the economy, it has come to regret the decision as premature. Its leading officials say the recovery has been slower as a consequence of those pauses. It is a mistake they do not want to repeat." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

Inside a warier Fed, watch the new guy. "Wall Street is watching Jeremy Stein. Still not a year into his tenure on the Federal Reserve's board of governors, the 52-year-old has grabbed the attention of investors, traders and his own Fed colleagues by publicly airing concerns about overheating in some sectors of the credit markets...[T]he notice senior Fed officials are giving to a junior governor on leave from his job as an economics professor at Harvard University shows how much he is helping shape internal debate at the Fed." Victoria McGrane and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Extreme interlude: Flying into Rio de Janeiro in a wing-suit.

3) The Republicans' blast-from-the-past budget

For the Republicans' budget, it's not 2013. "In Congress, Republicans are pushing an agenda that is almost identical to the one that their party lost with in November, with no regrets and few efforts to reframe it even rhetorically...Republicans in the House and Senate are standing firmly in the way of Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, with a message that is striking when set against the results of an election just four months ago: Mr. President, you have to come to us." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Republicans OK with revenue increases if reforms are substantive, Sen. Corker says. "Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Sunday that he believes Republicans would consider adding new tax revenues by closing loopholes if Democrats show a willingness to embrace “true” entitlement reform." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Can we tell the difference between tax expenditures and expenditures? "At the root of the bitter semantic back-and-forth is a simple truth: every tax expenditure — and there are scores of them, used to encourage employers to provide their workers with health care, to make houses more energy-efficient, to aid timber cutters and much more — benefits a certain group of taxpayers or a specific industry. And nobody wants to give up anything." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Furloughs still likely as a result of continuing-resolution budget. "[B]y locking in $85 billion in across-the-board cuts known as the sequester until Sept. 30, the plan is unlikely to stop the furloughs of more than a million federal employees — some for as many as 22 days, according to congressional, agency and union officials." Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.

The talk is fiscal, but the real war is philosophical. "The wrangling of President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans over the federal budget underscores a clash of core philosophies about how the economy works that supersedes any skirmish on taxes or spending cuts." Mike Dorning in Bloomberg.

Chinese interlude: How Beijing drivers avoid wearing a seatbelt: specially designed clothing.

4) Will the SEC keep fighting?

Number of SEC cases fall as financial-crisis prosecution runs dry. "The Securities and Exchange Commission is filing significantly fewer civil fraud cases this year, as its efforts to punish misconduct related to the financial crisis start to ebb. The agency is likely to fall short this fiscal year of its record-breaking number of enforcement actions in the previous two years, said people familiar with the matter...But the new chairman may have to explain later this year how her tough rhetoric dovetails with a fall in the annual level of enforcement actions." Jean Eaglesham in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Senate aids scrutinize Dimon testimony. "Senate aides are looking for inconsistencies in statements made by Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Doug Braunstein, former chief financial officer, as they consider whether to make referrals to securities regulators and the justice department...Senate staff are also examining disclosures to investors about VAR. A securities filing in April 2012 shows the VAR in the chief investment office, where the trades occurred, as little changed from the previous quarter, but that was only because the model had been changed, investigators found. Investors were not told of the change until May." Shahien Nasiripour, Tom Braithwaite, and Kara Scannell in The Financial Times.

...And CFTC regulators are watching for 'wash trades.' "U.S. regulators are investigating whether high-frequency traders are routinely distorting stock and futures markets by illegally acting as buyer and seller in the same transactions, according to people familiar with the probes. Such transactions, known as wash trades, are banned by U.S. law because they can feed false information into the market and be used to manipulate prices. Intentionally taking both sides of a trade can minimize financial risk for the trading firm while potentially creating a false impression of higher volume in the market." Scott Patterson, Jenny Strasburg, and Jamila Trindle in The Wall Street Journal.

The link you're going to send to everyone right now interlude: Seven amazing marble machines.

5) Back to the 70s on energy policy?

Fuel economy makes biggest gains since 1975. "An annual report by the Environmental Protection Agency showed new cars and trucks had a 16 percent gain in fuel efficiency in the past five years, to 23.8 miles per gallon. Preliminary data shows an average increase of 1.4 mpg in 2012 from the previous year, which in part was attributed to the drop in Japanese vehicle production after the March 2011 tsunami, the EPA said." Mark Drajem and Angela Greiling Keane in Bloomberg.

...And here's why. "The EPA is a particularly helpful source on fuel-economy because the agency tests how cars and trucks actually perform in the real world — rather than simply looking at what the laws say." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Obama will use Nixon-era law to fight climate change. "President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways...While some U.S. agencies already take climate change into account when assessing projects, the new guidelines would apply across-the-board to all federal reviews" Mark Drajem in Bloomberg.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

How the media is killing the death penaltyDanny Hayes.

The Irish-American population is 7 times larger than the population of Ireland itself. Sarah Kliff.

Obama Inc.: What businesses want to learn from the president's campaignSuzy Khimm.

Do female bosses lead to better treatment of women in the workplace?Mike Konczal.

Legal immigration has plummeted over the past 150 yearsSuzy Khimm.

Why the Cypriot bailout could put the European financial sector in jeopardyNeil Irwin.

Et Cetera

Obama to nominate Thomas Perez for Labor SecretaryDavid Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Post Office's decision to cut Saturday mail delivery now in limboEric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

One gun reform: limit access for domestic-abuse householdsMichael Luo in The New York Times.

White House urged to fire FHFA director DeMarcoAnnie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Number of "no-bid" federal contracts rose 9 percent in 2012Danielle Ivory in The Washington Post.

Workers are taking on health risk to save money on insuranceAnna Wilde Matthews 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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