Wonkbook: A low for the Obama administration

November 14, 2013

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President Obama's second term began with two clear projects. The first was to successfully launch the Affordable Care Act. "If we don't get that right, nothing else matters," Obama would tell his staff. The second was to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Today, both efforts are in tatters.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Affordable Care Act continues to struggle, and despite the White House's insistence to the contrary, there's mounting skepticism that HealthCare.gov will be functioning smoothly come December 1st. The result is a real challenge to the law: Congressional Democrats are defecting and considering legislative "fixes" that could undermine the law once it is functional.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner hammered a final nail into the coffin of immigration reform on Tuesday. Speaking after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, he ruled out a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. "The idea that we're going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House," Boehner said. He also warned that “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."

As Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform alliance America's Voice, told Greg Sargent, "[Boehner's] painting himself into a corner with procedural concessions to the far right, where failure is the only possible outcome." There will be no immigration bill in this Congress.

Worsening matters for the White House, Obama's political influence is at a low ebb. An underappreciated effect of Obamacare's disastrous roll-out is that congressional Democrats feel betrayed: They took tough votes and lost dozens of seats to pass this law, and then the Obama administration failed to make good on its key political promises ("if you like your health care plan, you can keep it") and failed to implement the legislation effectively, or even vaguely competently.

And then there's Obama's poll numbers, which, according to Quinnipiac, have dropped to a new low. This graph does not improve Obama's pull in Congress:

obama bush poll numbers

Politically and substantively, this is a low for the administration. "Things suck right now," says one Senate Democratic aide. "They suck unbelievably much, considering where we were six weeks ago."

The question is whether it's rock bottom. Perhaps soon HealthCare.gov will improve, congressional Democrats will relax, and the narrative will shift to "comeback" mode. In that world, it's even plausible that Republicans could underperform in 2014 and decide to take another look at immigration reform before their standing with Hispanics dooms them in 2016, too.

It's also possible, however, that the Web site will continue to fail, the Obama administration's agenda will continue to flounder, and the damage will simply mount, leading to a disastrous 2014 for Democrats and an early end for the White House's second-term ambitions.

The core fact in all of this is that the Obama administration's fortunes largely lie beyond politics now. They will be decided by the reality of how well their signature law works. Jeff Zients has a big job ahead of him.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 106,000. That's the number of people who enrolled in Obamacare last month.

Wonkbook's Quotations of the Day:  “We should be just like a doctor and do no harm,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) of Republicans' plan to sit there and let Obamacare fail on its own accord.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Check out this handy-dandy summary table on budget options from the CBO.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) the Obamacare mess gets messier; (2) Yellen to address Senate with her inside voice; (3) talks about talks; (4) an update on the trade talks; and (5) immigration is dead.

1. Top story: A new low for the Obama administration

Obamacare is in much more trouble than it was one week ago. "The Affordable Care Act's political position has deteriorated dramatically over the last week. President Bill Clinton's statement that the law should be reopened to ensure everyone who likes their health plans can keep them was a signal event. It gives congressional Democrats cover to begin breaking with the Obama administration. The most serious manifestation of that break is Sen. Mary Landrieu's "Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act." It's co-sponsored not just by the usual moderate Democrats -- Landrieu and Dianne Feinstein and Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan -- but also by Oregon liberal Jeff Merkley. It's worth noting that Merkley is up for reelection in 2014." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Nine key facts about Obamacare’s enrollment numbersSarah Kliff and Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Obama says he's open to changing Obamacare. "[I]n a marked shift, the Obama administration signaled it was open to legislation to fix the troubled rollout...In the past, White House officials had said they strongly preferred an administrative remedy to the law's shortcomings. But on Wednesday, officials suggested that President Barack Obama was open to a bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), that would require insurers to continue offering plans that were in existence this year, even if that meant reinstating ones that had been canceled because they didn't meet the health law's standards...[A House] vote may push Mr. Obama to move before Friday to offer his own administrative remedy or more fully embrace Ms. Landrieu's bill." Siobhan Hughes, Janet Hook, and Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Want to reverse Obamacare’s cancellations? Then you’re going to have to raise premiums. "I canvassed a half-dozen health policy experts Tuesday about whether it would be possible to reverse or address the cancellation notices sent out to an estimated 7 million to 12 million Americans. The consensus seemed to be this: Yes, there are potential solutions. But they entail painful trade offs. And yes, it would be messy for the health care law...[S]ince these are people insurers have decided to enroll [in grandfathered plans], you can bet they tend to be a healthy bunch. Everyone who gets insurance in an Obamacare-compliant plan would be in a different risk pool. Since those products have to take any applicants, they would likely have higher premiums." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@DouthatNYT: Reality: Obamacare's cancellation/rate shock problem cannot be undone by any legislation that this White House could responsibly sign.

Six Senate Democrats back Landrieu bill to let people keep insurance. "Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has signed on to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) bill that seeks to allow people whose insurance plans have been canceled to keep them, becoming the sixth Democratic senator to back the effort. Merkley has signed on as a co-sponsor, joining Landrieu and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All but Feinstein and Manchin face reelection in 2014." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

For Obama, loss of trust over health-care law poses major problems for his agenda, legacy. "The emphasis on good government helped him win his first and second presidential elections and to bounce back from periods when his overall approval rating was scraping lows. People liked him, even if they didn’t like his politics, as an earnest leader who made a priority of having dinner each evening with his young family. But his likability among the general public has fallen sharply in recent weeks amid the self-inflicted problems from implementation of his health-care law." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

About 106,000 people enrolled in Obamacare last month. "Approximately 27,000 of those sign-ups came from 36 states where the federal government is running the exchange, which has been beset with technical difficulties. The additional 79,000 came through the 15 marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia...The federal government also counted a little more than 396,000 people who have been determined eligible for Medicaid, the public program for low-income Americans that the Affordable Care Act law expanded." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@daveweigel: We know where the Obamacare enrollees are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

What's a Democratic senator to do? "Senate Democrats are trying to find a precarious balance on Obamacare by distancing themselves from the law’s troubled rollout without running away from it. In dribs and drabs, moderates and liberals, endangered incumbents and lawmakers with safe seats alike are working to get on the right side of increasingly sour public opinion on President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic achievement...The moves are all an attempt to insulate themselves from attacks before the 2014 elections puts a group of vulnerable Democrats before voters increasingly upset about their health care. This, for now, is Senate Democrats’ message: We passed a good bill and the administration messed it up." Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim in Politico.

@JakeSherman: HOUSE Ds mtg again THURS to discuss Obamacare implementation. This is becoming a big issue on the Hill. Lots of in-fighting.

Wonkbook might call their problem the 'political prisoners' dilemma.' "The paradox for any party is this: Standing in lock step with an unpopular leader can only taint candidates in competitive races by association. But if too many candidates flee the president, it serves to amplify his unpopularity, with potentially deeper ramifications for the whole party...If Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates can show they want to fix the law proactively, the party believes voters will forgive some bungling by the administration. And if some Democrats are inching away from the president in an awfully public fashion, lawmakers say they have felt little pressure from the White House and other party leaders to make the existing text of the ACA a political hill to fight and die on." Alexander Burns and Katie Glueck in Politico.

Republicans can hardly believe their political good fortune. "[A]s the Obamacare rollout gets worse with each passing day, Speaker John Boehner and his House GOP colleagues are being handed political gold — and they think they’ve figured out a way to avoid screwing it up...The Obamacare playbook, as described by several high-level House GOP aides and lawmakers, includes lots of committee oversight, some targeted legislation and lots of rhetoric. But there will be no more votes to defund or repeal Obamacare — the issue that led to the disastrous 16-day government shutdown — the GOP leadership says. At some point, top Republicans say, there might be a vote to delay the law for a year...Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) neatly encapsulated the party’s emerging strategy: “We should be just like a doctor and do no harm.” “Obamacare is the gift that keeps on giving,” a senior House aide said on condition of anonymity. “We just need to keep out of the way.”" Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan in Politico.

@jimgeraghty: "Rooting for failure" does not, in fact, cause Obamacare to fail.

What Sebelius said yesterday. "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the fact that 106,185 Americans have selected plans through either state or federal health insurance marketplaces shows Americans can get coverage despite the program's rocky rollout last month. "The marketplace is working, people are enrolling," Sebelius told reporters in a conference call. "The promise of affordable health-care coverage is increasingly becoming a reality to more and more Americans."" Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

@ByronYork: House committee asks top WH officials DeParle & Lambrew to take questions on Obamacare rollout. WH counsel responds: Fugghedaboudit.

Chief Technology Officer Todd Park lists improvements to HealthCare.gov. "Response times have improved, and pages are loading quicker, he said. Two weeks ago, it was taking an average of 8 seconds to load a page. Now it’s under a second.  The account creation piece of the Web site, which was the part that failed most spectacularly on Oct. 1, is now working properly. The system is now capable of processing about 17,000 accounts an hour, a rate that will improve going forward...One of the most serious issues has been the error-riddled reports being sent to insurers about who has enrolled in health coverage. Insurers have said that problem has improved only slightly, but that the trickle of enrollments they are getting is so thin that it has not been that difficult to root out the mistakes." Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

May we have some more Obamacare data, please? "Health and Human Services (HHS) released its much-anticipated early ObamaCare enrollee data on Wednesday, but now the administration faces pressure to provide a more detailed breakdown of that data...Sebelius also pledged that HHS would provide a breakdown between those who have paid and those who have selected a plan before the end of the year. But that’s not the only data that was missing from Wednesday’s breakdown. The healthcare marketplaces will need young and healthy consumers to enroll to keep a balanced risk pool and stable premium prices for 2015 and beyond. Wednesday’s release doesn’t break down the enrollees by age." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

YGLESIAS: Why you shouldn't be able to keep your insurance plan. "Rather than (foolishly) try to ensure that nobody could ever lose their insurance, the actual Affordable Care Act accelerated the demise of a certain class of plan. Politically, that’s now an embarrassment for the White House. Substantively, it’s a huge achievement. The ACA cracks down on insurance rescission...Since insurance companies now won’t be allowed to collect premiums while you’re healthy only to yank coverage when you get sick, they have no choice but to pre-emptively cancel plans that wouldn’t be financially beneficial to actually pay out." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

BARRO: Here comes the real government takeover of healthcare. "Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a tough re-election fight in a red state next year, has introduced a bill to address the president's broken promise through greater government control over the individual health insurance market. Her bill would obligate insurers to continue offering all the plans they offer today unless they entirely exit the health insurance business in a state. What will Republicans do with this proposal? Do they really want a federal law that says health insurers can't enter or exit specific lines of business? Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has introduced a bill in the House that would allow insurers to continue offering plans that would have been prohibited under the Affordable Care Act, but his bill is vulnerable to the criticism that it will still lead to a raft of plan cancellations as insurers choose to discontinue plans because the ACA has changed the financial incentives they face." Josh Barro in Business Insider.

COHN: Obamacare's backup plans look shaky. "Step one is to make sure that “side door” enrollment works smoothly. It doesn’t fucntion well right now, because—you guessed it—it relies on the same information technology system that powers healthcare.gov. Fixing that portal, which techies tell me is called an "application programming interface," is high on the administration's to-do list. But it's not clear (to me) whether improving the portal might require design modifications—or to what extent its success depends upon other, ongoing repairs to the federal website. Another option—one that's come up in reporting by the the Post and the New York Times—is to devise some kind of provisional subsidy determination that insurers and brokers could use to calculate prices." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

PONNURU AND LEVIN: A conservative alternative to Obamacare. "The first step of a plan to replace ObamaCare should be a flat and universal tax benefit for coverage. Today's tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage should be capped so that people would not get a bigger tax break by buying more extensive and expensive insurance. The result would be to make employees more cost-conscious; and competition for their favor would make insurance cheaper. That tax break would also be available—ideally as a refundable credit sufficient at least for the purchase of catastrophic coverage—to people who do not have access to employer coverage...Medicaid could be converted into a means-based addition to that credit." Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin in The Wall Street Journal.

CHAIT: The White House still thinks it can make its fix deadline. "The Obama administration continues to stand behind its prediction that it will fix the Obamacare website "for the vast majority of users" by the end of the month, administration spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri confirms over e-mail...So it appears that, by the end of the month, the administration will be facing a new political fiasco or will have delivered a Hanukkah-time miracle." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

DIONNE: Obamacare is alienating its allies. "[M]ost striking are the president’s severe losses with two groups of independents: those who call themselves liberal and those who lean toward the Democrats...Obama’s drop with Hispanics was close to the national average, but significant: His approval fell from 75 percent after the election to 60 percent now. Frustration over the slow economy and the stalling of immigration reform probably play a role. And Obama’s losses were also steep among white blue-collar women — those without college degrees." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Coldplay, "Low," 2005.

Top opinion

CROOK: My advice for Janet Yellen. "I’d recommend a greater emphasis on simplicity. With inflation well suppressed and plenty of slack in the labor market -- hence no upward pressure on wages -- the Fed’s existing mandate easily justifies keeping interest rates at zero, plus quantitative easing until further notice. One could simply leave it at that. Enough said. However, in the same spirit of simplicity, let me offer another refinement. Without setting a long-term target path for the level of NGDP, the Fed could talk more about its intentions for near-term changes in NGDP." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

KLEIN: One senator's war against climate change. "Every week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, heads to the floor of the Senate, sets up an easel and some poster board, and delivers a speech. He works hard on these speeches. They’re deeply researched and beautifully crafted. He delivers them with passion -- to a mostly empty room. His colleagues figure they have better things to do than listen. But 100 years from now, when our grandchildren look back and try to understand what we were doing while the world burned, these speeches may well be some of the most famed rhetoric of the age. The speeches are on climate change. They range in tone from morally outraged to deeply wonky" Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

RODRIK: Trade imbalances mess with growth. "In an optimal world, the surpluses of countries pursuing export-led growth would be willingly matched by the deficits of those pursuing debt-led growth. In the real world, there is no mechanism to ensure such an equilibrium on a continuous basis; national economic policies can be (and often are) mutually incompatible...The real heroes of the world economy – the role models that others should emulate – are countries that have done relatively well while running only small external imbalances. Countries like Austria, Canada, the Philippines, Lesotho, and Uruguay cannot match the world’s growth champions, because they do not over-borrow or sustain a mercantilist economic model." Dani Rodrik in Project Syndicate.

WYDEN AND THUNE: A digital upgrade to trade policy. "The latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks between the U.S. and the European Union is taking place in Brussels this week, and America's TTIP negotiators have an opportunity to push for rules that will help protect the freedom of digital trade. But countries like China and Brazil, and even our friends in Europe, increasingly impose policies to block, frustrate and disfavor American digital services and goods...New digital trade rules are needed to be sure that current privacy concerns are not a stalking horse for protectionism." Ron Wyden and John Thune in The Wall Street Journal.

Great interlude: 15 historic moments as they might have been shared on Instagram.

2. Yellen to address Senate with her inside voice

Yellen to defend Federal Reserve policies before Senate Banking committee. "Janet Yellen plans to defend the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program and communication efforts Thursday during a Senate hearing on her nomination to lead the central bank, according to her prepared remarks. In her testimony, Yellen characterized the economy as “significantly stronger” than it was when the recession began six years ago and said the recovery “continues to improve.” She pointed to the turnaround in housing and strong auto sales as bright spots but added that the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate indicates “a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential.”...In her testimony, Yellen argued that though the economy is on the mend, it is not ready to stand on its own. “I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy,” she said." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Primary sources: This is what Janet Yellen will say tomorrow at her confirmation hearingNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Nine questions the Senate should ask Janet YellenNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Bernanke's regret: high unemployment persists. "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is stepping down at the end of January, offered a poignant reflection when asked about his legacy during a town hall discussion with high school teachers Wednesday night. “I wish I was leaving with the unemployment rate at 5% instead of 7%,” Mr. Bernanke said. “But we have done I think a good bit to support this recovery and it’s important that we continue to provide the necessary support to help put people back to work and keep inflation from falling too low.” While it will be up to others to decide what his legacy is, Mr. Bernanke said, he listed several other items he thinks could be on the list: the Fed’s successful efforts to stabilize the financial system in 2008-09, innovations in monetary policy to support the economic recovery even after short-term interest rates fell to zero and the greater transparency he’s brought to the central bank." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

...And the Fed is thinking about how it might do more. "Some Fed officials believe adjustments to the threshold are needed because the unemployment rate might be overstating the improvement in the labor market. The rate has been falling in part because people have been leaving the labor force, and hence no longer being counted as unemployed, a sign of labor market weakness, not strength. Not everybody is sold on the idea and Mr. Bernanke could have trouble forging a consensus on the matter and on how to explain such a move...Other Fed officials note they have already said the 6.5% threshold only starts the discussion on raising rates and doesn't necessarily set rate hikes in motion...One idea is to leave the threshold in place, but keep a guidance shift in reserve in case the economy stumbles and bond-buying programs are deemed no longer effective for addressing the problem...Another way to strengthen the commitment would be to reassure the public that rate increases would come slowly even after the 6.5% threshold is crossed, and another to signal the Fed won't raise rates if inflation falls below some threshold like 1.5%." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Yellen likely to be grilled on financial regulation. "Several members of the Senate Banking Committee, which is holding the hearing, are concerned that regulators haven’t done enough to rein in the nation’s largest financial firms in the years since the 2008 crisis. The issue animates Democrats on the committee as well as Republicans...“She’s open to where I want to go on greater capital requirements on banks,” Mr. Vitter said in an interview after the meeting. The lawmaker said he asked her to be “very specific” on the issue of bank capital requirements when she appears before the panel. “That would help me get to a positive vote,” he said." Victoria McGrane and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama nominates senior Treasury official Timothy Massad to lead CFTC. "Massad is the assistant Treasury secretary who oversees the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the financial-crisis-era initiative that sought to stabilize the banking and housing sectors and provided financial relief to auto companies...Turning to Massad, the president said “he is the right man to lead an agency designed to prevent future crises — because I think it’s safe to say that he never wants to have to manage something like TARP again.”" Zachary A. Goldfarb and Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

JPMorgan feels the wrath of Twitter. "JPMorgan Chase cancelled a planned question and answer session on Twitter after the event attracted thousands of verbal attacks, in what may go down as a “case study” in how not to market on the social media website. Jimmy Lee, one of the senior bankers that worked on Twitter’s share sale, was set to take over JPMorgan’s Twitter handle in an online marketing event on Thursday with the hashtag #AskJPM. But, by Wednesday afternoon, Twitter users had bombarded the #AskJPM hashtag of the Wall Street bank that has been in the spotlight over its $13bn settlement for mis-selling mortgage-backed securities and the $6bn London Whale trading losses. The bank told the FT that it planned to cancel the event, and then announced on its Twitter account: “Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board.”" Camilla Hall and Hannah Kuchler in The Financial Times.

The surprising reasons why gas prices have fallen sharply. "The supply of gasoline is up — for odd reasons. U.S. stockpiles of gasoline were at 210 million barrels in the first week of November, up about 4 percent from the same period last year...Many Gulf Coast refiners are taking advantage of the boom in shale-oil drilling in the Midwest and producing ever more diesel for export to Europe and Asia. That's a lucrative business. And that refining process also produces more gasoline for domestic consumption." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Improving U.S. oil production reaches milestone in October, agency says. "The United States produced more crude oil in October than it imported for the first time since early 1995, as domestic shale oil output continued to surge and U.S. consumption of petroleum products remained relatively flat, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday. The figures mark a milestone in the rebound of U.S. oil production since drillers started using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to unlock oil previously trapped in layers of shale rock in states such as North Dakota and Texas. At the same time, gains in automobile fuel efficiency and other areas have been curbing U.S. oil consumption." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Debate: Is corporate America too focused on the short-term? The Washington Post.

The real loser of the recession is rural America. "Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual survey of rural America, which puts the divergence in stark relief. Non-metropolitan areas experienced their first recorded period of population loss, and a decline in the labor force participation rate pushed unemployment down slightly (though the jobless rate surpassed the urban unemployment rate earlier this year). But even as the rest of the country entered a tepid recovery, and some rural areas gained jobs from the natural gas boom, net employment didn't budge rural regions." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

What's taking over the interwebs interlude: Do squats and get a subway ride for free in Moscow.

3. The talks behind the talks

Few signs of progress from budget negotiators seeking to avoid another shutdown. "Congressional budget negotiators tasked with avoiding another government shutdown met in public for a second time Wednesday but reported little progress toward an agreement. “We’re trying to find common ground, but we’re not there yet,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said as he opened the meeting. “The hard part is figuring out where we agree.” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (Wash.), the lead Democratic negotiator, expressed more optimism, saying she and Ryan have had a number of private discussions about the “parameters” of a potential agreement." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Paul and Murray have been having other private, one-on-one budget talks. "[L]awmakers on Wednesday offered overtures that they hope to strike a deal and the two lead negotiators indicated they have been talking behind the scenes...The meeting was largely dominated by testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, who talked about long-term economic and fiscal conditions...The panel has until Dec. 13 to reach an agreement on the budget, although failing to do so carries few immediate consequences. The most dire deadlines are slated for early next year. Unless Congress acts, government funding will run out on Jan. 15. The debt ceiling must be addressed in February." Ginger Gibson in Politico.

Explainer: Here are 103 different ways to reduce the deficitBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

U.S. budget deficit narrows in October. "The U.S. government's deficit for October totaled $91.59 billion, compared with a $120.00 billion shortfall during the same period a year earlier, the Treasury Department said Wednesday in its monthly report. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast a $95.0 billion deficit. Federal deficit figures have been steadily improving over the past year...Wednesday's report said federal spending fell by 5% in October to $290.52 billion...Revenues for the month climbed 8% to $198.93 billion." Jeffrey Sparshott in The Wall Street Journal.

Budget battles breed dysfunctional spending. "The Oct. 16 deal that ended the shutdown kept the government funded at levels set by last year's budget. For the Secret Service, that meant millions to protect presidential nominees—from 2012. This is the consequence of Washington's budget dysfunction: Stopgap spending bills that keep the government running, passed by Congress in the absence of a comprehensive deal, often keep federal policies in place that no longer make sense. The Secret Service, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, isn't going to dispatch agents in suits and sunglasses to shadow Mitt Romney, the losing GOP presidential candidate...This has created a type of budget purgatory where agency chiefs say they cannot plan strategically, especially on multiyear projects, or even make staffing decisions." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Paging Pareene interlude: So, yes, that JPMorgan-in-China story looks to be totally right.

4. Trade-deal update

For controversial trade pact, fire from the left, the right and WikiLeaks. "The far-flung opponents all want more opportunity to review the 12-nation agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and hope to prevent the Obama administration from getting “fast track” approval from Congress...WikiLeaks published negotiating documents, dating to August, that showed major divisions among the countries on issues relating to governance of Internet commerce, and patent protection in the pharmaceutical industry — and that was just one chapter of the dozens to be included in the agreement. Activist groups seized on the disclosure, arguing that the administration was advocating patent and Internet regulations that would give more power to pharmaceuticals companies to block the introduction of generic drugs, and put developing countries at a disadvantage in access to information." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Read: WikiLeaks posted the next of the trade agreement's intellectual-property chapter.

Leaked treaty is a Hollywood wish list. Could it derail Obama’s trade agenda? "Today the transparency organization Wikileaks released an August draft of the "intellectual property" chapter of the treaty. It's a forest of square brackets, indicating that many provisions are still under negotiation by the parties. But those brackets reveal a clear pattern: the United States has been using the treaty as a vehicle to pressure its negotiating partners to make their laws more favorable to the interests of U.S. filmmakers, drug companies, and other large holders of copyright and patent rights...The United States wants all signatories to extend their copyright terms to the life of the author plus 70 years for individual authors, and 95 years for corporate-owned works. The treaty includes a long section, proposed by the United States, requiring the creation of legal penalties for circumventing copy-protection schemes such as those that prevent copying of DVDs and Kindle books." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

U.S. automakers push for currency provisions in trade pact. "Groups led by the Ford Motor Co. say the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks should include rules that would punish countries if they are shown to have intervened excessively in currency markets. They say such provisions could help limit what they see as Japanese auto makers' unfair advantages in the U.S. and around the world...Currency issues are generally not included in trade pacts, but the companies pushing for it this time say that exchange rates determine the competitiveness of U.S.-built cars in Asia and around the world." William Maudlin in The Wall Street Journal.

Maersk hails growth in global trade. "AP Møller-Maersk hailed signs of an uptick in global trade as the Danish conglomerate lifted its profit outlook for this year on the back of a strong performance by the world’s biggest container shipping line. The Danish group, which owns Maersk Line and is thus seen as a bellwether for global trade, said its full-year net profits would be about $3.5bn, up from a previous forecast of $3.3bn." Richard Milne in The Financial Times.

Football wonkery nterlude: The coach that goes exactly and only where the numbers tell him.

5. Immigration dies

Boehner rejects conference committee with Senate’s immigration bill. "House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that the House will not enter negotiations with the Senate to hash out differences between its immigration plans and the Senate immigration bill — dealing a significant blow to the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform by this Congress. “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” Boehner said. “And frankly, I’ll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Obama is still pushing for immigration reform. "President Barack Obama brainstormed at the White House Wednesday with religious leaders over how to persuade House Republicans to move on the issue. Last week, the president met with business executives to urge them to speak out for action. He is planning other immigration events on the road, with a mix of national and local outreach, both behind the scenes and publicly. On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden talked to Roman Catholic leaders." Laura Meckler and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Nationalism makes for bad economics, ECB editionNeil Irwin.

How the death of BitTorrent helped take the edge off broadband growthLydia DePillis.

This is what Janet Yellen will say tomorrow at her confirmation hearingNeil Irwin.

Nine key facts about Obamacare’s enrollment numbersSarah Kliff and Ezra Klein.

About 106,000 people enrolled in Obamacare last monthSarah Kliff.

Here are 103 different ways to reduce the deficitBrad Plumer.

Obamacare is in much more trouble than it was one week agoEzra Klein.

The real loser of the recession is rural America. Lydia DePillis.

The surprising reasons why gas prices have fallen sharplyBrad Plumer.

Is corporate America too focused on the short-termWonkblog.

Want to reverse Obamacare’s cancellations? Then you’re going to have to raise premiumsSarah Kliff.

Nine questions the Senate should ask Janet YellenNeil Irwin.

500,000 people were expected to buy Obamacare in October. About 100,000 actually didSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Sen. Warren calls for changes to filibusterBurgess Everett in Politico.

Double dose of EPA on Capitol HillBen German and Laura Barron-Lopez in The Hill.

UN panel amends CO2 numbersAlex Morales in Bloomberg.

Biden Chief of Staff Bruce Reed to be replaced by senior adviser Steve RicchettiZachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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November 14, 2013

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

President Obama's second term began with two clear projects. The first was to successfully launch the Affordable Care Act. "If we don't get that right, nothing else matters," Obama would tell his staff. The second was to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Today, both efforts are in tatters.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Affordable Care Act continues to struggle, and despite the White House's insistence to the contrary, there's mounting skepticism that HealthCare.gov will be functioning smoothly come December 1st. The result is a real challenge to the law: Congressional Democrats are defecting and considering legislative "fixes" that could undermine the law once it is functional.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner hammered a final nail into the coffin of immigration reform on Tuesday. Speaking after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, he ruled out a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. "The idea that we're going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House," Boehner said. He also warned that “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."

As Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform alliance America's Voice, told Greg Sargent, "[Boehner's] painting himself into a corner with procedural concessions to the far right, where failure is the only possible outcome." There will be no immigration bill in this Congress.

Worsening matters for the White House, Obama's political influence is at a low ebb. An underappreciated effect of Obamacare's disastrous roll-out is that congressional Democrats feel betrayed: They took tough votes and lost dozens of seats to pass this law, and then the Obama administration failed to make good on its key political promises ("if you like your health care plan, you can keep it") and failed to implement the legislation effectively, or even vaguely competently.

And then there's Obama's poll numbers, which, according to Quinnipiac, have dropped to a new low. This graph does not improve Obama's pull in Congress:

obama bush poll numbers

Politically and substantively, this is a low for the administration. "Things suck right now," says one Senate Democratic aide. "They suck unbelievably much, considering where we were six weeks ago."

The question is whether it's rock bottom. Perhaps soon HealthCare.gov will improve, congressional Democrats will relax, and the narrative will shift to "comeback" mode. In that world, it's even plausible that Republicans could underperform in 2014 and decide to take another look at immigration reform before their standing with Hispanics dooms them in 2016, too.

It's also possible, however, that the Web site will continue to fail, the Obama administration's agenda will continue to flounder, and the damage will simply mount, leading to a disastrous 2014 for Democrats and an early end for the White House's second-term ambitions.

The core fact in all of this is that the Obama administration's fortunes largely lie beyond politics now. They will be decided by the reality of how well their signature law works. Jeff Zients has a big job ahead of him.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 106,000. That's the number of people who enrolled in Obamacare last month.

Wonkbook's Quotations of the Day:  “We should be just like a doctor and do no harm,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) of Republicans' plan to sit there and let Obamacare fail on its own accord.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Check out this handy-dandy summary table on budget options from the CBO.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) the Obamacare mess gets messier; (2) Yellen to address Senate with her inside voice; (3) talks about talks; (4) an update on the trade talks; and (5) immigration is dead.

1. Top story: A new low for the Obama administration

Obamacare is in much more trouble than it was one week ago. "The Affordable Care Act's political position has deteriorated dramatically over the last week. President Bill Clinton's statement that the law should be reopened to ensure everyone who likes their health plans can keep them was a signal event. It gives congressional Democrats cover to begin breaking with the Obama administration. The most serious manifestation of that break is Sen. Mary Landrieu's "Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act." It's co-sponsored not just by the usual moderate Democrats -- Landrieu and Dianne Feinstein and Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan -- but also by Oregon liberal Jeff Merkley. It's worth noting that Merkley is up for reelection in 2014." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Nine key facts about Obamacare’s enrollment numbersSarah Kliff and Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Obama says he's open to changing Obamacare. "[I]n a marked shift, the Obama administration signaled it was open to legislation to fix the troubled rollout...In the past, White House officials had said they strongly preferred an administrative remedy to the law's shortcomings. But on Wednesday, officials suggested that President Barack Obama was open to a bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), that would require insurers to continue offering plans that were in existence this year, even if that meant reinstating ones that had been canceled because they didn't meet the health law's standards...[A House] vote may push Mr. Obama to move before Friday to offer his own administrative remedy or more fully embrace Ms. Landrieu's bill." Siobhan Hughes, Janet Hook, and Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Want to reverse Obamacare’s cancellations? Then you’re going to have to raise premiums. "I canvassed a half-dozen health policy experts Tuesday about whether it would be possible to reverse or address the cancellation notices sent out to an estimated 7 million to 12 million Americans. The consensus seemed to be this: Yes, there are potential solutions. But they entail painful trade offs. And yes, it would be messy for the health care law...[S]ince these are people insurers have decided to enroll [in grandfathered plans], you can bet they tend to be a healthy bunch. Everyone who gets insurance in an Obamacare-compliant plan would be in a different risk pool. Since those products have to take any applicants, they would likely have higher premiums." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@DouthatNYT: Reality: Obamacare's cancellation/rate shock problem cannot be undone by any legislation that this White House could responsibly sign.

Six Senate Democrats back Landrieu bill to let people keep insurance. "Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has signed on to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) bill that seeks to allow people whose insurance plans have been canceled to keep them, becoming the sixth Democratic senator to back the effort. Merkley has signed on as a co-sponsor, joining Landrieu and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All but Feinstein and Manchin face reelection in 2014." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

For Obama, loss of trust over health-care law poses major problems for his agenda, legacy. "The emphasis on good government helped him win his first and second presidential elections and to bounce back from periods when his overall approval rating was scraping lows. People liked him, even if they didn’t like his politics, as an earnest leader who made a priority of having dinner each evening with his young family. But his likability among the general public has fallen sharply in recent weeks amid the self-inflicted problems from implementation of his health-care law." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

About 106,000 people enrolled in Obamacare last month. "Approximately 27,000 of those sign-ups came from 36 states where the federal government is running the exchange, which has been beset with technical difficulties. The additional 79,000 came through the 15 marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia...The federal government also counted a little more than 396,000 people who have been determined eligible for Medicaid, the public program for low-income Americans that the Affordable Care Act law expanded." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@daveweigel: We know where the Obamacare enrollees are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

What's a Democratic senator to do? "Senate Democrats are trying to find a precarious balance on Obamacare by distancing themselves from the law’s troubled rollout without running away from it. In dribs and drabs, moderates and liberals, endangered incumbents and lawmakers with safe seats alike are working to get on the right side of increasingly sour public opinion on President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic achievement...The moves are all an attempt to insulate themselves from attacks before the 2014 elections puts a group of vulnerable Democrats before voters increasingly upset about their health care. This, for now, is Senate Democrats’ message: We passed a good bill and the administration messed it up." Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim in Politico.

@JakeSherman: HOUSE Ds mtg again THURS to discuss Obamacare implementation. This is becoming a big issue on the Hill. Lots of in-fighting.

Wonkbook might call their problem the 'political prisoners' dilemma.' "The paradox for any party is this: Standing in lock step with an unpopular leader can only taint candidates in competitive races by association. But if too many candidates flee the president, it serves to amplify his unpopularity, with potentially deeper ramifications for the whole party...If Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates can show they want to fix the law proactively, the party believes voters will forgive some bungling by the administration. And if some Democrats are inching away from the president in an awfully public fashion, lawmakers say they have felt little pressure from the White House and other party leaders to make the existing text of the ACA a political hill to fight and die on." Alexander Burns and Katie Glueck in Politico.

Republicans can hardly believe their political good fortune. "[A]s the Obamacare rollout gets worse with each passing day, Speaker John Boehner and his House GOP colleagues are being handed political gold — and they think they’ve figured out a way to avoid screwing it up...The Obamacare playbook, as described by several high-level House GOP aides and lawmakers, includes lots of committee oversight, some targeted legislation and lots of rhetoric. But there will be no more votes to defund or repeal Obamacare — the issue that led to the disastrous 16-day government shutdown — the GOP leadership says. At some point, top Republicans say, there might be a vote to delay the law for a year...Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) neatly encapsulated the party’s emerging strategy: “We should be just like a doctor and do no harm.” “Obamacare is the gift that keeps on giving,” a senior House aide said on condition of anonymity. “We just need to keep out of the way.”" Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan in Politico.

@jimgeraghty: "Rooting for failure" does not, in fact, cause Obamacare to fail.

What Sebelius said yesterday. "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the fact that 106,185 Americans have selected plans through either state or federal health insurance marketplaces shows Americans can get coverage despite the program's rocky rollout last month. "The marketplace is working, people are enrolling," Sebelius told reporters in a conference call. "The promise of affordable health-care coverage is increasingly becoming a reality to more and more Americans."" Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

@ByronYork: House committee asks top WH officials DeParle & Lambrew to take questions on Obamacare rollout. WH counsel responds: Fugghedaboudit.

Chief Technology Officer Todd Park lists improvements to HealthCare.gov. "Response times have improved, and pages are loading quicker, he said. Two weeks ago, it was taking an average of 8 seconds to load a page. Now it’s under a second.  The account creation piece of the Web site, which was the part that failed most spectacularly on Oct. 1, is now working properly. The system is now capable of processing about 17,000 accounts an hour, a rate that will improve going forward...One of the most serious issues has been the error-riddled reports being sent to insurers about who has enrolled in health coverage. Insurers have said that problem has improved only slightly, but that the trickle of enrollments they are getting is so thin that it has not been that difficult to root out the mistakes." Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

May we have some more Obamacare data, please? "Health and Human Services (HHS) released its much-anticipated early ObamaCare enrollee data on Wednesday, but now the administration faces pressure to provide a more detailed breakdown of that data...Sebelius also pledged that HHS would provide a breakdown between those who have paid and those who have selected a plan before the end of the year. But that’s not the only data that was missing from Wednesday’s breakdown. The healthcare marketplaces will need young and healthy consumers to enroll to keep a balanced risk pool and stable premium prices for 2015 and beyond. Wednesday’s release doesn’t break down the enrollees by age." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

YGLESIAS: Why you shouldn't be able to keep your insurance plan. "Rather than (foolishly) try to ensure that nobody could ever lose their insurance, the actual Affordable Care Act accelerated the demise of a certain class of plan. Politically, that’s now an embarrassment for the White House. Substantively, it’s a huge achievement. The ACA cracks down on insurance rescission...Since insurance companies now won’t be allowed to collect premiums while you’re healthy only to yank coverage when you get sick, they have no choice but to pre-emptively cancel plans that wouldn’t be financially beneficial to actually pay out." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

BARRO: Here comes the real government takeover of healthcare. "Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a tough re-election fight in a red state next year, has introduced a bill to address the president's broken promise through greater government control over the individual health insurance market. Her bill would obligate insurers to continue offering all the plans they offer today unless they entirely exit the health insurance business in a state. What will Republicans do with this proposal? Do they really want a federal law that says health insurers can't enter or exit specific lines of business? Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has introduced a bill in the House that would allow insurers to continue offering plans that would have been prohibited under the Affordable Care Act, but his bill is vulnerable to the criticism that it will still lead to a raft of plan cancellations as insurers choose to discontinue plans because the ACA has changed the financial incentives they face." Josh Barro in Business Insider.

COHN: Obamacare's backup plans look shaky. "Step one is to make sure that “side door” enrollment works smoothly. It doesn’t fucntion well right now, because—you guessed it—it relies on the same information technology system that powers healthcare.gov. Fixing that portal, which techies tell me is called an "application programming interface," is high on the administration's to-do list. But it's not clear (to me) whether improving the portal might require design modifications—or to what extent its success depends upon other, ongoing repairs to the federal website. Another option—one that's come up in reporting by the the Post and the New York Times—is to devise some kind of provisional subsidy determination that insurers and brokers could use to calculate prices." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

PONNURU AND LEVIN: A conservative alternative to Obamacare. "The first step of a plan to replace ObamaCare should be a flat and universal tax benefit for coverage. Today's tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage should be capped so that people would not get a bigger tax break by buying more extensive and expensive insurance. The result would be to make employees more cost-conscious; and competition for their favor would make insurance cheaper. That tax break would also be available—ideally as a refundable credit sufficient at least for the purchase of catastrophic coverage—to people who do not have access to employer coverage...Medicaid could be converted into a means-based addition to that credit." Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin in The Wall Street Journal.

CHAIT: The White House still thinks it can make its fix deadline. "The Obama administration continues to stand behind its prediction that it will fix the Obamacare website "for the vast majority of users" by the end of the month, administration spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri confirms over e-mail...So it appears that, by the end of the month, the administration will be facing a new political fiasco or will have delivered a Hanukkah-time miracle." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

DIONNE: Obamacare is alienating its allies. "[M]ost striking are the president’s severe losses with two groups of independents: those who call themselves liberal and those who lean toward the Democrats...Obama’s drop with Hispanics was close to the national average, but significant: His approval fell from 75 percent after the election to 60 percent now. Frustration over the slow economy and the stalling of immigration reform probably play a role. And Obama’s losses were also steep among white blue-collar women — those without college degrees." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Coldplay, "Low," 2005.

Top opinion

CROOK: My advice for Janet Yellen. "I’d recommend a greater emphasis on simplicity. With inflation well suppressed and plenty of slack in the labor market -- hence no upward pressure on wages -- the Fed’s existing mandate easily justifies keeping interest rates at zero, plus quantitative easing until further notice. One could simply leave it at that. Enough said. However, in the same spirit of simplicity, let me offer another refinement. Without setting a long-term target path for the level of NGDP, the Fed could talk more about its intentions for near-term changes in NGDP." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

KLEIN: One senator's war against climate change. "Every week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, heads to the floor of the Senate, sets up an easel and some poster board, and delivers a speech. He works hard on these speeches. They’re deeply researched and beautifully crafted. He delivers them with passion -- to a mostly empty room. His colleagues figure they have better things to do than listen. But 100 years from now, when our grandchildren look back and try to understand what we were doing while the world burned, these speeches may well be some of the most famed rhetoric of the age. The speeches are on climate change. They range in tone from morally outraged to deeply wonky" Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

RODRIK: Trade imbalances mess with growth. "In an optimal world, the surpluses of countries pursuing export-led growth would be willingly matched by the deficits of those pursuing debt-led growth. In the real world, there is no mechanism to ensure such an equilibrium on a continuous basis; national economic policies can be (and often are) mutually incompatible...The real heroes of the world economy – the role models that others should emulate – are countries that have done relatively well while running only small external imbalances. Countries like Austria, Canada, the Philippines, Lesotho, and Uruguay cannot match the world’s growth champions, because they do not over-borrow or sustain a mercantilist economic model." Dani Rodrik in Project Syndicate.

WYDEN AND THUNE: A digital upgrade to trade policy. "The latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks between the U.S. and the European Union is taking place in Brussels this week, and America's TTIP negotiators have an opportunity to push for rules that will help protect the freedom of digital trade. But countries like China and Brazil, and even our friends in Europe, increasingly impose policies to block, frustrate and disfavor American digital services and goods...New digital trade rules are needed to be sure that current privacy concerns are not a stalking horse for protectionism." Ron Wyden and John Thune in The Wall Street Journal.

Great interlude: 15 historic moments as they might have been shared on Instagram.

2. Yellen to address Senate with her inside voice

Yellen to defend Federal Reserve policies before Senate Banking committee. "Janet Yellen plans to defend the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program and communication efforts Thursday during a Senate hearing on her nomination to lead the central bank, according to her prepared remarks. In her testimony, Yellen characterized the economy as “significantly stronger” than it was when the recession began six years ago and said the recovery “continues to improve.” She pointed to the turnaround in housing and strong auto sales as bright spots but added that the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate indicates “a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential.”...In her testimony, Yellen argued that though the economy is on the mend, it is not ready to stand on its own. “I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy,” she said." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Primary sources: This is what Janet Yellen will say tomorrow at her confirmation hearingNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Nine questions the Senate should ask Janet YellenNeil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Bernanke's regret: high unemployment persists. "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is stepping down at the end of January, offered a poignant reflection when asked about his legacy during a town hall discussion with high school teachers Wednesday night. “I wish I was leaving with the unemployment rate at 5% instead of 7%,” Mr. Bernanke said. “But we have done I think a good bit to support this recovery and it’s important that we continue to provide the necessary support to help put people back to work and keep inflation from falling too low.” While it will be up to others to decide what his legacy is, Mr. Bernanke said, he listed several other items he thinks could be on the list: the Fed’s successful efforts to stabilize the financial system in 2008-09, innovations in monetary policy to support the economic recovery even after short-term interest rates fell to zero and the greater transparency he’s brought to the central bank." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

...And the Fed is thinking about how it might do more. "Some Fed officials believe adjustments to the threshold are needed because the unemployment rate might be overstating the improvement in the labor market. The rate has been falling in part because people have been leaving the labor force, and hence no longer being counted as unemployed, a sign of labor market weakness, not strength. Not everybody is sold on the idea and Mr. Bernanke could have trouble forging a consensus on the matter and on how to explain such a move...Other Fed officials note they have already said the 6.5% threshold only starts the discussion on raising rates and doesn't necessarily set rate hikes in motion...One idea is to leave the threshold in place, but keep a guidance shift in reserve in case the economy stumbles and bond-buying programs are deemed no longer effective for addressing the problem...Another way to strengthen the commitment would be to reassure the public that rate increases would come slowly even after the 6.5% threshold is crossed, and another to signal the Fed won't raise rates if inflation falls below some threshold like 1.5%." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Yellen likely to be grilled on financial regulation. "Several members of the Senate Banking Committee, which is holding the hearing, are concerned that regulators haven’t done enough to rein in the nation’s largest financial firms in the years since the 2008 crisis. The issue animates Democrats on the committee as well as Republicans...“She’s open to where I want to go on greater capital requirements on banks,” Mr. Vitter said in an interview after the meeting. The lawmaker said he asked her to be “very specific” on the issue of bank capital requirements when she appears before the panel. “That would help me get to a positive vote,” he said." Victoria McGrane and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama nominates senior Treasury official Timothy Massad to lead CFTC. "Massad is the assistant Treasury secretary who oversees the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the financial-crisis-era initiative that sought to stabilize the banking and housing sectors and provided financial relief to auto companies...Turning to Massad, the president said “he is the right man to lead an agency designed to prevent future crises — because I think it’s safe to say that he never wants to have to manage something like TARP again.”" Zachary A. Goldfarb and Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

JPMorgan feels the wrath of Twitter. "JPMorgan Chase cancelled a planned question and answer session on Twitter after the event attracted thousands of verbal attacks, in what may go down as a “case study” in how not to market on the social media website. Jimmy Lee, one of the senior bankers that worked on Twitter’s share sale, was set to take over JPMorgan’s Twitter handle in an online marketing event on Thursday with the hashtag #AskJPM. But, by Wednesday afternoon, Twitter users had bombarded the #AskJPM hashtag of the Wall Street bank that has been in the spotlight over its $13bn settlement for mis-selling mortgage-backed securities and the $6bn London Whale trading losses. The bank told the FT that it planned to cancel the event, and then announced on its Twitter account: “Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board.”" Camilla Hall and Hannah Kuchler in The Financial Times.

The surprising reasons why gas prices have fallen sharply. "The supply of gasoline is up — for odd reasons. U.S. stockpiles of gasoline were at 210 million barrels in the first week of November, up about 4 percent from the same period last year...Many Gulf Coast refiners are taking advantage of the boom in shale-oil drilling in the Midwest and producing ever more diesel for export to Europe and Asia. That's a lucrative business. And that refining process also produces more gasoline for domestic consumption." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Improving U.S. oil production reaches milestone in October, agency says. "The United States produced more crude oil in October than it imported for the first time since early 1995, as domestic shale oil output continued to surge and U.S. consumption of petroleum products remained relatively flat, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday. The figures mark a milestone in the rebound of U.S. oil production since drillers started using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to unlock oil previously trapped in layers of shale rock in states such as North Dakota and Texas. At the same time, gains in automobile fuel efficiency and other areas have been curbing U.S. oil consumption." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Debate: Is corporate America too focused on the short-term? The Washington Post.

The real loser of the recession is rural America. "Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual survey of rural America, which puts the divergence in stark relief. Non-metropolitan areas experienced their first recorded period of population loss, and a decline in the labor force participation rate pushed unemployment down slightly (though the jobless rate surpassed the urban unemployment rate earlier this year). But even as the rest of the country entered a tepid recovery, and some rural areas gained jobs from the natural gas boom, net employment didn't budge rural regions." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

What's taking over the interwebs interlude: Do squats and get a subway ride for free in Moscow.

3. The talks behind the talks

Few signs of progress from budget negotiators seeking to avoid another shutdown. "Congressional budget negotiators tasked with avoiding another government shutdown met in public for a second time Wednesday but reported little progress toward an agreement. “We’re trying to find common ground, but we’re not there yet,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said as he opened the meeting. “The hard part is figuring out where we agree.” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (Wash.), the lead Democratic negotiator, expressed more optimism, saying she and Ryan have had a number of private discussions about the “parameters” of a potential agreement." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Paul and Murray have been having other private, one-on-one budget talks. "[L]awmakers on Wednesday offered overtures that they hope to strike a deal and the two lead negotiators indicated they have been talking behind the scenes...The meeting was largely dominated by testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, who talked about long-term economic and fiscal conditions...The panel has until Dec. 13 to reach an agreement on the budget, although failing to do so carries few immediate consequences. The most dire deadlines are slated for early next year. Unless Congress acts, government funding will run out on Jan. 15. The debt ceiling must be addressed in February." Ginger Gibson in Politico.

Explainer: Here are 103 different ways to reduce the deficitBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

U.S. budget deficit narrows in October. "The U.S. government's deficit for October totaled $91.59 billion, compared with a $120.00 billion shortfall during the same period a year earlier, the Treasury Department said Wednesday in its monthly report. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast a $95.0 billion deficit. Federal deficit figures have been steadily improving over the past year...Wednesday's report said federal spending fell by 5% in October to $290.52 billion...Revenues for the month climbed 8% to $198.93 billion." Jeffrey Sparshott in The Wall Street Journal.

Budget battles breed dysfunctional spending. "The Oct. 16 deal that ended the shutdown kept the government funded at levels set by last year's budget. For the Secret Service, that meant millions to protect presidential nominees—from 2012. This is the consequence of Washington's budget dysfunction: Stopgap spending bills that keep the government running, passed by Congress in the absence of a comprehensive deal, often keep federal policies in place that no longer make sense. The Secret Service, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, isn't going to dispatch agents in suits and sunglasses to shadow Mitt Romney, the losing GOP presidential candidate...This has created a type of budget purgatory where agency chiefs say they cannot plan strategically, especially on multiyear projects, or even make staffing decisions." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Paging Pareene interlude: So, yes, that JPMorgan-in-China story looks to be totally right.

4. Trade-deal update

For controversial trade pact, fire from the left, the right and WikiLeaks. "The far-flung opponents all want more opportunity to review the 12-nation agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and hope to prevent the Obama administration from getting “fast track” approval from Congress...WikiLeaks published negotiating documents, dating to August, that showed major divisions among the countries on issues relating to governance of Internet commerce, and patent protection in the pharmaceutical industry — and that was just one chapter of the dozens to be included in the agreement. Activist groups seized on the disclosure, arguing that the administration was advocating patent and Internet regulations that would give more power to pharmaceuticals companies to block the introduction of generic drugs, and put developing countries at a disadvantage in access to information." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Read: WikiLeaks posted the next of the trade agreement's intellectual-property chapter.

Leaked treaty is a Hollywood wish list. Could it derail Obama’s trade agenda? "Today the transparency organization Wikileaks released an August draft of the "intellectual property" chapter of the treaty. It's a forest of square brackets, indicating that many provisions are still under negotiation by the parties. But those brackets reveal a clear pattern: the United States has been using the treaty as a vehicle to pressure its negotiating partners to make their laws more favorable to the interests of U.S. filmmakers, drug companies, and other large holders of copyright and patent rights...The United States wants all signatories to extend their copyright terms to the life of the author plus 70 years for individual authors, and 95 years for corporate-owned works. The treaty includes a long section, proposed by the United States, requiring the creation of legal penalties for circumventing copy-protection schemes such as those that prevent copying of DVDs and Kindle books." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

U.S. automakers push for currency provisions in trade pact. "Groups led by the Ford Motor Co. say the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks should include rules that would punish countries if they are shown to have intervened excessively in currency markets. They say such provisions could help limit what they see as Japanese auto makers' unfair advantages in the U.S. and around the world...Currency issues are generally not included in trade pacts, but the companies pushing for it this time say that exchange rates determine the competitiveness of U.S.-built cars in Asia and around the world." William Maudlin in The Wall Street Journal.

Maersk hails growth in global trade. "AP Møller-Maersk hailed signs of an uptick in global trade as the Danish conglomerate lifted its profit outlook for this year on the back of a strong performance by the world’s biggest container shipping line. The Danish group, which owns Maersk Line and is thus seen as a bellwether for global trade, said its full-year net profits would be about $3.5bn, up from a previous forecast of $3.3bn." Richard Milne in The Financial Times.

Football wonkery nterlude: The coach that goes exactly and only where the numbers tell him.

5. Immigration dies

Boehner rejects conference committee with Senate’s immigration bill. "House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that the House will not enter negotiations with the Senate to hash out differences between its immigration plans and the Senate immigration bill — dealing a significant blow to the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform by this Congress. “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” Boehner said. “And frankly, I’ll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Obama is still pushing for immigration reform. "President Barack Obama brainstormed at the White House Wednesday with religious leaders over how to persuade House Republicans to move on the issue. Last week, the president met with business executives to urge them to speak out for action. He is planning other immigration events on the road, with a mix of national and local outreach, both behind the scenes and publicly. On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden talked to Roman Catholic leaders." Laura Meckler and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Nationalism makes for bad economics, ECB editionNeil Irwin.

How the death of BitTorrent helped take the edge off broadband growthLydia DePillis.

This is what Janet Yellen will say tomorrow at her confirmation hearingNeil Irwin.

Nine key facts about Obamacare’s enrollment numbersSarah Kliff and Ezra Klein.

About 106,000 people enrolled in Obamacare last monthSarah Kliff.

Here are 103 different ways to reduce the deficitBrad Plumer.

Obamacare is in much more trouble than it was one week agoEzra Klein.

The real loser of the recession is rural America. Lydia DePillis.

The surprising reasons why gas prices have fallen sharplyBrad Plumer.

Is corporate America too focused on the short-termWonkblog.

Want to reverse Obamacare’s cancellations? Then you’re going to have to raise premiumsSarah Kliff.

Nine questions the Senate should ask Janet YellenNeil Irwin.

500,000 people were expected to buy Obamacare in October. About 100,000 actually didSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Sen. Warren calls for changes to filibusterBurgess Everett in Politico.

Double dose of EPA on Capitol HillBen German and Laura Barron-Lopez in The Hill.

UN panel amends CO2 numbersAlex Morales in Bloomberg.

Biden Chief of Staff Bruce Reed to be replaced by senior adviser Steve RicchettiZachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Brad Plumer | November 13, 2013