Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about what happened at CPAC

March 10

Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara. 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.


(Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 260. That's the number of complaints that federal auto safety regulators received about a defect in General Motors vehicles without acting.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Millennials are becoming both more liberal and more independent of institutions.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) At CPAC, libertarians muscle up as GOP soul-searches; (2) Ukraine crisis hits closer to U.S.; (3) parties plot out Obamacare strategies; (4) solid jobs report as Fed mulls next moves; and (5) safety regulators face heat over GM recall.

1. Top story: At CPAC, libertarian wing flexes more muscle as GOP soul-searching continues

As CPAC ends, rival Republican factions remain adamant in opposition. "The annual Conservative Political Action Conference came to a raucous and buoyant end Saturday as thousands of tea party activists cheered on former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who closed the gathering with a full-throated denunciation of President Obama and urged conservatives to embrace their views more fiercely than ever. But over the course of its three days, the event put on display how factions within the Republican Party are still struggling to find a path out of the wilderness, illuminating the gap between the GOP’s resolutely conservative grass-roots and a party leadership eager for a more moderate approach." Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Social conservatives still had their say. But even they started sounding a bit like libertarians. "Friday's Conservative Political Action Conference agenda looked like it was going to be dominated by social conservatives after the confab steered clear of the hot-button issues the day before. But, it turns out even social conservatives are sounding a bit like libertarians these days within the GOP." Cameron Joseph in The Hill.

Video: Highlights from CPAC. The Washington Post.

Video: Both sides of same-sex marriage come out to CPAC.The Washington Post.

Immigration hardliners: No room for us at CPAC. "Conservative foes to immigration reform say leaders of the Conservative Political Action Committee have found a way to solve internal friction over the issue: ignore them. While immigration remains one of the most divisive issues among conservatives, there was little sign of the divide inside the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor. But below the surface it was another story." Jackie Kucinich in The Washington Post.

Many CPAC attendees say decriminalize marijuana. "Although there were a few naysayers, most responses were consistent with the growing national support for decriminalizing marijuana. Some people said that legalization would mean locking up fewer people for a non-violent crime. Others cited the revenue boost that would likely come from taxing the drug." Sabrina Siddiqui in The Huffington Post.

Context: The GOP's marijuana quandary. "In recent years, American public opinion has shifted rapidly in favor of legalizing marijuana....The shift has powered a wave of political victories for marijuana advocates, from the 20 states where medical marijuana is now legal to the unprecedented ballot measures legalizing the drug in Colorado and Washington in 2012. Three more states expect to put pot to a popular vote this year....What opposition remains is concentrated among Republicans. According to Gallup, only about a third of Democrats and independents now oppose legalization, compared to nearly two-thirds of Republicans. Opponents of legalization are also disproportionately elderly. The situation closely parallels the party's predicament on gay marriage, which most Republicans still oppose even as widening majorities of the broader public support it. It adds up to a quandary for the GOP: Should it embrace the unpopular position still disproportionately favored by its members and risk marginalization as a result? Or will the burgeoning conservative voices in favor of legalization win out? Simply put, do Republicans want to be on the losing side of yet another culture war?" Molly Ball in The Atlantic.

Another reason this matters: The GOP also has a young people problem. "A new study by the Pew Research Center on millennials — defined as those between the ages of 18 and 33 — suggests that Republicans will have another major demographic issue on their hands in future elections: Young people are more liberal and are more inclined to support Democrats than the generations that have come before them. The findings suggest that millennials’ attraction to Democratic and liberal policies extends beyond the candidacy (and presidency) of Barack Obama....Those numbers are daunting for Republicans but not determinative. After all, the party is on the verge of a major fight for its future direction — the 2016 presidential race, anyone? — and already there are voices within the GOP crafting a message that, given the Pew findings, could be more appealing to millennials than what Republicans have put forward in recent years. Take Sen. Rand Paul’s speech at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference. It was heavy on libertarian themes and suffused with a distrust of government....That’s a message millennials will respond to — whether it’s delivered by a Democrat or a Republican." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Read: Pew's "Millennials in Adulthood" survey results.

The most important moment at CPAC that no one noticed. "The most important moment as it relates to the future of the Republican party didn't come in a speech from a big name Republican thinking about running for president in 2016. It came on a panel about criminal justice reform. While it was sandwiched between several other, better attended sessions, the discussion of Republican progress on reforming the broken criminal justice system — a discussion that included Perry as well as anti-tax activist Grover Norquist — laid out a future-looking policy pathway for a party that desperately needs them." Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.

Republicans audition for 2016 at CPAC. "Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Paul were among the 'potentials' who came to test the waters. Though CPAC draws right-wingers of all stripes, from Oliver North to Santorum to a guy on stilts in a Ronald Reagan costume, it is increasingly dominated by libertarians, a combined result of their passionate engagement in movement politics and the discount rates the conference offers to college students. That makes it, for Paul, something of a hometown crowd." Molly Ball in The Atlantic.

Rand Paul wins second consecutive CPAC straw poll. "One day after riveting a packed convention ballroom, tea party darling Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) topped the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, his second consecutive victory in the conservative confab's contest. Paul won 31 percent of the vote (compared with the 25 percent he won last year), beating a crowded field of more than two dozen names, including a number of potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders. He crushed second-place finisher Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who came in with 11 percent. Rounding out of the top finishers in the poll, which was voted on by 2,459 CPAC attendees, were former neurosurgen Ben Carson (9 percent) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (8 percent)." Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.

But does it matter? @aseitzwald: "There hasn't been a CPAC straw poll this important since 2013."

Where CPAC attendees Ted Cruz and Rand Paul disagree — and what it means for 2016. "Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are two of the tea party's biggest heroes. They're often lumped together as leaders of a stridently conservative movement that is regularly at odds with the GOP establishment. But not all tea party rock stars are created equal....Cruz does not feel like he is aligned with Paul on foreign policy. He made that point in no uncertain terms....Paul is well-known for his libertarian-leaning views on foreign policy and national security. But Cruz has made clear that's not where he comes down....Both Paul and Cruz are possible 2016 presidential candidates, which raises the question: What do these difference mean for [2016]? The answer is they are more evidence the primary will probably be a complicated race in which it will be hard to put the candidates into any one box." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

DIONNE: Are conservatives really interested in new ideas? "One way to look at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference is as a face-off between the 'No Surrender' cries of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the 'Let’s Try to Win' rhetoric of such politicians as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Seen in this light, Republicans truly are having the internal debate that Ryan called 'messy,' 'noisy' and 'a little bit uncomfortable.' But Ryan may have revealed more than he intended when he downplayed conservative divisions. 'For the most part,' Ryan insisted, 'these disagreements have not been over principles or even policies. They’ve been over tactics.' In which case, this is not an argument over ideas at all, but a discussion of packaging." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

DOUTHAT: Four factions, no favorites. "Thanks to a few strategically placed traffic cones, there is no front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination in 2016, which means that more prominent Republicans than usual are dreaming the presidential dream. Quite a few of them brought those dreams to the just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference, jostling for the attention of activists, chasing cameras or being chased by them, trading compliments and subtle digs. A few, like the still-in-damage-control Chris Christie, were just there to pay their respects. But most were trying to ace CPAC’s big audition, and prove that they could play the One True Conservative in the 2016 race. The question is whether that role will actually exist. We’re accustomed to a narrative of Republican politics that pits the Tea Party against the establishment, the right against the center right. But that has always been an oversimplification....A better framework is suggested by Henry Olsen, writing in The National Interest, who argues that Republican presidential campaigns are usually defined by four factions rather than two." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

CHAIT: New report shows how young liberals own the future of U.S. politics. "There are a few familiar, important caveats. First, Republicans are facing a midterm election they’re going to win — not only because the young tend not to vote in midterms, but also because the president’s party tends to lose midterms in general, the House map structurally favors the GOP, and this year’s Senate elections are held on overwhelmingly friendly turf for the GOP. Second, in any given election, a party can do well even if the broader structural factors are working against it. The 1970s were a terrible decade for Democrats, but Watergate helped them with the 1974 and 1976 elections. A recession or major scandal in 2016 would probably hand the election to Republicans. But the overall picture is an electorate that is growing steadily more liberal on both social and economic policy, and whose views Republicans will eventually have to accommodate. I, for one, welcome our new liberal overlords." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: Liberty, equality, efficiency. "Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book...arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P. But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Obama’s risky transportation plan. "Even though both parties would prefer to stop legislating until Election Day, reality will intercede here and there. One case in point: The country needs to pay for its roads, rails, bridges and ports, but transportation funding is again approaching a crisis point....The president is right to push for more infrastructure spending and to stretch it out for several years. And maybe Congress is more likely to approve some sort of corporate tax reform than it is to raise the gas tax, though that’s debatable. But raising the tax is far better policy. The president ought at least to have the intellectual honesty to say so." Editorial Board.

BUCHANAN: Where's economics when we need it? "Economics aims to figure out what makes people better off and how we can have more of it. Given the number of excellent minds dedicated to this end, it's surprising how little of what they produce is actually of use to policy makers....Macroeconomics, concerned as it is with the well-being of people, should be one of the most practically important areas of all. So are the top journals in macroeconomics publishing useful work? Judging from a recent conference that included regulators from the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the answer is not encouraging: Six years after a financial crisis that exposed fundamental flaws in the dominant economic theories and models, the profession has made little to no progress in correcting itself." Mark Buchanan in Bloomberg View.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: American natural gas for Europe. "President Obama can serve U.S. strategic and economic interests by immediately approving every request to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal. Not every one will be built but the market will quickly decide which make economic sense. With Europe begging and Republicans in Congress encouraging, what is the White House waiting for?" Editorial Board.

LUFT: Don't send natural gas to Ukraine. "Even without the newly concocted geopolitical rationale for exports, though, Washington seems favorably disposed to permitting much of America’s surplus gas to migrate overseas. Since the beginning of the shale gas revolution, which kicked off in 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy has approved six LNG export terminals with a combined export capacity of 8.5 billion cubic feet a day, and more projects are in the works. But before we put more of our gas in the service of our foreign policy, be it saving Europe from Russia’s claws or Asia from its toxic air, we should ask ourselves one question: Why aren’t we using more gas in our cars and trucks?" Gal Luft in Politico Magazine

MULLAINATHAN: A top-heavy focus on income inequality. "I worry about growing income inequality. But I worry even more that the discussion is too narrowly focused. I worry that our outrage at the top 1 percent is distracting us from the problem that we should really care about: how to create opportunities and ensure a reasonable standard of living for the bottom 20 percent." Sendhil Mullainathan in The New York Times.

CPAC interlude: CPAC cosplay.

2. Ukraine crisis hits closer to home.

White House invites Ukrainian leader to visit as Russian forces cement grip on Crimea. "The head of Ukraine’s new pro-Western government will meet with President Obama this week, the White House announced Sunday, as a defiant Russia took further steps to consolidate its hold on the Crimean Peninsula. The announcement of Wednesday’s meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk came as pro-Russian forces extended their reach in Crimea, surrounding a border post in the far west and blocking Ukrainian TV broadcasts to the heavily-Russian-speaking region, which lies more than 400 miles southeast of the Ukrainian capital. There were reports of more troop movements into Crimea, with officials in Kiev estimating that 18,000 pro-Russian forces had fanned out across the region, which is about the size of Massachusetts." Anthony Faiola and Carol Morello in The Washington Post.

As talk of sanctions on Russia heats up, business groups draw cautionary line. "Business groups are pushing to ensure that any economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States are joined by as much of the rest of the world as possible, warning Congress and the Obama administration that unilateral U.S. action would put tens of billions of dollars of American investment and trade at risk of retaliation. Company officials say they are caught between fast-moving U.S. foreign policy and their interests in a market many have been courting — both in the key energy sector and beyond....The response from business groups comes as administration officials and lawmakers consider what, if any, economic levers to use to try to reverse Russia’s move last week into Ukraine. The White House took an initial step Thursday, freezing assets and denying visas to some Russian officials, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a nonbinding resolution that condemns Russia’s intervention and calls for sanctions on senior Russian Federation officials, state-owned banks and other state agencies. The resolution also calls on the United States to promote increased natural gas exports to Ukraine." Howard Schneider and Holly Yeager in The Washington Post.

Regarding those natural gas exports... "Four Central European nations are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine. Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic made their appeal Friday in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. A similar letter was expected to be sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev." Josh Lederman in The Associated Press.

Explainer: Boehner’s plan to save Ukraine: It’s full of gas. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

But Moscow threatens to retaliate over sanctions by halting weapons inspections. "Russia is considering a freeze of U.S. military inspections under arms control treaties in retaliation to Washington's decision to halt military cooperation with Russia, news reports said Saturday.Russian news agencies carried a statement by an unidentified Defense Ministry official saying that Moscow sees the U.S. move as a reason to suspend U.S. inspections in Russia in line with the 2010 New START treaty on cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and the 2011 Vienna agreement that envisages mutual inspections of Russian and NATO military facilities as part of confidence-building measures." The Associated Press.

Point: Is US losing new cold war? "If there is a new cold war with Russia, many observers believe the U.S. is losing it. First under President George W. Bush and now under President Obama, the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have engaged in a series of foreign policy battles — and Putin has repeatedly got his way....Lawmakers and experts across the political sphere warn that if the Obama administration and its western allies are not effective in dealing with Putin this time, it could have serious consequences going forward. And the dangers go beyond Putin." Kristina Wong and Jeremy Herb in The Hill.

Counterpoint: There is no new cold war. "Grim as the headlines from Ukraine are, the feeling in the capital is nothing like the cold fear that gripped Washington when children were taught to “duck and cover” and to know the locations of fallout shelters whose ominous black and yellow logos still dot some federal buildings around town." Todd S. Purdum in Politico.

Republicans use Sunday shows to hit Obama on Crimea. "Republicans on Sunday continued leveling harsh criticism at President Barack Obama over the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), speaking on Fox News Sunday, said Mr. Obama 'hasn’t projected enough strength and hasn’t shown a priority to the national defense. That is something that, were I in charge, I would.'... Former Vice President Dick Cheney, though, said Mr. Obama shouldn’t rule out all military options. He said there’s 'no question' Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Mr. Obama as weak....The White House pushed back Sunday against the idea Mr. Putin sees weakness in Mr. Obama." Ben Leubsdorf in The Wall Street Journal.

And 3 potential 2016 hopefuls — Ryan, Cruz and Paul — squared off over Ukraine. "Three Republicans said to be considering presidential runs tried to distinguish themselves on Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, previewing their approaches to foreign policy in television appearances on Sunday." Emmarie Huetteman in The New York Times.

Quote compilation: More from the Sunday shows on Ukraine. Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

'Cosmos' interlude: Stunning image of a nebula.

3. As Obamacare changes add up, parties draw lines in sand.

Slew of changes to health-care law creates more confusion for consumers. "As the deadline approaches for most Americans to obtain health insurance, a flurry of changes by the Obama administration has led to a frenzied effort among employers, insurance companies, politicians and consumers to try and understand what they might mean. The latest batch of adjustments came Wednesday, when the administration disclosed that it was delaying, once again, the deadline for people with old private health plans to buy beefed-up versions required under the health-care law. The cancellations of the old plans have been politically damaging for Democrats and the White House, because President Obama had vowed that the law would not prevent people from keeping insurance plans that they liked." Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Republicans press Medicare attack in congressional elections. "Republicans, looking for ways to turn November's congressional elections into a referendum on President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, are trying to portray Obamacare as a danger to Medicare. The aim is to court one of the biggest and most reliable voting blocs in midterm elections, senior citizens and people near retirement, by depicting Republicans as defenders of the federal healthcare program for 42 million seniors. It's an attempt to turn the tables on Democrats, who in the 2012 presidential election attacked Republican Mitt Romney over Republican proposals to overhaul Medicare....The strategy faces an early test in Tuesday's special U.S. House election in Florida, where analysts say Republican David Jolly and his allies are using Medicare in an 11th-hour effort to create an Obamacare liability for Democrat Alex Sink among older residents who make up 45 percent of the local population." David Morgan in Reuters.

Democrats see opening with Medicaid expansion. "States run by Republican governors and legislatures are slowly adopting the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, boosting Democratic hopes they can run on the issue in the midterm elections....Democrats have seen a number of states embrace the Medicaid expansion, including a number run by Republican governors, including Chris Christie (N.J.), Susanna Martinez (N.M.), Brian Sandoval (Nev.) and Jan Brewer (Az.). In total, 25 states and the District of Columbia have said they will either expand Medicaid outright or work with the administration to design a more politically-palatable workaround. An additional five states — Utah, Missouri, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Pennsylvania — are considering some sort of expansion, and a sixth, Virginia, is reconsidering its initial rejection now that a Democratic governor has been elected. Every incremental gain in the push to expand Medicaid is cheered by Democrats, who view the state-level victories as furthering the primary goal of ObamaCare, which is to extend coverage to as many of the uninsured as possible." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

Inmates getting care under Medicaid expansion. "In a little-noticed outcome of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, jails and prisons around the country are beginning to sign up inmates for health insurance under the law, taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid that allows states to extend coverage to single and childless adults — a major part of the prison population. State and counties are enrolling inmates for two main reasons. Although Medicaid does not cover standard health care for inmates, it can pay for their hospital stays beyond 24 hours — meaning states can transfer millions of dollars of obligations to the federal government. But the most important benefit of the program, corrections officials say, is that inmates who are enrolled in Medicaid while in jail or prison can have coverage after they get out." Erica Goode in The New York Times.

Analysis: Individual mandate penalty will usually exceed $95 minimum. "Under current law, people who are able to buy a plan but don't will be fined up to 1 percent of their income, or a minimum of $95. From there, the penalty grows to $325 or 2 percent in 2015, and $695 or 2.5 percent in 2016. But according to an ACA Tax Penalty Calculator developed by The Tax Policy Center and The Urban Institute, the penalty for most people who decide against purchasing insurance will be more than $95. For instance, a single person with no dependents will only pay $95 if they make $19,000 a year or less. That fee jumps to $200 if they make $30,000, and $300 if they make $40,000. For families, the penalty is considerably larger." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

Guess who was back at SXSW interludeAmerica's favorite celebrity cat.

4. What February's better-than-expected jobs report tells us about the Fed's next moves.

Recap: Economy adds 175,000 jobs in February. "The U.S. economy added a solid 175,000 jobs in February, despite harsh winter weather that many analysts expected would curtail hiring, according to government data released Friday morning. The report from the Labor Department showed the job market has steadily improved since hiring plunged at the end of last year. On Friday, the government actually increased its estimate for job creation in December and January. But the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7 percent last month as more people entered the labor force to look for jobs. The number of long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for six months or more — rose by 203,000 to 3.8 million." Ylan Mui in The Washington Post.

Explainer: The February jobs report debunked the weather blame game. Ylan Mui in The Washington Post.

McARDLE: Still, the jobs numbers aren't that great. "They're not bad — 175,000 jobs were added, mostly in business and professional services and durable-goods wholesalers....On the other hand, these numbers aren't good, either. Because the economy needs to add somewhere in the range of 100,000 jobs a month just to accommodate population growth, 175,000 still leaves us very far from the level needed to absorb America's vast reserve army of the unemployed....Numbers like this give credence to any number of depressing theories about permanently depressed labor-force participation — and the permanently lower gross domestic product that comes with it. Our economy, like us, seems to be getting sleepy." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

MATTHEW KLEIN: Why the Fed can ease up on the gas and raise interest rates. "Growth in average hourly pay continues to accelerate, another piece of evidence that the time may be right for the Federal Reserve to begin raising interest rates....If wages were the only thing going up, it wouldn't justify a re-evaluation of the Fed's stance....But the growth in wages isn't happening in isolation. Economists at the San Francisco Fed estimate that the 'natural rate' of unemployment is around 6.6 percent. We are now at 6.7 percent....The U.S. economy can afford a monetary policy that isn't so loose. Today's jobs numbers back that up." Matthew C. Klein in Bloomberg View.

WEISSMANN: Or, the jobless rate's rise will make the Fed back off. "Why celebrate a rising jobless rate? Because it gives the Federal Reserve an excuse to lean back and let the economy keep gathering steam without worrying too much about inflation. Back in 2012, the Fed promised not to raise interest rates from zero at least until the jobless rate hit 6.5 percent. We’ve gotten close to that magic number, even though very few people are really feeling great about the state of the jobs landscape....As the unemployment rate falls, pressure is going to build on the Fed to raise interest rates. So in the best of all possible worlds, the economy might keep producing more jobs for the near future, with enough Americans coming back into the labor force to keep unemployment up and our monetary policymakers at bay." Jordan Weissmann in Slate.

Explainer: This is why the Fed should start worrying about inflation again. Ylan Mui in The Washington Post.

APPELBAUM: But Fed unlikely to change rate at which it tapers bond purchases. "The February jobs report doesn’t change the strong likelihood that the Federal Reserve will cut monthly bond purchases by another $10 billion later this month. The numbers were decent. The economy shook off the snow and added jobs. Fed officials won’t be concerned that the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7 percent. Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that tapering is on a schedule that Fed officials are not going to change unless they absolutely must....Officials want to finish buying bonds well before they need to start raising interest rates....As the unemployment rate continues to fall, they’re getting antsy." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

U.S. trade deficit rose slightly in January. "The U.S. trade deficit widened slightly in January as a rise in imports of oil and other foreign goods offset a solid increase in exports. The trade deficit increased to $39.1 billion, up 0.3 percent from December’s revised $39 billion deficit, the Commerce Department reported Friday."  Associated Press

Surfing animals interlude: Yup. Cowabunga.

5. Auto-safety agency criticized for delaying action on GM recall.

Former head of NHTSA wants probe. "A former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking for a probe of why NHTSA knew as early as 2007 about a potentially fatal problem with General Motors ignition switches, but didn't demand a recall. Now a safety activist, Joan Claybrook says the safety agency 'failed to carry out the law' when it didn't force GM to fix the problem back then. GM recalled 1.37 million cars in the U.S. last month because faulty ignition switches can shut off power to the front airbags. GM says it knows of 31 crashes and 13 deaths linked to the fault." James R. Healey in USA Today.

A member of the Senate also puts pressure on NHTSA. "A Massachusetts senator urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to improve disclosure of safety-related defects, while two safety advocates urged the Transportation Department to review the agency’s handling of reports of ignition switch problems in older Chevrolet Cobalt and other General Motors Co. vehicles." David Shepardson in The Detroit News.

Auto regulators dismissed complaints about defect. "Federal safety regulators received more than 260 complaints over the last 11 years about General Motors vehicles that suddenly turned off while being driven, but they declined to investigate the problem, which G.M. now says is linked to 13 deaths and requires the recall of more than 1.6 million cars worldwide. A New York Times analysis of consumer complaints submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that since February 2003 it received an average of two complaints a month about potentially dangerous shutdowns, but it repeatedly responded that there was not enough evidence of a problem to warrant a safety investigation." Hilary Stout, Danielle Ivory and Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Now comes the hard part for GM: The repairs. "The process, particularly for older vehicles like the ones G.M. is recalling, is time-consuming and requires many steps, from designing the new parts, testing them to make sure they solve the problem, finding and informing owners, and actually completing the repairs. It will not be until early April, G.M. said, that the repairs will begin." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Daylight saving time interlude: Daylight saving time explained.

Wonkblog roundup

This is what a job in the U.S.’ new manufacturing industry looks like. Lydia DePillis.

How Bank of America is killing the paper check. Danielle Douglas.

Boehner’s plan to save Ukraine: It’s full of gas. Steven Mufson.

CMS awarded $58M to Healthcare.gov firm it already fired. Jason Millman.

Home equity is rising, but don’t get too excited about it. Dina Elboghdady.

Will states go along with the latest Obamacare fix? Jason Millman.

The February jobs report debunked the weather blame game. Ylan Mui.

Et Cetera

Your utility bill is going up (and there's nothing you can do about it). Fawn Johnson in National Journal.

Polar vortex emboldens industry to push old coal plants. Mark Chediak and Harry R. Weber in Bloomberg News.

Edward Snowden still stirring the political pot. Darren Samuelsohn in Politico.

Big business takes on the tea party, gently. Anna Palmer in Politico.

Oceans of trouble for U.S. taxpayers. Beth Daley in New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

11 key questions on standardized testing for Congress to answer. Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Lydia DePillis · March 9