Wonkbook: The Obama administration’s brilliant strategy to keep us out of Syria

September 4, 2013

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(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Privately, Hill aides joke that everything is going exactly to President Obama's plan. It's just that that plan is to stay far, far away from Syria.

This is the (tongue-in-cheek) 12-dimensional chess interpretation of the Obama administration's Syria strategy. Boxed in by red-line rhetoric and the Sunday show warriors, the Obama administration needed to somehow mobilize the opposition to war in Syria. It did that by "fumbling" the roll-out terribly.

The arguments were lengthy and unclear. The White House expressly admitted that their strikes wouldn't save Syrian lives or topple Assad or making anything better in any way, and they were instead asking Americans to bomb Syria in order to enforce abstract international norms of warfare. It would be the first military action in American history that wasn't meant to save lives or win a war but to slightly change the mix of arms a dictator was using to slaughter his population.

All this was helpful in creating opposition. But then Obama turned on a dime and decided to go to Congress at the last minute, making his administration look indecisive and fearful of shouldering the blame for this unpopular intervention, putting the decision in the hands of a body famous for being unable to make decisions, giving the argument for strikes more time to lose support, and giving an American public that opposes intervention in Syria more time and venues to be heard.

And then, after all that, Obama goes to Congress with an absurdly broad force authorization -- so broad that it doesn't specify when it ends, or even really limit which countries can be hit. The force authorization offended even Obama's allies in Congress, left many questioning his motives, and has now been thrown out by the Senate. Members of Congress and their aides I've spoken to remain shocked that Obama chose to come to Congress and then handed them that document.

And on Tuesday, of course, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped before the Senate and, asked, to forswear ground troops, said, "I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be on the table." He later walked the comments back as "a hypothetical," but they led the nightly news, and pushed the possibility of escalation further into the discussion.

The Obama administration's strategy to cool the country on this war without expressly backing away from the president's red lines has been brilliant, Hill aides say (just look at the polls showing overwhelming opposition!). If they are going to go to war, their efforts to goad Congress into writing a punitively narrow authorization of force that sharply limits any potential for escalation have worked beautifully.

Believing anything else -- like this is how the administration is actually leading the United States into conflict -- is too unsettling.

Wonkbook's Numbers of the Day: 400,000, 1.8 million and 4.25 million. Those are, respectively: the number of people now located in the Zataari camp of Syrian refugees, which is now the second-largest refugee camp in the world and has become overnight the fourth-largest city in Jordan; the number of Syrian refugees worldwide; and the number of internally displaced Syrians. More Syrians have been forcibly displaced than any other country, according to the UN. 

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “I don’t want to throw darts or rocks at anybody,” said Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, at the National Governors Association convention last month in Milwaukee, venting his frustration over the budget uncertainty. “I just want to know what the hell the numbers are.”

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Syria's total energy production and consumption, from the EIA.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) a complete update on the Syria situation; 2) the recovery may be getting faster; 3) Wonkbook goes back to school; 4) Indiana makes major health news; and 5) immigration reform is going, going, gone.

1) Top story: Here's everything you need to know about Syria over the last 24 hours

Obama: ‘This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan.’ "President Obama suggested Tuesday that he is open to working with Congress on a revised resolution authorizing military force in Syria as long as the end result maintains the administration’s goals. “I would not be going to Congress if I was not serious about consultation,” the president said before meeting with congressional leaders at the White House to seek their backing for a possible strike on the military forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad...Obama was sitting down with a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was not in attendance." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Transcript and video: The President's remarks on Syria. Politico.

Kerry and Hagel go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The three men, drawn from President Obama’s senior national security team, said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government directly puts American interests at risk, and that other potential adversaries, whether North Korea or Iran, would be emboldened if the United States failed to act...Mr. Kerry argued against any restrictions in the Congressional authorization, including whether ground forces would be prohibited...Mr. Kerry warned that the turmoil in Syria, if not contained, might allow extremists to find haven in a country with chemical weapons. That nexus of chemical weapons depots and militant fighters tied to international terrorist organizations, he said, could threaten American allies that border Syria, American troops in the region and perhaps even United States territory." Thom Shanker in The New York Times.

Read: Washington Post correspondents put together a sharp liveblog of the event. It's worth reading through.

Senators strike deal on wording for new resolution authorizing force against Syria. "The resolution would permit up to 90 days of military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, beginning with 60 days and the option of 30 more pending President Obama’s notification of Congress, according to a copy of the resolution provided by Senate aides. The resolution also bars the deployment of U.S. combat troops into Syria, but would permit the deployment of a small rescue mission, in the event of an emergency, the aides said." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Primary sources: Senate resolution on SyriaOriginal White House proposed resolution on Syria.

Key lawmakers back Obama on Syria strike. "House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said after the meeting that only the U.S. has the capability to stop Mr. Assad and warn others about the use of chemical weapons...The bipartisan show of support afterward marked a shift following a weekend in which lawmakers from both parties had expressed reservations and no consensus was apparent. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) offered his support for action against Syria in a statement released after the meeting, saying, "America's credibility is on the line."...Other lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D., Md.), also said they would support military action. Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) believes he will have the votes in the Senate to pass such a resolution even if opponents try to use a filibuster to block it, an official familiar with his thinking said Tuesday." Jared A. Favole, Colleen McCain Nelson, and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: 12 key voices in Congress for the Syria debate. Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

McConnell isn't on board. "In a stark contrast with GOP leaders in the House, McConnell voiced skepticism about a strike and said Obama needed to explain more to Congress and the public. “While we are learning more about his plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done — and can be accomplished — in Syria and the region,” McConnell said in a statement after meeting with Obama at the White House." Alexander Bolton in The Hill.

@Noahpinion: Dear conservatives freaking out about Syria bombing: It was the painful lesson of Iraq that made you anti-war, right?

At G-8 summit, Obama to seek support for action on Syria. "At the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, the strife in Syria and uncertainty about Obama’s plans are likely to overshadow an agenda focused on economic issues. Privately, Obama will try to persuade world leaders to support U.S.-led action in Syria — putting him at odds with the summit’s host, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, a key ally of the Syrian regime who will press his case against strikes...Obama is planning to meet with French President Francois Hollande and Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. officials said. Experts said it will be difficult for him to gain support on Syria as long as the scope of possible strikes or whether Congress will authorize them remains uncertain." Philip Rucker and Will Englund in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Should the the U.S. strike Syria? These are the five smartest arguments.. Max Fisher in The Washington Post.

Obama is turning to former advisers to win support on Syria. "The White House is deploying President Obama’s political brain trust from the 2008 campaign to help make the case for military action in Syria. Several of Mr. Obama’s closest former aides gathered at the White House on Tuesday morning at the behest of the chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, to coordinate their message. Among those taking part are David Plouffe, the president’s former senior adviser and campaign manager; Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary; Jon Favreau, a former chief speechwriter; and Tommy Vietor, the former spokesman for the National Security Council." Mark Landler in The New York Times.

@blakehounshell: President Obama losing the crucial Jon Stewart vote on Syria, I see.

Intel on Syria all points to Assad forces as responsible for chemical-weapons use. "All come to the same basic conclusions: the attacks involved sarin gas, only the Assad government had control over the chemical agents, and whether it was premeditated or the result of “sloppiness,” as one senior American official put it, the results were devastating...[T]he very public way that the Americans, French, British and Israelis have published their evidence underscores the huge sensitivities around the intelligence itself, as well as the questions it prompts." David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times.

Interview: They must be really bad if even Hitler wouldn’t use them.’ Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Two resolutions have now been released in the House on Syria. "A pair of House Democrats and a senior House Republican on the Intelligence Committee have released new draft resolutions dealing with President Barack Obama’s authority to attack Syria, illustrating the resistance to the White House’s initial proposal. The two House Democrats — Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen — say Obama wants “far too broad authority” to attack Syria. Meanwhile, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) wants Obama to present further evidence to justify any military intervention." Jake Sherman in Politico.

@peterbakernyt: Bipartisanship breaks out, at least in the Senate over Syria. Menendez and Corker agree on language for authorization of force.

Pelosi scrambling, if not whipping, for House Democratic votes on Syria. "The California Democrat emphasized Tuesday that she and other Democratic leaders would not twist arms with a formal whip of a Syria vote. But in a press conference at the White House, and then in a letter sent to all her troops, Pelosi is laying out a very public case for intervention with an unequivocal humanitarian message aimed to rally wary Democrats behind their president." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

@BobCusack: Syria measure will likely pass Senate Foreign Relations panel by a wide margin. Best guess is 13-5 or 14-4. House passage much harder.

Hillary Clinton backs Syria strike. "Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton backs President Obama’s call for Congress to authorize military action against Syria, a Clinton adviser said Tuesday. “Clinton supports the president’s effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons,” the adviser said in a statement." Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

Interview: Russian President Vladimir Putin warns West on Syria strikeThe Associated Press.

On Syria, Obama faces a skeptical public. "President Obama has turned the question of whether to strike Syria into an extraordinary national sales job — seeking to convince skeptics in Congress and among the public that military action would be worth the risk. It does not seem to be selling well. That’s the takeaway from the most recent national polling and the response from voters nationwide...In meetings with lawmakers, voters gamely tried to tackle the kind of problem usually reserved for situation rooms in Washington. Cops tried to apply the logic of police work to the situation in Syria. Teachers applied the lessons of classroom discipline. Regular people thought through the same ugly chains of cause and effect that presidential advisers had." David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Poll results: Americans oppose war in Syria, 59-36The Washington Post, ABC News. And Pew finds the score is 48-29Pew Research.

U.S. is already providing tech support to Syrian rebels. "[T]he Obama administration long ago decided to provide the rebels with another form of assistance: hardware and software to help the rebels communicate more effectively and evade government censorship...In April 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced $25 million in non-lethal aid, including communications equipment, to moderate rebel forces. Sources at the time told CNN the aid would include “satellite communication equipment, as well as hardware and software systems to help the opposition evade government censors.” The circumvention technology could be especially helpful to activists in Syria because the Internet in the state is heavily monitored." Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.

@ByronYork: Don't real sanctions, sabotage (a la Stuxnet), and the occasional 'accidents' befalling nuclear scientists send stronger message than Syria?

Most Americans can’t find Syria on a map. So what? "There are good arguments against attacking Syria. (Indeed, as of yet, I haven’t heard many good arguments for attacking Syria!) But none of them have anything to do with whether a random American could find the place on a map. Where Syria sits on a globe has basically nothing to do with the wisdom of a punitive strike meant to uphold international norms against the use of chemical weapons." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: Compromise proposal: send Sean Hannity to Syria.

You should pay attention to the growing refugee problem re: Syria. "The camp, Zaatari, now ranks as Jordan's fourth-largest city, the United Nations says, and as the second-largest refugee camp in the world. Only Dadaab in Kenya, with more than 400,000 people, is bigger, the U.N. estimates...On Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency—which has called Syria's crisis the worst since Rwanda's—said the number of Syrian refugees surpassed two million, rising by 1.8 million over the past 12 months. Including the 4.25 million more people displaced inside Syria, the agency said, there are more Syrians forcibly displaced than currently is the case with any other country." Nour Malas in The Wall Street Journal.

France, too, is moving towards a vote on Syria. "France cracked the door open to a possible parliamentary vote on whether to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, highlighting the growing political pressure on French President François Hollande in a country that remains deeply skeptical of a military intervention." Stacy Meichtry in The Wall Street Journal.

HATHAWAY AND SHAPIRO: The UN should be ashamed for not moving on a Syria resolution. "The United Nations, which is supposed to secure international peace, is paralyzed by the intransigence of Russia and China, which hold vetoes on the Security Council...If the United States begins an attack without Security Council authorization, it will flout the most fundamental international rule of all — the prohibition on the use of military force, for anything but self-defense, in the absence of Security Council approval. This rule may be even more important to the world’s security — and America’s — than the ban on the use of chemical weapons." Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro in The New York Times.

FRIEDMAN: Arm and shame. "I think President Obama has the wrong strategy for threading that needle. He’s seeking Congressional support for a one-time “shock and awe” missile attack against Syrian military targets. The right strategy is “arm and shame.”...I think the best response to the use of poison gas by President Bashar al-Assad is not a cruise missile attack on Assad’s forces, but an increase in the training and arming of the Free Syrian Army — including the antitank and antiaircraft weapons [it has] long sought." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

@ianbremmer: V tough call, but I'd vote in favor of limited Syria resolution. Too late to help Syria, but precedent set otherwise too dangerous.

YORK: Why many Republicans won't join with Obama on Syria. "Many Republicans will never be convinced the U.S. can come to the aid of good rebels in Syria without also helping bad rebels in Syria. It's just too complicated, they believe, and there are simply too many bad guys...Lots of lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, believe Obama's draft resolution gives the president too much power." Byron York in The Washington Examiner.

SUNSTEIN: Can Obama strike Syria on his own? "In the last three decades, both Republican and Democratic presidents have built on this rationale to justify a variety of military actions lacking congressional authorization, for example, in Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992), Bosnia (1995), Haiti (twice, 1994 and 2004) and Serbia (1999). Under this rationale, we need to distinguish between a limited military mission and an actual “war.” In making that distinction, the Department of Justice has pointed to the relevance of two factors: the magnitude of the action (including its scope, nature and duration) and its underlying justification." Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg.

PONNURU: Obama's constitutional power grab on Syria. "[T]he most natural reading of the evidence is that it’s Congress that moves us from a state of peace to a state of war. If Congress votes against a strike on Syria and the president acts anyway, he will be violating his oath of office." Ramesh Ponnuru in Blooomberg.

Music recommendations interlude: George Wassouf, "Allah Karim."

Top opinion

YGLESIAS: Poverty causes bad decisions. Bad decisions aren't causing poverty. "A study published last week in the journal Science shows that the stress of worrying about finances can impair cognitive functions in a meaningful way. The authors gathered evidence from both low-income Americans (at a New Jersey shopping mall) and the global poor (looking at farmers in Tamil Nadu, India) and found that just contemplating a projected financial decision impacted performance on spatial and reasoning tests." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

ORSZAG: What do nonprofits do, and why are they growing? "[R]oughly three-quarters of what nonprofits do involves either health care or education. This helps explain why the nonprofit sector weathered the recession better than the private sector did...The ultimate question is whether we should welcome or be concerned about the growth of nonprofits. The answer is linked to whether we want to spend more on health care and education. To my mind, as the U.S. grows richer, we should welcome spending more on health care and education -- but only if we obtain better value from the money we spend." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

BERNSTEIN: Is it Obamacare, or a weak economy, driving up part-time work? The latter. "It would be a neat test, I thought, to see if the share of involuntary part-time workers was also correlated to the unemployment rate by state.  I’d expect that correlation to be positive — that states with higher unemployment would have higher shares of involuntary part-timers — providing further evidence that it is the job market, not the health care law, at work. Conversely, if the incidence of involuntary part-time work was uncorrelated with state unemployment rates, then the Affordable Care Act would be a more plausible candidate to explain the variation...You want to hate on Obamacare, I can’t stop you. And the incentive to reduce workers’ hours may someday be found in the data, though according to the administration, fewer than 1 percent of employees have weekly hours slightly above the 30-hour cutoff, are employed by businesses affected by the employer mandate and do not already have health insurance. But the fact is that for now, there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move along, please." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

Unlikely encounters interlude: Apparently, the KKK met with the NAACP.

2) Is the recovery speeding up or slowing down?

Manufacturing data points to an accelerating recovery. Yay! "The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Tuesday that its manufacturing index rose to 55.7 in August from 55.4 in July. That was higher than the index’s 12-month average of 52. A reading above 50 indicates growth. A gauge of new orders rose nearly five points to 63.2, the highest level in more than two years." The Associated Press.

For workers and the economy, autumn could be scary. "The U.S. economy looks headed for a rough autumn, with slowdown threats looming from the housing market, the Middle East and Washington...Oil and gasoline prices are rising and could shoot up further if Western countries launch military strikes on Syria, pinching U.S. consumers who do not have much disposable income to spare. The housing recovery, which has been the economy’s hottest spot for the past year, is showing signs of cooling as mortgage rates rise. In Washington, the Federal Reserve could be poised to start winding down its latest round of monetary stimulus as soon as this month. Congress and President Obama appear set for another series of down-to-the-last-second fights over funding the government and raising the nation’s debt limit to ensure the United States does not default on any interest payments." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

...So here are 5 reasons you should be worrying about the continuing strength of the economy. "We are at a strange, jittery moment for the U.S. economy. We’re all, essentially, like a car on a winding road about to turn a bend with no idea whether it’s a nice, smooth road ahead or a perilous mountain climb. Here are the reasons to think that it may be a rocky next few months." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Auto sales sizzle amid tepid economic recovery. "Auto sales are surging across the country, touching off a virtuous cycle of healthy competition, job-creating investment and high-tech innovation that stands apart from much of the still-sputtering economy...The auto industry has accounted for a quarter of the nation’s overall economic growth since the recession ended in 2009, according to calculations by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR)." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

Emerging markets hope to get attention at G-20 meeting. "Some leaders are hoping that the issue can still be addressed, even if the meetings in St. Petersburg on Thursday and Friday are dominated by the crisis surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war. For instance, a person familiar with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's thinking said she hopes the summit will produce agreement on ways to ease the impact of the anticipated change in Fed policy...In an effort to exercise more control over their currencies, the governments of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have been working on a joint proposal to set up a $100 billion Contingency Reserve Arrangement by pooling central-bank reserves." Paul Hannon and Paulo Trevisani in The Wall Street Journal.

Ronald Coase is dead. Here are five of his papers you need to read. "Of course, in the real world it takes time and energy to work out deals like that. For that reason, Coase argues that it is the job of the courts to come to decisions that implement the efficient outcome that would have resulted if such a cost-less negotiation had in fact taken place. Achieving this, in practice, requires that property rights be clearly allocated by the government from the get-go. Coase doesn’t provide a way to deal with externalities without involving the government, but he does provide a way to deal with them without resorting to taxes of the kind that Pigovians often embrace." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Few jobs mean bad jobs. "[T]here is no dispute that bad jobs seem to be growing rapidly as a share of employment at present. The question is why. An alternative explanation to the "it just happens" view is that the weak economy itself is responsible for the proliferation of bad jobs. In other words, because the economy is not generating decent jobs in any reasonable number, workers are forced to take bad jobs. In that story the proliferation of bad jobs is the direct result of a weak economy...While far from conclusive, this looks like pretty good support for the bad labor markets lead to bad jobs story." Dean Baker for the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The decline of paid vacation. "Americans working in the private sector are less likely to have paid vacation days than was the case 20 years ago, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1992-93, 82 percent of American workers reported receiving paid vacation days. Today the share is down to 77 percent. The biggest declines occurred for people working part time and for people working at establishments with fewer than 100 employees." Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.

Handpicked by Wonkblog interlude: Cat meowing under water surprisingly hilarious.

3) Wonkbook goes back to school

Is government aid actually making college more expensive? "Friend of the blog Mike Konczal and The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann have both noted that if you tally up the cost of all these programs, it’s probably enough to make college free, or at least get close. How could we be spending this much on subsidies and not getting a more affordable end product? According to one school of thought, that question gets the matter exactly backwards. It’s not that the subsidies are making colleges affordable. It’s that the subsidies are actually making college more expensive." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

The NYT published a special section on education policy: Here's the link to the main page. A few of the most important stories follow.

Massachusetts's ed reform is turning into a success. "[B]ehind Massachusetts’ raw numbers are two decades of sustained efforts to lift science and mathematics education. Educators and officials chose a course and held to it, even when the early results were deeply disappointing. While Massachusetts has a richer and better-educated population than most states, it is not uniformly wealthy. The gains reflected improvement across the state, including poorer districts...“Ed reform” was the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Republican governor, William F. Weld. The three core components were more money (mostly to the urban schools), ambitious academic standards and a high-stakes test that students had to pass before collecting their high school diplomas. All students were expected to learn algebra before high school...Also noteworthy was what the reforms did not include. Parents were not offered vouchers for private schools. The state did not close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure for teachers or add merit pay. The reforms did allow for some charter schools, but not many." Kenneth Chang in The New York Times.

Data are taking over education policy. "[A] little-known office in the Education Department is starting to get some real data, using a method that has transformed medicine: the randomized clinical trial, in which groups of subjects are randomly assigned to get either an experimental therapy, the standard therapy, a placebo or nothing...So far, the office — the Institute of Education Sciences — has supported 175 randomized studies. Some have already concluded; among the findings are that one popular math textbook was demonstrably superior to three competitors, and that a highly touted computer-aided math-instruction program had no effect on how much students learned. Other studies are under way. Cognitive psychology researchers, for instance, are assessing an experimental math curriculum in Tampa, Fla." Gina Kolkata in The New York Times.

What's 'Common Core'? In short: Cover fewer topics, but more rigorously. "[B]y cutting back on a hodgepodge of topics and delving deeper into central concepts, the hope is that the children will understand it better...Under the previous New York math standards, kindergartners were expected to learn to orally count to 20 and write the numbers from 1 to 10. Under the new standards known as Common Core, they are to count 100, both by ones and by 10s, and to write all of the numbers to 20. To make time for the additional numbers, the new standards drop rudimentary introductions to concepts in algebra and statistics." Kenneth Chang in The New York Times.

What we don't know about the $1.2 trillion student loan problem. "Income data on college students, he notes, is one of the big missing data points. “We know that the percentage of low-income students is one of the main drivers of a college’s default rate, but the only thing in the default database is the default rate,” says Gillen." Ryan McCarthy in Reuters.

Oh my god this is so great interlude: Reddit has an entire forum on kangaroos who look like bros. They're called, and I'm not making this up, "kangabros."

4) Major health news from Indiana

Indiana is granted a health-law waiver. "The federal government will allow Indiana to operate its own health program temporarily, Gov. Mike Pence (R) said Tuesday, making it the first state to receive such a major exception this year under President Obama’s signature health-care law. Indiana is one of the Republican-led states that rejected the federal government’s incentives to expand the Medicaid health program for the poor and declined to set up an exchange to allow consumers to shop for insurance." Reuters.

Study: Healthcare-associated infections cost nearly $10 billion. "The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's publication on internal medicine, said five major infections cost the healthcare system $9.6 billion per year...The study's authors said their findings could help bolster the case for new payment incentives for hospitals and other healthcare providers. ObamaCare, for example, began penalizing hospitals for quick readmissions." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Hispanics most likely to be uninsured. "Hispanics are less likely to be covered by health insurance in every state in the union, according to new figures released late last week by the Census Bureau. The figures show more than 30 percent of Hispanics under the age of 65 are uninsured in 28 states, far higher than the rates of uninsured African Americans and whites. Hispanics in Southern states are least likely to be covered by insurance. More than 40 percent of Hispanics in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and South Carolina are uninsured, according to Census Bureau estimates. All but 10.7 percent of Hispanics in Massachusetts are covered by health insurance." Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.

Female doctors earn $50,000 less than male doctors. "New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the gender pay gap among doctors, dentists and other health care workers has grown over the past decade. In the late 1980s, male physicians earned $33,840, or 20 percent, more in annual salary than their female counterparts. By the late 2000s, that grew to a 25.3 percent gap, a difference of $56,019 per year. The same trends showed up among dentists and physician assistants, but not pharmacists or health insurance executives." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Confused about shopping for Obamacare? This site helps explain. "Nevada has put together what seems to be one of the clearest Web sites to explore the price of health insurance coverage under Obamacare. Even if you’re not a resident, I’ve found it to be a helpful resource to understand what exactly will happen when people start shopping for coverage." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Buzzfeed vs. The New Yorker (do they play each other in softball, like other news outlets?) interlude: "10 paragraphs about lists that you need in your life right now."

5) Where did immigration reform go?

House Republicans slip immigration reform onto the back burner. "House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said in July he hoped the House would consider immigration bills before turning to negotiations on raising the nation's debt ceiling this fall. But as the House prepares to reconvene next week, GOP leaders have no plans to bring immigration bills to the floor, aides say...[A]bsent an unexpected reversal, advocates of an overhaul are predicting action may have to wait until 2014." Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

Bushes look to immigration debate to reclaim influence. "[T]he Bush family is quietly but forcefully gearing up for another, still-developing debate: The fight on Capitol Hill over a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws — a discussion critical to protecting the Bushes’ legacy on what has, for decades, been a defining issue for them." Ashley Parker in The New York Times.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

What political scientists can tell us about war, Syria and CongressBrad Plumer.

Confused about shopping for Obamacare? This site helps explainSarah Kliff.

‘They must be really bad if even Hitler wouldn’t use them.’ Ezra Klein.

Most Americans can’t find Syria on a map. So whatEzra Klein.

Female doctors earn $50,000 less than male doctorsSarah Kliff.

The Tuition is Too Damn High, Part VII —Is government aid actually making college more expensiveDylan Matthews.

401(k)s are replacing pensions. That’s making inequality worseLydia DePillis.

Five reasons you should be worried about the economyNeil Irwin.

Ronald Coase is dead. Here are five of his papers you need to readDylan Matthews.

Et Cetera

U.S. documents detail al-Qaeda’s efforts to fight back against dronesCraig Whitlock and Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.

Jeffrey P. Bezos visits The Post to meet with editors and othersCraig Timberg and Paul Farhi in The Washington Post.

Business losing clout in an increasingly conservative GOPEduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Federal budget battles prove disruptive to states, government agenciesAnnie Lowrey 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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Timothy B. Lee · September 3, 2013