Wonkbook: Amazingly, immigration reform keeps not falling apart

March 20, 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: 26 percent. That's the percentage of Americans who plan to put off retirement until at least age 70 according to to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. More below on the uneven, unsteady gains from the post-recession American economy. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Percent change in inflation-adjusted state spending per public university student, 2008-2013.

(REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
(REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform close in House; 2) assault weapons ban dies in Senate; 3) an uneven, unsteady economic recovery; 4) should we raise the gas tax?; and 5) the incredible reason for the delayed continuing resolution.

1) Top story: Sooner or later, immigration reform

Republican opposition to immigration reform falls away. "Republican opposition to legalizing the status of millions of illegal immigrants is crumbling in the nation’s capital as leading lawmakers in the party scramble to halt eroding support among Hispanic voters — a shift that is providing strong momentum for an overhaul of immigration laws...But the new political landscape in Washington contrasts sharply with just a few years ago, when most Republicans derided the idea of legalized status for illegal immigrants as a form of amnesty that would simply encourage more people to cross the border illegally." Ashley Parker and Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

@DLin76: Skin color is an arbitrary basis for exclusion. That’s why immigration policy uses something scientific, like invisible lines in the ground.

Is immigration reform speeding up? Not so fast, say senators. "The lawmakers [a half-dozen Republicans], all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) asking him to allow more time for hearings on a comprehensive immigration bill before scheduling a committee vote." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@dcbigjohn: "I don't feel like it, i know it" Sen. Sessions when asked if he feels Gang of 8 are unfairly excluding him on immigration talks

Explainer: 5 reasons why immigration reform is moving forwardSuzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Sen. Rand Paul will support reform. "Sen. Rand Paul, one of the most conservative members of his chamber and a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday endorsed a new path to legalization for the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. Nothing in his vision would preclude eventual citizenship for the immigrants, but Paul (Ky.) never mentioned that term outright." Rosalind S. Helderman and Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Read: The transcript of Paul's speechThe Wall Street Journal.

@dcbigjohn: following speech @SenRandPaul also said that if he can amend gang of 8 immigration bill on border verification "I’ll likely vote for it"

We're close to a deal in the House, too. "A bipartisan group of House negotiators is "very close" to a deal on immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday...Eight House lawmakers – four from each party – have been meeting secretly in hopes of crafting an immigration-reform plan that can plow through the thorny politics that have blocked similar efforts for many years." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

@bdomenech: Republicans who think immigration reform solves the problem are the problem.

Explainer: The state of American public opinion on immigrationPew Research Center.

Why the 'path to citizenship' is so delicate for the GOP. "For conservatives like Paul, and to a lesser extent, Bush — who are widely viewed as potential 2016 presidential candidates — it would be politically foolhardy to stay away from the GOP’s new push for a more inclusive approach to immigration. At the same time, endorsing a “pathway to citizenship” in no uncertain terms could be a perilous move in a Republican presidential primary in which conservatives — many of whom still strongly oppose immigration reform — play an outsize role." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: The Eagles, "Already Gone," 1974.

Top op-eds

ORSZAG: Medicare cost slowdown could close budget gap. "What are the consequences if the slower growth continues? Official projections, which do not fully incorporate the recent slowdown, suggest that spending on Medicare will rise from 3.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 6.7 percent in 2085. In contrast, the Economic Report of the President shows in an illustrative calculation that it will rise only to 3.8 percent of GDP by 2085 -- not much higher than it is today -- if the per-beneficiary growth rate we have seen in the past five years keeps going." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

BERNSTEIN: How many filibusters does it take to get reform? "One of the consequences of this maximum obstruction plan by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans is that is renders even perfectly reasonable actions by Republican Senators highly suspicious. Blunt’s hold on McCarthy is over a local issue in Missouri, something about levees on the Mississippi. But it’s impossible to know whether that’s something that Blunt is perfectly willing to negotiate with the relevant agencies, or if it’s just a cover for GOP opposition to yet another Obama nomination for the sake of opposition itself." Jonathan Bernstein in The Washington Post.

JENKINS: The real problem with too-big-to-fail. "It resides in the government-provided incentives for banks to get inefficiently big in the first place. Put simply, in the absence of such incentives, the risk-averse funding that banks thrive on wouldn't be available to allow banks to create sprawling credit portfolios impossible for regulators or investors in the marketplace to assess." Holman W. Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal.

YGLESIAS: The golden age of American journalism. "This [journalism-is-doomed] viewpoint is not wrong, exactly, but it is mistaken. It’s a blinkered outlook that confuses the interests of producers with those of consumers, confuses inputs with outputs, and neglects the single most important driver of human welfare—productivity. Just as a tiny number of farmers now produce an agricultural bounty that would have amazed our ancestors, today’s readers have access to far more high-quality coverage than they have time to read. Just ask yourself: Is there more or less good material for you to read today than there was 13 years ago? The answer is, clearly, more." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

KLEIN: The legacy of Iraq. "I supported the Iraq War, and I’m sorry...[A]t the core of my support for the war was an analytical failure I think about often: Rather than looking at the war that was actually being sold, I’d invented my own Iraq war to support...[H]ere are some of my lessons. First, listen to the arguments of the people who will actually carry out a project, not the arguments of the people who just want to see the project carried out. Who manages a project can be as important as what the project is." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

MILBANK: Why Rand Paul is so interesting. "It would be naive to think that Paul, as he prepares for a 2016 presidential run, will pull off a mass conversion of Republicans to his libertarianism. But the senator, if he chooses, has the potential to build a force that could shake up politics — not a third party but perhaps an informal coalition that occupies a space between religious conservatives and tax-and-spend liberals." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

Lunar interlude: Meet the man who owns the moon.

2) Assault weapons ban dies in Senate

Assault weapons ban dropped from gun control legislation. "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid on Tuesday declared politically dead the effort to ban military-style assault weapons, a setback for President Obama and gun-control advocates who are pushing the Senate to move quickly on bills to limit gun violence. Reid (D-Nev.) is preparing to move ahead with debate on a series of gun-control proposals when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess in early April." Ed O'Keefe and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Explainer: More on the assault weapons ban, and other gun control possibilitiesBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

So what ideas of gun control are still alive? "In addition to the assault weapons ban, the Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan proposal to make gun trafficking a federal crime; a bipartisan bill to expand a Justice Department grant program that provides funding for school security; and a Democratic proposal to expand the nation’s gun background check program." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

The domestic-abuse angle on gun control. "A House Democrat is pushing to expand a weapons ban for perpetrators of domestic violence. Rep. Lois Capps contends the current prohibition – which can apply to spouses and cohabitants subject to restraining orders, but not to dating partners – is insufficient. The California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would extend the gun ban to cases when the victim and abuser were romantically linked but never married, lived together or had children." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

Across the pond interlude: What is "canntaireachd"?

3) An uneven, unsteady economic recovery

Aid to jobless is shrinking unevenly. "Workers across the country are seeing the length of their jobless benefits pared back, a shakeout that is playing out unevenly and pinching people in states still struggling with unemployment above the national average...The changes in benefits are partly the result of an improving job market but are also due to budget pressures at the state and federal level...[T]he duration of benefits doesn't necessarily match up with states' economic situations...The disparity is partly the result of the nation's complex unemployment-insurance system, a web of state and federal programs that wasn't designed for such a long period of high unemployment." Ben Casselman in The Wall Street Journal.

Single-family home construction is now driving housing starts. "Single-family home building, which made up two-thirds of housing starts last month, increased 0.5% in February to a rate of 618,000 units, the highest level since June 2008. Single-family home construction has risen 31.5% in the last year...Meanwhile, the number of new building permits, an indication of future construction, rose 4.6% to an annualized level of 946,000 in February, also the highest level since June 2008. That was above economists' estimates for a rate of 925,000.Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Housing is doing great. But not construction jobs. Here's why. "Here are two numbers that anybody who wants to understand the job market should look at: Builders started work on 27.7 percent more homes in February than they did a year earlier. Yet the number of construction jobs in the United States was only 2.9 percent higher, year-over-year. Housing is finally coming back. But the construction jobs isn’t. Why is that happening, and when might it change? A deeper dig into the data by economists at Goldman Sachs gives some answers. And it boils down to two words: Labor hoarding." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Strapped for retirement, more hope to work longer. "Nearly half of Americans have little or no confidence they are financially prepared for retirement, a problem many of them intend to solve by working longer, according to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)...The survey found that 10 percent of workers plan to retire between ages 66 and 69 and a another 26 percent intend to put off retirement at least until age 70, far more than planned to work that long when EBRI conducted its first retirement conficence survey in 1991." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

Is the Fed's crystal ball rose-colored? "The big question is whether Fed officials can get it right after years in which they have regularly predicted a stronger economy than the one that materialized. In January 2011, Fed officials predicted that GDP would grow around 3.7 percent that year. It clocked in at 2 percent. In January 2012, they anticipated growth of about 2.5 percent. We ended up with 1.6 percent." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

What comes after Fannie and Freddie? Nobody knows. "On Tuesday, the discussion about how to replace the companies — and design the nation’s housing finance system of the future — kicked up a notch in Congress, where sharp political divisions also made clear that finding a consensus about what to do next will be extraordinarily difficult. Republicans and Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee agreed that it was time for them to draft legislation for replacing Fannie and Freddie. Yet their comments suggested a wide gulf on how they plan to do it." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Mountainous interlude: Explore Mt. Everest and more in Google Maps.

4) Should we raise the gas tax?

Rep. DeFazio calls for inflation-indexing in gas tax. "Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) on Tuesday said Congress needs to pass legislation increasing the federal gasoline tax in order to pay for increased and ongoing demands on U.S. infrastructure...He suggested indexing the gas tax to inflation and fleet fuel economy, which he said would result in an additional tax of about one cent per gallon that would help pay for infrastructure improvements." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

U.S. oil production is booming. But there's a catch. "The United States is suddenly awash in fossil fuels. Oil output has risen to its highest level since 1992. Natural gas is booming, thanks to new and improved fracking techniques. Refined petroleum has become one of the country’s top exports...Dutch disease isn’t some weird fungal infection. It’s an odd economic phenomenon that often afflicts countries rich in natural resources. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the Netherlands discovered a large natural-gas field and began selling the gas abroad. That, in turn, drove up the value of the Dutch currency. And that currency rise, in turn, crippled Dutch manufacturers by making their exports more expensive. That’s Dutch disease. Could the same thing happen in the United States?" Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

EPA emissions plan faces possible revamp. "The Obama administration is weighing changes to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule to limit emissions at new power plants, in a preemptive move to protect against possible court challenges, according to people familiar with the matter...The proposed rule would limit emissions of carbon-dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas that many scientists have linked to a warming planet, to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of electricity generated at new power plants, whether fired by coal or natural gas." Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S., a model for cutting emissions. "Who would have thought the United States would one day be a leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions?...What stands out most in this shift, however, is not environmental regulation or public concern about global warming but the price of energy and market-driven technological advancements...[F]racking also appears, against all odds, to have brought Mr. Obama’s early, hopeful promise to cut CO2 emissions by 17 percent between 2005 and 2020 within reach." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Obama admin. won't trade ANWR for clean energy fund. "Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change, told reporters at the National Press Club that while the administration is committed to launching the Energy Security Trust Fund, it is also determined to keeping the iconic refuge off-limits to oil and gas exploration." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Regulator delays nuke-plant rule. "The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday delayed action on a proposed regulation that might have imposed hundreds of millions of dollars of costs on some of the country's older nuclear power plants. In a victory for the nuclear industry, a majority of the commission's five-member governing body voted for more analysis of the costs and benefits of installing filters on reactor venting systems." Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

Duck-size horses versus horse-sized duck interlude: Ezra's Paul Ryan edition.

5) Why the CR is stalled out

The incredible reason why the continuing resolution is stalled in the Senate. "Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) spent the day pretty much objecting to everything unless he was promised a vote on his amendment to protect funding for air traffic controllers at rural airports in states like his own...Moran is trying to head off an expected April 7 Federal Aviation Administration order that would terminate payments for private contractor air traffic controllers serving 173 airports. The meat industry fears that furloughs at FSIS in the summer will leave packing plants short-handed of the inspectors needed to operate efficiently." David Rogers in Politico.

What the continuing resolution would do. "With the expected Senate passage this week of broad legislation to finance the federal government through Sept. 30, a lucky few programs will be spared the brunt of the automatic spending cuts now coursing through the federal government. Also, managers in some departments, especially the Defense Department, will gain more flexibility to carry out cuts." Jonathan Weisman and Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

...And the votes have been scheduled. "Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled a cloture vote on the continued spending resolution for Wednesday morning. Around 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday the Senate will hold three votes to advance the Senate continued spending resolution...Reid had hoped to finish work on the C.R. Monday morning, but hit a snag when Republican members insisted on having votes on their amendments. " Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Meanwhile, the GOP says they will require more spending cuts to get a hike in the debt ceiling. "They might have appeared to stand down from the last clash over the debt ceiling in January. But don’t be fooled: House Republicans are still planning to push for steep spending cuts or budgetary reforms alongside legislation to allow more borrowing. House Speaker John Boehner’s majority has cut so deep into discretionary spending, they know they cannot go any deeper. So this time, to raise the nation’s debt cap — something GOP leadership estimates is likely to happen in July — they are moving on to tweaking entitlements." Jake Sherman in Politico.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Wonktalk: How bad is American infrastructure, really? Brad Plumer and Suzy Khimm.

What the heck is the euro zone doing? Ezra Klein.

An assault weapons ban is looking more and more unlikely. Brad Plumer.

Lots of Americans still want to repeal the Affordable Care ActSarah Kliff.

Cyprus is rejecting its bailout. Now whatDylan Matthews.

The split between housing andconstruction jobsNeil Irwin.

Is the Fed's crystal ball rose-coloredYlan Q. Mui.

5 reasons why immigration reform is moving forwardsSuzy Khimm.

How the Dutch discovered the hidden cost of a natural-resource boomBrad Plumer.

Good news! American infrastructure now gets a "D+" rather than a "D." Brad Plumer.

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized Paul Ryans or one Paul Ryan-sized duck? Ezra Klein.

Et Cetera

Climate change means 7 times as many Hurricane KatrinasTim McDonnell in Wired.

The slow advance of biofuel techKatie Fehrenbacher in GigaOM.

For upcoming gay-marriage cases, Supreme Court to release audio recording of arguments on same dayAdam Liptak in The New York Times.

Congress could see the first water infrastructure bill in six yearsZack Colman in The Hill.

Obama marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Richard Cordray wins approval from Senate Banking CmteDanielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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