Wonkbook: Marking up immigration reform — and the lines of debate

May 6, 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 percent. That's the amount by which overall coal production in the United States fell last year. Low prices for natural gas and rising regulatory scrutiny of coal are major drivers of the change. 

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: Lots of interesting ones on high-skilled immigration in this EPI report.


(Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform's long road ahead; 2) tax reform jumps to front of conversation; 3) Obama backs expansion of natural-gas exports; 4) a little spending will help the uninsured get to an exchange; and 5) the little stories of sequestration.

1) Top story: Marking up immigration reform -- and the lines of debate

Immigration reform faces Senate gauntlet, uncertain House outlook. "The push for immigration reform enters a crucial period when Congress returns this week, as Senate legislation faces the gauntlet of a committee mark-up and House negotiators try to complete their own long-awaited bill...Senators took their legislation on the road during the congressional recess, and the pressure of conservative opposition appeared to yield early concessions from a key backer, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said the bill likely couldn't pass the House and may need to be changed even to clear the Senate. “Since my colleagues and I introduced immigration legislation, intense public scrutiny has helped identify shortcomings and unintended consequences that need to be addressed,” Rubio wrote Friday in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal." Russell Berman in The Hill.

@thegarance: What part of GOP is doing to Marco Rubio bc of his leadership on immigration is so counter-productive. Looks terrible for party.

Obama backs LGBT provision in immigration bill. "President Obama said Friday that he backs a provision in the immigration bill that would allow Americans and legal residents to apply for immigration status for same-sex partners. But the president indicated that he would sign an immigration bill without the provision." Amie Parnes in The Hill.

@markknoller: On getting an immigration reform bill, Pres Obama said "we're gonna keep at this. One thing I am is persistent."

...And the Senate will soon debate that provision. "Senators began laying the groundwork Sunday for formal debate on immigration-overhaul legislation, including a provision that would extend immigration rights for same-sex couples. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to consider the bill this week as Congress returns from a recess." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

What you should know about CBO's role in immigration. "Immigration policy poses an unusual challenge for the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. If Congress allows more people into the United States, our population, labor force, and economy will all get bigger. But CBO and JCT usually hold employment, gross domestic product (GDP), and other macroeconomic variables constant when making their budget estimates. In Beltway jargon, CBO and JCT don’t do macro-dynamic scoring...Because increased immigration has such a direct economic effect, the only logical thing to do is explicitly score the budget impacts of increased population and employment. And that’s exactly what CBO and JCT intend to do." Donald Marron on his blog.

What immigration talking points are you likely to hear? "They insist that economic growth will do a lot to outweigh any costs of the bill, and they got a boost last week when the Congressional Budget Office said it will consider the economic impacts when it estimates the cost of the Gang of Eight bill. They’ll have strong support from other conservative thinkers, especially Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum, who says the economic benefits of immigration reform are the key to any chance of survival of the entitlement programs." David Nather in Politico.

DeMint is pushing hard in opposition. "The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is set to release a study this week on the costs of immigration. “The study you’ll see from Heritage this week presents the staggering costs of another amnesty in our country and the detrimental effects long-term that that will have,” DeMint said." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: Professional basketball is a clear example of an industry where immigration reduces the employment of native-born NBA players.

Tech firms use new political leverage to push immigration. "Those deals were worked out through what Senate negotiators acknowledged was extraordinary access by American technology companies to staff members who drafted the bill. The companies often learned about detailed provisions even before all the members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who worked out the package were informed." Eric Lipton and Somini Sengupta in The New York Times.

HOPKINS: Does immigration hurt support for the welfare state? "[T]here is another concern about immigration that they don’t typically raise, one that you are more likely to hear from the European left than the American right: that immigration undermines the social welfare state by making voters less supportive of public spending." Dan Hopkins in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Passenger, "Golden Thread."

Top op-eds

SUMMERS: Political leaders bear real blame for austerity. "[N]o important policy conclusion should ever be based solely on a single statistical result. Policy judgments should be based on the accumulation of evidence from multiple studies done with differing approaches...It is absurd to blame Reinhart and Rogoff for austerity policies. The political leaders advancing austerity measures made their choice of policy first, and then cast about for intellectual buttresses." Larry Summers in The Financial Times.

BRADY: Tax reform needs accurate tax tables. "The JEC study examined tax-distribution tables produced by Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. The tables use averages—rather than medians—to characterize changes in tax liabilities by income groups (or quintiles). But averages are wildly unrepresentative for this purpose...Until these flaws are corrected, Congress will have a skewed reading of the progressivity of proposed reforms to the tax code and their effects on America's taxpayers and economic growth." Kevin Brady in The Wall Street Journal.

SOUMERAI AND KOPPEL: The unintended consequences of readmission penalties. "[T]he current approach flies in the face of the best medical science and jeopardizes the health of patients and the bottom line of hospitals in three important ways: Research shows that most readmissions can't be prevented...[A]ccording to a review of 72 medical studies—the review was conducted last year at the University of Texas—patients that are elderly, minority, poorly educated, poor, smokers and the noncompliant (among others) have higher readmission rates. These social factors are not controllable by hospitals and are not taken into consideration in penalty calculations." Stephen Soumerai and Ross Koppel in The Wall Street Journal.

SPIRO: Beware health-insurance rate hysteria. "When comparing premiums before and after the health-care law, we also shouldn’t lose sight of the benefits of improved coverage and insurance market protections. A plan that covers prescription drugs is very different from one that doesn’t; comparing their prices is like comparing apples and oranges. More important, when people get sick or are diagnosed with a medical condition, or just grow older, their premiums will now remain stable. That security has real value -- even to the fraction of high-income, young and healthy people who may pay more." Topher Spiro in Bloomberg.

LUCE: Republicans, a Southern rump party? "[T]he party will stand little chance of making a national comeback in 2016 or beyond if it rewards Mr Cruz’s brand of politics. In this civil war between Republican arsonists and architects, ideology is not the real divide. It is about whether the party can recapture a purpose in governing – as it has in many state capitols – or whether it will retreat into its own Alamo as a regional party of the south." Edward Luce in The Financial Times.

KRUGMAN: The chutzpah caucus. "[T]here is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future. So now seems like a good time to point out that this cynicism, which sounds realistic and worldly-wise, is actually sheer fantasy. Ending stimulus has never been a problem — in fact, the historical record shows that it almost always ends too soon." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DIONNE: Obama needs to ask himself why his supporters are growing impatient. "[T]he president also needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient. His whole budget strategy, after all, is directed almost entirely toward gently coaxing Republicans his way, without any concern as to whether what he is doing is demobilizing the very people he needs on his side now." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

We're not quite sure what to say about this interlude: Photos of squirrels doing human things.

2) Tax reform rising

House GOP ties debt-ceiling hike to tax reform. "One framework that has gained significant traction — and has been ricocheting around K Street and Capitol Hill — would directly wed increases in the debt ceiling to progress in tax reform. The idea is in its infancy, according to sources involved in planning, but here’s how it would work: Legislation would authorize something like a three-month bump in the debt limit while simultaneously giving the same amount of time for the House to act on its tax-reform plan." Jake Sherman and Steven Sloan in Politico.

...And the issue lurches into the spotlight. "[S]upporters increasingly see a tax-code revamp as a potentially achievable goal—perhaps as part of a so-called grand bargain to reduce budget deficits—that could boost the sluggish economy. A tax rewrite "ranks as one of the highest" priorities for House Republicans, said Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the GOP whip. "The only way to get out of this mess" of slow growth and chronic high deficits "is to grow our economy. This is the best way to do that."" John D. McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

Extraterrestrial interlude: NASA wants to send your poetry to Mars.

3) Obama backs natural-gas exports

Obama backs increase in natural gas exports. "The Obama administration has signalled support for more plants to export liquefied natural gas, as the US embraces its surging energy production as a key new element of its national security policy...Although the energy department is the decision maker, the issue is being debated at senior levels in the White House which sees energy exports as giving the US new geopolitical leverage." Richard McGregor and Ed Crooks in The Financial Times.

Interview: Michael A. Levi on how the oil-and-gas boom will change AmericaBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Coal is making a comeback in the Midwest. "Last year, overall coal production in the U.S. fell 7% from a year earlier, with the biggest decline in Wyoming's Powder River Basin and in Central Appalachia mines of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. But in the Illinois Basin, which includes southern Illinois and Indiana and western Kentucky, coal output rose by 10% last year, and the region over the next several years is projected to surpass Central Appalachia in coal output for the first time ever." Kris Maher in The Wall Street Journal.

Quietly, the carbon tax gains ground. "Activists are quietly forging ahead with their campaign for carbon taxes despite long odds on Capitol Hill...It would happen, he said, by “immaculate conception,” but not until 2015 or 2016...Advocates range from longtime backer Al Gore to Inglis to Art Laffer, one of the godfathers of conservative economics. They all back a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax that would be offset by reductions in personal taxes." Ben German in The Hill.

Strange animals interlude: Pitbull bites hanging branch, swings on it for extended period.

4) How can we get the uninsured to enroll?

State spending on consumer assistance for exchanges could have a big impact. "The wide variation in spending to hire and train people to provide consumer assistance in the first year of the new marketplaces could have a major impact on how many people actually get coverage under Obamacare, experts say...The biggest reason for the uneven spending on consumer assistance is that when Congress passed the health law in 2010, it assumed most states would run the online marketplaces, and it authorized broad funding for that. As it turned out, only 16 states and the District of Columbia agreed to do so." Phil Galewitz in Kaiser Health News.

Florida rejects Medicaid expansion. "Scott wouldn’t be the one to “deny Floridians” a part of the health care law—but the Florida legislature had other plans. Lawmakers adjourned Friday after passing a budget that does not include funding for a Medicaid expansion. Unless the Republican-controlled legislature comes back for a special session later this year—which some Democrats are calling for—Florida will not expand Medicaid in 2014." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Obama floats major change to Medicare Parts A and B. "Left-leaning groups and liberal lawmakers say that combining Medicare's doctor and hospital coverage would saddle beneficiaries with higher costs. The idea has attracted support from leading Republicans, and given Obama's receptiveness, the policy could receive significant attention in the next round of deficit-reduction talks...Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, acknowledged that reforming Medicare's benefit design would serve patients with "truly catastrophic medical expenses" not covered by supplemental insurance. But she predicted that creating a combined Part A/B deductible of $550 would raise costs on about 29 million beneficiaries." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Tech interlude: What will the next Google service shutdown be?

5) The little stories of sequestration

Facing sequester, government copes. "Facing the task of cutting 142 children from the Head Start program in Colorado Springs this fall, the teachers and administrators came up with a creative response: Have the children decorate empty chairs, then sell them for $500 apiece to stave off the worst of the across-the-board federal cuts heading their way. So far, in a month, their “Fill a Seat” fund-raiser has filled just two slots in the program." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Explainer: Key economic data this weekAmrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

The economic policy in Obama's trip to Costa Rica. "In San Jose Friday, Mr. Obama met with the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, as well as the prime minister of Belize. The leaders discussed plans for cooperation on security issues, including efforts to reduce and prevent crime and to reduce the U.S. demand for illicit drugs. Mr. Obama shifted the focus back to economic development and innovation Saturday, though, calling for collaboration on research, particularly in the realm of developing renewable energy.Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Florida rejects Medicaid expansion, leaves 1 million uninsuredSarah Kliff.

How the oil and gas boom will change America: An interview with Michael LeviBrad Plumer.

Does immigration hurt support for the welfare stateDan Hopkins.

This accounting tweak by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will mean $60 billion for the U.S. governmentSteven Pearlstein.

Yes, gay couples plan for the future. In fact, they’re really good at itEzra Klein.

Et Cetera

Monday-morning longread: An excerpt from "Act of Congress," Robert G. Kaiser's new bookThe Washington Post.

Obama gives graduation speech to Ohio State UniversityCheryl W. Thompson in The Washington Post.

Congress wants to lighten the federal criminal code. Gary Fields and Neil King Jr. in The Wall Street Journal.

Colleges are moving towards cuts in net tuitionRuth Simon in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama vows a push on early-childhood educationJulian Pecquet in The Hill.

Debate: What are the proper limits of the welfare stateThe New York Times.

Giffords wins award for gun-control activismThe Associated Press.

This is the most pro-business Supreme Court since World War IIAdam Liptak 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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