Wonkbook: A ‘clean’ win on the debt ceiling

February 12

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(Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 221-201. That was the vote count in the House of Representatives to pass a "clean" increase in the debt ceiling.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Republicans say Obama’s use of executive power is ‘unprecedented.’ The data say otherwise.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Republicans give way on debt ceiling; (2) Yellen's steady hand; (3) putting the 'justice' back in criminal justice; (4) work at Healthcare.gov drags on; and (5) 'the day we fight back.'

1. Top story: A 'clean' win on the debt ceiling

House passes ‘clean’ debt-ceiling bill, ending two-week showdown. "The House passed a yearlong suspension of the Treasury’s debt limit Tuesday in a vote that left Republicans once again ceding control to Democrats, following a collapse in support for an earlier proposal advanced by GOP leaders. In a narrow vote, 221-201, 28 Republicans voted with 193 Democrats to approve a “clean” extension of the federal government’s borrowing authority — one without strings attached — sending the legislation to the Senate for a posssible final vote later this week. Two Democrats and 199 Republicans voted no...House leaders struggled mightily to get Republicans to back a bill disliked by conservatives, with many members saying in whip meetings that they didn’t want to endure the political pain associated with supporting a clean extension." Paul Kane, Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

@JimPethokoukis: In exchange for debt ceiling, I was hoping for flax tax, premium support. personal accounts. Also, construction of a death star

Who voted for the ‘clean’ debt ceiling increase? "In an incredibly lopsided vote, the House approved a measure Tuesday to raise the nation's borrowing limit through March 2015, a swift decision made by Republican leaders when they realized they lacked the support needed to advance other proposals that might have raised the debt limit with strings attached...The successful vote required stitching together a coalition of virtually all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans -- and leaders in both parties succeeded." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

The Boehner rule? Gone. "Boehner violated his own rule by allowing the White House to win a year-long increase of the debt ceiling — with no strings attached. Senate Republican leaders urged their members to allow a quick final vote on Wednesday and drop filibuster attempts to prolong the debate. In a private lunch, Senate Republicans were more concerned about “getting the hell out of town” before an impending snowstorm than digging in on a fight they once relished, according to a GOP senator. And Boehner even privately told conservatives Tuesday they should be relieved because the concession got the “monkey off our backs,” sources said. The sharp shift in tactics within the House and Senate GOP caucuses reflects a hardening realization after three years of partisan brinkmanship over the budget: Fighting over the debt in a crisis-like atmosphere is a political loser." Manu Raju and Jake Sherman in Politico.

Why Republicans surrendered. "This is how Washington works: Certain things have to get done, and you try to get the best deal you can, and then move on to the next thing. This is basically what Boehner has been trying to tell his caucus for the last three years, but they had to figure it out for themselves. Now that they’ve achieved acceptance, will Boehner's job get easier? Or will a new wave of mad-as-hell representatives rise up in protest?" Molly Ball in The Atlantic.

SCHEIBER: The Tea Party folds. "Prior to the shutdown, it wasn’t clear whether Bachmann et al were irrational (that is, so zealously attached to their ideological goals that they ignored conventional political incentives, like widespread public disapproval), or delusional (meaning they were perfectly capable of responding to political incentives in theory; they just assumed the masses supported them). The shutdown demonstrated that the Tea Partiers are, for the most part, delusional rather than irrational: They can be forced to reconsider a particular tactic if you persuade them it’s politically catastrophic. It just requires an epic level of public anger to break through their epistemically-stunted consciousness." Noam Scheiber in The New Republic.

@JakeSherman: House Rs needed to provide 19 votes for debt ceiling to pass. they provided 28.

SARGENT: Extortion by debt ceiling is now dead. "The crucial point about this outcome, should it happen, is that it will be the direct result of the decision by Dems — in the last two debt limit fights — to refuse to negotiate with Republicans. That was a major course correction on Obama’s part in which he learned in office from failure. After getting badly burned in the 2011 debt limit showdown — which left us saddled with the austerity that continues to hold back the recovery — Obama recognized what many of his supporters were pleading with him for years to recognize: There was no way to enter into a conventional negotiation with House Republicans." Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Real Estate, "Wonder Years."

Top opinion

WOLF: Enslave the robots and free the poor. "The rise of intelligent machines is a moment in history. It will change many things, including our economy. But their potential is clear: they will make it possible for human beings to live far better lives. Whether they end up doing so depends on how the gains are produced and distributed. It is possible that the ultimate result will be a tiny minority of huge winners and a vast number of losers. But such an outcome would be a choice not a destiny. A form of techno-feudalism is unnecessary. Above all, technology itself does not dictate the outcomes. Economic and political institutions do. If the ones we have do not give the results we want, we must change them." Martin Wolf in The Financial Times.

ORSZAG: Yes, we can trim Medicare spending. "More than 90 percent of all Medicare spending goes to treating the two-thirds of beneficiaries who suffer from more than one chronic health problem. Giving these people better care for the dollar is the key to increasing the value of the program overall...[I]f you’re wondering what the difference is between a Better Care hospital and an insurance plan, you’ve noticed something significant. The ACO concept blurs the line between providers and insurers; the Better Care approach destroys it. That is desirable, because it reflects a better alignment of incentives for providers to deliver higher-value care." Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

FOURNIER: Why I'm getting sick of defending the Affordable Care Act. "Advocates for a strong executive branch, including me, have given the White House a pass on its rule-making authority, because implementing such a complicated law requires flexibility. But the law may be getting stretched to the point of breaking. Think of the ACA as a game of Jenga: Adjust one piece and the rest are affected; adjust too many and it falls. If not illegal, the changes are fueling suspicion among Obama-loathing conservatives, and confusion among the rest of us. Even the law's most fervent supporters are frustrated." Ron Fournier in NationalJournal.

Conan O'Brien interlude: Undercover at a focus group.

2. Yellen's steady hand

Yellen, pledging continuity at Fed, sees economy strengthening. "Janet L. Yellen, the new chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress Tuesday the central bank maintained its optimistic view of the economy and its determination to retreat slowly from its stimulus campaign. Ms. Yellen’s first public remarks as chairwoman were hard to distinguish from the final public remarks of her predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke. She told members of the House Financial Services Committee that she was not seeking to change the Fed’s course." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

New Fed chief Janet Yellen: Job market recovery ‘far from complete’. "Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Tuesday called the recovery in the labor market “far from complete,” emphasizing the high numbers of long-term unemployed and part-time workers...But she said joblessness remains too high. She pointed out that an “unusually large fraction” of workers have been unemployed for six months or longer. She also said too many people are forced to work part time when they would prefer full-time positions. “These observations underscore the importance of considering more than the unemployment rate when evaluating the condition of the U.S. labor market,” Yellen said." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Liveblog: Yellen's first testimony as Fed chairThe New York Times.

A world again unprepared for higher interest rates. "The reasoning behind investors’ abrupt change of heart makes a certain sense. China’s economic slowdown will blunt the exports of commodity producers, weakening their trade balances. Macroeconomic management in many developing countries has been poor. Budget and trade deficits in some are way too high. Still, there is a deeper dynamic at play. The pullout of capital from developing countries around the world has an eerie resemblance to the seemingly unlikely financial wave that emerged from Asia, crossed through Russia and Eastern Europe and ended up walloping Brazil." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

What do the jobless do when benefits run out? "The end to federal jobless benefits for nearly 2 million people has sparked a bitter debate in Congress about whether Washington is abandoning desperate households or simply protecting strained government coffers. It is also providing real-time answers to a question economists have long pondered: How do people survive when they suddenly have no money coming in? Studies show that about a third of the people cut off from long-term unemployment benefits will find help from Social Security or other government programs. Others will cobble together dwindling savings or support from family. But most baffling to economists are the people who appear to come up with more-idiosyncratic solutions, which are tough to identify and almost impossible to track." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Here’s why the unemployment rate doesn’t matter anymore. "The unemployment rate skyrocketed as millions of people lost their jobs during the darkest days of the financial crisis. That part makes sense. What is harder to understand is why the jobless rate has dropped substantially even though many workers do not have jobs. Solving that puzzle requires looking at more esoteric labor market data." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

How credit-card debt can help the poor. "Encouraging low-income people to borrow money, and then to get a credit card enabling them to borrow more, may seem counterintuitive or even a little risky. For generations, we’ve heard that hard work and thrift are all Americans need to get ahead. The financial crisis also taught us that unscrupulous lenders stand ready to prey on poor people eager to take the ready cash. But this dichotomy — debt: bad, savings: good — is out of touch with the way we live now. More than 70 percent of Americans have a credit card, and very few of us buy a house or a car without borrowing some money. Credit is so central to our lives that job applicants can expect to have theirs checked as a proxy for responsibility and trustworthiness." Shaila Dewan in The New York Times.

An economic milestone at the National Bureau of Economic Research. "Sometime in the next couple of weeks, an economic milestone will be reached when the National Bureau of Economic Research publishes its 20,000th working paper...The N.B.E.R. is a research organization established in 1920 to study economic data and improve the empirical foundations of economic analysis. Much of its early work involved business cycles, especially the precise timing of peaks and troughs. To this day, the N.B.E.R. is the official arbiter of when a recession begins and ends because leaving such a task to the government would inevitably politicize it." Bruce Bartlett in The New York Times.

Watch this interlude: GoPro camera falls out of a plane and, all the way to the ground, into a pigpen.

3. Putting the 'justice' back in criminal justice

Holder wants to give ex-convicts their voting rights back. "Attorney General Eric Holder said the remaining laws in 11 states that restrict felons from voting are outdated, racially unfair and counterproductive. Mr. Holder noted that in Florida, such laws prevent roughly one in 10 people from voting...His remarks were embraced by two Tea Party lawmakers—Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky—who said at the Georgetown event they were trying to protect family values." Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

Washington governor suspends death penalty. "Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said Tuesday that he was suspending the use of the death penalty in the state, announcing a move that he hoped would enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.” Governor Inslee, a Democrat, said he reached his decision after months of review, meetings with family members of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement...The moratorium means that if a death penalty case comes to the governor’s desk, he will issue a reprieve, which is not a pardon and does not commute the sentences of those condemned to death." The Associated Press.

President Obama to launch major new effort to help young minority men. "President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison. The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Woah technology interlude: This fish has wheels.

4. Work continues on Healthcare.gov

Creators still in demand for Healthcare.gov. "After denigrating the work of CGI and replacing it as the largest contractor on the federal health care website, the Obama administration is negotiating with the company to extend its work on the project for a few months. And the new prime contractor, Accenture, is trying to recruit and hire CGI employees to work under its supervision. The transition between the two companies has interrupted work on the “back end” of the computer system needed to pay insurers, people involved in the project said Tuesday. CGI employees stopped work on new software code four weeks ago, but they continue to repair and refine the existing system." Robert Pear and Ian Austen in The New York Times.

Study casts doubt on value of mammograms. "One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age. It found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: One in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman’s health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. The study, published Tuesday in The British Medical Journal, is one of the few rigorous evaluations of mammograms conducted in the modern era of more effective breast cancer treatments." Gina Kolata in The New York Times.

Prescription painkillers seen as gateway to heroin. "The life of a heroin addict is not the same as it was 20 years ago, and the biggest reason is what some doctors call “heroin lite”: prescription opiates. These medications are more available than ever, and reliably whet an appetite that, once formed, never entirely fades...Rates of prescription opiate abuse have risen steadily over the last decade, while the number of people reporting that they used heroin in the past 12 months has nearly doubled since 2007 to 620,000, according to government statistics. That’s no coincidence, researchers argue: more people than ever now get a taste of opiates at a young age, and recovering addicts live in a world with far more temptations than there were a generation ago." Benedict Carey in The New York Times.

Fashion interlude: The fall of the House of Abercrombie.

5. 'The day we fight back'

A big day for the anti-NSA crowd. "It’s been over two years since the death of SOPA. But as attention has turned instead to NSA surveillance, the 2012 protests have provided assurance that online action can create real results. This is the idea behind The Day We Fight Back, an anti-surveillance web protest being held Tuesday, February 11th, in memory of hacktivist and anti-SOPA organizer Aaron Swartz" Adi Robertson in The Verge.

Security chief says Snowden took advantage of 'perfect storm' of lapses. "The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale. The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place." David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The New York Times.

What D.C. could look like soon interlude: 15 meters of snow. (No, not really. This is in Japan.)

Wonkblog Roundup

There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Now we’re facing a sixthBrad Plumer.

Sears is introducing a new drive-through shopping optionAmrita Jayakumar.

AOL reversed its controversial 401(k) policy. These 4 companies are sticking with itJia Lynn Yang.

Bob Costas is right: Going to work sick is a terrible ideaSarah Kliff.

Obamacare’s employer mandate keeps getting delayed. What happens if it gets killedSarah Kliff.

Here’s why the unemployment rate doesn’t matter anymoreYlan Q. Mui.

Republicans say Obama’s use of executive power is ‘unprecedented.’ The data say otherwiseChristopher Ingraham.

Et Cetera

Immigration reform gets angryAnna Palmer and Seung Min Kim in Politico.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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