Wonkbook: How Obamacare’s fear of further failure is becoming an impediment to success

November 19, 2013

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Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) holds up a tablet showing the HealthCare.gov website while he questions top IT officers during a Nov. 13 hearing. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) holds up a tablet showing the HealthCare.gov Web site during a Nov. 13 hearing. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Much of what's broken in HealthCare.gov is extremely hard to fix. But not the window shopping function.

The problem there was politics, not code. In the first version of HealthCare.gov, there was no way to window shop. You needed to register an account in order to see the plans. The rationale was sensible enough: The White House wanted to ensure people saw the real price they'd be paying. That meant verifying their identity, their income, their age, their citizenship, and everything else that goes into calculating subsidies.

This proved a technological nightmare. Imagine if before browsing a book in Barnes & Noble you had to find a clerk and have them take down and verify your credit card, your phone number, and the address you want the book sent to once you've bought it. The staff would quickly be overloaded. No one would ever get into the store. And it would be a massive waste of time because many of the people clogging the line were just there to browse anyway.

Obamacare faced the same situation: Forcing the system to do the heavy lifting of registration and verification before people could even read the site crashed the servers. So the Obama administration decided to open up window shopping. In his news conference, President Obama specifically promoted the new option. "Even if the Web site isn’t working as smoothly as it should be for everybody yet, the plan comparison tool that lets you browse costs for new plans near you is working just fine," he said.

It might be working fine. But it's a horrible user experience.

First you need to find it. There's no button that says "browse." You need to intuit that the gray "see plans now" button on the bottom of the screen serves a different function than the green "apply online" and "apply by phone" buttons.

Click on it and you get a mass of explanatory text, much of it bolded. The first section explains what should be self-explanatory: "How to view health plans and prices." The next section is felicitously entitled "Factors that affect prices shown." Then there's a detailed look at "premiums, deductibles and other costs," followed by an option letting you "find out if you may qualify for lower costs based on your income." Again and again, you're reminded that the prices you're about to see might not be the prices you'll pay.

Once you've waded through the discouraging disclaimers, you'll find there's no link to the actual window-shopping tool. (There is, however, a survey asking whether the page was helpful.) Sorry, didn't you notice? The link to compare plans is tucked into the text of the first section. Scroll back up, eager health-insurance consumer!

Click the correct link and you get a new window letting you specify whether you're looking for individual, family or small-business coverage, alongside another warning: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices shown on this tool don't reflect the lower costs you may qualify for based on household size and income." Caps and bold in the original, of course.

Ask for family coverage and you'll get a new screen wondering whether you want health or dental insurance. Oh, and here's the warning again: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices here don't reflect the lower costs an applicant may qualify for based on household size and income."

Then you get to choose your state and county. Oh, and don't forget: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices here don't reflect the lower costs an applicant may qualify for based on household size and income."

The next screen lets you specify your family size. And in case you weren't paying attention until now: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices here don't reflect the lower costs an applicant may qualify for based on household size and income."

The next screen tells you that all plans must offer the same basic health benefits and provides a general and incomplete list of what those benefits are. It also tells you: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices here don't reflect the lower costs an applicant may qualify for based on household size and income."

Then there's an incredibly confusing page explaining that "most people who apply will qualify for lower costs." it includes a table giving rough subsidy calculations, even though a calculator would be far more useful. And even on this page, which is dedicated to explaining that real prices may well be lower than listed prices, our old friend pops up: "IMPORTANT NOTE: The prices here don't reflect the lower costs an applicant may qualify for based on household size and income."

Then there's another page explaining the five categories of plans. Yes, the disclaimer is there, too, but I can't bear to publish it yet again.

Fight through it, and, finally, after all that, you can browse some plans. There's no estimate of subsidies, or of the way your age will affect your premiums. And this simple, not-particularly-helpful information is only accessible after navigating, by my count, eight separate pages, each covered in intimidating explanatory text and discouraging warnings. It's a mess. And it doesn't need to be.

ValuePenguin.com is a consumer finance site. They decided to make their own plan comparison tool, basically for kicks. It's a single page long. It lets you enter your income and age to get a much more precise estimate of plan costs. It takes less than a minute to fill out. And it works. "It's a very simple process from a coding perspective," says founder Jonathan Wu.

And ValuePenguin isn't alone. Three annoyed programmers built Health Sherpa. Again, it's quicker, cleaner, less intimidating, and more helpful than what the Obama administration came up with.

It's been difficult, throughout this process, to get much visibility on the difficulty of the technical challenge the Obama administration faces. HealthCare.gov is a black box, and for all the daily conference calls and occasional presidential statements, the White House isn't letting anyone talk openly about what's in it. But the window-shopping tool offers an unusual opportunity to see how the rescue team managed a technologically simple task that outsiders are able to emulate. The answer, basically, is terribly.

It's easy to see what went wrong in the Obama administration's version: They were so afraid of giving window shoppers incorrect information that they ended up burying the site in protective disclaimers and explanations, and ripping some of the most useful data out of the final product. The result is plan prices that are wildly incorrect for almost everyone, and far less useful than it could be. It's a tool that was clearly created by a committee -- and a scared committee, at that.

This is how a crippling fear of failure becomes a crippling impediment to success. Obamacare is under siege and no staffer wants to be the next one to cause a firestorm. But if CYA instincts come to dominate the individuals working on the project, then the final product is going to be a complex, hedged, kludgy mess.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 42 and 56. The first is the percentage of Americans who, according to a new Gallup poll, say that health care should be a government responsibility. The second is the share who say it shouldn't be.

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “Don’t tell me there are troubles with this live event like there were with the Obamacare website!!!!!” That's what one supporter wrote in an Organizing for America chat room during Obama's conference call with the organization yesterday. Yes, with the five exclamation points.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Here's an excellent map-chart explaining where the Latin American immigrants who used to come to the United States are now going for work instead.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Obamacare enrollment is picking up; (2) the NSA lawyers up; (3) stocks break a threshold; (4) why we can't have budget deals and other nice things; and (5) third judge blocked.

1. Top story: Enrollment in Obamacare picks up

The pace of enrollment on Healthcare.gov picks up. "The pace of enrollment in health plans through the troubled federal insurance marketplace has nearly doubled since the end of October as software engineers have resolved some 200 of the more than 600 initial defects that had rendered the site all but unusable, according to people familiar with the repair effort. As of mid-November, the number of enrollees, which the Obama administration defines as people who have selected a marketplace plan, was more than 50,000 — up from 27,000 in the entire month of October, but still a fraction of the number the administration once hoped for." Sharon LaFraniere and Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

So what could go wrong next? "This was always the worst of the worst-case scenarios: Only sick people enroll in the Obamacare health insurance plans, healthy people stay away, and everyone’s premiums rise out of control because there are no healthy people to cover the sick people’s costs...There’s another problem, and it has nothing to do with the website. Insurers and actuaries say the Obama administration’s solution to the canceled policies mess could backfire — because by telling insurers they can extend people’s individual coverage, they might cause the insurance prices to rise anyway.... If the Obamacare health plans don’t get a good mix of healthy and sick people, the rate hikes wouldn’t happen right away. The prices are already locked in for 2014. The bigger political headache for Democrats is that insurance companies would raise their prices for 2015, and those new rates would be announced in the spring — bringing another round of bad news during election season." David Nather in Politico.

@justinjm1: One lesson of the past 6 weeks? Medicaid expansion is popular, even if Obamacare isn't

Down, down, down go Obama's poll numbers. "Opposition to the new health-care law also hit a record high in the survey, with 57 percent saying they oppose the president’s most significant domestic initiative. Forty-six percent say they are strongly against it. Just a month ago, as the enrollment period was beginning, the public was almost evenly divided in its assessments of the law.... Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the health-care law’s rollout stands at 63 percent, with a majority saying they strongly disapprove. Last month, 53 percent disapproved." Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill in The Washington Post.

More polling: Americans say healthcare is not the government's responsibility by 56 to 42. Joy Wilke in Gallup.

Meet the bureaucrats now deciding Obamacare’s fate. "[Jim] Donelon is the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group of state regulators that, on Thursday, was made a crucial player in the fight over cancellation notices.... Donelon says that state and federal NAIC officials are still trying to figure out what the changes would mean; he hopes to have some form of national guidance out to regulators later this week. While pundits here in Washington worry about what his decision means for Obama's presidency and his poll numbers, Donelon's biggest concern is...solvency. [R]eversing the cancellation notices could put them closer to insolvency, as the premiums in the exchange would be unlikely to cover a sicker subscriber group." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Private consultants warned of risks before HealthCare.gov’s Oct. 1 launch. "The Obama administration brought in a private consulting team to independently assess how the federal online health insurance enrollment system was developing, according to a newly disclosed document, and in late March received a clear warning that its Oct. 1 launch was fraught with risks. The analysis by McKinsey & Co. foreshadowed many of the problems that have dogged HealthCare.gov since its rollout, including the facts that the call-in centers would not work properly if the online system was malfunctioning and that insufficient testing would make it difficult to fix problems after the launch." Juliet Eilperin and Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Read: The McKinsey report.

What Obama told his crew. "In a conference call with thousands of supporters hosted by Organizing for Action, Obama said the problems with Healthcare.gov have led to “misinformation” about the health-care law, although he did not offer specific examples. “Frankly, there have been problems with the Web site that have created and fed this misinformation,” Obama told what OFA said was an audience of more than 200,000 supporters. OFA was created out of the remains of Obama’s 2012 campaign in the hopes of advancing the president’s agenda." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

...Here's one more thing that went wrong: the phone call. "Some supporters who tried to log in to hear President Obama defend his embattled health care law on Monday night were unable to hear him because the website of the group behind the call, Organizing for Action, failed to work for them. The website problems were an inconvenient moment for a president who has spent the last six weeks trying to explain the failure of HealthCare.gov, the online marketplace for Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

...And one more: California just sent 246,000 residents incorrect info. "California has mistakenly sent letters to 246,000 low-income residents, warning they may need to find new doctors next year under the state’s newly expanded Medicaid program. The error frustrated counties and community health centers which have repeatedly assured patients they can keep their providers when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014. The patients are part of the state’s “bridge to reform” program, which was designed to cover uninsured, poor Californians until they became eligible for Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal here." Anna Gorman in Kaiser Health News.

@strobetalbott: ObamaCare implementation debacle is shaping up as a domestic-policy black swan event, a transformative upset of Obama's plans & fortune.

Alaska says no to Medicaid expansion. "Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said Friday his state will not expand Medicaid under President Obama’s signature health-care law after a report estimated it would cost the state about $200 million over seven years...The federal government would have initially provided 100 percent of the costs of an expansion, dropping to 90 percent by 2020. But the federal government would have covered more of the costs in Alaska than in other states, because the federal government covers 100 percent of the costs for Native Americans in Alaska, according to the Anchorage Daily News. About 17,000 of the 40,000 who would have been eligible under the expansion are Alaska Natives." Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.

INSLEE, BESHEAR, AND MALLOY: How we got Obamacare to work. "People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites. Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs. The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football." Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear, and Dannel Malloy in The Washington Post.

RUBIO: No bailouts for Obamacare. "Risk corridors are generally used to mitigate an insurer's pricing risk. Under ObamaCare, risk corridors were established for the law's first three years as a safety-net for insurers who experience financial losses. While risk corridors can protect taxpayers when they are budget-neutral, ObamaCare's risk corridors are designed in such an open-ended manner that the president's action now exposes taxpayers to a bailout of the health-insurance industry if and when the law fails." Marco Rubio in The Wall Street Journal.

KLEIN: Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800. Obamacare’s Web site doesn’t work yet. Stop comparing them. "The interest in comparing HealthCare.Gov to a lethal natural disaster is all the odder because the Bush years actually offer a ready analogue to Obamacare: Medicare Part D. Like Obamacare, Medicare Part D was a massive health-care expansion. Like Obamacare, it was administratively complex. Like Obamacare, the Web site didn't work on launch. Like Obamacare, people who were supposed to be benefitting from the law found their plans upended and the supposedly superior alternatives inaccessible" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

BARCOTT: My Obamacare cancellation. "For the past 15 years my wife and I have made our living as freelance writers...As such, our health insurance is our own concern. Over the years we’ve held on to our coverage by letting our co-pay and deductible rise and our covered procedures fall. You may be aware that the three-tiered state exchange policies are labeled Gold, Silver, and Bronze, reflecting their price and level of coverage. If our policy still existed it would fall into the column of Wood." Bruce Barcott in The New York Observer.

CHAIT: Obamacare hyperventilation to continue forever. "The most common fallacy of journalism, and one of the most common fallacies of the human brain in general, is the assumption that whatever is happening at the moment will continue to happen forever. That has been the implicit assumption of the hyperventilating coverage of the miserable Obamacare rollout." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

COHN: What the media has missed about Obamacare's cancelled plans. "[H]ow big a story should it be? To answer that, you need to know how many people actually fit these descriptions—and what might have happened to these people if the Affordable Care Act had never become law. It's impossible to answer either question with certainty, because reliable statistics aren’t available and there's no time machine for seeing how alternative futures might play out. But there are at least six reasons to think the real story is smaller—and way more complicated—than a credulous media would have everybody believe." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

KUTTNER: Obama's gift to the GOP. "At the time the law was passed, administration leaders and many commentators compared the Affordable Care Act to Social Security and Medicare. The analogy was never apt. These great achievements are public public programs, efficient to administer and testament to the fact that government can serve social objectives far more effectively than the private sector. Obamacare, by contrast, is the inefficiency of "public-private partnerships" at its worst. It is a public subsidy for the private insurance industry. No fewer than 55 separate contractors were hired to design the software. Yet though it is not a true public program worthy of the name, Obamacare is being used to discredit government." Robert Kuttner in The Huffington Post.

MEAD: The next Obamacare revelation. "So far we are only looking at the fallout as Obamacare-mandated changes hit the relatively small individual insurance market. Coming soon to a cable news outlet near you: the tsunami of outrage when Americans in employer-sponsored programs discover that the President wasn’t telling the truth about their plans and their doctors either." Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest.

BEUTLER: Dems own Obamacare. "Even if the White House’s mismanagement of the rollout shakes 100 Democrats’ faith in the whole project, they can’t unbrand themselves. Obamacare bears the president’s name, but it’s a Democratic Party creation full stop. If Democrats help Republicans obliterate it, it will be an enormous admission of governing incompetence. A “don’t elect me or members of my party because we don’t know what we’re doing” vote." Brian Beutler in Salon.

Music recommendations interlude: Great Lake Swimmers, "Your Rocky Spine," 2007.

Top opinion

BERNSTEIN: Inequality's roots go beyond tech. "The economist David Card makes one important and, I’d say, widely accepted point: “I don’t think the college-to-noncollege wage premium gives you any insight into why such a large share of the economic gains has accrued to such a tiny share of the population.” If you drew a Venn diagram of intersecting circles of the college-educated and the top 1 percent, the latter would be a small subset of the former...[I]f we’re serious about tackling inequality, we’ll need to think more about full employment, trade (and the trade deficit), bargaining power, and the other factors on Mr. Mishel’s list." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

ORSZAG: How New Zealand stopped its housing bubble. "In October, it put a limit on high loan-to-value mortgages. Each bank must see that no more than 10 percent of its new mortgages finance more than 80 percent of a house’s value. Before the limit took effect, such mortgages had reached 30 percent of new originations...And they have been found effective “in containing exuberant mortgage loan growth, speculative real estate transactions, and house price accelerations,” according a June 2013 IMF review of studies. During downswings, the review found, such measures can reduce “fire-sale dynamics” and loan losses." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

IRWIN: Tim Geithner is cashing in. "Is Geithner another story of the revolving door at work, or a smart guy who is going to try to use some of his insights and managerial acumen to help the economy deploy capital more efficiently? The answer depends on which aspects of his job description you think Geithner is being hired for...If Geithner's role turns out to be heavily oriented toward the last point — being a rainmaker, flying to financial capitals and using his fame and connections to persuade billionaires and foreign sovereign wealth funds to park their money with Warburg Pincus, the appointment will always seem, to use a technical government ethics term, icky. If he really is being hired to help run the firm and decide what companies to invest in, then more power to him." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

SORKIN: A conflict in Geithner's job? No. "While there’s nothing good about the “revolving door” between Washington and Wall Street, there’s something quite odd about the developing narrative about Mr. Geithner’s move, because it is hard to argue Mr. Geithner ever spun through the revolving door even once...Warburg Pincus, a relatively obscure yet well-respected private equity firm has little to do with the big institutions Mr. Geithner once oversaw...Is he trading on his relationships and his role in government? Yes and no. In his role as a fund-raiser for the firm, he will, of course, lean on relationships he has built up over many years. His reputation should help him get meetings and close deals. But he won’t be lobbying his former colleagues in Washington on bank regulations." Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times.

ROOSE AND PRESSLER: Yes, Geithner's a sellout. So what? "Geithner's compensation details haven't been disclosed, but it's fair to assume he's making eight figures a year, at minimum, in one of those letterhead jobs that requires little more than speaking on panels, playing golf with high-lever machers, and taking a lot of long lunches...[D]id Geithner really make an immoral choice?...At least in private equity, he'll be able to get his hands dirty, and it’s a relatively ethical choice in terms of bailout politics...For three decades, Geithner has been surrounded by people who are much more wealthy and successful than he his, people who fly private jets and live in million-dollar co-ops on Park Avenue. He’s smarter than many of them, but they've chosen a path that allows them to earn ten, twenty, a hundred times more." Kevin Roose and Jessica Pressler in New York Magazine.

The future is now interlude: Is the self-driving car ready to roll?

2. The NSA lawyers up

Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to NSA’s phone-records collection. "The Supreme Court refused an unusual petition Monday from a privacy group that sought to stop the National Security Agency from collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers. The Electronic Privacy Information Center bypassed lower courts because it said only the Supreme Court could review a decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court...The lawsuit was considered a long shot — the Supreme Court rarely takes cases that have not gone through the lower courts — and the justices rejected it without comment." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Post, others back suit over NSA call tracking. "The National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephone calling records undermines the freedom of the press by chilling potential sources of information from co­operating with reporters, more than a dozen journalistic organizations, including The Washington Post, argued in a legal brief filed Monday in federal court." Craig Timberg in The Washington Post.

Congress is trying to figure out how to restrict the NSA. "Members of both parties are making a push for laws that would rein in N.S.A. data collection programs and bring more transparency to intelligence gathering. Those seeking to impose new requirements on the N.S.A. hope to take advantage of a small window of opportunity and attach their provisions onto an annual Pentagon policy measure now headed for Senate consideration...Leaders of both parties in Congress are hardly eager to see the issue come up again. In the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, is wary of any measure that the White House thinks is harmful to national security. He and other Senate leaders are considering erecting procedural barriers to amendments to the Pentagon legislation. The leadership resistance limits chances for quick success in the Senate." Adam Liptak and Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.

Latest release of NSA documents includes 2004 ruling on email surveillance. "The ruling was among a trove of documents that were declassified and made public by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, including those by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Many of the documents have historic significance, showing how Bush administration surveillance programs that were initially conducted without court oversight and outside statutory authorization were brought under the authority of the surveillance court and subjected to oversight rules. The documents also included reports to Congress, training slides and regulations issued under President Obama." Charlie Savage and James Risen in The New York Times.

Japanese game shows interlude: Let Wonkbook introduce you to "Wall of Boxes."

3. Dow breaks 16k

JPMorgan’s $13 billion settlement to include deadline for assisting homeowners. "The government plans to impose a deadline for JPMorgan Chase to dole out consumer relief as part of a tentative $13 billion settlement, insisting the bank would face an additional penalty if the condition is not met, according to people familiar with the negotiations...The bank will have until the end of 2016 to comply with the agreement. If it fails to spend the entire $4 billion before that deadline, JPMorgan would have to pay an amount equal to the unexpended funds either to the government or to a third party designated by the government." Danielle Douglas and Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Fed's Rosengren wants to hike capital requirements again. "Very large banks that count broker-dealer operations as an important part of their business need to hold higher levels of capital to reduce the risk these firms pose to the broader financial system, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said Monday...Rosengren is interested in the risk posed by bank broker-dealer operations because it was these sorts of firms—companies that relied heavily on short-term financing to keep their operations running—that played a large part in the financial crisis." Michael S. Derby in The Wall Street Journal.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed 16,000. "The benchmark Dow Jones industrial average briefly crossed 16,000 for the first time Monday, another milestone affirming that the economic recovery is roaring on Wall Street, even as the rest of the country seems to be stuck in perpetual slow motion. Wages have been flat for several years, and unemployment ticked up to 7.3 percent in October...[M]any households hurt by the recession haven’t been able to recover their footing enough to invest in stocks again. This also means they’re missing out on one of the most robust aspects of the recovery." Jia Lynn Yang in The Washington Post.

Authorities see the worth of bitcoin. "U.S. authorities, appearing Monday at the first-ever congressional hearing on virtual currencies, outlined the pitfalls and promises of bitcoin amid concern the anonymity and decentralized nature of some virtual currencies can help facilitate crimes. The hearing provided a financial lift to bitcoin as U.S. officials, who have previously highlighted the currency's role in money laundering and other illicit activities, called it a "legitimate" financial service." Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal

Interview: Can we get rid of inflation and recessions forever? with Miles KimballDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Homebuilder confidence slips. "The National Association of Home Builders, an industry trade group, said Monday its monthly housing-market index stood at 54 in November, matching a downwardly revised figure for October...The results were below expectations. Economists polled by Dow Jones forecast the index would be 55." Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Oh my god this is so great interlude: A simple proof that the German language is insane, or "Rhabarberbarara."

4. Why we can't have budget deals and other nice things

Republican appropriators want a budget agreement soon. "The thirteen top Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee joined in a letter Monday urging budget negotiators to “redouble” their efforts and report a top-line number for discretionary spending before Thanksgiving — or no later than Dec. 2...House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) led in organizing the letter. But all 12 of his subcommittee chairs signed on as well, and while typically loyal to Boehner, they represent a serious power bloc if they should ever decide to stand up for themselves and show some muscle." David Rogers in Politico.

Paul Ryan changes course. "Paul Ryan is ready to move beyond last year’s failed presidential campaign and the budget committee chairmanship that has defined him to embark on an ambitious new project: Steering Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp. Ryan’s staff, meanwhile, has been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the “bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” that Ryan blames for “wrecking families and communities” since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964. Next year, for the 50th anniversary of that crusade, Ryan hopes to roll out an anti-poverty plan to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s Future in scope and ambition." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

...And Baucus is about to float a corporate-tax reform plan. "A Democratic Senate committee chairman is expected to release a proposal as soon as Tuesday to overhaul the U.S. system for taxing corporations' overseas profits, a long-sought goal of many American companies...A highlight of Mr. Baucus's proposal is likely to be a temporary reduction in the corporate-tax rate for companies' overseas earnings, according to congressional aides. That could encourage companies to bring hundreds of billions of dollars in overseas profits back to the U.S. One Finance Committee Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, said Mr. Baucus's "gutsy" plan also would contain mechanisms to prevent companies from dodging taxes in the future by building up big offshore cash piles...Mr. Baucus's draft also is expected by business lobbyists to advocate other changes that would bring the U.S. more in line with other developed countries. For instance, other countries generally tax only their companies' domestic profits, not foreign earnings. The draft is widely expected to move the U.S. closer to such a model, known as "territorial" taxation. But it was unclear how closely it would mirror those systems." John D. McKinnon and Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.

The dirty secret behind the prospect of a 'grand bargain.' "The dirty secret — a phrase used independently, and privately, by people in both parties — is that neither side wants to take the actions it demands of the other to achieve a breakthrough. That is, many Republicans are no more interested in voting to reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits than Democrats are, lest they threaten their party’s big advantage among the older voters who dominate the electorate in midterm contests like those in 2014. And Democrats are no more eager than Republicans, with control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, to vote for the large revenue increases that a grand bargain would entail. They do not want to limit popular but costly deductions." Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.

Wonkbook's heroes interlude: A documentary on Benoit Mandelbrot.

5. Will the third time be the charm for filibuster reform?

Senate Republicans block another Obama court pick. "By a vote of 53 to 38, with one senator voting present, senators came up seven votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to a final confirmation vote for Robert Leon Wilkins to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court is generally considered the second-most powerful federal court in the country because it handles most cases regarding federal regulations." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Why the rise of the ultra-rich in London is bad for the rest of BritainNeil Irwin.

How small tribes could get in on the Internet gambling bonanza. Lydia DePillis.

Can we get rid of inflation and recessions foreverDylan Matthews.

Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800. Obamacare’s Web site doesn’t work yet. Stop comparing themEzra Klein.

Geithner cashes inNeil Irwin.

Meet the bureaucrats now deciding Obamacare’s fateSarah Kliff.

Wealthy nations pledged billions to help the poor adapt to climate change. Where did it all goBrad Plumer.

Who’s super-rich in D.C.? You might be surprisedJim Tankersley.

This is why retailers are terrified of the holidays. Lydia DePillis.

Et Cetera

Here's the longread that should start your Tuesday: Behind the Pentagon’s doctored ledgers, a running tally of epic wasteScot J. Paltrow in Reuters.

Obama to unveil $100-million competition to prepare students for tech jobsStephanie Banchero in The Wall Street Journal.

Duncan tries to quell uproar over Common Core commentsLyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

A bill to regulate compound pharmacies goes to the president for his signature. Thomas M. Burton in The Wall Street Journal.

Colorado will tighten its drilling rulesRussell Gold in The Wall Street Journal.

Latin America's migrant workers aren't going to the U.S. any more -- they're going to other southern countriesMiriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Lydia DePillis · November 18, 2013