Wonkbook: Last scramble in Senate for immigration reform

June 26, 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 away today, so it's just Evan.). 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: 4. That, of course, is the number of the section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court invalidated yesterday.

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: Gauging the economic recovery, an infographic in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

(Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA)
(Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Senate's immigration reform; 2) Voting Rights Act shot to pieces; 3) Obama's climate actions; 4) Texas pushes abortion restriction; and 5) fixing the mortgage GSEs.

1) Top story: Last scramble in Senate for immigration reform

Senate in full horse-trading mode on immigration bill. “Senators engaged in last-minute jockeying and horse trading Tuesday as they barreled toward the finish line for the Gang of Eight bill -- an effort that could secure a handful of additional Republican votes for immigration reform this week. Negotiators are zeroing in on Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia as lawmakers who ultimately could support the Gang of Eight bill. Both have amendments they want voted on -- Chambliss is calling for changes involving agricultural workers, and Portman is demanding tougher E-Verify requirements.” Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett in Politico.

Next immigration vote takes place this morning. “The Senate is scheduled to vote on final approval of the "border surge" amendment on Wednesday morning, checking off another item from its to-do list as the chamber gets closer to passing the full immigration bill. The vote is scheduled to occur at 11:30 a.m. It had been scheduled for 1 a.m. Wednesday, but the senators came to an agreement to delay the vote until later in the morning...A final vote on the bill could come as early as Thursday, although the exact timing is unclear.” Seung Min Kim in Politico.

...But disagreements on amendments might delay vote on immigration bill. “Supporters of a massive bipartisan immigration measure in the Senate were struggling late Tuesday to reach an agreement with Republicans to hold votes on a few remaining amendments before approving the bill by Friday...Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) warned late Tuesday that negotiations with Republicans opposed to the bill to allow votes on six to 20 more amendments had gone "backwards," possibly delaying final passage.” Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

...And we're still worrying about the House GOP. “With the Senate days away from passing the most significant immigration legislation in a generation, House Republicans say they feel no pressure to act quickly on a similar measure, leaving the fate of the bill very much in doubt despite solid bipartisan Senate support...Speaker John A. Boehner has no intention of angering conservative voters and jeopardizing the House Republican majority in 2014 in the interest of courting Hispanic voters on behalf of a 2016 Republican presidential nominee who does not yet exist.” Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Why I'm voting no on immigration reform. “I will be voting no on the Senate's Gang of Eight immigration bill for one simple reason: because the legislation does not secure the border first...I'm sorry to say that the Gang of Eight's proposal is just not serious.” Senator Rand Paul in Politico.

Music recommendations interlude: Amos Lee, “Colors,” 2007.

Top op-eds

REP. JOHN LEWIS: A ‘dagger to the heart' of voting rights. “Although the court did not deny that voter discrimination still exists, it gutted the most powerful tool this nation has ever had to stop discriminatory voting practices from becoming law. Those justices were never beaten or jailed for trying to register to vote. They have no friends who gave their lives for the right to vote. I want to say to them, Come and walk in my shoes.” Representative John Lewis, and others, in The Washington Post.

BORDOFF AND LEVI: Bittersweet achievement for climate. “The announcement reflects Congress's refusal to pass serious laws to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Ultimately, if America is to fully contribute to an effective global response to the perils of a warming planet, Congress must stop dithering...Mr. Obama deserves credit for taking a politically difficult step, but we fear that people will view regulation as an adequate substitute for Congressional action.” Jason Bordoff and Michael Levi in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Congress, today is your fault. “Gridlock is, in many ways, a mistaken metaphor for what happens when Congress can't act. In gridlock, as any Beltway driver knows, nothing moves. But much happens amidst congressional gridlock. It just happens in other, often less accountable, branches of government. The result is the Supreme Court rewrites laws Congress passed, like the Voting Rights Act. The regulatory apparatus decides how carbon will be regulated, an issue that Congress clearly has the power, under normal conditions, to decide.” Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

ORSZAG: Why are so many college grads driving taxis? “It's a parent's nightmare: shelling out big money for college, then seeing the graduate unable to land a job that requires high-level skills. This situation may be growing more common, unfortunately, because the demand for cognitive skills associated with higher education, after rising sharply until 2000, has since been in decline. So concludes new research by economists Paul Beaudry and David Green of the University of British Columbia and Benjamin Sand of York University in Toronto.” Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

PORTER: Dropping out of college, and paying the price. “What's most troubling, perhaps, is that Americans are actually enrolling in college and then dropping out halfway through -- when they've probably already incurred a bunch of debt and won't benefit from the better job prospects that come with a degree. More than 70 percent of Americans matriculate at a four-year college -- the seventh-highest rate among 23 developed nations for which the O.E.C.D. compiles such statistics. But less than two-thirds end up graduating. Including community colleges, the graduation rate drops to 53 percent.” Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

SOLTAS: Is China to blame for rising U.S. interest rates? “Could turmoil in Chinese financial markets be the cause of the rise in interest rates on U.S. Treasuries? Danske Bank's chief emerging-markets analyst, Lars Christensen, explained the theory to me earlier today. Last week, China's central bank deliberately withdrew liquidity and pushed up the short-term interest rates banks pay to borrow from each other, in an effort to shove the Chinese banking system toward less risk-taking. That squeeze, Christensen explained, caused Chinese banks to dump Treasuries onto the market.” Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

Woah, this is too meta interlude: A checklist for making checklists.

2) The Voting Rights Act shot to pieces

Supreme Court stops use of key part of Voting Rights Act. “A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a crucial component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that Congress has not taken into account the nation's racial progress when singling out certain states for federal oversight. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the other conservative members of the court in the majority. The court did not strike down the law itself or the provision that calls for special scrutiny of states with a history of discrimination. But it said Congress must come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to the requirements.” Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Read: The Court's opinion.

Explainer: Where Tuesday's Voting Rights Act ruling matters, in one map. And here's a more general primer on the Act itself.Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post

How Congress could fix the Voting Rights Act. “One way to base preclearance on findings of specific violations, as Overton proposes, is to expand Section 3. Rick Pildes, a voting law expert at NYU Law School, explains, "One could imagine variations of that kind of structure, where coverage is tied to specific findings of violations in particular places over recent periods of time. You could modify, or work to expand, Section 3." Another option, which would be unquestionably constitutional, would be to just subject everywhere to preclearance.” Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

...Sen. Reid says action is coming. “After Democrats huddled on the issue during their lunch caucuses on Tuesday, Reid said he will task Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold "wide-ranging hearings" on the subject beginning next month...Although Congress previously approved a renewal of the VRA on a bipartisan basis, House Republicans said on Tuesday they didn't anticipate their leaders acting quickly to adjust the court decision.” Rachel Van Dongen and Burgess Everett in Politico.

...But don't hold your breath waiting for a new formula. “Just ask Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance," he said in a statement.” Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Supreme Court decision on voting rights may leave law in limbo. “Traditionally, voting rights is an area where presidents and lawmakers, mindful of history's judgment, have proven capable of working together across party lines...Adding to the difficulty -- and sensitivity -- is the fact that any new formula for determining which jurisdictions merit "preclearance" from the Justice Department is likely to bring in states and localities never previously included in the act.” Karen Tumulty and Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

What Wonkbook wants for Christmas interlude: A human-powered helicopter.

3) What Obama said on climate change

On climate change, Obama bypasses Congress with ambitious plan. “President Obama delivered his most forceful push for action on global warming on Tuesday, declaring that his administration would impose tighter pollution controls on coal- and gas-fired utilities and establish strict conditions for approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Obama also announced that the government would take climate change into consideration in its everyday operations. The shift could affect decisions on a range of issues, including bridge heights, flood insurance rates and how the military gets electricity overseas.” Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Transcript: What Obama said today.

Read: The White House's big new climate plan. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Explainer: 10 takeaways from Obama's climate speech. Andrew Restuccia in Politico.

Obama tries the kitchen-sink approach to global warming. “There's no longer a grand strategy to solve climate change once and for all. And it's unlikely that Obama will attain any of the sweeping goals he laid out in 2008 -- that would require cooperation from Congress. Instead, the White House will try to use whatever executive power it has to chip away at the problem, little by little, in the years ahead.” Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Obama may have left himself wiggle room to approve Keystone XL. “Plenty of environmentalists are hoping this is a sign that Obama will direct the State Department to block approval of the pipeline, which would cross the Canadian border...Back in March, the State Department issued a draft environmental impact statement finding that Keystone XL wouldn't lead to significantly more carbon pollution than would otherwise be the case.” Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Is Obama waging a ‘war on coal'? “Daniel P. Schrag, who directs Harvard University's Center for the Environment as serves as one of the administration's scientific adviser, set off a firestorm Tuesday when The New York Times quoted him saying "a war on coal is exactly what's needed" to address global warming. Is President Obama-who will make a major climate address Tuesday- pursuing "a war on coal," as Republicans and coal industry officials frequently charge? To a large extent, the answer is yes.” Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Congressional Republicans face limited options on Obama climate plan. “Rather than simply waiting for rules to become final so they could be challenged by a CRA, Republican aides Tuesday were already discussing potential legislative efforts to try to slow walk or block the rules for as long as possible to increase the odds that a future GOP president or Congress could overturn them. But for now, instead of heading to the negotiating table, Republicans will use Obama's climate agenda to hammer Democratic incumbents and candidates in red states in 2014 -- and try to get them to cast tough votes.” Darren Goode in Politico.

Is a carbon tax more effective than EPA rules? You might be surprised. “In an interesting recent paper (pdf) for Resources for the Future, Nathan Richardson and Arthur G. Fraas look at this comparison in much greater detail. Their conclusion? It actually depends how each is designed. EPA regulations might even be more effective than a carbon tax in a few cases...The RFF paper argues that the latter, more flexible approaches on that list could be just as cost-effective at cutting emissions as a carbon tax.” Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

The pipeline science you need to know. “Diluted bitumen -- the blend of thick Canadian crude that would be shipped by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline -- is no riskier to transport than other types of crude oil, a new study has found, a conclusion that came under sharp attack by environmentalists. The study, which was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and released on Tuesday, found that batches of diluted bitumen were no more likely to corrode or damage pipelines. And it determined that pipeline operators had no reason to change the way they handled the product. Commissioned by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the report represents a boon to supporters of Keystone XL.” Dan Frosch in The New York Times.

...And one more energy study to report. “Poorly sealed natural-gas wells--not hydraulic fracturing of shale-rock formations--are likely to blame for dissolved gas found in private water wells in Pennsylvania, according to a new study by Duke University...Instead, it concluded that wells being drilled were most likely not adequately sealed, allowing gas to flow upward and sometimes enter aquifers used by homes. The combination of steel pipes, called casing, and cement sheaths used in well construction don't always contain gas as intended, industry officials and observers contend.” Russell Gold in The Wall Street Journal.

The role of the Clean Air Act in the Obama climate agenda. “With no chance of Congressional support, President Obama is staking part of his legacy on a big risk: that he can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by stretching the intent of a law decades old and not written with climate change in mind. His plan, unveiled Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington, will set off legal and political battles that will last years.” Justin Gillis in The New York Times.

Mother nature interlude: Lightning at 11,000 frames per second.

4) Texas to tighten abortion laws

Filibuster in Texas Senate tries to halt abortion restriction. “Texas Democrats tried to prevent Republicans from passing a bill on Tuesday that would give the state some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, even as Gov. Rick Perry appeared ready to keep lawmakers in town to give the bill another chance...Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate and a supporter of the bill, asked Senator Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, if she still intended a filibuster, as she had announced. She told him yes, and at 11:18 a.m., she began talking...The five clinics that would remain open if the bill passed are the only ones in Texas that meet the surgical-center requirements, and all are in large cities; Austin, San Antonio and Dallas each have one, and Houston has two. Advocates for abortion rights said that the burden on those five clinics to provide women's health services would be extreme, and that women in rural areas and small towns far from those cities would be underserved.” Manny Fernandez in The New York Times.

Watch: Video of the filibuster. Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Who is Wendy Davis? Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

...And Wendy Davis's filibuster is over. “Texas Democratic Senator Wendy Davis' nine-hour filibuster may be becoming to a quick end - and not due to the senator's lack of effort. Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst ruled that Davis has three times violated the Texas Senate's procedural rules for a filibuster, which requires a senator to stand continually without assistance and remain on topic...The last strike came at 10:07 p.m. when Davis became discussing a 2011 sonogram law that Texas passed, according to Aaronson. This is all a bit in flux: One of Davis' democratic colleagues has moved to challenge Dewhurst's ruling. Davis' filibuster appears to be down, but its not quite out.” Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Mathematicians interlude: “I saw the fire, I saw the extinguisher, the solution was trivial.”

5) Fixing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to replace Fannie, Freddie with new agency. ”A bipartisan pair of lawmakers have laid out the first substantial plan to redesign the nation's mortgage market, nearly five years after the government spent more than $100 billion to rescue the system. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced legislation Tuesday to replace mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a new government agency that would shift more of the risks of mortgage lending to the private sector.” Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

...The housing market seems to be shedding off the effect of higher interest rates, at least for now. “On Tuesday, many housing experts shrugged off that concern, noting that the effect of a single factor like mortgage rates would be tempered by other forces like prices, wages and changes in employment. Moreover, any rise in interest rates could cut both ways, with some potential buyers encouraged to try to make a deal sooner to get ahead of further increases. For now, though, the biggest factor in the market, real estate agents say, is a low number of homes for sale, and that did not change after the Fed's announcement.” Shaila Dewan in The New York Times.

Student-loan rates appear set to double. Great work on that compromise, Congress. “Interest rates on some new federal student loans appear increasingly likely to double next week, according to senators who say their chamber remains divided over how to prevent the jump before the July 1 deadline. With the Senate's attention largely focused on the effort to complete a major immigration bill before Congress leaves Friday for a weeklong recess, the prospects of a quick deal on the student-loan issue are bleak, the lawmakers said.” Corey Boles and Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

Senate easily confirms Penny Pritzker as Commerce Secretary. “The Senate on Tuesday easily confirmed Penny Pritzker as the new Commerce Secretary, by a vote of 97 to 1.The lone no vote came from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while two other senators -- Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- did not vote.” Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

...Where's the outrage over Pritzker? “Penny Pritzker has understated her income by tens of millions of dollars, clashed openly with organized labor, benefited from offshore tax havens and invested in financial instruments that helped precipitate the 2008 financial meltdown. And senators from both parties seem just fine with that...Both Republicans and Democrats in and outside the Senate have effectively decided to give Pritzker a pass...On both sides of the aisle, Pritzker skeptics agree on one thing above all: The Department of Commerce simply isn't worth fighting over.” Alexander Burns and Burgess Everett in Politico.

Pocketbooks begin to open. “Consumer spending has risen 9% since the end of the recession in mid-2009, after adjusting for inflation, half the average rate of increase in the seven previous recoveries since 1960. Following the recessions in 2001 and 1991, spending was up around 11%-12% by this point in the upturn...However, a string of encouraging developments--improved household finances, a slowly improving job market and, perhaps most important, a rebounding housing market--are helping Americans rebuild their wealth and boosting consumer confidence to the highest levels since before the recession.” Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Gauging the economic recovery. Pat Minczeski and Erik Brynildsen in The Wall Street Journal.

Home prices, new home sales show big increases. “Home prices rose in all 20 cities of the Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller index from a year ago, up 12.1 percent from April 2012, marking the biggest increase since March 2006. Home prices in Washington rose 7.2 percent in April, compared with a year ago, according to the Case-Shiller report. They are up 2.4 percent from March.” Amrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

Can the Fed pat its head and rub its stomach? “It is trying to make changes to its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program without affecting its promise to keep interest rates low. In theory, the two should be able to move independently of each other. But the market disagrees...In an extended interview with The Washington Post, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said that the problem was central bank communication.” Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

A lot of CEOs get taken hostage in China. Lydia DePillis.

Here's everything we've learned about how the NSA's secret programs work. Timothy B. Lee.

Who is Wendy Davis? Lydia DePillis.

Watch: Wendy Davis' very long filibuster of Texas abortion restrictions. Sarah Kliff.

Congress, today is your fault. Ezra Klein.

Here's how Congress could fix the Voting Rights Act. Dylan Matthews.

Obama may have left himself wiggle room to approve Keystone XL. Brad Plumer.

Is a carbon tax more effective than EPA rules? You might be surprised. Brad Plumer.

Can the Fed pat its head and rub its stomach? Ylan Q. Mui.

Where Tuesday's Voting Rights Act ruling matters, in one map. Dylan Matthews.

Voting Rights Act ruling: Here's what you need to know. Dylan Matthews.

Read: Supreme Court strikes down key voting act provision. Sarah Kliff.

Obama tries the kitchen-sink approach to global warming. Brad Plumer.

Et Cetera

Army to cut its forces by 80,000 over 5 years. Erin Banco in The New York Times.

House, Senate go in different directions with appropriations bills. David Rogers in Politico.

Obama's second-term doldrums. John F. Harris, Jake Sherman, and Elizabeth Titus in Politico.

British people are invading American journalism. David Carr 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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