Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Evan Soltas. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here.
Wonkbook's Number of the Day: $302 billion. That's how much money President Barack Obama asked for over 10 years to spend on the nation's transportation infrastructure.
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Understand the House GOP tax-reform proposal in four simple charts.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) America is changing; (2) Camp's tax reform ideas; (3) a link between growth and inequality; (4) oh, the fake Obamacare horror; and (5) no real debate over climate change.
1. Top story: Arizona and Texas, two big wins for gay rights
Arizona governor vetoes bill on denying services to gays. "Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a controversial bill Wednesday that would have allowed businesses in the state to deny service to gays and lesbians if they felt that serving them would violate their religious rights. Gay rights advocates had denounced the legislation, labeling it a form of legalized discrimination, and Arizona’s two GOP senators and leading Republican candidates for governor had urged Brewer to veto the bill. Several GOP state legislators who had voted for the measure last week have said since then that it was not the right thing to do." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Texas ban on same-sex marriage struck down by federal judge. "Texas on Wednesday became the latest state to have a federal judge strike down its same-sex marriage ban, thanks to a sweeping decision holding that its current prohibition has no "legitimate governmental purpose." The ruling, by San Antonio-based Judge Orlando Garcia, will not take effect immediately: Its enforcement has been stayed while the case works its way through the appeal process, meaning same-sex couples in Texas cannot get married for the time being." CNN.
@samstein: Big wins today for the gay communities in Texas and Arizona. Not often you get to type that sentence.
States reassess anti-gay bills after blowback from Arizona legislation. "On Wednesday, state lawmakers in Ohio pulled the plug on their similar bill after increased pressure from civil rights groups. According to the Northeast Ohio Media Group, the lawmakers plan to draft new language that will protect religious liberties without discriminating against individuals. In Mississippi, a spokesman for House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) told the Clarion-Ledger that lawmakers are just now become aware of "some other things this bill might do" and want to take a closer look at it in committee. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said Wednesday he is not yet ready to comment on the legislation and the impact it may have on the LGBT community." Amanda Terkel in The Huffington Post.
@justinjm1: Today is the end of gay bashing as a winning political issue in America
How American attitudes toward same-sex marriage and LGBT issues has changed. "Millennials report a nearly 20-point gap between the views of their families and the views of their friends. Nearly half (49%) of Millennials say most of their family members oppose same-sex marriage, compared to 41% who say most of their family members support it. In contrast, only 30% of Millennials say most of their friends oppose same-sex marriage, while nearly twice as many (59%) say most of their friends favor same-sex marriage. Americans from the Silent Generation are equally likely to say that most of their friends (57%) and family members (56%) oppose same-sex marriage." Public Religion Research Institute.
Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality. "Clinton began her remarks by commending Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) for vetoing anti-gay legislation that Clinton called “discriminatory.” Clinton said Brewer recognized that “inclusive leadership is really what the 21st century is all about.”" Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.
@DouthatNYT: Is there a plausible argument out there that the Arizona bill actually did something more expansive than the existing federal RFRA?
DIONNE: How Arizona’s anti-gay bill will hurt the religious. "Conscience should not be used as a battering ram to undermine any adjustment in the law that some group doesn’t like. Using conscience exemptions to facilitate backdoor resistance to social change takes something precious and turns it into a cheap political tactic. Those who cherish religious faith ought to be heartsick that it is so often invoked not to advance compassion and understanding but rather to justify discrimination and even bigotry. This is doing serious harm to our religious traditions, particularly among the young." E. J. Dionne in The Washington Post.
Music recommendations interlude: Andrew Bird, "Imitosis."
BERNSTEIN: Promises and pitfalls in tax reform. "[T]he word on the street was that Mr. Camp was working for years to achieve revenue neutrality while sticking with the two brackets of 10 and 25 percent. He couldn’t do it, just as Mitt Romney couldn’t do it because the math doesn’t work. Again, give the man credit for not pretending otherwise (though the scorekeepers would have busted him on this point). So, if you tout up the new Camp surcharge and the 3.8 percent surcharge for the Affordable Care Act (a provision he appears to be keeping), you’re back to a top rate of 38.8 percent." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.
VINIK: The ultimate conservative tax reform. "If you look at all those things that Republicans won’t like, there’s one overarching theme: They increase revenue. Camp kept his plan revenue neutral, but in order to do that and lower rates, he had to find other revenue sources. That ensured that almost every Republican could find something in the plan to oppose. In an election year, most congressional Republicans see nothing to gain by supporting a doomed plan that will anger their constituents and provide campaign fodder for their election opponents. Thus, few have come out in favor of it." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.
CHAIT: Republicans' Obamacare alternative is always almost here. "Lots of people treat the Republican Party’s inability to unify around an alternative health-care plan, four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, as some kind of homework assignment they keep procrastinating on. But the problem isn’t that Cantor and Boehner and Ryan would rather lay around on the sofa drinking beer and playing video games than write their health-care plan already. It’s that there’s no plan out there that is both ideologically acceptable to conservatives and politically defensible. Carping from the sidelines is a great strategy for Republicans because status quo bias is extremely powerful. It lets them highlight the downside of every trade-off without owning any downside of their own." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
EMANUEL AND HAYES: The message about the mammogram. "The Canadian trial reported in the New York Times on Feb. 11 that suggested there was no benefit to mammography is just one of nine randomized controlled trials that compared mammographic screening to no screening or just breast examination. Seven of these nine trials have demonstrated that mammograms reduce the chances of dying of breast cancer. Two, including the Canadian trial, haven't. When reviewed in its entirety, the data produce clear results: For women age 50 to 74, regular mammograms decrease the risk of breast cancer mortality by at least 20%." Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Daniel F. Hayes in The Wall Street Journal.
O'BRIEN: How the Fed let the world blow up in 2008. "[T]he Fed was just as worried about an inflation scare that was already passing as it was about a once-in-three-generations crisis. It brought to mind what economist R. G. Hawtrey had said about the Great Depression. Back then, central bankers had worried more about the possibility of inflation than the grim reality of deflation. It was, Hawtrey said, like "crying Fire! Fire! in Noah's flood."" Matthew O'Brien in The Atlantic.
Today I learned interlude: The horseshoe crab blood harvest.
2. Camp tax reform proposal out
Republican tax overhaul would come at a cost of hundreds of credits, deductions. "Tax-filing season also would be much easier for most households under the proposal, with an estimated 95 percent of filers likely to claim a new, expanded standard deduction and call it a day. However, all that simplicity would come at the cost of hundreds of credits and deductions that have been woven deeply into the fabric of American life. There would be no more personal exemptions for you, your spouse and your dependents; no more credits for child care; no more deductions for medical bills or for state and local taxes." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.
Primary source: The House GOP’s plan to reform the tax code. The Washington Post.
Explainer: Understand the House GOP tax-reform proposal in four simple charts. Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
Many controversial reforms included. "Big banks would face a new tax on lending. Taxes paid to state and local governments would no longer be deductible. The earned income credit for low-wage workers would be converted to a more limited deduction on payroll taxes. The mortgage deduction and retirement savings breaks would be curtailed...But the seeds of the plan’s destruction might be found in the fine print. When asked about the proposal’s details on Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner replied, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”" Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
Grammatical interlude: Grizzly Bear, "Two Weeks."
3. A growth-inequality link?
IMF study finds inequality is damaging to economic growth. "The International Monetary Fund has backed economists who argue that inequality is a drag on growth in a discussion paper that has also dismissed rightwing theories that efforts to redistribute incomes are self-defeating...The paper, written by Jonathan Ostry, the deputy head of the IMF's research department, and the economists Andrew Berg and Charalambos Tsangarides, comes after several years of heated debate over the path that developed and developing countries' economies have taken since the financial crash and whether their recoveries are sustainable." Phillip Inman in The Guardian.
Corporations staff up on economists. "With more data available than ever before and markets increasingly unpredictable, U.S. companies—from manufacturers to banks and pharmaceutical companies—are expanding their corporate economist staffs. The number of private-sector economists surged 57% to 8,680 in 2012 from 5,510 in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics..The key to the revival of in-house economists, companies and economists say, is the need to digest huge amounts of data—from production volumes in overseas markets to laptop usage in urban areas—to determine opportunities and risks for companies' business units, not just in the U.S. but around the world." Bob Tita in The Wall Street Journal.
Home buyers are losing confidence in the housing market. "In a 2014 survey, buyers expected a 3 percent increase each of the next 10 years, and that's less than the prevailing mortgage rate, Shiller said...Here is a chart Shiller, an economics professor at Yale University, provided that chronicles the results of the expectation surveys. His grim conclusion: "We're losing our general sense of optimism about housing. It's percolating throughout the nation."" Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.
Hope on horizon for home-supply crunch. "Bank lending for land development and construction is turning up after hitting a 14-year low early last year, a sign that the supply crunch for new homes could ease in coming months. Data released Wednesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. show that the outstanding balance on loans for land acquisition, development and construction rose in the fourth quarter to $209.9 billion, compared with $206 billion in the third quarter. While that's a relatively small gain, economists note that if the overall balance is growing it means that originations of new loans are likely rising even faster. It was the third consecutive quarter of growth." Kris Hudson in The Wall Street Journal.
A look at the haves and have-nots in the housing market. "An exhaustive study of the 2,200 largest cities and towns in the nation found that the steady recovery in housing prices during the past two years “masks wide local discrepancies, with some markets soaring ahead of others.” The Demand Institute, a nonprofit group jointly run by the Conference Board and Nielsen, took the total value of the homes occupied by their owners in each city and ranked them. The group found that the top 10 percent on that list held 52 percent of the total housing wealth – a total of $4.4 trillion. The bottom 40 percent held just 8 percent, or $700 billion worth." Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.
This is what wealth looks like by age group. "Part of the problem for young families is that fewer of them actually own homes now. The national homeownership rate is 65.1 percent – the lowest level since 1979. That has been driven by a move toward renting by young families. In 2005, about half of young families owned their homes. Last year, that figure was just 42.2 percent, the largest drop of any age group. The researchers argue that has translated in a massive loss of wealth for young households." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.
Bernanke to make legal first. "Mr. Bernanke is one of the last of about 50 witnesses, including former Treasury secretaries Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, to provide sworn testimony at the request of the plaintiff, Starr International Co. The suit, filed in 2011 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., alleges that AIG shareholders weren't justly compensated when the government took over the company, violating their constitutional rights...The suit has withstood the government's repeated motions to dismiss it. Judge Thomas Wheeler certified it as a class action last year and has set Sept. 29 for the start of the trial." Leslie Scism and Pedro da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.
Democrats begin push to force vote on minimum wage. "A vote to increase the minimum wage is expected to occur by the end of March in the Senate, according to Democratic aides, but the issue faces a less certain future in the GOP-controlled House, where leaders have signaled no desire to work with Democrats on major legislation during an election year. With no control of the House schedule, Democrats formally began collecting signatures Wednesday for a discharge petition, a procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives (218 lawmakers) to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
...Others seek a compromise. "[M]oderate Democrats — including a handful up for reelection this year — are weighing support of a more modest increase designed to attract Republicans that could save them from having to oppose a tough bill before November. Interviews with a group of deal-seeking Democrats and Republicans indicate that there is room for negotiation. Elements under discussion include dropping the rate under $10.10 an hour, adding business incentives and re-examining the wage floor for tipped workers." Burgess Everett in Politico.
Explainer: The nation’s retirement savings crisis, in two charts. Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.
Didn’t get a raise last year? Go smash some computers. "Today's leading economists believe that, by a wide margin, advancing technology has not reduced employment in the United States...There's less agreement about whether technology is holding down wages or fueling inequality. A plurality of economists think it is, but there is considerable uncertainty." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
Literary interlude: The Amtrak writer's residency.
4. Oh, the fake Obamacare horror!
Harry Reid: All Obamacare horror stories are ‘untrue.’ ""Despite all that good news, there's plenty of horror stories being told," Reid said on the Senate floor. "All of them are untrue, but they're being told all over America."...In response to Reid's remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office sent out dozens of local media clips featuring people whose premiums increased or had other problems related to Obamacare." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Mixed success for Obamacare's co-ops so far. "The story of HealthyCT and its disappointing enrollment figures illustrates how uneven the co-ops’ performance has been more than halfway through the sign-up period in the first year of the new insurance exchanges, an analysis by The New York Times shows. In contrast to Connecticut, the co-op in Maine, Maine Community Health Options, has grabbed the majority of enrollment, outpacing Anthem, its sole competitor, which is owned by one of the nation’s largest insurers, WellPoint...About 300,000 have chosen a co-op, according to John Morrison, the former president of the National Alliance of State Health Co-Ops." Reed Abelson, Katie Thomas, and Jo Craven McGinty in The New York Times.
Medicare urged to rethink proposed revamp of Part D. "The plan, aimed at reducing drug costs, is part of a broad set of proposed changes to the Medicare Part D prescription-drug program that covers medicines for about 39 million beneficiaries. In January, the agency proposed ending the practice of covering essentially any type of antidepressant, antipsychotic or immunosuppressant drug for consumers in the program. The proposed changes have sparked a backlash from consumer groups and the health-care industry" Jennifer Corbett Dooren in The Wall Street Journal
The GOP’s Obamacare ‘fix’ does the exact opposite of what the GOP claims to want. "The CBO report finds that the GOP proposal would reduce the number of people receiving employer-sponsored health insurance by about 1 million people, but would push 500,000 to 1 million people on to Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program or the Obama administration's health marketplaces." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
Childhood obesity mirrors the nation’s racial divide. ""[O]ne of the sadder parts of the study released Wednesday was that the U.S. obesity rate is a reflection of the nation's racial divide: Blacks and Hispanics suffer much higher levels of obesity compared with whites...[O]ne of the sadder parts of the study released Wednesday was that the U.S. obesity rate is a reflection of the nation's racial divide: Blacks and Hispanics suffer much higher levels of obesity compared with whites. As you can see in the chart above, obesity rates among babies are fairly similar across racial lines. But the disparities rapidly emerge. A black child age 2 to 5 is more than three times as likely to be obese as a white child that age. Hispanic children in that age group are nearly five times as likely to be obese." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
Republicans too focused on health-care law, some in GOP warn. "Nearly every advertising dollar being spent against Democratic congressional candidates is going toward pounding them on the new health-care law. That strategy could miss the mark, warned Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.
These 6 reasons explain why childhood obesity has fallen so much. "Nutrition assistance such as food stamps and WIC (women, infants and children) may have led to decreases in childhood obesity among low-income Americans as federal standards have changed to promote healthier eating. For example, WIC has revised its funding formula to boost the amount of fruits and vegetables and peanut butter a mother and her child eat. At the time time, WIC has limited the amount of (non-breast) milk that a child drinks, to limit fat intake." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
Do it live interlude: Even the best mess up. Then they don't care who's watching and do the best they can.
5. No real debate over climate change
Scientists more certain than ever about climate change, report says. "Experts are more certain than ever that human activity is changing the global climate, even though they don't fully understand every detail of the climate system, according to a new report released Wednesday by two of the world's leading scientific bodies. The document from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom's Royal Society aims to move the climate change debate beyond humans' role in global warming to a discussion of how to limit the impacts on society." John Roach in NBC News.
State Department clears Keystone XL analyst of conflict of interest. "The U.S. State Department's inspector general found that a contractor who wrote the department's environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline followed federal conflict-of-interest rules and the department appropriately evaluated the contractor's business relationships with the pipeline builder. The State Department's inspector general also said the process for choosing a contractor and reviewing potential conflicts of interest should be improved. The matter involved allegations that consulting firm Environmental Resources Management didn't disclose previous business relationships with TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the pipeline." Alicia Mundy in The Wall Street Journal.
Kerry doubles down on climate change. "Kerry has come under fire from conservatives after calling global warming one of the “most fearsome” weapons of mass destruction threatening to destroy the planet during a speech in Indonesia earlier this month. He reiterated that belief in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday. “What I said about climate change is that it's one of the ... two or three weapons, or instruments, of mass destruction, which it is. It's having a profound impact on a global basis, and will continue to,” Kerry said." Julian Pecquet in The Hill.
Extraterrestrial interlude: 715 new planets added to NASA's count.
Can JPMorgan help find jobs for all the branch staff it’s laying off? Lydia DePillis.
Communists seize the IMF. Howard Schneider.
Did Frank Underwood kill Obama’s trade agenda? Howard Schneider.
The nation’s retirement savings crisis, in two charts. Michael Fletcher.
Understand the House GOP tax-reform proposal in four simple charts. Zachary A. Goldfarb.
This is what wealth looks by age group. Ylan Q. Mui.
New House GOP tax reform plan drops tax rates, popular deductions. Lori Montgomery.
Childhood obesity mirrors the nation’s racial divide. Zachary A. Goldfarb.
A look at the haves and have-nots in the housing market. Dina ElBoghdady.
The House GOP’s plan to reform the tax code. The Washington Post.
Home buyers are losing confidence in the housing market. Dina ElBoghdady.
The GOP’s Obamacare ‘fix’ does the exact opposite of what the GOP claims to want. Zachary A. Goldfarb.
Didn’t get a raise last year? Go smash some computers. Zachary A. Goldfarb.
These 6 reasons explain why childhood obesity has fallen so much. Zachary A. Goldfarb.
Obama proposes $302 billion transportation bill, to be funded partly by tax code reforms. Juliet Eilperin and Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.
Can the NSA hold your phone records for just about forever? Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.
Is the U.S. turning a corner on marijuana legalization? Rick Lyman in The New York Times.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.