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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 2015. That's when Obama said his administration will begin its metrics-based evaluations of college's return on students' tuition.
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Anyone who looks at the sticker price of tuition to measure college cost (as it is in the Consumer Price Index, notably) doesn't know what they're talking about. You have to look at net cost, as David Leonhardt shows here.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) why controlling the cost of college is hard; 2) the Jackson Hole conference; 3) the case against the surveillance state; 4) California at risk of big Obamacare delay; and 5) let's get fiscal, fiscal.
1) Top story: Can Obama control the cost of college?
Obama proposes college-rating system that could increase affordability. "For decades, magazines have rated colleges to help families navigate the higher education market. On Thursday, President Obama proposed that the federal government rate the nation’s schools to hold them accountable for performance and help bring soaring tuition under control. By the 2015 school year, Obama said, his administration will begin evaluating colleges on measures such as the average tuition they charge, the share of low-income students they enroll and their effectiveness in ensuring students graduate without too much debt." Nick Anderson and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.
Primary source: Obama’s full plan to rein in higher ed costs. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Everything you need to know about Obama’s higher ed plan. Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.
Obama plans to tackle college costs, but options for controlling tuition are limited. "President Obama says he is on “a personal mission” to make higher education more affordable. But a key factor in rising college prices in recent years is a trend he has little power to reverse: a sharp decline in state funding for public colleges and universities...In the near term, you’re not going to markedly improve college affordability for the vast majority of students without affecting the behavior of states,” said Michael Dannenberg, a higher education policy analyst for the Education Trust...One effective way to cut costs, he and other analysts said, would be to ensure that more students get through college in four years or less, rather than taking a fifth or sixth year to graduate." Nick Anderson in The Washington Post.
@hillhulse: Is Pres Obama first president who had college loans of his own? Only finished paying them off before Senate election.
Here's how Obama can make his higher-ed plan work without Congress. "What’s interesting about this plan, though, is that only half of it needs congressional approval — and it’s the half that comes later, and that can be done quicker. The Obama administration doesn’t need congressional approval to build the performance measures. That’s something the Department of Education can do on its own...So what Obama is really promising to get done in his second term is to create the infrastructure necessary for a pay-for-performance system: the definition of performance and the routine collection of the underlying data. He doesn’t need Congress for that. When that’s are done, Obama can try to get legislation passed through Congress to tie them to financial aid by 2018. But even if he fails, he will have set the next president up to finish the job, as the technically hardest and most time-consuming task will be complete." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Obama's backup plan on colleges. "Mr. Obama’s first choice is that this data – on tuition, graduation and retention rates, student makeup and graduates’ earnings – help determine how much federal money the colleges receive. The backup plan is that parents and students will be able to use the data to decide where to enroll and, in the process, reward top-performing colleges and punish laggards. The White House plans to publish ratings based on this data by 2015." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.
College costs: rising, but often exaggerated. "The cost of attending college has indeed increased more quickly than inflation in recent years, but it has not risen as fast as many people imagine. The main reason for the misunderstanding is the fact that the list price of college – especially the list price of elite private colleges – receives far more attention than the actual price. The list price is the one that colleges highlight in their brochures and that media accounts often mention; the actual price, which takes financial aid into account, reflects what families truly pay and, by any imaginable definition, matters more." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.
@markknoller: Tomorrow on Obama Bus Tour: a Town Hall at Binghamton Univ (1245pm); speeches with VP Biden at Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA (440pm).
Report: Long-term education investments lead to higher wages. "The report, composed for the Economic Analysis and Research Network at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, shows a strong correlation between a well-educated workforce, higher productivity and higher wages. States where higher percentages of the workforce have attained bachelor’s degrees, like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, have much higher average hourly wages than states with fewer college graduates, like Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, the study shows." Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.
@ianbremmer: Americans who believe college education is a good financial investment: 2008 - 81%. 2012 - 57%. 2013 - 50%.
KLEIN: When government says 'no' to rising costs. "You can’t walk out on medical care for your spouse or education for your child. In the case of medical care, your spouse might die. In the case of college, you’re just throwing away your kid’s future (or so goes the conventional wisdom). Consequently, medical care and higher education are the two purchases that families will mortgage everything to make. They need to find a way to say “yes.” In these markets, when push comes to shove, consumers meet the demands of producers. The result, in both cases, is similar: skyrocketing costs for a product of uncertain quality." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.
BARRO: This is a move in exactly the right direction. "Simply publicizing this information may help students make smarter decisions about what degrees to get and where. But more importantly, the president wants to tie federal financial aid to performance on these metrics, so colleges have better incentives to provide a better product. We'll need to see how the rating systems work when the Department of Education releases them next year. But this is the right direction to be moving in. As with health care, third-party payment causes the education sector to focus too little on cost, and the government needs to make sure that tax dollars are spent efficiently. If we want to make college affordable, the government needs to bend the cost curve, not just write bigger checks." Josh Barro in Business Insider.
BERNSTEIN: No, really, the surge in part-time work isn't happening. "I built a simple statistical model of the relationship between the share of involuntary part-time work and the unemployment rate. I then ran the model through the first half of 2009, and predicted, using the actual unemployment rate, the shares of involuntary part-time work. If the law were keeping more than the usual number of full-time workers stuck in part-time jobs, then the predicted trend would be significantly below the actual one. In fact, the two trends hug each other quite tightly, further evidence that part-time employment is much where we would expect it to be at this stage of recovery, given the high level and slow decline in the jobless rate." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.
SOLTAS: How economics can save the whales. "Without attracting much notice, one branch of the discipline has made a lot of progress in devising polices that command consensus: environmental economics...At the top of the list is a program that rations the right to fish, known as “catch share.” It has proven shockingly successful in halting overfishing and ecological collapse -- the point at which stocks can no longer replenish themselves. A study of 11,135 fisheries showed that introducing catch share roughly halved the chance of collapse...Environmental economists have lately turned their attention to Atlantic bluefin tuna and whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service has just proposed new regulations that would for the first time establish a catch-share program for the endangered and lucrative bluefin. And a group of economists is pushing for a new international agreement on whaling." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.
KRUGMAN: This age of bubbles. "Does this reversal of fortune pose a major threat to the world economy? I don’t think so (he said with his fingers crossed behind his back). It’s true that investor loss of confidence and the resulting currency plunges caused severe economic crises in much of Asia back in 1997-98. But the crucial point back then was that, in the crisis countries, many businesses had large debts in dollars, so that falling currencies effectively caused their debts to soar, creating widespread financial distress. That problem isn’t completely absent this time around, but it looks much less serious." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
STRASSEL: A new strategy to take on Obamacare. "A swelling coalition of conservative activists—card-carrying members of the "repeal ObamaCare" campaign—are lighting up the movement with a different approach. The plan aims to leverage public support, play on Democrat weaknesses, and, most notably, sidestep a shutdown fight that would damage the GOP even as it failed to kill the law. Meet the "Delay coalition." The political calculus is that delay, unlike defund, pushes Democrats to do something that many are already inclined to do." Kimberley A. Strassel in The Wall Street Journal.
BLOOMBERG: Why is Obama caving on tobacco? "[T]he Obama administration appears to be on the verge of bowing to pressure from a powerful special-interest group, the tobacco industry, in a move that would be a colossal public health mistake and potentially contribute to the deaths of tens of millions of people around the world...The early drafts of the agreement included a “safe harbor” provision protecting nations that have adopted regulations on tobacco — like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions — because of “the unique status of tobacco products from a health and regulatory perspective...This week, however, the Obama administration bowed to pressure from the tobacco industry and dumped the safe harbor provision from the trade compact." Michael R. Bloomberg in The New York Times.
COHN: What does Karl Rove know about health care? "Actually Rove is at least half-right. Republicans do have plenty of ideas. But they are not the kind of ideas that would come anywhere close to achieving universal coverage, at least in the way most people understand it. At best, Republican proposals would make insurance a bit cheaper, mostly for people who are healthy and need coverage the least. At worst, these ideas would make coverage less accessible for people with pre-existing conditions—and leave more of the insured exposed to crippling medical bills." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
MCINTYRE AND FRAKT: Obamacare rate shock isn't what you think. "If the law’s age-rating provisions aren’t to blame for rate shock, what is? The truth is that premium increases for young adults will be driven by guaranteed-issue and community-rating protections -- in plain English, preventing insurers from denying coverage or basing premiums on health history. Thus, the health-care law’s “rate shock” isn’t a result of the young subsidizing the old. It’s the result of reforming the system so it serves the needs of the sickest and most vulnerable -- something the current individual market fails to do. Guaranteed issue and community rating, as well as minimum benefits and caps on out-of-pocket spending, are not designed to benefit the healthy at any age. They are designed to protect the ill and injured at every age." Adrianna McIntyre and Austin Frakt in Bloomberg.
ROOSE: How many interns have to die before Wall Street changes its ways? "There's a game played among young Wall Street analysts, usually late at night after everyone but the janitors have gone home. It goes by various names, but the one I've heard most often is "Misery Poker." The rules are simple: If your workload is worse than your colleagues', you win. So "I'm staffed on two deals, and I haven't left before midnight in a week" might prompt a raise of "Oh, yeah? Well, I'm staffed on threedeals, and I stayed past 2 a.m. six nights out of the last eight."...[L]ast weekend, when a London-based Bank of America intern dropped dead, reportedly after pulling three all-nighters in a row, we learned what happens when a game of Misery Poker goes high-stakes." Kevin Roose in New York Magazine.
Handpicked by Wonkblog interlude: Seven minutes of pure, unadulterated otter.
2) And we're live from Jackson Hole, Wyo.
The world's top economic policymakers are meeting in Wyoming. Here's what to expect. "My sense is that the hubris of 2005 has been replaced with a wary reluctance. In each case, the central bank is doing what it thinks must be done not out of supreme confidence it will work, but out of confidence that not acting would be even worse. This next three days in Wyoming, then, will be about exploring what we know now about which of these strategies is helping and how much, what risks they’re creating in the process, and what the toolbox for central banks should look like in the years ahead." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.
A note from Wonkblog: Check back with us this weekend for close coverage of the Jackson Hole conference.
What's on the agenda for Jackson Hole? "[T]he conference — which kicks off tonight with a dinner hosted by Kansas City Fed President Esther George — will focus on the impact of the Fed’s unconventional policies at home and beyond...On Saturday, the scope of the conference widens to the global impact of the Fed’s policies, though a panel discussion Friday featuring the head of Bank of Mexico Gov. Augustin Carstens, a Chinese academic and a European Central Bank official is also likely to touch on that theme." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.
Big NYT profile: Bernanke, the audacious pragmatist. "Mr. Bernanke’s academic work, largely at Princeton, helped shape the conventional wisdom that central banks couldn’t spot asset bubbles and shouldn’t try to pop things that looked like bubbles. In his first speech as a Fed governor in 2002, he reiterated that trying to judge the sustainability of rapid increases in housing or stock prices was “neither desirable nor feasible.”...It took a great recession to change his mind. The recession, prompted by the collapse of the housing bubble that Mr. Bernanke — and most other experts — failed to see coming, ended an era of minimalism in central banking. And there is no better marker than the views of Mr. Bernanke, the world’s most influential central banker, who now argues that the Fed needs to consider a range of previously unthinkable actions, including trying to pop bubbles when necessary, because sometimes the cost of doing nothing is worse." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.
Fed debates whether purchases or promises work better. "Many academics and Fed officials believe that with short-term rates stuck as low as they can go, the more powerful of the two tools, and the one they know best how to use, is the vow to hold rates low far into the future, a tactic that has been copied recently by the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. In Jackson Hole last year, Columbia University economist Michael Woodford made a much-discussed argument that the Fed should focus its efforts on making credible promises to keep rates low. And San Francisco Fed researchers Vasco Curdia and Andrea Ferrero concluded recently that bond buying has "at best moderate effects on economic growth and inflation," while communication about the future of short-term rates is the more powerful tool. Yet the verdict from markets looks different. Investors keep doubting the Fed's forward guidance, as it is known, and paying great attention to plans to scale back the pace of bond-buying." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
Good news that sounds like bad news: Moody's threatens to cut credit ratings of banks. "Believing that the government is now more likely to let large banks fail in a crisis, Moody’s Investors Service threatened on Thursday to downgrade the credit ratings of several big financial firms. If it follows through, Moody’s could reduce the ratings of Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase as much as two grades...Moody’s thinks the efforts have credibility, in part because regulators have started to describe the exact steps they might take in a liquidation. Under the plans, the government would seize the parent company of a bank and turn its debt into equity capital to make it stronger financially." Peter Eavis in The New York Times.
Mortgage rates soar to two-year highs. "The 30-year fixed-rate average jumped to a two-year high of 4.58 percent...It was up from 4.4 percent a week ago and 3.66 percent a year ago." Kathy Orton in The Washington Post.
SEC is set to propose new rule on executive pay. "The requirement, a mandate of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, could put added pressure on corporate boards to slow pay increases for chief executives at companies with significant or growing gaps, proponents say. The rule, expected to be approved by the SEC as early as next month, has come under fire from corporations. But it is expected to be less onerous than what lawmakers originally ordered the SEC to adopt, according to people familiar with the proposal. Rather than surveying the entire workforce, the SEC is expected to allow companies to consider a fraction of their employees when calculating median pay. It isn't clear what percentage of the workforce would be included in the sample." Andrew Ackerman in The Wall Street Journal.
US jobless claims near 5-yr. low. "The number of U.S. workers seeking new unemployment benefits rose last week but remained near five-year lows, a sign of an improving labor market...The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths week-to-week volatility, fell by 2,250 to 330,500, the lowest level since November 2007." Jonathan House and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.
...But unemployment benefits are vanishing faster than the job market is improving. "Why is that? Partly because people are finding work. But another big factor here, Portlock points out, is that people who have been unemployed for a long, long time (as in, a year or more) are now exhausting their benefits — even if they haven’t found jobs. A third reason? Over the past year, both states and the federal government have been throttling back on the maximum length of time they’ll offer unemployment insurance." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
Nasdaq resumes trading after technical glitch. "Trading in Nasdaq-listed stocks, including major companies such as Microsoft and Intel, halted for more than three hours Thursday after a technical glitch caused the exchange to shut down for most of the afternoon. Nasdaq’s malfunction, coming on the heels of other recent technology mishaps on Wall Street, raised new questions about the stability of the vast machinery that makes modern stock trading possible. The once-simple act of buying and selling equity has turned into a web of software systems handling unprecedented levels of automation and complexity." Jia Lynn Yang and Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.
California raised a bunch of taxes this year. Its economy hasn’t collapsed. "California kept adding jobs, and at about the same rate as the nation overall. Private-sector employment rose by 0.8 percent in the Golden State from January through July. Across the country, it rose 0.9 percent...Eight months after raising sales and income taxes, California is still adding jobs on par with the rest of the nation, but not as fast as it added jobs up to this point a year ago." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.
Way more interesting than it should be interlude: Airline stewardess fashion in the 1960s and 1970s.
3) The case against the surveillance state winning converts
NSA surveillance disclosures embolden agency's critics. "The latest disclosures over government surveillance programs have emboldened their critics on Capitol Hill, ensuring that the debate over national security and privacy will remain intense when Congress returns this fall...Lawmakers said new reports detailing the surveillance programs' reach into U.S. Internet traffic warranted congressional reaction, but that its shape was still under discussion." Kristina Peterson and Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.
Interview: Here’s how privacy advocates shined light on the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance. Andrea Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.
Former U.S. officials to be named to surveillance panel. "President Obama is preparing to name four former senior American officials — including three who worked in his administration — to the review board he announced earlier this month to examine U.S. surveillance policies. The board members will include former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, onetime economic policy adviser Peter Swire, Obama’s former “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein, and Richard A. Clarke, a National Security Council staff member in previous Republican and Democratic administrations, according to a U.S. official familiar with the selections...He said the panel would comprise “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies” and provide a report no later than Dec. 15 assessing the right way to balance national security imperatives and privacy protections." Andrea Peterson and Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.
Obama can't get ahead of the surveillance story. "President Barack Obama has the surveillance leak response down pat: Wait a couple of days after a rough story, then tell reporters most of what they already know. What the White House hasn’t done is get ahead of the story...That makes it difficult for the president to maintain credibility when telling the American people they have nothing to fear about the programs." Reid J. Epstein in Politico.
Manning wants hormone therapy in prison. Will it happen? "Army policy suggests there’s a lot of space between requesting hormone therapy and actually receiving it. At the same time, recent case law might make Manning’s argument a bit stronger, after other inmates have successfully petitioned their facilities for treatment...The United States Bureau of Prisons recently faced challenges to its policy of only providing hormone therapy to an inmate if that person had received such care prior to incarceration." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
With Manning’s move, transgender issues claim national spotlight. "Thursday’s announcement that Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning wants to live as a woman thrust the issue of treatment of transgender Americans into the national spotlight...Manning’s announcement, coming just a day after being sentenced to 35 years in military prison for giving classified documents to WikiLeaks, also comes at a moment when the treatment of transgender Americans in the workplace, schools and prison have become a more prominent part of the nation’s political and legal debate." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
White House to hold closed-door session on bisexual issues next month. "“Participants and administration officials will discuss a range of topics including health, HIV/AIDS, domestic and intimate partner violence, mental health and bullying,” Raghavan wrote. A White House confirmed Thursday the event will take place, but declined to elaborate." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Oh my god this is so great interlude: Miniatur Wunderland, you have to check this out.
4) California at risk of big Obamacare delay
California health-insurance exchange may face online enrollment delay. "A spokesman for Covered California, the state agency creating the exchange, said the technology for its enrollment process is still being tested, and "we are fully planning on being fully functional on Oct. 1." But, he said, "we've communicated to the health plans that there's a possibility, depending on the success of the tests, that we would have an aided enrollment and work toward a self-enrollment shortly thereafter." Self-enrollment would allow consumers to sign up for health plans themselves through an online process, while "aided enrollment" would involve consumers getting help from counselors, on the phone or in person, who could sign them up for plans." Anna Wilde Mathews in The Wall Street Journal.
80 House GOPers urge John Boehner to defund Obamacare. "A North Carolina Republican and 79 colleagues sent a letter Wednesday to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) urging them to defund Obamacare as part of a government funding bill. Rep. Mark Meadows, who has spearheaded the effort, said in the letter that he and his colleagues “urge” the House GOP leadership to “affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”" Jake Sherman in Politico.
Local governments cutting part-timers’ hours. "Many cash-strapped cities and counties, facing the prospect of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in new health-care costs under the Affordable Care Act, are opting instead to reduce the number of hours their part-time employees work...The decisions to cut employee hours come 16 months before employers — including state and local governments — will be required to offer health-care coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week. Some local officials said the cuts are happening now either because of labor contracts that must be negotiated in advance or because the local governments worry that employees who work at least 30 hours in the months leading up to the January 2015 implementation date would need to be included in their health-care plans." Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.
Rick Perry loves the part of Obamacare Peggy Noonan hates. "Remember Peggy Noonan’s “This is the reason many people don’t like ObamaCare”? The “this” in question was the Community First Choice program, which helps Medicaid cover at-home care for the disabled rather than shunting them into institutions. The program is so irresistible that even Texas Gov. Rick Perry is asking if his state can be part of it. And you don’t get Obamacare haters more diehard than Perry. But for that exact reason, his office is saying the program, which is literally part of the Affordable Care Act’s statute and which would cease to exist if the entire law was repealed, “has nothing to do with Obamacare.”" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Woah interlude: Bayou Corne, Louisiana is being swallowed by a sinkhole.
5) Let's get fiscal, fiscal
GOP plans continuing resolution to avoid shutdown. "House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday GOP leaders were crafting a strategy that could avert a September showdown with Democrats over government funding levels by deferring the toughest budget issues to later in the fall, when lawmakers face a deadline to raise the debt ceiling. On a conference call Thursday evening with GOP lawmakers, Mr. Boehner said it was his "intent to move quickly" when lawmakers return to Washington in September to pass a short-term spending bill at current levels that keeps the government running for 60 to 75 days, which would last until early or mid-November, according to several lawmakers who were on the call." Corey Boles and Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.
Chances of a deficit deal are fading rapidly. "Budget talks between the White House and Senate Republicans have gone nowhere since Congress began its summer recess, increasing chances of a fiscal stalemate that could lead to a government shutdown in October or the threat of a government default later in the fall. Negotiators who had hoped for a summer breakthrough say the chances for a major deficit reduction deal are rapidly slipping away. While many members of both parties say they would like to avoid either a shuttering of the government as of Oct. 1 or a default caused by failing to increase the federal debt limit, no acceptable solution has emerged." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
Welcome to the debt-ceiling drama show. "House Republicans have no idea how they’re going to lift the debt ceiling this fall — top aides and lawmakers freely admit it. But Republicans say their best hope is to try to leverage Democrats’ desire to blunt sequester cuts to get something in return for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders think that if they are able to lump the sequester and debt ceiling into one legislative fight, they will be able to extract some changes to entitlement programs from President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats." Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan in Politico.
A government shutdown is the great Democratic hope. "They’d never say it publicly. But catch many Democrats in an honest moment and they would admit that a Republican-led government shut down this fall might be the best thing — perhaps the only thing — that could revive their fading hopes of capturing the House next year. As it stands now, the midterm is shaping up as a stale, status-quo election — with Democrats calling their counterparts right-wing extremists, Republicans attacking their rivals over Obamacare and neither side making much headway. That’s good for Republicans, since the party out of power in the White House almost inevitably picks up House seats in the sixth year of the presidency. Heavily-gerrymandered districts provide the GOP an extra layer of protection." Alex Isenstadt in Politico.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Why do real estate agents still exist? Lydia DePillis.
Can Obama legalize 11 million immigrants on his own? Brad Plumer.
Obama’s full plan to rein in higher ed costs. Brad Plumer.
Obama’s higher-ed plan can work without Congress. Ezra Klein.
Manning wants hormone therapy in prison. Will it happen? Sarah Kliff.
Everything you need to know about Obama’s higher ed plan. Dylan Matthews.
Great news you wouldn't otherwise hear today: Workplace fatalities fell 7 percent in 2012. Melanie Trottman in The Wall Street Journal.
Justice Department sues Texas over voter ID law. Holly Yeager in The Washington Post.
Young immigrants protest deportation. Julia Preston in The New York Times.
What’s changed for African Americans since 1963, by the numbers. Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.