Wonkbook: More Obamacare delays, and another repeal vote by GOP

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(Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 50. That’s the number of votes House Republicans have now taken to repeal or scale back the Democratic health-care reform law.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Why the SAT is really changing: It’s facing tough competition from the ACT.

Wonkbook’s Top 5 Stories: (1) Health-care headaches continue for Obama, Democrats; (2) SAT to get major overhaul; (3) Lukewarm economic numbers; (4) Senate votes down Obama civil-rights pick; and (5) U.S. action on Ukraine gains steam.

1. Obama, Democrats feel the heat on health care law

Obama administration to rewrite some health-care policies. “The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it has rewritten an array of far-reaching rules under the Affordable Care Act, the most significant of which will let people keep bare-bones health insurance policies for three more years….In announcing many rules at the same time, senior administration officials portrayed it as a move to address early in the year every major issue that needed to be resolved about how exactly the health-care law will work for 2015 — in contrast to the chaos and lurching policy shifts that surrounded the launch of the exchanges last fall….The law’s Republican critics swiftly denounced the new rules, singling out for particular criticism the decision to let insurers continue to sell — and customers continue to buy — skimpy health plans that fail to provide all the benefits required under the law.” Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

All while Republicans voted to gut or scale back the health care law a 50th time. 27 Democrats joined in. “The Republican-led House voted Tuesday to delay Obamacare's individual mandate for one year, even though the enrollment period for the year is nearly over and the impact of the bill would be significantly reduced. The final vote was 250-160. Twenty-seven Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting to delay by one year the health care law's requirement that uninsured Americans get covered or pay a tax penalty of at least $95 in the first year. It was the House's 50th vote to repeal or dismantle the law since Republicans took over the chamber in 2011….Republicans saw the measure as ripe for politicking ahead of the November congressional elections, given the unpopularity of the individual mandate.” Sahil Kapur in Talking Points Memo.

@sarahkliff: The House just took its 50th repeal vote on Obamacare. Obamacare is still not repealed.

@DavidCornDC: I think they're trying to break Joe DiMaggio's record.

Vulnerable Dems huddle over Obamacare fixes. “The White House took the rare step of naming more than a dozen Democrats it worked “in close consultation” with ahead of a Wednesday announcement about changes to the Affordable Care Act. All of the Democrats the administration cited are up for reelection in 2014, and most are either vulnerable, or find themselves early targets by the GOP for their past support of ObamaCare. Prolonging the ‘keep your plan’ fix to accommodate for President Obama’s broken promise about the law will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected in critical weeks before Election Day in 2014.” Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

Not all doom-and-gloom, though. “Still, big parts of the law are already in place this year. Insurance companies are no longer denying policies to people who have a black mark on their health history, or charging them more. Many policies are more robust, and include coverage of preventive services without out-of-pocket costs. And lower-income earners can get tax credits toward the cost of premiums, and some are paying less for coverage as a result. Millions of younger Americans have stayed on their parents' health plans until their 26th birthdays—a provision so popular that some GOP lawmakers opposed to the law as a whole want to keep it.” Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

@ezraklein: Compared to 2010 estimates, Obamacare is costing less than CBO expected: http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/chart-of-the-day-cbos-obamacare-projections-then-and-now/pic.twitter.com/xYdgQsyD4P

Poll: Another silver lining for Democrats? “Voters are split over whether they would support a candidate who voted for the Affordable Care Act, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday. For supporters of the healthcare law, the poll’s findings are a marked improvement from November, when only 21 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports ObamaCare, 37 said they would be less likely, and 40 said they were indifferent.” Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

TOBIN: Democrats may regret more Obamacare delays. “The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.” Jonathan S. Tobin in Commentary Magazine.

MCLAUGHLIN AND MCLAUGHLIN: Obamacare can’t be the GOP’s 2014 silver bullet. “Many Republican strategists now see this as a parallel dynamic similar to what the Iraq War issue did in 2006 to President Bush’s job approval, costing the Republicans their Senate and House majorities. The Democrats’ 2006 strategy was simple: Drive up the disapproval of the Iraq War, which drove up President Bush’s disapproval, which drove up the vote for Democrats for Congress….In our poll 20 percent of all voters nationally disapprove of Obama but do not yet say they’ll vote to elect Republicans to Congress. These voters will decide the November election. Among those who disapprove of Obama but aren’t planning to vote GOP, fully 36 percent are still voting for a Democrat for Congress. The other 64 percent remain undecided. In other words, opposition to Obama is not a ‘silver bullet’ strategy.” John McLaughlin and Jim McLaughlin in National Review.

BEUTLER: 50th time still isn’t the charm. “Prior to this year, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a freebie….Now it comes with a cost. Now it’s a statement of intent to annul millions of people’s healthcare benefits….For opportunistic reasons, conservatives have worked party activists into an incredible lather over the Affordable Care Act over the years, which means they can’t now, without warning, implicitly admit that the law can be molded into something tolerable….This is self-evidently spiteful and unserious. It also requires spending money, which means it probably can’t pass the House. But the alternatives are a) writing an Obamacare alternative that tosses millions of people off of their new health plans and leaves them with nothing, and b) not repealing Obamacare. I think I know which one they’re going to pick.” Brian Beutler in Salon.

Hoping it’s spring soon interlude: Cherry blossoms to reach peak in early April, says Park Service.

Top opinion

WEISSMANN: Ryan’s poverty theory is tricksy—and wrong. “It’s true that poverty traps are out there. They just don’t snare that many families...Ryan is right that the government should try to fix the perverse work incentives that the welfare state creates for a fraction of poor families. But his report is meant to lay the intellectual groundwork for an overhaul that would more likely result in the same sorts of draconian cuts contained in his previous budgets, all in the name of aiding the needy. If anybody is setting a trap, it’s Paul Ryan.” Jordan Weissmann in Slate.

CHAIT: Paul Ryan tries to enlist social science to back up his poverty plan. Disaster ensues. “Basically everything in Ryan’s report turns out to be wrong. The Fiscal Times contacts a number of researchers whom Ryan cites, and they all report that Ryan knows nothing of their work….Ryan is very good at marshaling faux scholarship churned out by ideologues in the service of talking points, and at convincing reporters that he is an actual policy wonk. Unfortunately, he seems to have convinced himself and undertaken the ambitious goal of reconciling his policies with the work of real researchers. That was a bad, bad move.” Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

BLOOMBERG VIEW: “Of course, the College Board cannot erase the test-prep industry in one fell swoop….Still, the changes to the SAT — in conjunction with other efforts announced today, including college application fee waivers — are seemingly part of a larger, praiseworthy shift in focus by the College Board from expanding revenue to expanding accessibility….Exactly what an improved standardized test can do to address poverty is the kind of question a reasonably intelligent high school student could tackle in an essay. All the same, the changes are worthwhile. If they can help improve educational equality and increase social mobility even a little bit, well, that is surely worth the loss of a few eccentric vocabulary words.” The Editors.

LOWRY: The Russian reset to nowhere. “In an excoriating rebuke, President Obama says that Russia is on the wrong side of history. That may be a clinching argument in a debate over gay marriage at Wesleyan University, but won’t carry much weight with Vladimir Putin. He thinks he can make history move with lies, thuggery and iron, and the record of human affairs suggests he’s not necessarily wrong — unless he is made to pay a steep price. Putin thinks he’s taken the measure of his adversary. It’s now Obama’s challenge to prove him wrong.” Rich Lowry in POLITICO Magazine.

DIONNE: Crisis in Ukraine? Blame Obama! “Certain political cliches cry out to join the list of the biggest lies in the world. Today’s candidate: Partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. The sentiment was first voiced by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican who became chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1947. Vandenberg was for real, providing enthusiastic support for President Harry Truman’s Cold War policies. But it’s time to admit that the immediate postwar period was a one-off in our history and that in the age of President Obama even Republicans who agree with the president on a given foreign policy question have to disguise the fact with taunts and insults.” E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

LITHWICK: Shame on Senate for voting down Obama civil-rights pick. “Adegbile was not himself a cop-killer. He didn’t help a cop-killer get off and roam free with false claims of innocence. What he did do...was to help ensure that the American criminal justice system, and especially the death penalty, is administered fairly and constitutionally….Once upon a time in America this was called advocating for justice. But in today’s America, it’s deemed a miscarriage of justice. And so the fact that Adegbile has long been one of the most skilled and principled civil rights attorneys in the country is cast by Senate Republicans as a kind of catastrophic public scam.” Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.

Hoping for a cure interlude. Doctors say second baby born with AIDS may be in remission.

2. Big changes coming to the SAT

SAT to drop essay requirement and return to top score of 1600 in redesign of admission test. “The SAT college admission test will no longer require a timed essay, will dwell less on fancy vocabulary and will return to the familiar 1600-point scoring scale in a major overhaul intended to open doors to higher education for students who are now shut out. The second redesign of the SAT in this century — announced Wednesday and scheduled to go into effect when today’s high school freshmen take it in 2016 — aims to strip many of the tricks out of a test currently administered to more than 1.5 million students in every high school graduating class….College Board officials said they want to make the SAT more accessible, straightforward and grounded in what is taught in high school. Experts say SAT scores have long been strongly correlated to family income, a dynamic the College Board hopes to shake up.” Nick Anderson in The Washington Post.

@daveweigel: So they're redoing the SAT and we all have to go back to college smh

The changes may make some aspects of the test harder. “The freshly overhauled SAT test includes a more challenging essay assignment scored on the strength of analysis as well as writing. But the score for it will not be part of the final overall test result. Colleges can choose whether to consider it….In analyzing reading passages in the exam, students must cite specific passages from extracts of well-known writings to support answers, something not necessary in the current version. The new test will include science, history or social studies source documents that students will be required to analyze or draw citations from to support answers.” Gregg Zoroya in USA Today.

Policy twist: Exam changes reflect Common Core standards. “The new exam reflects the sensibilities of Common Core State Standards, the guidelines for what students should be learning in each grade ... as well as those of other states that have made their standards more rigorous. Currently, 46 states have adopted the Common Core, and teachers are already implementing the standards. Some educators have said they think the revamped SAT may encourage Common Core states to continue rolling out the guidelines, despite growing political opposition in some places.” Joy Resmovits in The Huffington Post.

@lukerussert: The SAT is getting easier: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sat-to-drop-essay-requirement-and-return-to-top-score-of-1600-in-redesign-of-admission-test/2014/03/05/2aa9eee4-a46a-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html … to me the SAT is the BCS—highly flawed, rarely fair.

Test yourself: Sample questions from the current SAT. Nick Anderson in The Washington Post.

Explainers:

Key shifts of the SAT redesign

Why the SAT is really changing: It’s facing tough competition from the ACT. Jia Lynn Yang.

The College Board is giving away test prep for free. Why that won’t change much. Jia Lynn Yang.

These four charts show how the SAT favors rich, educated families. Zachary Goldfarb.

Ellen DeGeneres interlude. http://www.buzzfeed.com/lyapalater/heres-ellens-backstage-footage-montage-from-the-oscars

3. Economy feeling the winter blues

Harsh winter weather has chilled hiring. “Some exceptionally harsh winter weather has put a chill on hiring at small businesses the last two months, ending a streak of strong job gains, according to new economic indicators. Nationwide, small companies added a mere 59,000 jobs in February, barely half the totals posted in November and December in the monthly employment reports from payroll processing firm ADP….Medium-size (50-500 employees) and large (500 plus employees) businesses didn’t fare any better last month, adding 35,000 and 44,000 jobs, respectively. That brings the total job growth by private firms to 139,000, up slightly from a newly revised-down 127,000 and well off the pace from the second half of last year, when employers added at least 190,000 positions every month.” J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.

The weather also hurt growth in the services sector. “In a separate report, the Institute for Supply Management said its services sector index fell to 51.6 last month, the weakest reading since February 2010, from 54 in January. It blamed bad weather for the moderation in activity. Still, February marked the 50th month in a row the index was above 50, the level that separates expansion and contraction.” Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.

Newly sworn-in Yellen says economy falling short of goals. “Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the Fed has more to do to reach its goals for inflation and unemployment, and to repair damage from the financial crisis….The Fed, in its Beige Book review of regional conditions, said today the economy in most districts grew last month even as harsh winter weather impeded hiring, disrupted supply chains, and kept customers away from stores and auto dealerships. Yellen and her policy-making colleagues are trying to determine whether recent economic weakness stems from weather or fundamental obstacles to growth.” Joshua Zumbrun and Steve Matthews in Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, Obama pushes minimum-wage hike in Connecticut. “A day after unveiling a budget that stands little chance of passing Congress, President Barack Obama traveled to Connecticut on Wednesday to campaign for another proposal that has been dismissed by Republicans: raising the minimum wage. Obama and his fellow Democrats are fighting to keep control of the Senate in November midterm elections, and are promoting populist measures that poll well, like raising the minimum wage, seeking to set themselves apart from Republicans.” Roberta Rampton in Reuters.

@SabrinaSiddiqui: Reid still pushing for unemployment insurance: "We need one more Republican vote."

Where is the GOP’s economic plan? “It’s the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the job market is still sluggish, most Americans say they’re unhappy with the economy, and Obama’s approval ratings are down. So what’s the Republican plan to turn it around? The answer is, they don’t all think they need one and those who do can’t agree on a unified view. But some prominent Republicans are warning their compatriots that they need to get their act together — because just running against the Obama record isn’t going to be enough.” David Nather in Politico.

Bird’s-beak view interlude: Pelican learns to fly with camera attached to beak.

4. U.S. action on Ukraine picks up steam

U.S., allies slowly put the squeeze on Russia. "The United States and its European allies incrementally tightened the noose of their disapproval around Russia on Wednesday, agreeing to send more money to Ukraine, dispatching international observers and more U.S. aircraft to the region, and edging closer to direct sanctions against Moscow. Secretary of State John F. Kerry held his first direct meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, since street protests in the Ukrainian capital turned deadly last month and led to the ouster of Kiev’s pro-Russia government. No progress was reported after the session, held at the home of Russia’s ambassador to France, but Kerry and Lavrov agreed to keep talking." Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung in The Washington Post.

House GOP leaders want to move quickly on aid package to Ukraine. “House Republicans plan to move quickly — and apparently with no concern for the price tag — to approve a loan guarantee program for the new Ukrainian government...which is seeking to stave off recent advances by the Russian military at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin….Senior House and Senate lawmakers have spent the past several days working on details of the loan guarantee program. It remains unclear which chamber will act first, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve the measure next week. In advance of congressional approval, Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday and announced plans for the $1 billion aid package during meetings with Ukrainian officials.” Ed O’Keefe in The Washington Post.

Wyden, Lew vow to ‘economically, politically’ isolate Russia. “New Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said his panel is looking down many economic avenues to convince Russia to step back from its move into Crimea….Wyden said the members of his panel have zeroed in on trade, and the first step in the process is ensuring Russia's World Trade Organization agreements are fully enforced, ‘which they aren't now.’ He asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew how the Obama administration could ‘best marshal this country’s economic might in defense of the people of Ukraine.’ Lew told the committee that, ‘at this time, we are looking into a wide range of options, including sanctions and ways to increase Russia’s political and economic isolation.’" Vicki Needham in The Hill.

Pressure on Hill builds for gas exports to counter Putin. “Momentum is building in Congress to wield the United States’ vast natural gas resources to break Vladimir Putin’s energy stranglehold over Ukraine — although some lawmakers acknowledged their efforts would have no immediate impact on the crisis in Crimea.” Darren Goode and Matt Daily in Politico.

Hillary Clinton compares Russia moves to Nazi aggression. “Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday, comparing Russia’s decision to issue passports in the Crimean region to the ‘population transfers’ carried out by Nazi Germany before World War II.” Ruby Cramer in BuzzFeed.

Clinton defends her comment: “‘What I said yesterday is that the claims by [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea, maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect Russian minorities, that is reminiscent of claims made back in the 1930s,’ said Clinton, a possible 2016 Democratic presidential contender, in a question-and-answer session after her speech. ‘When Germany was under the Nazis, they kept talking about how to protect the German minority in Poland, in Czechoslovakia.’” Katie Glueck in Politico.

@KevinMaddenDC: Hillary Clinton clumsily tries to triangulate against President Obama

'I quit' interlude: Anchor for Kremlin-funded news station RT calls it quits on the air.

5. Senate blocks Obama DOJ civil-rights nominee

7 Democrats defect to help GOP sink Obama’s civil rights pick. "Seven Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s pick of Debo P. Adegbile to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division amid a controversy over his legal defense of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal….It’s the first presidential pick to be blocked since Democrats changed the Senate’s rules via the ‘nuclear option’ to block filibusters of nominees.” Humberto Sanchez and Steven Dennis in Roll Call.

@ThePlumLineGS: Reminder: Two red state Dems up in 2014 voted FOR Adegbile: Hagan and Landrieu.

Obama: Defeat of Adegbile nomination is a ‘travesty.’ “President Obama strongly denounced the Senate on Wednesday for failing to confirm a top nominee to the Justice Department. In a statement released by the White House, Obama said Debo Adegbile's defeat is a ‘travesty’ and is based on unfair attacks….Obama said the main attack used against Adegbile — Republicans denounced his work on behalf of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal — ‘runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice.’” Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@chadpergram: Harkin says the vote to block Adegbile was one of the lowest points he's ever seen in the US Senate.

Breakfast burrito interlude: Chipotle’s guacamole isn’t going anywhere for now.

Wonkblog roundup

Why the SAT is really changing: It’s facing tough competition from the ACT. Jia Lynn Yang.

The College Board is giving away test prep for free. Why that won’t change much. Jia Lynn Yang.

These four charts show how the SAT favors rich, educated families. Zachary Goldfarb.

Don’t panic. Chipotle’s guacamole isn’t going anywhere (for now). Amrita Jayakumar.

Why a boost in pickup truck sales means the housing market is in for good news. Yian Mui.

If you refinanced your mortgage, you’re probably not going to want to sell your house. Dina El Boghdady.

Why Obama wants to freeze a program turning weapons-grade plutonium into fuel. Steven Mufson.

Obama wants to invest in the economy. So why does he celebrate spending cuts? Zachary Goldfarb.

Why all that time texting is good for your kids. A Q&A with author Danah Boyd. Cecilia Kang.

How corporate America is losing the debate on taxes. Jia Lynn Yang.

Et Cetera

Biggest winners and losers in the Obama budget. Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

E-cigarettes, going by different name, help lure the young. Matt Richtel in The New York Times.

Mars flyby proposal has fans on Capitol Hill. Jeff Foust in National Geographic.

Keystone XL review contractor defends its independence. Ben Geman in National Journal.

Senate set to vote on military sexual assault bill. The Associated Press.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Jia Lynn Yang · March 5, 2014