Wonkbook: H-1B visas will run out in five days

April 2, 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.

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)
(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 5. That's the number of days it's expected to take for applications for H-1B visas, which go to skilled workers, to reach the yearly limit. The window opened Monday, and employers expect the spots to be filled by Friday. More below.

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The minimum wage is 37 percent of the average wage.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) where we are on immigration reform; 2) the cost of cheap energy; 3) who is Brian Deese and why the answer matters to the budget; 4) Medicare Advantage cuts scrapped; and 5) the case against economic apocalypse.

1) Top story: Amid immigration debate, a stressed system

Demand for visas soars. "For the first time since the financial crisis, U.S. employers are expected within days to reach a limit on the yearly allotment of applications for coveted skilled-worker visas, a sign of the strengthening economy that means some employers will rely on a lottery to fill key positions...Government and company officials predict employers by Friday will exhaust the quota for this year's application season, which opened Monday for jobs starting in October or later." Miriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal.

Immigration advocacy efforts fan out across country. "Immigration advocates anticipating a tough Capitol Hill debate over comprehensive policy changes are trying to pressure lawmakers in their home districts over Easter break...The efforts are part of a growing number of grass-roots campaigns aimed at shaping debate before proposals by bipartisan working groups in both the Senate and House are released. The campaigns will soon expand to Washington. Advocates are planning a rally of thousands at the Capitol on April 10." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@markknoller: In interview with Telemundo today, Pres Obama he's "actually very optimistic" about enacting immigration reform legislation.

White House 'encouraged' by Senate progress on immigration. "The White House said Monday it was "encouraged" by progress on bipartisan immigration reform in the Senate, but cautioned that lawmakers were "not there yet" on an agreement. "We are encouraged by the continuing signs of progress that we are seeing in the Senate as the Group of Eight and the Senate more broadly works on comprehensive immigration reform," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday." Justin Sink in The Hill.

@joseiswriting: Calling me "illegal" says more about you--and what you don't know about immigration--than it does about me.

House group nears immigration deal. "The key issues causing concern are fears about the price tag of immigration reform, the pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants and the process by which a slow-moving House Republican Conference might introduce and vote on a bill that would overhaul the system...That the House is this far along is significant because of the deep partisanship that has slowed legislative action on the issue over the last three years. Historically, the House has stuck to small-bore immigration fixes, like securing the border, instead of comprehensive reform." Jake Sherman in Politico.

@ThePlumLineGS: Rs laying groundwork to blame failure of immigration deal on Obama refusal to embrace enforcement trigger they refuse to define

What's the next hurdle for immigration reform? The fine print of 'citizenship.' "The arcane details and sensitive politics in the decision to go hard, soft or somewhere in between on the hurdles to legalization has so far been part of an under-the-radar debate, while attention has focused on sticking points such as the low-skilled visas. But with the Gang of Eight taking another step closer to a deal, the balance it strikes on the path to citizenship details — including penalties, fees and requirements for legal permanent residence — now will be as consequential as any of the higher-profile issues. It will help determine both the political viability of the bill and how many of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants ultimately get a shot at citizenship." Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.

MILBANK: Can the Republicans rediscover tolerance? "Republican leaders may wish that Young had been left in the 20th century. But their public anguish over his slur could be an encouraging sign: Are they finally willing to stand up to offensive elements in and around the party? It’s not time to award any medals of courage. But there seems to be a growing if self-interested recognition that intolerance is doing the GOP, and conservatism, real damage." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

SARGENT: Rubio's many escape hatches. "The first came when word leaked that the White House had drawn up its own plan that was marginally different from what pro-reform Republicans want...The second came back when Rubio claimed that unions were putting reform in peril because of their dispute with business groups over the guest worker program...Now, escape hatch number three is to join the “slow down” caucus. Only in so doing, Rubio is joining with other Senators who are urging a go-slow approach, such as Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions, who may be urging a slowdown so the armies of the right have time to mobilize and strike fear into any reform-minded Republican officials, killing reform." Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.

RUBIN: The forces who would undermine immigration reform. "[T]here is on the right a generic feeling that America is becoming “something else,” a country different socially and culturally than the America of their childhoods. Whether they worry about a failure to assimilate or a cultural shift in the fabric of America, they seem perpetually on defense as the country morphs in new and unexpected ways. Liberals say this is simply racism, but I think the vast majority of immigration opponents aren’t bigots.They are, however, entirely misguided about the essence of America, a country that is always changing and reinventing itself." Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Van Morrison, "Come Running," 1970 footage.

Top op-eds

PONNURU: The Supreme Court is no friend of freedom. "There’s a story Americans have learned about the Supreme Court, a story that affects the way we view high-profile cases like the ones about same-sex marriage that it heard last week. In this story, the Supreme Court has played a crucial, maybe the crucial, role in our country’s progress toward ever greater freedom and justice...For many people, a decision in which the court finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage would be the next great chapter in that book. The story is, however, false. In our actual history, the court has often been a bystander as freedom and equality have grown -- and has frequently been a villain." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

KLEIN: The GOP's biggest problem. "Here’s something unusual: Democrats, independents, and Republicans all agree about what’s wrong with the Republican Party. In fact, Republicans are, if anything, even more upset about it than Democrats. The GOP’s uniting sin? It won’t compromise... The GOP’s resistance to compromise is unique: It’s infuriated Democrats, independents, and Republicans." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

YGLESIAS: Why the U.S. government should print everybody a check. "We need a new strategy that can be taken off the shelf and implemented rapidly when needed. Helicopter money fits the bill perfectly. And even though it’s not monetary policy as traditionally designed, it fits the Federal Reserve’s mandate to stabilize prices and employment quite well. The ability to print money and directly give it to households is the tool we need, not just for today but for the next downturn." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

SUNSTEIN: Why the Court's silence could be golden. "If the arguments last week provide any clue, there is a good chance that the justices will also decline to settle the California dispute over same-sex marriage. Why does the court opt for silence? There are two reasons, involving humility, on the one hand, and prudence on the other...[I]f silence can be golden, it can also be irresponsible, even an abdication. Silence might authorize the perpetuation of real injustice -- and clear violations of the Constitution." Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg.

BROOKS: Freedom loses one. "Over the past 40 years, personal freedom has been on a nearly uninterrupted winning streak. In the 1960s, we saw a great expansion of social and lifestyle freedom. In the 1980s, we saw a great expansion of economic freedom...Recently, the balance between freedom and restraint has been thrown out of whack. People no longer even have a language to explain why freedom should sometimes be limited." David Brooks in The New York Times.

Historical interlude: Watts in 1966, a year after the famous riots.

2) Will cheap energy be worth it?

Will a new pipeline spill affect the Keystone XL decision? "Exxon Mobil is in the process of cleaning up what it describes as “a few thousand” barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil which spilled near Mayflower, Ark., about 25 miles north of Little Rock. The breach from the 95,000-barrel-a-day Pegasus pipeline, which originates in Patoka, Ill., and carries crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast, has prompted the evacuation of 22 homes and underscores the concern some opponents have raised about the nearly 800,000-barrel-a-day pipeline TransCanada has proposed building between Hardisty, Alberta and Gulf Coast refineries." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

What you learn from driving the length of Keystone XL. "[T]o make things more concrete, my colleague Steven Mufson decided to take a road trip last summer down the length of the proposed Keystone route, from Alberta to Texas. He’s written the whole trip up in an excellent new e-book “Keystone XL: Down The Line.” The book is a fairly quick read and really offers a fascinatingly detailed look at many of the issues raised by the pipeline. It’s highly recommended for anyone interested in energy and environmental topics." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Poll: Nearly half say government too lax on environmental regs. "In a Gallup survey released Monday, 47 percent said the government was doing too little to protect the environment. Sixteen percent believe the government is doing too much, with 35 percent saying Washington is doing the right amount on the issue...The poll’s broader trend suggests a steady decrease in support for more environmental protection. During the period from 2000-2006, more than half the country routinely supported additional intervention." Julian Hattem in The Hill.

The cheap-energy employment boom that wasn't. "The dream that a reinvigorated manufacturing sector will restore prosperity to the middle class and bring back millions of well-paying blue-collar jobs has made for some unlikely political bedfellows recently...[A] number of lobbying groups have been promising that more drilling for natural gas will lead to a jobs boom in dozens of industries that would benefit from cheaper energy." Nelson D. Schwartz in The New York Times.

Gas prices fell in March. "Gasoline prices that soared in early 2013 gave way to a rare March decline – one that could lower the temperature of political fights over energy. AAA reported Monday that national average prices fell during March for the first time in 10 years, and current prices are almost 30 cents per gallon less than a year ago...Prices currently average $3.63 per gallon. The decline of 15 cents per gallon last month was the first March decline since 2003, AAA said in its monthly report." Ben German in The Hill.

Unusually adorable animals interlude: A crow takes a bath in a bathtub.

3) Who is Brian Deese?

Meet Brian Deese, Obama's nominee for deputy budget director. "President Obama said Monday that he will nominate longtime economic aide Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council, as his next deputy budget director. The position would be a sigificant promotion for Deese, 35, who has played a key role in coordinating Obama’s budget policy over the past several years as the president has repeatedly clashed with Republicans over taxes and spending. He also has been an adviser on housing and manufacturing issues and helped run the task force that organized the rescue of General Motors and Chrysler." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Explainers: All the budget plans in one chart, and 6 lessons from The Washington Post's new budget chartsDylan Matthews and Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

The simple, boring reason why disability insurance has expanded. "Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has argued that a huge chunk of the rise in disability since 1990 can be explained by the very boring fact that Americans are getting older...If one controls for those three demographic factors, the rise looks somewhat more gradual, with the percentage of workers on disability going from 3.5 percent in 1995 to 4.6 percent in 2012." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Conventionally adorable animals interlude: A baby otter’s squeaky check-up.

4) Medicare Advantage cuts scrapped

HHS scraps planned Medicare Advantage cuts. "The insurance industry won a major lobbying victory Monday as the federal Medicare agency scrapped a proposed cut to Medicare Advantage plans. The Health and Human Services Department announced Monday that it will not follow through on a proposed cut to Medicare Advantage plans, which are administered by private insurers...The Medicare agency had initially proposed a 2.2 percent cut in Medicare Advantage payments. But on Monday the agency said it had scrapped that cut and would instead offer a 3 percent payment increase next year." Sam Baker in The Hill.

A first peek at the cost of the Affordable Care Act. "[T]he federal law's requirements that insurers must enroll all customers regardless of their medical history or claims, limit what they pay out of pocket for care, and cover a wide range of benefits could boost insurance costs in other states that have had less stringent rules in place. Subsidies would offset part of potential increases for lower-income consumers." Louise Radnofsky and Anna Wilde Matthews in The Wall Street Journal.

Q&A: The penalties in ObamacareSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Teen pregnancy rates are falling. "Teen births and pregnancies have plummeted over the past two decades, down 42 percent from 1990. Most Americans, it turns out, have no idea that we’re actually in the midst of a big public health success story." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Google Nose is fake. But the artificial nose? Real. "[T]he idea of a an artificial nose—something that would navigate the world solely using its sense of smell—isn’t a joke at all...At least not to Cyrano Sciences, a California-based company that is hard at work developing an electronic nose that will come pre-programmed with a database of all sorts of smells—a database like the one at the heart of Google’s joke." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

The link you're going to send to everyone right now interlude: High-speed photography of things shattering.

5) The case against economic apocalypse

The April Fool's economy. "The economic recovery has faked us out before. Will it fool us again this year?...But we’ve been to this rodeo twice already. In 2012 and 2011, seemingly strong momentum in the first half of the year gave way to summer slumps. Will the third try be the charm? Or is this just another prank — one that’s getting old fast." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Wonktalk: Have monetary easing and deficit spending doomed us all? Ezra Klein and Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Manufacturers see slow growth. "U.S. manufacturers notched a fourth consecutive month of expansion in March, continuing to grow but at a slower pace than in February, with the auto and housing sectors leading the gains...Last month's 51.3 level of overall manufacturing activity was down from 54.2 in February, suggesting that companies continue to exercise caution in stepping up their workforces, spending and capacity. Readings above 50 indicate expansion." Brenda Cronin in The Wall Street Journal.

The nihilism of David Stockman. "Stockman and I seem to be direct antagonists on this fundamental question: Should government, in particular central banks, endeavor to corral the ups and downs of capitalism to try to steer their nation toward prosperity?...[P]ause for a minute to consider how fundamentally nihilistic Stockman’s view of the economy seems to be: that basically anything the state does to try to fix things is undermining some elegant capitalist order and will inevitably lead to chaos." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

The problem with TwitterEzra Klein.

Seven things you learn driving the length of the Keystone XL pipelineBrad Plumer.

Six lessons from The Washington Post's budget chartsEzra Klein.

Wonktalk: Have monetary easing and deficit spending doomed us all? Ezra Klein and Neil Irwin.

The nihilism of David StockmanNeil Irwin.

The April Fool's economyYlan Q. Mui.

Google Nose is fake. But the artificial nose isn'tSarah Kliff.

Interactive: All the budget plans, in one chartDylan Matthews.

This is the Republican Party's biggest problem. Ezra Klein.

The simple, boring reason for the explosion of disability insurance. Brad Plumer.

Readers have questions about Obamacare’s penalties. We have answers! Sarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Sen. Casey backs gay marriage, leaving 8 Senate Democrats who don'tRachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Tough gun laws proposed in ConnecticutJoseph De Avila in The Wall Street Journal.

Firearms advocates target gun-control measuresPhilip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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