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.
The immigration bill will only move to the right from here.
On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News that the bill didn't have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate. In fact, right now, the immigration bill doesn't even have his vote. In part, that's because of "how little confidence people have that the federal government will enforce the law.”
So Rubio is working on making the law harder to enforce. Politico reports that Rubio has partnered with Sen. John Cornyn on a sweeping amendment that would require "stricter border patrol provisional 'triggers' before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards."
That sure sounds as if no one is ever getting a green card. That level of operational control -- unless operational control is defined quite far down -- is nearly impossible. And that's the Senate bill. That will be the more immigrant-friendly pole in this debate.
Wherever the Senate bill ends up, the House bill will end up well to the right of that. It will have to end up to the right of that both for political reasons -- Speaker John Boehner needs to show his members they're getting something -- and for the simple reason that the average House members has beliefs that are further to the right than the sixtieth senator. House Republicans tell me to expect a lengthy, ugly process that ends with something that is an immigration-reform bill, but that Democrats might not be willing to credit as being an immigration-reform bill.
Here's the politics as they see it: Democrats have comforted themselves with the belief that immigration reform is a political necessity for the Republican Party. And perhaps it is. But the Republicans who will lose if immigration reform fails are future Republicans. The ones who will lose in primaries if a moderate immigration bill passes are current Republicans. And it's current Republicans who have to vote on this bill.
Moreover, the consensus in DC is well to the left of the consensus nationally. Most Americans are perfectly comfortable with extremely border enforcement. The poison pills that Republicans could add to the bill -- like 100 percent operational control of the border -- sound good to most Americans. Republicans believe they can sell these arguments in the next election. If it loses them future election, well, that's for their future selves to worry about.
The Democratic theory has long been to pass a bill they like in the Senate, expect a bill they don't like from the House, and then use the conference committee to jam House Republicans on the preise that House Republicans know they can't kill immigration reform. But now Senate Republicans are organizing to give Democrats a bill they don't like in the Senate, a bill they absolutely hate in the House, and if this kills immigration reform, well, plenty of their members would be just fine with that.
A month or two ago, I heard a lot of optimism from both sides on immigration reform. I'm hearing less lately, from either side.
Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 4.1 percent. That's the latest average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. It's risen from 3.4 percent since May 1. That's a big jump.
Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: "They don't actually produce anything themselves," said President Barack Obama of 'patent troll' lawsuits. "They're just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else's idea and see if they can extort some money out of them."
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: The black/white marijuana arrest gap, in nine charts.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) 60 votes in doubt for immigration reform; 2) IRS in trouble for conference spending; 3) a quick primer on the housing market; 4) Obamacare as policy and politics; and 5) 'trolling' enters political lexicon.
1) Top story: Immigration reform runs aground
Rubio: Immigration reform doesn't have 60 votes. "Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in an interview Tuesday with Fox News Channel, said the immigration reform compromise he is helping lead doesn’t have the 60 votes it needs to pass. “No, and I think even the Democrats would concede that,” Rubio said. “And there’s a few reasons for it, but one of the things we’ve learned over the last few weeks … is how little confidence people have that the federal government will enforce the law.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Bill has 'serious flaws,' say GOP sens. "Four Republican senators are stepping up their opposition to a comprehensive immigration bill, arguing in a new letter to colleagues...Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Mike Lee (Utah) detail nine major concerns they have with the sweeping proposal that was approved by Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.
@bdomenech: And isn't the best avenue to killing it, from the GOP's perspective, having Rubio use his escape route?
...And so the war begins again. "The issue of border security will likely be among the top issues once the full Senate starts its consideration of the bill, and how lawmakers tweak those provisions will be key in gaining Republican support. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Gang of Eight member, is looking at an amendment that would give the power of drafting a border security plan to Congress, not to the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate is expected to begin working on the Gang of Eight immigration bill next week." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Sen. Cornyn's big immigration ideas. "Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn intends to introduce a sweeping amendment to the immigration bill when it goes on the floor next week, seeking to replace an entire section devoted to border security and tweak the national security and criminal justice titles. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the members of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight, has been working with Cornyn on the amendment “for weeks,” a Rubio aide said...The Texas Republican wants stricter border patrol provisional “triggers” before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance." Burgess Everett in Politico.
Guns, gay rights could return in immigration fight. "[D]ebate over amendments to restrict gun ownership for illegal immigrants and to provide foreign-born gay partners with U.S. citizenship would reopen old wounds that both parties would rather see closed — even if those measures ultimately fail...One amendment would broaden an existing ban on certain immigrants buying guns to those who came into the U.S. on visa waivers. The other would require the attorney general to notify Homeland Security officials if undocumented immigrants or immigrants on temporary visas try to buy firearms, which is illegal." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Music recommendations interlude: The Dubliners, "The Rocky Road to Dublin."
BIDEN: The Americas ascendant. "There is enormous potential—economically, politically and socially—for the U.S. in its relations with countries of the Western Hemisphere. And so the Obama administration has launched the most sustained period of U.S. engagement with the Americas in a long, long time...As leaders across the region work to lift their citizens out of poverty and to diversify their economies from commodity-led growth, the U.S. believes that the greatest promise—for Americans and for our neighbors—lies in deeper economic integration and openness." Joe Biden in The Wall Street Journal.
KLEIN: How American politics got hijacked by the partisans. "Power has devolved to the people. And the people hate it. In his book “Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics,” Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina considers this “the great irony” of American politics: that the more Americans participate in their political system, the angrier and more disillusioned they become. We have met the enemy, and it is us. Or at least some of us." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.
ALEXANDER, COBURN, AND BURR: Stop playing politics with student loans. "We have introduced a proposal that would get rid of the confusing and arbitrary way interest rates are determined on federal student loans, and instead allow rates to be set by the market. We commend President Obama for introducing a similar proposal in his budget, and the House of Representatives for recently passing similar legislation, on a bipartisan basis, that offers a long-term, market-based solution. But we are worried that Senate Democrats, who could vote on the issue as early as this week, will oppose a permanent solution for 100 percent of loans and instead will merely extend the existing, arbitrary rate for a minority of loans, and for just two years." Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr in The New York Times.
SOLTAS: In defense of the capital-gains loophole. "[T]here are compelling reasons to tax investment income at a preferred rate. [But the capital-gains tax should be reformed.]...The solution is to index gains to a measure of prices and tax only inflation-adjusted gains...Another big flaw in the capital-gains tax is that its definition of eligible investment is too broad. It allows the highest earners to enjoy what is consumption in all but name at a preferential rate." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.
SARGENT: Is Republican obstructionism really unprecedented? "Republicans deny that their obstructionism is unprecedented. As it happens, though, there is a set of actual facts we can look at to try to determine who is right...For instance, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented." Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.
RADER, CHIEN, AND HRICIK: Make patent trolls pay in court. "The onslaught of litigation brought by “patent trolls” — who typically buy up a slew of patents, then sue anyone and everyone who might be using or selling the claimed inventions — has slowed the development of new products, increased costs for businesses and consumers, and clogged our judicial system...Lost in the debate, however, is that judges already have the authority to curtail these practices: they can make trolls pay for abusive litigation." Randall R. Rader, Colleen V. Chien, and David Hricik in The New York Times.
MILBANK: In the GOP, it's 1999. "It’s beginning to feel like the late ’90s all over again. Then, congressional Republicans howled themselves hoarse about Clinton administration scandals. But the indicators kept pointing to a booming economy, and support for President Bill Clinton climbed steeply through 1998 as House Republicans marched toward impeaching him." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.
CROOK: Politics can't handle the truth about austerity. "What we know, or think we know, about fiscal policy five years after the global recession started isn’t all that different from what we knew, or thought we knew, back in 2008. It boils down to two points. One, fiscal stimulus is essential when conventional monetary policy is powerless. Two, fiscal stimulus may be impossible even when it’s essential" Clive Crook in Bloomberg.
Adorable animals interlude: Husky interrupts baseball, runs around the outfield.
2) IRS drip-drip continues with conference scandal
IRS spent $4.1m on a single conference, audit finds. "The Internal Revenue Service spent $4.1 million on a single conference in Southern California in 2010, paying top dollar for hotel rooms, $27,500 for a keynote speaker and tens of thousands of dollars for gifts to the 2,600 people who attended, according to a newly released Treasury Department audit." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
...It's a story of excess. "[A] lack of guidelines on what was appropriate, and an apparent lack of judgement by top IRS officials who did not question the expenses in Anaheim, are likely to bring fresh scrutiny to the tax agency, even as it brings on new leadership." Lisa Rein in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Conservatives' top 5 grievances with the IRS. Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
What conservative groups have to say about their run-ins with the IRS. "Susan Martinek, president of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, testified that an IRS agent told her in June 2009 that she needed to send a letter with her entire board’s signatures “stating under penalty of perjury we would not picket, protest or organize groups to picket, protest outside of Planned Parenthood.”...Kevin Kookogey, whose group Linchpins of Liberty teaches conservative philosophy to high school and college students, said he was asked to provide the names of people he was training and what he was teaching them." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Statistics at your service interlude: Quantifying the difference between "nerd" and "geek" using Twitter data.
3) A quick 101 on the housing market
Will higher mortgage rates kill the housing market? "Home prices have been soaring over the past year, the sharpest gains in seven years; construction activity is picking up nicely. Both trends have been driven in no small part by a steady drop in home mortgage interest rates, which have made homeownership too good a deal to pass up for millions of Americans. But the trend on rates has reversed abruptly in the past few weeks. This chart shows the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage since the start of 2011; the spike on the right shows an increase from 3.4 percent to 4.1 percent since May 1." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.
...And Treasuries are nearing a 14-month high. "Interest rates on Treasury bonds neared a 14-month high Tuesday, a sign that investors are growing nervous about how a closely watched jobs report later this week will affect the Federal Reserve’s massive economic stimulus program...The yields of 10-year government bonds have risen from 1.6 percent in early May to 2.13 percent on Tuesday. Bond yields rise as prices fall, indicating declining demand. And in recent days, there has been a spike in bond “shorts,” or bets that Treasury bond prices will fall further." Katerina Sokou in The Washington Post.
Return of the McMansion: 4+ bedroom, 3+ bathroom houses are more common than ever in new construction. "For a few years now, though, the size of the typical home built has been growing. For single-family homes, median size rose to 2,306 square feet in 2012, the highest median square-footage for single-family homes since the government began keeping track in 1973...In 2012, 41 percent of the new homes built had at least four bedrooms, the highest share on record...The share of new single-family homes with at least three bathrooms also reached a new high of 30 percent." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.
FHA losses could hit $115b in extreme scenario. "The Federal Housing Administration's projected losses over 30 years could reach as high as $115 billion under a previously undisclosed "stress test" conducted last year to determine how the agency would fare under an extremely severe economic scenario, according to documents reviewed by a congressional committee...The forecast was significantly worse than the most severe estimate included in the government mortgage-insurance agency's independent actuarial review released last November." Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.
Interview: Glenn Hubbard talks with Neil Irwin about the fall of Rome and other great powers as parables for America. The Washington Post.
U.S. trade deficit widens. "Imports rose 2.4% from March, to $227.7 billion, and exports increased just 1.2%, to $187.4 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. As a result, the nation's trade gap expanded by 8.5% from March to $40.3 billion. The report bolstered evidence that U.S. consumers are powering the nation's economic growth despite higher payroll taxes that took effect in January. The rise in April imports reflected higher consumer demand for foreign cars, clothing, drugs and other consumer goods, showing that Americans appear to be in a spending mood." Josh Mitchell and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.
Too much statistics! interlude: 'Derp' can be defined using Bayesian probability.
4) Can Obamacare win votes?
Democrats' 2014 strategy: Own Obamacare. "Scarred by years of Republican attacks over Obamacare, with more in store next year, Democrats have settled on an unlikely strategy for the 2014 midterms: Bring it on. Party strategists believe that embracing the polarizing law — especially its more popular elements — is smarter politics than fleeing from it in the House elections...Democratic strategists are convinced there’s plenty to like in the law — such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, eliminating lifetime caps on coverage and allowing children to stay on their parents’ health care plans until they are 26 — and are coaching lawmakers and candidates girding for tough races next year to hammer home those benefits." Alex Isenstadt in Politico.
...But the law's critics are outspending its supporters. "Since the law’s passage in March 2010, critics have spent a total of about $400 million on television ads that refer to it, according to a new analysis by the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media, which tracks such spending. Supporters have spent less than a quarter of that — about $75 million — on ads that cast the law in a positive light, according to the analysis." Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.
Americans are having less trouble paying medical bills. "New data from the Center for Disease Control show there were 57.8 million Americans who had trouble paying their health care bills in the first six months of 2011. That number fell by 3.6 million, hitting 54.2 million in the same span of 2012. Many of those gains accrued, perhaps surprisingly, to public health program enrollees, people signed up for programs like Medicaid." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Sebelius asked companies to support health care law. "Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed on Tuesday that she had made telephone calls to three companies regulated by her department and urged them to help a nonprofit group promote President Obama’s health care law. She identified the companies as Johnson & Johnson, the drug maker; Ascension Health, a large Roman Catholic health care system; and Kaiser Permanente, the health insurance plan." Robert Pear in The New York Times.
...And she's defending that move. "Sebelius told members of Congress that she has made five outreach calls on behalf of Enroll America, a new organization that aims to increase public participation in the Affordable Care Act. “Three were to discuss the organization and suggest the entities look at the organization,” Sebelius testified at a House hearing Tuesday. The other two phone calls, to officials at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block, were direct solicitations for fundraising." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Group seeks pregnancy coverage for dependents. "A women's advocacy group has filed complaints with a federal agency against Auburn University, Gonzaga University and three other employers over health-insurance plans it says don't pay pregnancy costs for employees' dependent daughters. The five administrative complaints, filed Tuesday with the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights, say the 2010 Affordable Care Act requires the pregnancy coverage. The complaints appear to be among the first instances in which a group is using specific provisions of the federal health-care law to challenge the design of an insurance policy." Melanie Trottman and Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.
Reddit interlude: Bill Nye, the "science guy," does an AMA.
5) The day 'patent troll' entered the political lexicon
Obama orders regulators to root out 'patent trolls.' "Now the Obama administration is cracking down on what many call patent trolls, shell companies that exist merely for the purpose of asserting that they should be paid because they hold patents that are being infringed by some software or electronic process...Mr. Obama ordered the Patent and Trademark Office to require companies to be more specific about exactly what their patent covers and how it is being infringed. The administration also told the patent office to tighten scrutiny of overly broad patent claims and said it would aim to curb patent-infringement lawsuits against consumers and small-business owners who are simply using off-the-shelf technology." Edward Wyatt in The New York Times.
...But is that enough? "Trolls have become the whipping boy of the patent debate because their activities are so obviously harmful. But trolls are just a symptom of the patent system’s problems. Legislation singling out trolls for special treatment won’t solve those problems, and it may not even do much to stop trolls...Today, we’re suffering a collective hangover for that patenting binge: hundreds of thousands of patents that probably shouldn’t have been granted. The problem is made worse by rules that give patent holders too much bargaining power against accused infringers." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.
...And why does a trade court get to decide if Apple infringed patents? "The ITC is officially part of the executive branch, but it plays a quasi-judicial role in enforcing the nation’s trade laws. If the ITC determines that an importer has engaged in “unfair trade practices,” it can issue an “exclusion order” banning its products from the market. That law has been on the books since 1922, but more recently the phrase “unfair trade practices” has increasingly been construed to include patent infringement. And because modern consumer electronics products are manufactured overseas, virtually all of those products are vulnerable to ITC exclusion orders." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.
A related issue of competition and technology: the wireless spectrum. "Washington is back in the business of putting vast chunks of wireless spectrum on the market. It has learned an important lesson: since 1993, the F.C.C. has leased spectrum to the highest bidder using Dutch auctions. From 2001 to 2010, it reaped a hefty $33 billion on behalf of taxpayers. But there is another lesson that the political system has not learned as well: how to foster competition." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
The black/white marijuana arrest gap, in nine charts. Dylan Matthews.
Why does a trade court get to decide if Apple infringed patents? Timothy B. Lee.
Sebelius defends Obamacare fundraising. Sarah Kliff.
Obama wants to crack down on patent trolls. That’s not enough. Timothy B. Lee.
Rural US population shrinks for the first time on record. Norma Cohen in The Financial Times.
Gun control revival? Biden, Reid, Manchin to meet on possibility of it. Burgess Everett in Politico.
Congress resists cuts to defense spending. Dion Nissenbaum in The Wall Street Journal.
Cantor website seeks 'citizen cosponsors' for congressional legislation. Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
‘Phased retirement’ policy for federal workers unveiled. Eric Yoder in The Washington Post.
Nominee for U.S. Trade Rep has money in Caymans. Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
Obama calls on Senate to quickly confirm 3 judicial nominees. Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.