Wonkbook: What Obama wants from his next Fed chair

July 29, 2013

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(Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/EPA)
(Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/EPA)

A few interesting data points in the race for Fed chair this weekend.

- The Fed pick, in Obama's own words. From his interview with the NYT: "What I’m looking for is somebody who understands the Fed has a dual mandate, that that’s not just lip service; that it is very important to keep inflation in check, to keep our dollar sound, and to ensure stability in the markets. But the idea is not just to promote those things in the abstract. The idea is to promote those things in service of the lives of ordinary Americans getting better. And when unemployment is still too high, and long-term unemployment is still too high, and there’s still weak demand in a lot of industries, I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, let’s make sure that we’re growing the economy, but let’s also keep an eye on inflation, and if it starts heating up, if the markets start frothing up, let’s make sure that we’re not creating new bubbles."

- Janet Yellen has the Fed's clearest crystal ball. The Wall Street Journal analyzed 700 predictions on growth, jobs and inflation made by the Fed's 14 key policymakers between 2009 and 2012. The winner? Yellen, with the other doves following close behind. The analysis finds that  the "doves" -- loosely, the folks worried more about employment and growth -- have kept a better bead on the economy than the inflation-obsessed hawks.

The report doesn't do much to differentiate between the various candidates for Fed chair. Larry Summers isn't part of the analysis, and nor is Roger Ferguson or Alan Blinder or most of the other possible dark horses. But it makes it that much harder for the White House to justify passing over Yellen. She's the candidate with the most direct experience, and the broadest support, and, oh yeah, the best record of anybody on the Fed forecasting the economy.

CNBC Fed poll: 50% say Obama should pick Yellen; 2.5% say he should pick Summers. A lurking presence in the Fed debate is who "the market" wants. The problem, as always, is that you can't call "the market" and ask. But here's one data point: CNBC's monthly Fed survey, which polls 40 traders, analysts, and economists who're particularly involved with Fed issues, used its July survey to ask about the Fed race. Fifty percent of respondents said Obama should pick Yellen. Only 2.5 percent -- yes, the decimal is meant to be there -- called for Summers.

- Summers dominating the White House Visitors' Log poll. According to the Obama administration's records, Summers has been back to the White House at least 13 times since leaving office, and at least four of those visits were to meet with President Obama. The logs show only one Yellen visit during the administration, and that was to meet with economist Alan Krueger, not Obama. For the record, Ferguson has been to the White House more than 20 times.

And now, to the links!

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 9,539. That's the number of physicians who decided to opt out of Medicare in 2012. 685,000 doctors are enrolled in the program. These are the first annual opt-out data ever released.

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “Why would you want me?” said Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, when President Barack Obama offered her the job. “Do you realize the rules I’ve done over the past three or four years?” McCarthy was previously head of the EPA's air and radiation office, where she was involved in several major new regulations. 

Wonkblog's Graphs of the Day: The Fed may be in the market for a new chairperson. But its total headcount has been shrinking since 1990.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Summers vs. Yellen, delayed; 2) the healthcare senators retire; 3) Keystone and the EPA; 4) the NSA backlash; and 5) political polarization in the House.

1) Top story: Yellen v. Summers, delayed?

No Fed pick until the fall. "The White House says President Barack Obama is not expected to name a new chairman of the Federal Reserve until the fall, lowering expectations for an imminent announcement. A senior official says the president has not made a decision on who will replace current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke." Julie Pace in The Associated Press.

Larry Summers, candidate for Fed chairman, faces criticism for Wall Street ties. "Mr. Summers, who remains on the Harvard University faculty after a tumultuous tenure as the school's president in the mid-2000s, also advises or consults for a number of other financial firms. These include stock-exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., hedge fund D.E. Shaw, venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and asset-management and advisory firm Alliance Partners, according to people familiar with the matter. His consulting for Citigroup and Nasdaq hasn't previously been reported." Damian Paletta and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal. 

@jbarro: Larry Summers : Janet Yellen :: Chuck Hagel : Michele Flournoy

Fed 'doves' beat 'hawks' in economic forecasts. "The Wall Street Journal examined more than 700 predictions made between 2009 and 2012 in speeches and congressional testimony by 14 Fed policy makers—and scored the predictions on growth, jobs and inflation...The most accurate forecasts overall came from Ms. Yellen, now the Fed's vice chair. She was joined in the high scores by other Fed "doves," policy makers who wanted aggressively easy money policies to confront a weak U.S. economy and low inflation. Collectively, they supported Fed Chairmen Ben Bernanke's strategy to pump money into the U.S. economy." Jon Hilsenrath and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

This is how people at the Fed are thinking about the race to be their boss. "Within FedWorld — those who work within the Federal Reserve system both in Washington and in a dozen reserve banks around the country — there is a sense of wariness at the possibility that past Treasury secretary Larry Summers could be their next boss, current and former officials said. The other leading candidate, Fed vice chairwoman Janet Yellen, can also be a demanding taskmaster, they said, though as a long veteran of the institution they view her as more likely to continue Bernanke’s collegial manner of dealing with the sprawling, 18,000-employee system." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

@BCAppelbaum: I wonder what percentage of Americans could correctly answer the question, "Who are Larry Summers and Janet Yellen?"

CNBC Fed poll: 50% say Obama should pick Yellen; 2.5% say he should pick Summers. "CNBC has a monthly Fed survey in which they poll “economists, traders and strategists” on Fed issues. In July, they asked who President Obama will pick to replace Ben Bernanke. Seventy percent of the respondents said Yellen, while 25 percent said Summers. Then they asked who Obama should nominate to replace Bernanke. Here, 50 percent said Yellen, and only 2.5 percent — yes, with the decimal point — said Summers." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Economic data coming your way this weekAmrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.

Getting creative with GDP. "We live in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, but until now, official statistics haven’t adequately captured that reality, particularly in the single number describing the economy’s size: the gross domestic product. That’s the view of Steve Landefeld, director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Commerce Department unit that measures G.D.P....[Artistic originals] will be considered assets — capital investments rather than expenses — and the cost of producing them will be added to G.D.P. In addition, the revenue generated by the cards will be included in G.D.P. later on, when the money flows in." Jeff Sommer in The New York Times.

NYT interviews Obama. "In a week when he tried to focus attention on the struggles of the middle class, President Obama said in an interview that he was worried that years of widening income inequality and the lingering effects of the financial crisis had frayed the country’s social fabric and undermined Americans’ belief in opportunity. Upward mobility, Mr. Obama said in a 40-minute interview with The New York Times, “was part and parcel of who we were as Americans.”" Jackie Calmes and Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

Read: The transcriptThe New York Times.

'Grand bargain' eludes budget negotiators. "Top White House officials are stepping up meetings with Senate Republicans in hopes of averting a deadline-driven clash over federal spending this fall, according to people familiar with the sessions. But the two sides remain far apart on basic questions of whether to raise tax revenue and how to rein in the cost of Medicare. As President Barack Obama took to the road last week to outline his economic vision, his top aides met twice with a group of eight Senate Republicans as part of a search for compromise on some of the budget issues that have divided the parties for years." Peter Nicholas and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

BLINDER: Janet Yellen for Fed chair. "Yellen's is one of consistently good judgment, time after time—exactly what we need in a Federal Reserve chairman...She lost the debate that day, but she was right. These kinds of incidents, by the way, get her branded a "dove." They should brand her as someone with superb judgment." Alan S. Blinder in The Wall Street Journal.

HAMILTON: Yellen as a person. "Yellen is brilliant and tough. She displays this not by needing to prove to you that she's the smartest person in the room, but instead by always asking the right questions. If someone disagrees with her, her first instinct is not to try to bully them, but instead to try to understand why they have reached a different conclusion than she has. Because of this attribute, Yellen is one of the people I would trust most to be able to sort out what the key problems are and what needs to be done in any new situation." James D. Hamilton on the Econbrowser blog.

Music recommendations interlude: The Perishers, "My Heart."

Top op-eds

KRUGMAN: Stranded by sprawl. "[I]n one important respect booming Atlanta looks just like Detroit gone bust: both are places where the American dream seems to be dying, where the children of the poor have great difficulty climbing the economic ladder. In fact, upward social mobility — the extent to which children manage to achieve a higher socioeconomic status than their parents — is even lower in Atlanta than it is in Detroit." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DEAN: Obamacare's rate-setting won't work. "One major problem is the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB is essentially a health-care rationing body. By setting doctor reimbursement rates for Medicare and determining which procedures and drugs will be covered and at what price, the IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them. There does have to be control of costs in our health-care system. However, rate setting—the essential mechanism of the IPAB—has a 40-year track record of failure." Howard Dean in The Wall Street Journal.

COCLANIS: Immigrant scientists enrich the U.S. "Ten of the 13 recipients (77%) of Simons Investigators awards are immigrants to the U.S., and two others are children of immigrants. Taken together, 92% of this year's Investigators are immigrants or children of immigrants. About 13% of the U.S. population today is foreign-born. Does that help clarify things when it comes to the continuing importance of immigration for the future of the U.S.?" Peter A. Coclanis in The Wall Street Journal.

SOLTAS: Steve King, Bob Goodlatte, and the direction of immigration reform in the House. "Goodlatte's incrementalism isn't about killing any hope of reform. It's about two things: (1) the political reality of a severely polarized House and (2) a sincere view that, when it comes to immigration reform, the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts, but rather that a series of well-designed partial deals is better than a sub-optimal comprehensive one." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

DIONNE: Mess with Texas. "Holder announced he was using Section 3, a different part of the Voting Rights Act that was left standing, to ask a federal court to re-subject Texas to pre-clearance. It is a less efficient way to achieve what the pre-gutted act allowed automatically, but it is the best that can be done for now. It would be better still if Congress reinstated a revised version of Section 4. In the meantime, the hope is to limit the damage of the high court’s folly — and perhaps give other states pause before they rush into new discriminatory schemes." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. 

MANKIW: Investing in gold. "Over the long run, gold’s price has outpaced overall prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index — but not by much. In another recent N.B.E.R. paper, the economists Robert J. Barro and Sanjay P. Misra reported that from 1836 to 2011, gold earned an average annual inflation-adjusted return of 1.1 percent. By contrast, they estimated long-term returns to be 1.0 percent for Treasury bills, 2.9 percent for long-term bonds and 7.4 percent for stocks. Mr. Erb and Mr. Harvey presented a novel way of gauging gold’s return in the very long run: they compared what the Roman emperor Augustus paid his soldiers, measured in units of gold, to what we pay the military today. They report remarkably little change over 2,000 years." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.

DOUTHAT: Going for Bolingbroke. "The theory goes something like this: American politics is no longer best understood in the left-right terms that defined 20th-century debates. Rather, our landscape looks more like a much earlier phase in democracy’s development, when the division that mattered was between outsiders and insiders, the “country party” and the “court party.”" Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Internet history interlude: Physics and the birth of the emoticon.

2) The healthcare exodus

3 senators, all leaders on healthcare, to retire in 2014. "Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Max Baucus of Montana — Senate committee chairmen who helped write the law and push it through the Senate — are all retiring at the end of 2014. All are devoting at least a portion of their remaining time in office trying to protect the president’s legacy legislation from political opponents — and make the law work...The three departures will mark a unique, single-issue Senate brain drain, which also included the retirement of Chris Dodd of Connecticut in 2011 and the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2009...Their departures, part of the rapid turnover the Senate has experienced in recent years, means there will be few Democrats in the Senate who played a central role in getting the Affordable Care Act written or enacted in 2009-10 other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Their absence could be felt if the Senate tries to modify any pieces of the law, or when it comes to defending the law against critics." Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico.

Interview: Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare’s ‘very tight’ deadlines. Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Physicians opting out of Medicare. "CMS said 9,539 physicians who had accepted Medicare opted out of the program in 2012, up from 3,700 in 2009. That compares with 685,000 doctors who were enrolled as participating physicians in Medicare last year, according to CMS, which has never released annual opt-out figures before. Meanwhile, the proportion of family doctors who accepted new Medicare patients last year, 81%, was down from 83% in 2010, according to a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians of 800 members." Melinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal.

Coburn thinks defunding Obamacare is a horrible idea. "'I don’t see how you passing a CR [continuing resolution to fund the government] that does this. And let’s say you do, and the President vetoes the CR. Then what happens? How fast do members of Congress who voted for that strategy fold when the government shuts down? I’ve been here when we’ve done that, and it’s not a strategy that works. This is misleading the conservative base because it’s not achievable, and all it will do in the long run is dispirit the base. This is a failed strategy for conservatives.'" Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Maryland: Health insurance premiums could rise by as much as 25 percent. "The state on Friday released final insurance rates for the private insurance policies available next year through the new insurance exchange created by ObamaCare. Compared with policies a available in Maryland today, some exchange plans will be more expensive -- and premiums could rise by as much as 25 percent for certain policies...The cheapest policy available to a 25-year-old in Maryland will cost roughly $114 per month, according to the state's rate filings." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Republican senators see an upside in a problematic issue: abortion. "Plans under discussion among the staff members of a handful of Republican senators and anti-abortion groups would involve bringing the measure up for a vote, probably as part of debate over a spending measure, sometime after Congress returns from its August recess...Democrats, meanwhile, are wary of the damage that a “no” vote on second-trimester abortion restrictions could inflict on some of their more vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2014, particularly in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, where legislatures have recently imposed strict limits." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.

Think messaging will change opinions on Obamacare? Think again. "Might the efforts of Oprah Winfrey and others encourage Americans to sign up for health insurance? Sure—and a separate vein of research in political science provides evidence that Americans’ actual experiences with social policy programs can have a pronounced influence on their views. Signing up people, not shifting public opinion, is the aim of the Obama administration’s latest efforts. But after five years of debate, it is clear that public opinion on the Affordable Care Act is unmoved by catchy slogans alone." Dan Hopkins in The Washington Post.

Extreme, absolutely do not try this at home or at nearby geological formations interlude: The world's largest rope swing.

3) Will Keystone ever get approved?

Obama’s Keystone comments give opponents reason for hope. "For those trying to decipher which way President Obama is leaning on whether to grant the Keystone XL pipeline a presidential permit, the comments he made in an interview with The New York Times published this weekend suggest he accepts much of the criticism opponents have lodged against the project. In the interview, which was posted online Saturday night, Obama questioned the project’s economic benefits, saying “there is no evidence” to the Republican argument that “this would be a big jobs generator.”" Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Internal EPA report highlights disputes over fracking and well water. "One year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency finished testing drinking water in Dimock, Pa., after years of complaints by residents who suspected that nearby natural gas production had fouled their wells. The EPA said that for nearly all the 64 homes whose wells it sampled, the water was safe to drink. Yet as the regulator moved to close its investigation, the staff at the mid-Atlantic EPA office in Philadelphia, which had been sampling the Dimock water, argued for continuing the assessment. In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Tribune/Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau, staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production." Neela Bannerjee in the Los Angeles Times.

EPA gets a leader to tackle climate change. "“Why would you want me?” Ms. McCarthy said she asked the president when he offered her the top job. “Do you realize the rules I’ve done over the past three or four years?” Ms. McCarthy, an earthy, tough-talking New Englander who drew criticism as the head of the agency’s air and radiation office during Mr. Obama’s first term, then ticked off a list of controversial air pollution regulations she had helped write...Mr. Obama’s decision to nominate Ms. McCarthy, 59, was an act of defiance to Congressional and industry opponents of meaningful action on climate change. It was also a sign of his determination to at least begin to put in place rules to reduce carbon pollution." John M. Broder in The New York Times.

Congress’s climate skeptics could snarl GOP’s strategy. "[S]ome Republicans are straying from the script, spouting off instead about the Book of Genesis, claims about scientific conspiracies and arguments that the Earth is cooling. And they show no signs of stifling their skepticism — even at the risk of providing a stream of YouTube-worthy sound bites that play into Democrats’ own strategy, which includes painting the GOP as the anti-science party...The skeptics don’t speak for all Republicans, but they complicate the task of GOP leaders who want voters to focus on their warnings that President Barack Obama’s climate proposals will wipe out jobs and raise energy prices." Andrew Restuccia in Politico.

Admit your nerdery interlude: The largest space battle in history just happened.

4) Civil libertarianism goes mainstream against NSA

Momentum builds against NSA surveillance. "[W]hat began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House...Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. Mr. Sensenbrenner said on Friday that he would have a bill ready when Congress returned from its August recess that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

With NSA revelations, Sen. Ron Wyden’s vague warnings about privacy finally become clear. "It was one of the strangest personal crusades on Capitol Hill: For years, Sen. Ron Wyden said he was worried that intelligence agencies were violating Americans’ privacy. But he couldn’t say how. That was a secret...Everything but his unhappiness had to be classified. So Wyden stuck to speeches that were dire but vague. And often ignored." David A. Fahrenthold in The Washington Post.

Spy agencies now under heaviest scrutiny since 70s. "On three fronts — interrogation, drone strikes and now electronic surveillance — critics inside and outside Congress have challenged the intelligence establishment, accusing officials of overreaching, misleading the public and covering up abuse and mistakes...The post-9/11 combination of ballooning budgets, expanding technological abilities and near-total secrecy set up the intelligence agencies for an eventual collision with public opinion, in a repeat of a scandal-reform cycle from almost four decades ago." Scott Shane in The New York Times.

Greenwald: Low-level NSA analysts allowed to spy on phone calls. "Reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, on Sunday defended prior claims from leaker Edward Snowden that low-level analysts and contractors had access to private communications...Greenwald said that he would publish a new story in the coming week with details on the access given to low-level analysts and contractors." Meghashyam Mali in The Hill.

Paul Krugman does math for you interlude: Why it feels like you are always driving in the slow lane.

5) A House divided cannot stand. What about a House polarized?

House districts keep getting safer. "Of 435 districts in the Republican-controlled House, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates only 90 as competitive, meaning those seats have a partisan rating that falls within five points of the national average...The number of competitive districts as at its lowest since Cook first started the partisanship rating in the 1998 election cycle...Moreover, only a fraction of the 90 districts now deemed competitive will see tight races. Currently, Cook rates only nine House races as tossups, most of them for seats now held by Democrats." Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

LongreadsFrom doubts to confidence to defeatHow the Obama campaign won the race for voter dataDan Balz in The Washington Post.

Facing a recall after supporting tighter gun laws in Colorado. "Now, after months of gathering signatures and skirmishing in court, gun activists in Colorado, with the support of the National Rifle Association, have forced Mr. Morse and a fellow Democrat, Senator Angela Giron, into recall elections. The recall effort is seen nationally as a test of whether politicians, largely Democrats, outside big cities and deep-blue coastal states can survive the political fallout of supporting stricter gun laws." Jack Healy in The New York Times.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Interview: ‘So much darkness, so much desperation’: Talking with the directors of ‘Detropia.’ Dylan Matthews.

Prisons are shrinking. That won’t necessarily lastMike Konczal.

Supermarkets are merging again. What does that mean for your grocery billLydia DePillis.

Think messaging will change opinions on Obamacare? Think againDan Hopkins.

Coburn thinks defunding Obamacare is a horrible ideaSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Government wants private firms to aid more in food safetyStephanie Armour in The Washington Post.

Bill seeks to speed the filling of inspectors general vacanciesJosh Hicks in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Lydia DePillis · July 28, 2013