Wonkbook: A gun control deal is in trouble

March 22, 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 Numbers of the Day: 71 and 53. That's the percentages of Democrats and Republicans, respectively, who say they favor an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. More below. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Bye, bye, manufacturing jobs.

(George Frey/Bloomberg News)
(George Frey/Bloomberg News)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) substantive gun control policy is in jeopardy; 2) House approves CR, wants new fight; 3) sun shines on immigration reform; 4) why we have economic inequality; and 5) happy 3rd birthday, Obamacare.

1) Top story: Gun control is in trouble. Can it survive?

Senate: We'll deal with gun control...right after this break. "Gun control will be the first order of business in the Senate when lawmakers return in April from their two-week holiday break. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) formally moved a package of gun-related bills onto the legislative calendar Thursday night, setting up the most serious debate on gun control in Congress in more than a decade." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

@samsteinhp: never expected assault weapons ban to pass, but when talking to folks on hill, this is the bleakest they've sounded on gun policy reform

What's holding up gun control? "The core of a gun deal isn’t the assault weapons ban. That will get a vote on the Senate floor, but it won’t pass, and it’s long been clear that it won’t pass. A ban on assault weapons also isn’t, as a policy matter, the most important piece of a gun-control package. That designation goes to universal background checks...But there’s one sticking point: Record-keeping. Schumer wants a record kept of the background check. Coburn won’t agree to anything of the kind." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: I think an AWB is a shiny object and a distraction, but it's insane if they don't go for universal background checks.

Biden says he hasn't given up on an assault-weapons ban. "While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declared that an assault weapons ban has no chance of passing, Vice President Biden says he is not giving up...Biden did help pass an assault weapons ban in 1994, after initially laughing at the idea." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

...And that gun control would have saved lives at Newtown. "Vice President Biden gave an impassioned plea for Congress to double down on new gun-control measures, including an assault weapons ban, by suggesting the laws could have prevented some of the deaths in Newtown, Mass." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

ROBINSON: Harry Reid has surrendered on gun control. "Shame on Harry Reid for killing any prospect of an assault weapons ban. I understand why he did it, but that doesn’t make it right...We all know what’s happening here. Senate Democrats face a tough battle next year to hold on to their slim majority. Going on record in support of legislation that the gun lobby so vehemently opposes could cost some vulnerable incumbents their seats — and potentially make Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the majority leader." Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Try these reviews from "Collapse Board."

Top op-eds

BRADY: Ask more for teacher training. "The U.S. public education system is trying any number of techniques—from charter schools to presidential initiatives to oil-company-run teacher academies—to catch up to countries like Finland and South Korea in math and science education. But policymakers seem to be overlooking one simple solution: requiring math and science teachers to progress further up the educational ladder before they teach those subjects to kids." Heather Brady in Slate.

KRUGMAN: Treasure island trauma. "[W]hat happens when a secrecy jurisdiction itself goes bust? That’s the story of Cyprus right now. And whatever the outcome for Cyprus itself (hint: it’s not likely to be happy), the Cyprus mess shows just how unreformed the world banking system remains, almost five years after the global financial crisis began." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

BROOKS: How to get good at forecasting. "How did they make such accurate predictions? In the first place, they identified better forecasters...Tetlock and company gathered 3,000 participants. Some got put into teams with training, some got put into teams without. Some worked alone. Some worked in prediction markets. Some did probabilistic thinking and some did more narrative thinking. The teams with training that engaged in probabilistic thinking performed best" David Brooks in The New York Times.

NOONAN: Can the GOP recover from Iraq? "After Iraq it was the Republicans who seemed at best the party of historical romantics or, alternatively, the worst kind of cynic, which is an incompetent one. Iraq marked a departure in mood and tone from past conservatism...[T]he high stakes and high drama of the wars—and the sense within the Bush White House that it was fighting for our very life after 9/11—stoked an atmosphere in which doubters and critics were dismissed as weak, unpatriotic, disloyal...A conservative movement that had prided itself, in the 1970s and 1980s, on its intellectualism seemed no longer capable of an honest argument." Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal.

PORTER: The hard math on fossil fuels. " American CO2 emissions last year totaled about 5.25 billion tons — almost 13 percent less than in 2007...But the decline is so modest that it is almost irrelevant. To stop the world’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — considered by most climate scientists as the prudent limit — emissions must fall much faster." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

MATTHEW C. KLEIN: Don't scapegoat DeMarco. "DeMarco's position on principal reduction is mistaken, but he shouldn't be made a scapegoat for all that's gone wrong with the administration's policies on housing. Blame that larger failure on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the president himself." Matthew C. Klein in Bloomberg.

NORRIS: Cut the banks loose. "Can anyone manage a big bank these days? Should anyone try? Or should we simply conclude that playing in the modern world of derivatives is best left to those whose survival is not critical to the nation’s economy, and who do not benefit from government-backed deposit insurance?" Floyd Norris in The New York Times.

Naval interlude: A time lapse video for the construction of the world's largest ship.

2) House approves CR

House votes to approve CR. "The House on Thursday averted a looming government shutdown by approving legislation that will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year. The $984 billion spending bill passed by a vote of 318 to 109...The legislation reflects a carefully coordinated compromise between appropriators in the House and Senate and their leaders, all of whom wanted to prevent a government shutdown. The bill currently providing funding for the government would have expired on March 28." Erik Wasson and Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

The budget votes could begin by Friday evening. "The body is currently making its way though 50 hours of debate on the first Democratic budget resolution to reach the floor in four years. The full 50 hours will expire at 7 p.m. on Friday. If senators cannot agree to shorten the debate, amendment votes would begin then. A GOP aide said that the party might be willing to move up the time, but that is not yet certain. Once debate begins, senators can offer a virtually unlimited number of amendments to the budget at a simple majority threshold.  As of Thursday afternoon, there were 127 amendments to the budget, most of them from Republicans. Many of the GOP measures will be intended to inflict political damage on Democrats. Erik Wasson in The Hill.

Congress decides to cooperate now, have bigger crisis later. "Just when it looked as if both political parties were ready to step off the bloody budget battlefield, the troops on Thursday began mustering for a new skirmish on an old issue: the debt ceiling...Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, renewed his demand that any increase in the government’s statutory borrowing limit be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts — on top of the across-the-board cuts and budget caps already squeezing the government." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Explainer: The coming budget votes you need to watchDavid Nather in Politico.

The case for hoping for a government shutdown now rather than later. "The sequester was supposed to be a “safe” crisis — scary enough to force us to resolve our problems, but not as disruptive as a government shutdown or a debt-ceiling showdown. It turns out it wasn’t nearly scary enough. Now we’re passing on a government shutdown, too...We had two opportunities to come to a budget deal without imperiling the global economy. But Congress has decided to wait for the imperil-the-global-economy one instead. Great." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Is sequestration here to stay? "Sequestration was meant to be such a terrible, indiscriminate instrument that it would force both parties to overcome their differences and pass a major budget deal. Now it’s looking possible that the across-the-board cuts could just be here to stay...Even though these may just be marginal improvements, the changes under CR could be enough to dull some of the political urgency of undoing sequestration." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Wonktalk: Is this the end of the budget wars? Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

How institutional change affects grand bargaining. "ike quarterbacks in football, presidents are central to most Washington stories. So discussion of budget gridlock often revolves around whether President Obama plays as effectively as his predecessors. But institutional changes on Capitol Hill may be just as important as the president’s skills...Once House and Senate leaders deferred to the seniority and expertise of committees to resolve disputes on big issues. Today’s leaders, following battle plans of their warring Republican and Democratic armies, dictate the most important outcomes." John Harwood in The New York Times.

Yes, we're that nerdy interlude: A Lego machine to fold paper planes.

3) Sun shines on immigration reform

Survey finds broad support for a path to citizenship. "Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor giving illegal immigrants in the country an opportunity for legal status with a path to citizenship, according to a poll published Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. Support for an earned path to citizenship for those immigrants came from 71 percent of Democrats and also a majority, 53 percent, of Republicans, the poll found." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Schumer says Senate is nearly ready for immigration reform. "A key member of a bipartisan Senate group said Thursday that the eight members are nearing agreement on a comprehensive plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and will unveil a bill for consideration early next month...In addition to potential citizenship for undocumented migrants, the comprehensive bill is expected to include a new program for foreign workers that would add up to 200,000 visas per year depending on economic conditions and employment needs. However, lawmakers continued to negotiate Thursday over the terms of how much those workers would be paid, people familiar with the negotiations said. The legislation also is likely to increase significantly the number of visas for highly skilled tech workers, reduce some categories of family visas and increase border control and workplace security measures." David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

Do we need more foreign skilled workers? "The tech industry points out that there’s been far more demand for  H1-B visas in recent years than supply: The cap was reached more quickly every year between 2004 and 2008—reaching a new record that last year, when the 65,000-visa cap was hit in just a single day. Demand for H1-B visas dropped sharply during the financial crisis and the recession, but it’s bounced back over the last two years: In 2012, the government stopped accepting petitions for H1-B visa after just 72 days." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

...And how can we measure border security, anyway? "More than two years after Homeland Security officials told Congress that they would produce new, more accurate standards to assess security at the nation’s borders, senior officials from the department acknowledged this week that they had not completed the new measurements and were not likely to in coming months, as the debate proceeds about overhauling the immigration system." Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Hey, big investor: Want a green card? "[There is] a fast-growing U.S. visa program, in which foreigners can gain permanent residence by investing $500,000 in a U.S. project that creates at least 10 jobs...The EB-5 program is booming in popularity, driven largely by a struggling U.S. economy in which developers are searching for new sources of capital. It is also fueled by rising demand from foreigners looking for access to U.S. schools, safe investment in U.S. projects and — in the case of China, where most of the investors are from — greater freedom." Kevin Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Iraq interlude: Ten years, in photos, from The Atlantic.

4) Why we have inequality

Where wages have been stagnating since 1970. "[A]verage wages for construction, manufacturing, and mining have taken a big plunge since the 1970s, with manufacturing staying basically flat for decades...Average wages for finance, health, and education have risen steadily over the past three decades. Information services took a dip in the 1970s but has risen of late." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Inequality is a persistent phenomenon. "The deepening divide between rich and poor in the US is spread across the whole lifetime of workers, according to a new study that had rare access to the tax returns of thousands of Americans...[T]he study – which drew directly on the tax returns of 34,000 households and tracked them year-by-year to see how their incomes changed – found that almost all of the increased variation in earnings was permanent." Robin Harding in The Financial Times.

The manufacturing share of employment is down, down, down. "What this shows is that the decline in manufacturing as a share of overall employment has been ongoing since the 1960s and 1970s, and has not really picked up pace in recent decades...[S]imilar declines have happened, at roughly the same pace, all around the world...[T]he change is due to rapid productivity growth. That is, automation is reducing the amount of labor required to produce a given amount of goods." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Older households are running up debts. "The median level of debt among households led by someone 65 and older—the level at which 50% are above and below—rose nearly 120% between 2000 and 2011 from roughly $12,000 to $26,000, due largely to rising mortgage debt, according to a Census report released Thursday." Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.

Existing-home sales hit 3-year high. "Existing-home sales increased 0.8% in February from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million, the highest level since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. Sales were 10.2% above the same month a year earlier, the 20th consecutive month of year-over-year gains." Alan Zibel and Sara Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

You would think this would be boring, but you're totally wrong interlude: Check out these basalt formations.

5) Obamacare turns 3

Happy 3rd birthday, Obamacare. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law...Reid listed how people benefit from the healthcare law, including students staying on their parent’s plans until age 26 and seniors saving on prescription drug costs...But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) marked the event differently, saying that the Affordable Care Act is “endangering the greatest healthcare system.”" Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Health insurers warn that premiums will jump next year. "Health insurers are privately warning brokers that premiums for many individuals and small businesses could increase sharply next year because of the health-care overhaul law, with the nation's biggest firm projecting that rates could more than double for some consumers buying their own plans...In a private presentation to brokers late last month, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's largest carrier, said premiums for some consumers buying their own plans could go up as much as 116%, and small-business rates as much as 25% to 50%." Anna Wilde Matthews and Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

The Senate wants to scrap the tax on medical devices. "The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday night to repeal a tax on medical-device sales, despite the fact that the levy helps finance the health-care overhaul. The vote was largely symbolic, but the 79-20 tally signals strong opposition to the 2.3% tax on device sales that went into effect Jan. 1." Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Will the Medicaid expansion be private? "The White House is encouraging skeptical state officials to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people, even though that approach might be somewhat more expensive, federal and state officials say." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Why discount drug plans may not be saving Medicare any money. "Preferred-pharmacy plans that promise lower prices for people who agree to buy their prescription drugs from certain stores may be costing the U.S. Medicare program more money to support, pharmacists said...Preferred pharmacies in one UnitedHealth plan may cost as much as 10 percent more than other stores, the community pharmacists group said." Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

How conservatives can be environmentalistsBrad Plumer. 

Google's trust problemEzra Klein.

What's holding up gun controlEzra Klein.

Do we need more skilled foreign workers? Suzy Khimm.

Wonktalk: The end of the budget wars? Brad Plumer and Suzy Khimm.

Why I was hoping for a government shutdown nowEzra Klein.

The long-term decline in manufacturing employmentDylan Matthews.

Where have wages stagnated? Where have they risen? Brad Plumer.

Is sequstration here to stay? Suzy Khimm.

The bonkers economics of sports, as shown by the NCAA tournamentNeil Irwin.

Et Cetera

Support for gay marriage is soaring. Here's whyChris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Senate seeks to slash sugar subsidies, in a rare blowAlexandra Wexler in The Wall Street Journal.

GAO says Postal Service has no authority to reduce service unilaterallyRon Nixon in The New York Times.

Renewal of tax credit gives wind industry a new gustDiane Cardwell in The New York Times.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Brad Plumer · March 21, 2013