Wonkbook: Is ‘border security’ an issue or an excuse?

June 13, 2013

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. (Well, usually Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's. But Ezra is on vacation this week, so it's just Evan.) 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: 1 million barrels. That's how much daily U.S. crude-oil production grew last year. It was the number one in the world and the largest on record for the U.S., which now produces 8.9 million barrels a day.

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “I am concerned that some who oppose the very idea of reform see these triggers as a backdoor way to undermine the legislation," Sen. Harry Reid said.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Inflation is below the Fed's target.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform narrows; 2) leakers and journalists; 3) CAP releases economic agenda; 4) gun control is dead, or is it alive?; and 5) federal abortion restriction proposed.

1) Top story: Is 'border security' an issue or an excuse?

Immigration reform is already a balancing act for conservatives. "For an emerging generation of Republican leaders, words have rarely been as important as they are in the current debate over immigration reform. After GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s disastrous showing among Latino voters last fall — winning less than 30 percent against President Obama — Paul and other would-be candidates for the party’s 2016 nomination are staking out positions that would be considered moderate, or even liberal, compared with Romney’s endorsement of self-deportation for people in the country illegally." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

First votes stalled. "Fewer than 24 hours after the Senate immigration bill cleared its first major hurdle, the legislation is facing its first procedural obstacle. On Wednesday afternoon, both parties objected to the others’ amendment proposals, leaving the Senate debating the immigration bill without a plan to begin voting." Burgess Everett in Politico.

Poll: Huge support for immigration reform. "In each state, the pollsters described the legislation in accurate but positive terms, telling participants that the Gang of Eight bill would help “secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants” and require undocumented immigrants to meet “a long list of requirements … over more than a decade” in order to obtain a pathway to citizenship. Presented with that favorable description of the legislation, voters responded warmly, with between 61 and 78 percent in each state expressing support." Alexander Burns in Politico.

Reid: Some Republicans are using border enforcement to kill immigration reform. "“I am concerned that some who oppose the very idea of reform see these triggers as a backdoor way to undermine the legislation," Reid said on the Senate floor. "And I believe some Republicans with no intention of voting for the final bill — regardless of how it is amended — seek to offer these amendments with the sole purpose of derailing this vital reform."" Ramsey Cox in The Hill. 

@jamespoulos: Immigration debate such a nightmare. Oncoming avalanche of federal doublespeak & bureaucracy, all to avoid straight up amnesty?

Sen. Kirk withholding support for immigration reform over border security. "Kirk previously suggested he might be willing to vote for the bill, saying in recent weeks that the bill had a “bright future.” Nonetheless, he was one of just 15 Republicans to vote Tuesday against proceeding with debating it, joining members of the more conservative wing of the party. Kirk said in a statement Wednesday that more border security must be in place before he will agree to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

...And Sens. Bennet, Flake say they're open to changes. "Two members of the Senate Gang of Eight said Wednesday they are open to changing their immigration bill to toughen border security measures — a critical test of whether their plan will get more Republican support. But they’re warning their colleagues: Don’t go too far. In a wide-ranging breakfast with reporters, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the set of triggers that are conditions in the legalization and citizenship process for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country must stay reasonable and workable." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

@JohnJHarwood: Paul Ryan tells me House will pass immigration "path to citizenship." Despite flak on right, "House can/will deal with earned legalization."

...Sen. Rand Paul offers his border-security amendment. "Paul’s amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement specific border security measures, including hundreds of miles of additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and provide a report to Congress each year on its progress. Then Congress would vote annually as to whether the agency had met its goals. Each year, another group of illegal immigrants would earn legal work visas if the metrics are met, Paul said." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

McCain defends border security provisions within Gang of Eight bill. "“The provisions in this bill, I am confident that it will make this border secure as much as humanly possible,” McCain said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I am proud of it. I am confident that we will secure the border with the provisions in this bill." Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Music recommendations interlude: Genesis, "That's All," 1983.

Top op-eds

KLEIN: Obama guesses his way to trillions in health savings. "The success of the insurance exchanges is overwhelmingly important to the small minority who will actually purchase insurance on them. But it’s the fate of the health system overall that matters to most Americans. The good news is we’ve got a tailwind: The health-care system is generally on the cost track that Cutler and his colleagues defined as success." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

WESSEL: Would you invest in the Postal Service? "The USPS has two basic problems: The past and the future. The past has saddled it with far more capacity than it needs in an era of email and websites—more property, more sorting facilities, more workers—and a business model that the U.S. Government Accountability Office describes as "not viable."" David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.

SOLTAS: A fairer way to fast-track trade deals. "The Obama administration wants a renewal of its congressionally granted authority to get fast-track legislative treatment of trade agreements...The best argument is that breakthrough deals -- ones with sensitive concessions on both sides -- become all but impossible without it...There are arguments against fast-track authority, too. It limits congressional input on the content of trade agreements, and it tilts the balance of legislative power in favor of those who gain from liberal trade and away from those who might be injured by it. These are fair points, but both can be addressed while restoring authority." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

NOCERA: After the shooting. "With the six-month anniversary of the shootings at Newtown, Conn., approaching, I thought it was worth spending some time thinking about the “other” consequence of gun violence. Yes, guns kill people; Adam Lanza murdered 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But guns also leave victims permanently injured and in constant pain." Joe Nocera in The New York Times.

DIONNE: The right liberty-security balance. "The hardest thing in an argument is to acknowledge competing truths. We know that our government will continue with large-scale surveillance programs to prevent future terrorist attacks. We also know that such programs have operated up to now with too little public scrutiny and insufficient concern over their long-term implications for our rights and our privacy. The response to Edward Snowden’s leaks about what our government has been up to should thus be a quest for a new and more sustainable balance among security, privacy and liberty." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Book your flight now while rates are low interlude: Why it might be possible to snowboard on Mars.

2) Should the U.S. prosecute leak journalists?

NSA director says surveillance halted dozens of attacks. "In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, he cited in particular the cases of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan American who pleaded guilty to planning suicide attacks in New York, and Pakistani American David Headley, who conducted surveillance in support of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, which killed more than 160 people. In both instances, he said, the Internet data-mining program helped unravel the plots." Jerry Markon and Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Everything we know about PRISM to dateTimothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

Must-read: Wired's well-timed profile of Gen. Keith Alexander, NSA directorJames Bamford in Wired. 

Polling data: Americans disapprove of surveillance program, 53-37 (Gallup)Americans see Snowden as patriot, not traitor (Reuters/Ipsos).

Rep. King: Prosecute journalists for leaks. "“If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially something of this magnitude,” King said. “I think, with something of this magnitude, there is an obligation — both moral, but also legal — against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Poll: Republicans hate NSA spying. Democrats are ambivalent. "[T]he most intense opposition to the programs comes from the political right. Republicans disapprove of the program by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Independents disapprove, 56 to 34 percent. But 49 percent of Democrats approve of the program, compared with 40 percent who disapprove. Gallup says the partisan breakdown on the issue has changed over time. When the polling organization asked a similar question in 2006, the NSA’s program had more support from Republicans than Democrats." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

No, Snowden probably didn't commit treason. "[A] handful of the accusations of treason that have been leveled against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden since his identity became public Sunday...misunderstand what the word “treason” means...It seems obvious that Snowden’s actions don’t qualify as levying war against the U.S...So the government would have to demonstrate that Snowden was actively trying to provide aid and comfort to a specific entity, such as al-Qaeda, with which the U.S. is at war. What’s more, all treason cases require two witnesses to the “overt act” in question. So the federal government would also need two witnesses who observed Snowden leaking the information." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

...And why are treason trials so rare? "Fewer than 30 Americans have ever been charged with the crime, and none since the aftermath of World War II. Not even John Walker Lindh, who fought alongside the Taliban when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, was accused of treason. Lindh was originally charged with conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism, but he took a plea bargain on two yet lesser offenses...Another likely explanation, however, is that treason convictions simply aren't worth the trouble. Most traitors can be put away for life on several counts of espionage and conspiracy. That's less work for the prosecution." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

In Soviet Russia, soda drinks you interlude: "Leninade" cannot possibly be real.

3) CAP releases economic agenda

With focus on middle class, plan aims to recharge economy. "The liberal Center for American Progress will release an extensive plan on Thursday aimed at recharging the U.S. economy through a barrage of education, trade and other policies meant to boost beleagured middle-class workers. The 250-page report, “300 Million Engines of Growth,” appears to be the most comprehensive effort yet by a think tank of any ideology to bridge what was the most glaring economic policy divide of the 2012 election: the difference between how often candidates promised to restore middle-class prosperity and how rarely they offered detailed proposals to accomplish that." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

...And Alan Krueger on music and inequality. "“The music industry is a microcosm of what is happening in the U.S. economy at large,” Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, says. “We are increasingly becoming a ‘winner-take-all economy,’ a phenomenon that the music industry has long experienced. Over recent decades, technological change, globalization and an erosion of the institutions and practices that support shared prosperity in the U.S. have put the middle class under increasing stress. The lucky and the talented – and it is often hard to tell the difference – have been doing better and better, while the vast majority has struggled to keep up.”" Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

U.S. is one big oil gusher. "U.S. crude-oil production grew by more than one million barrels a day last year, the largest increase in the world and the largest in U.S. history.In the latest sign of the shale revolution remaking world energy markets, crude production in the U.S. jumped 14% last year to 8.9 million barrels a day, according to the newly released Statistical Review of World Energy." Keith Johnson and Russell Gold in The Wall Street Journal.

Why is inflation so low? "The Fed is "printing" $85 billion a month, but inflation is falling. In fact, core inflation -- that is, excluding food and energy prices -- just hit a 50-year low...[W]hat are the possible culprits in this disinflationary whodunit? Well, it might be that markets have noticed the man behind the quantitative easing curtain, or it might be that austerity is winning the tug-of-war over prices with the Fed." Matthew O'Brien in The Atlantic.

Global tumult grips markets. "The tectonic plates of the world economy are shifting, moving the yield on the 10-year Treasury to the highest level in more than a year and shaking financial markets from Tokyo to Mumbai and Johannesburg to São Paulo. For the past few years, the global economy, struggling to recover from a financial crisis, has relied on a few constants: The U.S. would print plenty of money and keep interest rates very low. China would provide a lot of demand and vacuum up commodities from around the world. And Japan was largely irrelevant. Suddenly, all three of those are being questioned in markets, triggering paroxysms in stocks, bonds, commodities and—particularly, in the past couple days—the currencies of emerging markets." David Wessel in The Wall Street Journal.

...For the world economy, a slower, more stable growth. "The global economy may be entering an era of slower but more sustainable growth as the effects of the recent crisis fade, the World Bank said Wednesday in its latest update on economic conditions...The World Bank also has recalculated potential growth in the developing world, now estimated at 6 percent. “We used to hear talk that countries will grow 9 percent like China,” Burns said. “Increasingly there is a recognition that they will have to do a lot of really difficult things to achieve that.”" Katerina Sokou in The Washington Post.

In a shift, interest rates are rising. "The interest rate charged by lenders, often cited as the single most important factor behind economic decisions, has been steadily going down for most of the time since the early 1980s, and has fallen to historical lows since the financial crisis. Over the last few months, though, investors and banks have been demanding higher payments for their loans, pushing up interest rates and bond yields." Nathaniel Popper and Peter Eavis in The New York Times.

The U.S. job market is still worse than at any point during the last downturn. "Right now, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s approximately one job opening for every 3.1 unemployed persons who are looking for work. That ratio of jobs to jobless has improved an enormous amount since 2009. But to put things in perspective, it’s still worse than it was at any point during the last downturn, which started in 2001." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Negative equity falls in the first quarter. "The number of borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth fell again during the first quarter, another sign of a rebounding housing market that is enjoying surging home prices, according to a report released Wednesday. Only 9.7 million borrowers were underwater on their mortgage in the first quarter, or nearly 20 percent of mortgage holders, down from 11.4 million properties, or 23.7 percent of homes during the same period last year, according to research firm CoreLogic." Amrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

Absurd and dangerous interlude: This is what happens when you put a jet engine on a bicycle.

4) Gun control: dead or alive?

White House moves to revive gun control. "Six months after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and with no major gun legislation on the horizon in Congress, the White House is quietly moving forward on an executive package of gun safety measures. The package, which includes 23 executive actions announced by President Obama earlier this year, is intended to bolster the nation’s database used for background checks and make it harder for criminals and people with mental illnesses to get guns" Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

...‘Very doubtful’ gun control will be considered in House, says Hoyer. "Although the looming six-month anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., massacre has intensified advocates' calls for new gun restrictions — particularly an expansion of criminal background checks — Hoyer said there's simply no appetite among GOP leaders to consider such changes." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

After gun bill’s defeat, it’s Democrats, not Republicans, paying the political price. "When Congress in April defeated an effort to strengthen the national background-check system for gun sales, it was mostly on the strength of Republican opposition. Less than two months later, proponents of stricter gun laws have decided that a small number of Democrats will make more productive targets." Ed O'Keefe and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Frieze patterns and music interlude: A video of drawing.

5) GOP revives abortion issue

House advances a bill with sharp restrictions of abortion. "Legislation that would outlaw nearly all abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy was put on a fast track to the House floor on Wednesday after being approved in committee on a party-line vote...Republicans found themselves once again wading into politically perilous territory on a subject — reproductive rights — that badly tripped them up in the 2012 elections after Republican candidates made indelicate and erroneous comments about rape and contraception." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times

GOP congressman: Rate of pregnancies from rape is ‘very low.’ "Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), whose measure banning abortions after 20 weeks was being considered in the House Judiciary Committee, argued against a Democratic amendment to make exceptions for rape and incest by suggesting that pregnancy from rape is rare." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Federal plan for Plan B is approved. "Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District Court of New York ruled that the government’s plan to make Plan B One-Step and its generic versions available over the counter was sufficient to comply with his order that the Food and Drug Administration remove all sales and age restrictions for these drugs." Pam Belluck in The New York Times.

Analysis: ObamaCare will bring flood of retail health clinics. "ObamaCare's flood of newly insured patients will lead to a sharp increase in retail health clinics across the country, according to a new analysis. Global consulting firm Accenture predicted that the number of walk-in medical facilities located in retail stores will rise to nearly 3,000 by 2015. The clinics are expected to account for 10 percent of non-primary care outpatient visits within three years." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Poll: Most voters don't back ObamaCare repeal. "The survey, conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters and released by the Morning Consult website, found 34 percent of likely voters want Congress to try to fully repeal ObamaCare...By contrast, 52 percent said Congress should either let the law take effect or make minor changes to improve it. Twenty-three percent said lawmakers should leave the healthcare overhaul alone, while 29 percent supported making minor changes to improve the law." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

China is testing out cap-and-trade — but will it actually workBrad Plumer.

Interview: Cass Sunstein on how government regulations could be a lot simplerBrad Plumer.

How the Spurs beat the Heat: the principle of financial arbitrageNeil Irwin.

What happened to U.S. mental health care after deinstitutionalizationHarold Pollack.

Alan Krueger on how the music industry explains inequalityNeil Irwin.

Poll: Republicans hate NSA spying. Democrats are ambivalentTimothy B. Lee.

No, Edward Snowden probably didn’t commit treasonDylan Matthews.

Here’s everything we know about PRISM to dateTimothy B. Lee.

Et Cetera

Inspiring story of the day: Senate women’s restroom expanding to accommodate historic numbersEmily Heil in The Washington Post.

VA says it has reached ‘tipping point’ in backlog struggleSteve Vogel in The Washington Post.

Data reveal rise in college degreesCatherine Rampell in The New York Times.

House approves bills easing rules on financial swapsPete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

Pollution rules delayed as White House slows review processJohn M. Broder in The New York Times.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan works to sell Obama administration’s preschool initiativeLyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

Planned U.S.-E.U. trade deal hits snag: French filmsMatthew Dalton in The Wall Street Journal.

IRS targeting didn’t start in Ohio, Ways and Means chairman saysJosh Hicks.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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