Wonkbook: Boehner’s funny definition of ‘relief’

July 17, 2013

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On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner delivered an unusual "Speaker's Minute" commentary arguing that if Obamacare's employer mandate was to be delayed, then the individual mandate should be delayed, too. "It’s unfair to protect big businesses without giving the same relief to American families and small businesses," Boehner said.

The Urban Institute has modeled the relief Boehner is talking about. It's a funny kind of relief in that it leaves 13.7 million more people uninsured.

When fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act is expected to bring the share of non-elderly adults without health insurance down from 19.2 percent of the population to 10.1 percent of the population. Urban finds that eliminating the employer mandate leaves this basically unchanged: Now the ACA brings the nonelderly uninsured down to 10.2 percent of the population.

Eliminating the individual mandate is another story altogether. Knock that policy out of the box and now the law only brings the nonelderly uninsured down to 15.1 percent of the population. "This difference in coverage means that an extra 13.7 million people would be uninsured under the ACA without an individual mandate," write Linda Blumberg, John Holahan, and Matthew Buettgens, the study's authors.

The mechanism here isn't simply that the mandate forces 13.7 million people to buy insurance that they wouldn't otherwise want. It's that it brings in healthy, younger people who might prefer to wait on buying health insurance, but whose presence in the risk pool is necessary if coverage is going to be affordable for everyone else. Eliminating the individual mandate basically keeps health insurance unaffordable for millions of older, sicker people who don't get coverage through their employers or through government programs.

Boehner talks about the need to "protect" businesses and give "relief" to individuals, but he doesn't have a plan to protect or bring relief to the people their repeal efforts would leave without health insurance. They're so obsessed with the costs of Obamacare that they've forgotten the problems that led Republicans to come up with ideas like the individual mandate in the first place!

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 30 percent. That's the percentage of 1,300 small-business executives who said they were not ready to comply with new regulations in the Affordable Care Act.

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: One scenario of how the Fed would taper QE.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) a filibuster deal; 2) the case against "stand-your-ground"; 3) Bernanke speaks; 4) immigration reform campaign en español; and 5) ready, set, Obamacare.

1) Top story: Senate reaches filibuster deal

We have a filibuster deal. "Senate leaders reached an agreement on Tuesday to preserve the filibuster in exchange for confirmation votes on President Obama’s stalled nominees, ending, at least for now, months of partisan warfare that threatened the stability of several federal agencies and a generation of procedural traditions. The deal, which paved the way for votes on seven nominees, was a classic Senate outcome: an inconclusive result that left both sides claiming some vindication...[T]he new deal did not put in place any framework for restricting such procedural tactics in the future or address the larger question of how to unclog the Senate." Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

Remedial explainer: What is a filibuster? Fun fact, it comes from the Dutch word for "pirate." The Associated Press.

More explaining: How the nuclear option would have worked -- and still mightDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

John McCain’s new (old) niche: Senate dealmaker. "Did John McCain just help save the Senate from a showdown over a dramatic rule change that could have reverberated for years? Yes, it seems he did. It’s the latest example of the Arizona Republican senator as consensus builder, a far cry from McCain the fire-thrower who was warding off Republican primary challengers in 2008 and 2010." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@TheDailyShow: #TDSBreakingNews Senate reaches tentative deal to avoid nuclear option on filibuster. Yes, they have literally agreed to disagree.

Senate confirms Cordray to head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ending years of contentious political wrangling over the leadership of one of the most influential agencies in Washington. The 66 to 34 vote came hours after lawmakers averted a showdown over Senate rules governing whether the filibuster could be used to block presidential appointees." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Roll call: Which Republicans supported Richard Cordray? Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Obama picks new NLRB nominees. "President Obama will nominate two longtime labor lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board, withdrawing two contested appointees as part of a deal struck to avert a showdown over the filibuster in the Senate. The new nominees are Kent Hirozawa, who currently serves as chief counsel to the National Labor Relations Board chairman, and Nancy Schiffer, the general counsel at the AFL-CIO." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

But the ATF nominee is on the sidelines of the filibuster deal. "The Senate deal to allow votes on President Barack Obama’s nominees for labor and consumer finance boards doesn’t include Todd Jones, his choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but the White House is hopeful the momentum will lead to his confirmation." Reid J. Epstein in Politico.

@RBReich: Pyrrhic victory for Reid and Ds, who blew best chance to reform filibuster. Strategic victory for Rs, who'll demand 60 votes on all else.

Does the Senate really need to confirm 1,200 executive branch jobs? "There are somewhere around 1,200 to 1,400 positions in the executive branch that require Senate confirmation, according to an estimate by the Congressional Research Service. That means several hundred nominees have to get scrutinized by the Senate each year. This list includes all the obvious, major positions...But the full list also includes plenty of assistants and deputies and administrators and positions hardly anyone has ever heard of." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@blakehounshell: Shouldn’t we be describing this filibuster debate as a question of whether to *restrict* the filibuster? It’s not about ending it.

KLEIN: The Senate didn’t go nuclear. But, actually, it kind of did. "The Senate didn’t actually go nuclear today. But the majority took out a nuke, put it on the table, and made clear they can detonate it whenever they feel like. It’s clear now that Reid will change the rules if he believes it necessary. But so too will McConnell. If Republicans retake the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016, there’s no way Majority Leader McConnell will permit Democrats to routinely filibuster or otherwise obstruct President Christie’s nominees." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

COHN: The fight's winners and losers. "If you score these things the way Washington usually does, this is a huge win for the Democrats. It's also a huge win for their leaders in the Senate—particularly Harry Reid, who emerged with virtually everything he wanted to achieve...The victory also means a lot to the people who depend on a vigilant government to protect them from predatory financial institutions, or to secure their right to organize a union. You won't hear a lot about that in the next 24 hours of media coverage, but it's a big deal." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

CILLIZZA: The nuclear option won’t be invoked. Not now, and probably not ever. "First, as we wrote last week when warning Reid to think twice before invoking the nuclear option, politics works like a pendulum...Second, the leaders of the two parties in the Senate are, always, institutionalists. You don’t rise to the top of your party without a) spending lots of years in the Senate  b) figuring out how to work within the system and c) relishing/treasuring the way the levers of power work." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Tom Petty, "Saving Grace," 2006.

Top opinion

LAZEAR: An upgrade to the Senate's immigration bill. "Gary Becker and I suggested on these pages in March that a market system would allocate slots more rationally than the current system. That also goes for the Senate bill's proposal. One way to make sure that we do not keep the next Bill Gates out of the U.S. is to sell some of our immigration slots, with fees that can be paid off over time. Mr. Gates is a college dropout who would have gotten no points for education, skills, or even entrepreneurship when in college, but had a vision in which he and others were willing to invest." Edward P. Lazear in The Wall Street Journal.

BERNSTEIN: Complexity and the Affordable Care Act. "“If you’re happy with your current coverage, this law won’t affect you at all” was so important. And that’s also why we’re stuck with a lot more complexity than we’d like. To understand why we are where we are with the Affordable Care Act, it’s useful to think about the concept of path dependency, meaning that where you end up is often a function of where you start out. And in the United States, we start out with an employer-based system...Could we have bucked path dependency?" Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

SOLTAS: The housing market just wants to be normal again. "Is a topsy-turvy U.S. housing market about to settle down? After a boom, a bust, and a heady rebound, many loan officers, real estate agents and economists I've spoken to recently are anticipating something that's eluded them for the last decade: a return to a "normal" market...Housing seems to want this return to normal. More so, even, than another boom. Maybe, just maybe, the industry has learned its lesson." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

BHIDÉ AND PHELPS: Monetary policy will fail. "It is doubtful, though, that quantitative easing boosted either wealth or confidence...The Fed attributes persistent joblessness in the U.S. to a deficiency of aggregate demand, which the Fed blames on foreigners' thrift. But if the West's problem were simply that, it long ago would have increased its money supply to meet the increases demanded and would have invested in businesses at an increased pace to take advantage of the cheap credit." Amar Bhidé and Edmund Phelps in The Wall Street Journal.

YGLESIAS: Obamacare skeptics are deluding themselves. "It’s possible that Republicans are right and the taxes that pay for these subsidies—primarily a hike in the tax rate that high-income people will pay on investment income—will crush the American economy in the long term, as the entrepreneurial master class goes Galt en masse. But conservatives are certainly fooling themselves if they’re expecting a backlash driven by problems around implementation. The law is structured to be financially beneficial to a large majority of people, and the infrastructure is in place to make that clear to a critical mass of them. Snafus will be real enough, but broadly speaking, the rollout is going to be a huge success." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

FRIEDMAN: If Churchill could see us now. "Whenever we go into political drift as a country, optimists often quote Winston Churchill’s line that Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve “exhausted all other possibilities.” I don’t think that’s true anymore. Churchill never met the Tea Party, and he certainly never met today’s House Republicans, a group so narrow-minded and disinterested in governing — and the necessary compromises that go with it — that they’re ready to kill an immigration bill that is manifestly in the country’s economic, social and strategic interests." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

RIDEAU: When prisoners protest. "July 8, some 30,000 inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections went on a hunger strike to demand improvements in prison conditions. Their biggest complaint was the runaway use of solitary confinement, the fact that thousands of prisoners are consigned to this cruelty indefinitely, some for decades. I know something about solitary confinement, because I’ve been there. I spent a total of 12 years in various solitary confinement cells. And I can tell you that isolating a human being for years in a barren cell the size of a small bathroom is the cruelest thing you can do to a person." Wilbert Rideau in The New York Times.

Daily inspiration interlude: Reading the world.

2) Does 'stand-your-ground' have any ground to stand on?

Holder criticizes stand-your-ground laws. "Attorney General Eric Holder attacked "stand-your-ground laws" three days after the acquittal of a man in last year's shooting of an unarmed Florida teen, saying in a speech that such laws encourage more violence than they prevent. Speaking to the NAACP's annual convention in Orlando, Fla., not far from where George Zimmerman was tried for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Mr. Holder denounced laws that permit a person to use force in self-defense without first attempting to retreat from the situation." Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

With Zimmerman verdict, Obama faces challenge as nation’s first black president. "Now as he confronts public anger about the acquittal of George Zimmerman for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, Obama is being challenged again to meet the unique demands that come with being the nation’s first African American president. Obama’s handling of the verdict’s aftermath reflects some of the hard-learned lessons of the past four years. Rather than criticism, he has chosen a tone of consolation, avoiding the issue of race directly to help cool the country down." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

Do other countries have stand-your-ground laws? "Many do not. English common law imposes a duty to retreat whenever it is safe. In continental Europe, the duty applies only when the defender provokes the attack, or when the attacker doesn’t understand the situation...[T]he U.S. is in the minority in having, within some states, an explicit duty to retreat." Brian Palmer in Slate.

Wonkbook loves demolition interlude: A power plant.

3) Bernanke speaks this morning

Wild cards for the Fed's exit strategy. "Here are four questions that Fed officials are considering as they think about when to pull back on the monetary throttle and that lawmakers might pose to Mr. Bernanke in the days ahead. Is job growth sustainable? Is the jobless rate overstating the labor market's health? Will inflation return to target? Is more fiscal chaos coming?" Jon Hilsenrath and Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Inflation remains tame. "The Labor Department reported on Tuesday that its Consumer Price Index increased 0.5 percent in June from May. Two-thirds of the gain came from a 6.3 percent jump in gas prices, the largest since February. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called core prices rose just 0.2 percent. Consumer prices have been stable this year, giving the Federal Reserve room to continue efforts to stimulate the economy. Over all, prices rose just 1.8 percent in the last 12 months. And core prices rose just 1.6 percent in that period — the smallest 12-month change in two years. Each measure was below 2 percent, the Fed’s inflation target." The Associated Press.

FSOC moves Metlife into final stage for additional supervision. "MetLife, the nation’s largest life insurance company, said Tuesday that financial regulators have moved one step closer to placing it under tougher government supervision. In a closed session on Tuesday, the Financial Stability Oversight Council voted to advance MetLife to the final stage of a three-step process for designation as a systemically important financial institution (SIFI), a label that would subject the firm to oversight from the Federal Reserve. That would impose on the company a number of strict regulations, including setting aside more money to cushion against losses" Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

OECD: Joblessness will keep rising. "Joblessness is expected to continue edging up, to about 28 percent in Spain and Greece, 12.5 percent in Italy and 11 percent in France by the end of 2014, the Paris-based O.E.C.D. said in its forecast. Young people and the low-skilled will be affected the most, according to the organization, which represents 34 of the world’s largest economies. Two of the biggest exceptions to the trend are the United States and Germany, where the number of people out of work is expected to decline further next year, the study said." Julia Werdigier in The New York Times.

Rising mortgage rates are the top concern for homebuyers. "More than 40 percent of people who planned to eventually buy a home said they were worried about rising rates, followed by rising home prices and low inventory. Among those homeowners who were planning to buy a home within the next year, inventory just edged out rising rates, the survey said." Amrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

A model to save foreclosed homes? "Boston Community Capital thinks it has a solution to clear the backlog of troubled mortgages that continues to hang over parts of the country — buy them. It has bought nearly 400 homes in the last four years, and now has an eye on Baltimore and Prince George’s County — where the impacts of the housing crash are still being felt. Through its Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods initiative, Boston Community Capital buys homes in some stage of foreclosure. It then resells the houses to the occupants with new 30-year, fixed rate mortgages. On average, homeowners have their monthly mortgage payment and loan balance reduced by 40 percent." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

That McDonald’s budget people are making fun of isn’t cruel. It’s realistic. "Budgets depend on individual circumstances, so it’s hard to know if a budget will work for any specific individual. But with a couple of exceptions, these are typical figures for the spending of millions of low-income Americans." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

Where the points don't matter interlude: "Who's Line Is It Anyway" is back.

4) Immigration reform, sold en español 

Immigration overhaul would benefit big states most. "A state-by-state analysis shows that, when it comes to certain immigration provisions, the economic wealth won't be spread evenly. In states such as California, Texas and Florida, more immigrants and businesses are poised to take advantage of policy changes. These states are likely to see outsize economic gains, whereas changes to immigration laws would have a more muted economic impact in less populous states." Sara Murray in The Wall Street Journal.

Senate immigration gang targets House Republicans. "Senators like John McCain (R-Ariz), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with tech giants such as Microsoft, Google and Intel, and pro reform groups like FWD.us to discuss a coordinated campaign to target more than 100 House Republicans on reforming the nation’s immigration laws when they are at home in their districts over the next month, according to sources familiar with the meeting." John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman, and Anna Palmer in Politico.

Obama uses Univision, Telemundo to press case for immigration reform. "President Obama sat down for interviews with four Spanish-language television stations on Tuesday, as the White House looked to increase pressure on House Republicans to pass immigration reform. The president hoped the interviews, granted to Univision and Telemundo stations in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and New York, would help sell a comprehensive reform package at risk of stalling in the GOP-controlled House." Justin Sink in The Hill.

Can old Doggs teach older ones new tricks? interlude: Snoop Dogg tried to teach Larry King to rap.

5) Ready, set, Obamacare

Two-thirds of small businesses aren’t ready for Obamacare, survey finds. "The survey found that 30 percent of businesses were not ready to comply with the new rules. Roughly 25 percent reported not knowing what they had to do to follow the law. Seventy-one percent of the more than 1,300 small-business executives polled said they would be less likely to hire employees because of the healthcare law, according to the survey." Ben Goad in The Hill.

A crisis for the very old: They're outliving their assets. "Nearly half of all Americans will outlive their assets, dying with practically no money at all. Even more worrisome, that's true even among households that met the traditional standards for secure retirement income. Economic factors and changes in employer pensions and in economic reality have made it much harder to stretch income and assets so they last, especially as people live longer." Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times.

Meet Serco, the private firm getting $1.2 billion to process your Obamacare application. "Ninety percent of its business is with the federal government. Based just outside of Washington in Reston, Va., Serco is a 25-year-old firm that pretty much owes its existence to government contracting. “We have 8,000 workers across 45 states,” Hill said. “Since the beginning of our existence, we’ve worked heavily with the federal government.”" Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

A very clear explanation of China’s economic woesBrad Plumer.

RIP Herb Allison, the man who left a life on the beach to save the economyNeil Irwin.

Does the Senate really need to confirm 1,200 executive branch jobsBrad Plumer.

That McDonald’s budget people are making fun of isn’t cruel. It’s realisticTimothy B. Lee.

Never change, Twinkies: Why Hostess should keep making unhealthy snacksLydia DePillis.

The Senate didn’t go nuclear. But, actually, it kind of didEzra Klein.

Meet Serco, the private firm getting $1.2 billion to process your Obamacare applicationSarah Kliff.

The Senate might go nuclear today. Here’s everything you need to knowDylan Matthews.

Et Cetera

IRS cancels one of its furlough daysJosh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Lawmakers advancing flood-insurance billAndrew Taylor in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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