Wonkbook: How the crisis in Ukraine is shaking up Obama’s trip to Europe

March 24

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.


(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 4. That's the age of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which President Obama signed into law yesterday in 2010.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Living paycheck to paycheck: It's not just for the poor.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Not just any trip to Europe; (2) happy birthday, Obamacare; (3) contraception mandate heads to court; (4) progress in CIA-Senate spat?; and (5) Fed meeting fallout.

1. Top story: Obama's trip to Europe has Ukraine written all over it

Obama and allies seek firm, united response to Russia as it grips Crimea. "As Russia consolidated its hold on Crimea, raising its flag over seized military bases and detaining ousted Ukrainian commanders on Sunday, President Obama and his international allies prepared to meet here in an effort to develop a strong, united response despite their diverging interests in dealing with the Kremlin. After Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the lightning annexation of the peninsula by President Vladimir V. Putin last week, Mr. Obama’s decision to convene the leaders of several European countries, along with Canada and Japan, brought the nations — once again the Group of 7, without Russia — together for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine upended the stability and security of Europe." Michael D. Shear, Alison Smale and David M. Herszenhorn in The New York Times.

The Ukraine crisis is sure to overshadow the original purposes of the trip. "The Russian president will be the topic of most of the conversations of the 53 world leaders who will be in the Netherlands on Monday and Tuesday....But when he arrives in Europe, Obama will find most of those allies anxious and many of those partners angry....Many European leaders had planned to use these meetings to vent their unhappiness with American surveillance of their private conversations as well as their frustration over a global economic slowdown in its fifth year. Now, however, the Russian threat to Ukraine has forced EU leaders to mute that anger and focus on the current crisis gripping the continent....In fact, that situation overshadows everything Obama plans this week." George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal.

Another reason for trepidation from Europe: U.S. sanctions may hurt the European economy. "The upgraded U.S. sanctions don’t currently prevent European companies from doing business with Russian banks and firms. But they raise the risk for European firms doing business with Russia. The administration has warned that further sanctions are possible. And if previous sanctions efforts such as those against Iran are any guide, European firms could be roped in by Washington to increase the political pressure on the Kremlin. Given Europe’s reliance on Russia’s energy exports, much analysis of the crisis has rightly focused on the potential economic damage from a shut-off in fuel supplies by Moscow. Europe has other economic vulnerabilities, however. That’s particularly a problem as the region tries to claw its way out of a two-year recession." Ian Talley in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: What are those sanctions really doing? James M. Lindsay in CNN.

The sanctions also may be sending Russia toward recession. "Western sanctions are pushing Russia toward recession and the pain could intensify if U.S. and European leaders turn the screw over tensions in Ukraine. Banks including state-run VTB Capital say the world’s ninth-biggest economy will shrink for at least two quarters as penalties for annexing Crimea rattle markets, curb investment and raise the cost of borrowing. Sanctions that have so far focused on individuals via visa bans and asset freezes may be expanded to target specific areas of the economy." Andra Timu, Henry Meyer and Olga Tanas in Bloomberg.

What will the Ukraine crisis mean for nuclear disarmament? "So far, nuclear experts said, Washington and Moscow have been successful in insulating their cooperation over nuclear issues from the tension over Ukraine. On the same day that Obama announced sanctions on Putin's allies and advisors, a team of Russian officials arrived in San Francisco on a surprise inspection of the US nuclear arsenal — a visit made possible by clauses aimed at increasing mutual transparency and trust in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) the two countries signed in 2010, setting a ceiling of 1,550 for the number of strategic warheads each country can deploy. However, advocates of nuclear disarmament say the new freeze in US-Russian relations was likely to torpedo any hopes that they had of persuading Washington and its Nato allies to withdraw the last US nuclear weapons on European soil, an estimated 150-200 B61 gravity bombs deployed in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Turkey." Julian Borger in The Guardian.

U.S. lawmakers want more sanctions, and military aid — but no boots on ground. "A congressional delegation visiting Kiev said Sunday that Ukrainian officials were deeply concerned by a Russian troop buildup, worried that an unpredictable President Vladimir Putin could make a foray into eastern Ukraine, and determined to fight back if he did. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said the United States intends to warn Putin off by providing more help for Ukraine and promising Russia deeper financial pain if it refuses to back off its threatening stance. 'We can provide military assistance, small arms, communication equipment, fuel,' Ayotte said at a news conference....Ayotte said that she supported the sanctions President Obama imposed on Putin’s inner circle last week and that they should now be ratcheted up, aimed at broad swaths of the Russian economy." Kathy Lally in The Washington Post.

White House: Russian troops may invade Ukraine. "Speaking after Nato's top commander in Europe voiced alarm about the size and preparedness of the Russian troop buildup, President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, said President Vladimir Putin may indeed be readying further action....General Philip Breedlove, Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe, said earlier on Sunday that the Russian military force gathered near the Ukrainian border was 'very, very sizeable and very, very ready' and could even pose a threat to Moldova, on the other side of the country. Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine's acting foreign minister, said the chances of all-out war between his government and Moscow 'are growing'." Jon Swaine in The Guardian.

Quotable: "Russian President Vladimir Putin will seize even more territory if the United States isn’t 'a little bit tougher' on him, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said Sunday. “He goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin,” the Michigan Republican said of Putin on NBC’s 'Meet the Press.'" Eric Bradner in Politico.

Long read: Obama's aim to shift foreign policy runs up against old Cold War rival." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

ALBRIGHT AND O'BRIEN: A plan of action for addressing Putin's adventurism. "When President Obama and European allies meet next week, they can begin forming a meaningful response to Vladi­mir Putin’s adventurism. This new strategy should note that Putin’s view of the world is rooted in dangerous fictions. Drawing on this package of fictions, Putin has resorted to military power and propaganda — his available tools — and has acted in a place where a majority of the population is Russian and where he thinks manipulating ethnic tensions might work. His lies cannot be allowed to stand. If his doctrine of 'helping' minorities that are not in danger were endorsed, the world would become much more dangerous. Only a firm response has a chance of preventing this scenario from being repeated." Madeleine Albright and Jim O'Brien in The Washington Post.

BROWER: How to lose an energy war to Putin. "If the West wanted to punish President Vladimir Putin for his land grab in Crimea, runs the argument, it should target the energy revenues that keep his petro-economy afloat. In the short term, though, the West can’t devastate Russia’s energy sector ... without damaging itself. A longer-term option could involve efforts to deflate real oil and gas prices gradually, either by reducing growth in energy consumption or boosting supply. But that has made strategic and economic sense for decades and not much has changed. It’s hard to see Russia’s annexation of Crimea being the trigger for a fundamental shift in the global energy business....If the West really wants to use energy to beat Russia, there are some options — but they won’t hurt the Kremlin now or do anything to change the dynamic in Ukraine, and some of them involve more cooperation with Russia, not less." Derek Brower in Politico Magazine.

HIATT: Will Obama rethink global strategy? "Obama has responded sensibly with sanctions aimed at Putin’s inner circle and promises to bolster Ukraine. You can argue whether he has calibrated exactly right, but he has appropriately engaged with and led the United States’ European partners. But these are early steps — and they are also only tactical steps. As the administration refashions its policy toward a changed Europe, will it reexamine its broader strategy, too? Will Obama question his confidence that the United States can safely pull back from the world? ... Tempting as it may be, the United States doesn’t get to choose between nation-building at home and leadership abroad; it has to do both. With almost three years left in his presidency, it’s not too late for Obama to change course." Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post.

McMANUS: How would a Republican president respond on Ukraine? "The president's careful response and unwillingness to consider military intervention has met with general support from other Democrats. But Republicans have been sharply critical....The sniping is no surprise given the partisan divide in Washington. But would a Republican in the White House instead of Obama actually plot a different course? That would depend entirely on which Republican we're talking about. The GOP has long been divided on foreign policy, and Ukraine has exposed fault lines that are likely to grow as the Republicans' 2016 nomination contest nears." Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times.

DOUTHAT: Russia without illusions. "Since the end of the Cold War, America’s policy toward Russia has been shaped by two dangerous illusions. The first was the conceit that with the right incentives, eyes-to-soul presidential connections and diplomatic reset buttons, Russia could become what we think of, in our cheerfully solipsistic way, as a 'normal country' — at peace with the basic architecture of an American-led world order, invested in international norms and institutions, content with its borders and focused primarily on its G.D.P....The second illusion was the idea that with the Cold War over, we could treat Russia’s near abroad as a Western sphere of influence in the making — with NATO expanding ever eastward, traditional Russian satellites swinging into our orbit, and Moscow isolated or acquiescent....Now both ideas should be abandoned." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Top opinion

MANKIW: When the scientist is also a philosopher. "As I see it, the minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act are cases in point. Noble as they are in aspiration, they fail the do-no-harm test. An increase in the minimum wage would disrupt some deals that workers and employers have made voluntarily. The Affordable Care Act has disrupted many insurance arrangements that were acceptable to both the insurance company and the insured; these policies were canceled because they deviated from lawmakers’ notion of the ideal. To be sure, you can find economists favoring a higher minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act. They acknowledge that there are winners and losers but argue that, on the whole, these policies increase social welfare. Perhaps they are right. But keep in mind that in making that judgment, they are relying on forecasts from a far-from-perfect science, as well as a healthy dose of their own political philosophy." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.

CHOTINER: A counterpoint to Mankiw. "Ask yourself this: would someone who didn't have health insurance ever describe the pre-Obamacare system in these terms? We already had a healthcare system that made all kinds of trade-offs. And many people, of course, never really "voluntarily agreed" to the system, even if they were lucky enough to have had insurance. Was paying high premiums because of pre-existing conditions a choice? Was taking the plan from your employer a choice? In Mankiw's world, however, things only became disruptive after Obamacare. The status quo, whether in terms of the minimum wage or healthcare, was not just some completely fair system that is now being messed with by statist liberals. Our system of government and economy have been 'disruptive' for a very long time." Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic.

DIONNE: The next health-care debate. "In an article last week about Americans for Prosperity, the group backed by Charles and David Koch, New York Times writers Carl Hulse and Ashley Parker made the essential point. The Koch effort, Hulse and Parker wrote, is 'not confined to hammering away' at the ACA. 'They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.' The underlying fight is thus over social insurance approaches that have been part of the fabric of American life since the progressive era and the New Deal. If opponents of the ACA can discredit it, they can move on to demonize other necessary public programs — and undercut arguments for further government efforts to ease inequalities and injustices. This agenda is rooted in the idea that the United States was better off in pre-progressive days when it relied on private and community charity to deal with social problems and economic upheavals." E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post.

WILL: Paul Ryan was right — poverty is a cultural problem. "Critics of Rep. Paul Ryan’s remarks about cultural factors in the persistence of poverty are simultaneously shrill and boring. Their predictable minuet of synthetic indignation demonstrates how little liberals have learned about poverty or changed their rhetorical repertoire in the last 49 years....To say that poverty can be self-perpetuating is not to say, and Ryan did not say, that poverty is caused by irremediable attributes that are finally the fault of the poor. It is, however, to define the challenge, which is to acculturate those unacquainted with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture." George Will in The Washington Post.

GENE ROBINSON: Religious freedom or a license to discriminate? "There were many who disagreed with the Supreme Court’s Loving vs. Virginia ruling that interracial marriages were legal, mostly on religious grounds. But anti-miscegenation laws (still on the books in 13 states at the time of the ruling) were struck down by the Supreme Court, and regardless of one’s personal religious beliefs about interracial marriage, those marriages had to be allowed and recognized. Now imagine if business corporations were treated as people, capable of exercising religion and such an exemption/license to violate anti-discrimination laws were granted....Further, imagine what would happen if the owners of Hobby Lobby and others were allowed to deny their employees a health insurance plan which included access to contraceptives, to which they object. Would other business owners be allowed to deny employees health insurance plans that covered blood transfusions? Could owners who objected to vaccinations, on religious grounds, delete such healthcare provisions from their coverage? How would judges go about drawing these lines? There would be no end to the chaos that would ensue, making the country virtually ungovernable." Gene Robinson in The Daily Beast.

GEORGE AND YUSUF: In Obamacare contraception case, religious exemptions are important to religious freedom. "Some of the government's supporters — like the Freedom From Religion Foundation...claim that the whole practice of religious exemptions constitutes an unconstitutional 'establishment of religion,' at least when protecting religious minorities deprives others of the chance to benefit from these minorities' forced service....This argument misunderstands both the nature and purpose of exemptions as protections for religious beliefs from majority coercion....The argument against exemptions would be plausible if such laws only protected religious believers of one faith, or if the laws stipulated that religious interests should prevail in every case in which they competed with other interests and values. But the federal civil-rights law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—protects people of all faiths." Robert P. George and Hamza Yusuf in The Wall Street Journal.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Stuck in immigration limbo, thanks to the GOP. "The groups pressing Mr. Obama for a policy shift would have him exempt thousands of such immigrants from deportation — beyond the “Dreamer” youths who have already been granted such protection. It would be a humane and reasonable thing to do. It would also constitute a further act of selective enforcement, buttressing GOP assertions that Mr. Obama cannot be trusted to carry out the law. Republicans’ refusal to reform a broken system has left the nation without good options." Editorial Board.

Aww interlude: Adorable time-lapse video showing couple's pregnancy as it progresses.

2. Happy 4th birthday, Obamacare. You have your biggest week yet coming up.

The individual-mandate penalties seem to be motivating people to sign up for health insurance. "At the Swope Health Services chain of community health centers across the Kansas City metro area, helpers stationed in the lobby say visitors cite penalties as a big reason for seeking coverage. Some leaders in the Kansas City enrollment effort have been incorporating the penalties into their pitches. And the nation's tax preparers are pushing the message hard....Most people who haven't signed up by then face a fine when they file their 2014 income taxes....Polls suggest that Americans are more familiar with the penalties for not having insurance than nearly every other feature of the law. A January survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, said 79% of uninsured respondents said they knew the law required nearly all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Still, millions remain on the sidelines during this final week of open enrollment. "Millions of people in the United States will remain uninsured despite this week's final, frenzied push to sign them up under the health law. Their reasons are all over the map. Across the country, many of the uninsured just don't know much about the health overhaul and its March 31 deadline for enrolling in plans that can yield big discounts, researchers say. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that only one-fourth of the uninsured had tried to sign up through the state or federal insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, by late January. If they don't enroll in time, many will face a fine and be locked out of the subsidized plans until next year. President Barack Obama and a phalanx of advocacy groups, insurance companies and volunteers are scrambling to spread the word about HealthCare.gov as the deadline dangles." Connie Cass in the Associated Press.

Who's cheering, and who's heckling? "Perhaps the most telling statistic about the Affordable Care Act as the controversial law turns four years old on Sunday is this: 70 percent of Americans still don’t know they could get their healthcare subsidized under the law. But for those who do understand what the law is, what it does, and how it’s changing life in America, Obamacare’s 4th anniversary is a major turning point for the biggest federal entitlement expansion since the 1960s....Four years after its passage in Congress, Obamacare looms over America as a paradox: Despite making healthcare less of a worry and financial drain for millions of Americans, it also represents for many others a creeping, even sinister, intrusion of the federal government into the lives of Americans....Meanwhile, the long-term problem for Republicans is that, despite its flaws and complexities, Obamacare provides real benefits that may improve its popularity as its benefits become more ubiquitous." Patrik Jonsson in the Christian Science Monitor.

Explainer: Obamacare turns 4. The (very) long, strange trip to now. Gregory J. Krieg in ABC News.

Another issue facing Obamacare: Health plans' names confusing people. "As Americans race to sign up for health insurance in the final days of open enrollment, many consumers and consumer advocates say the names of plans are unhelpful, confusing and in some cases misleading. A number of insurers sell their plans under names like Select, Preferred, Premier, Exclusive, Enhanced, Essential, Essential Plus, Prime, Ultimate and Deluxe. Multiple offerings from one company may have the same benefits and cover the same share of a consumer’s costs, but go by different names. 'Sometimes the names are downright deceptive,' said Betsy M. Imholz, a lawyer at Consumers Union. 'Calling a plan ‘exclusive’ makes it sound super-duper, but it may mean that you have a very limited choice of doctors or hospitals.'" Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Long read: Obamacare bus rolls and enrolls in Mississippi. Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico.

Democrats seek to go on offense with new Obamacare numbers. "The Obama administration is out with new numbers touting consumer savings under the healthcare law, a move that will help boost Democrats' effort to go on offense on ObamaCare. Nearly 8 million seniors saved $9.9 billion on prescription drugs because of the Affordable Care Act since the law was enacted in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Friday....HHS also reported that in 2013, 37.2 million people with Medicare took advantage of at least one free preventive medical service as a result of ObamaCare. The figure represents an increase from 2012, officials said....State-by-state Medicare data was circulated among congressional Democrats as the party attempts to use ObamaCare's fourth birthday to seize control of the narrative surrounding the law." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

As Obamacare turns 4, GOP still lost on what alternative should be. "Four years after Obamacare was enacted, and more than 50 House votes to undo it, Republicans remain dedicated to destroying the law. But they're still lost on what they'd put in its place if given the chance. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is leading the effort to craft a GOP alternative, and promised his members a vote in 2014. He faces a sea of obstacles to writing a health care bill with sufficient support in the House, and potentially a world of hurt if he follows through with his commitment." Sahil Kapur in Talking Points Memo.

Here's a shocker: Obama lauds health care law on its 4th birthday. David Jackson in USA Today.

Explainers:

The House has voted 54 times in four years on Obamacare. Here’s the full list. Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Five reasons why neither party is winning on the Affordable Care Act. Karlyn Bowman and Jennifer Marsico in Forbes.

Other health care reads:

Insurance chief suggests adding a new, lower level of health plan. Julie Rovner in NPR.

For some who are married but filing taxes separately, another HealthCare.gov hurdle. Amy Goldstein in The Washington Post.

Women are better than men at enrolling in Obamacare. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

'Back to the Future' interlude: Marty McFly helicopter hoverboard.

3. Obamacare returns to court. Here's what to expect.

Supreme Court takes up contraception coverage suit. "Two years after the entire law survived the justices' review by a single vote, the court is hearing arguments Tuesday in a religion-based challenge from family-owned companies that object to covering certain contraceptives in their health plans as part of the law's preventive care requirement. Health plans must offer a range of services at no extra charge, including all forms of birth control for women that have been approved by federal regulators. Some of the nearly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives object to paying for all forms of birth control. But the companies involved in the high court case are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized. The largest company among them, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., and the Green family that owns it, say their 'religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception.'" Mark Sherman in the Associated Press.

Explainers:

Legal backgrounder on the contraception mandate suit. Pew Research Center.

3 ways the Supreme Court could rule on the contraception mandate. Sam Baker in National Journal.

What's at stake: Are firms entitled to religious protections? "Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing will be the second time the health law will be scrutinized by the justices....The case is distinct in a couple of ways from legal challenges to the law brought by some Catholic schools and charities, now winding their way through lower courts. Those Catholic organizations object to being required to include any type of birth control in their insurance plans. And because those organizations are nonprofit, those cases don't address the religious-protection question for for-profit companies. Last month a federal appeals court declined to grant one of the litigants, the University of Notre Dame, a temporary injunction sparing it from the contraception requirement. The court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case is expected by June. Some lawyers following the case believe the ruling will likely be narrowly tailored. But a more sweeping judgment in Hobby Lobby's favor could open the door for others to seek exemptions from certain federal laws based on their owners' religious beliefs." Janet Adamy in The Wall Street Journal.

Could updating FDA birth-control labels render portion of plaintiffs' claims moot? "the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, along with likeminded believers who morally object to jeopardizing embryos, have moved the goal posts in terms of what constitutes a pregnancy—and therefore what constitutes an abortion. And to bolster their argument, they have one unlikely ally in science on their side: the FDA itself.On each carton of Plan B One-Step, a widely used emergency contraceptive, is an FDA-approved drug label....Religious conservatives often use the FDA label in talking points....Many experts now say the FDA labels for Plan B and similar morning-after pills are not current with the most recent research. In some ways, they are holdovers from early birth control labels....Since the FDA approved Plan B in 1999, repeated studies have shown the drug does not inhibit implantation....This research means that Plan B and its equivalents do not meet even Hobby Lobby and Conestoga’s definitions of “abortion-inducing,” making part of their objections to the contraception mandate moot." Tiffany Stanley in The Daily Beast.

One key point about the current court: The justices got religion. "There’s something that makes the current Supreme Court different from some of its recent predecessors. The justices got religion. Or at least they seem more open about their faith, appearing before devout audiences and talking more about how religion shaped their lives or guides them now. As the court this week weighs religious conviction vs. legal obligation in the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, those who study the court say the change is hard to quantify but easy to notice." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Other legal reads:

With clock ticking, Obama polishes judicial legacy. Alisa Chang in NPR.

Judge strikes down same-sex marriage ban in Michigan, then stays his ruling. John Eligon and Erik Eckholm in The New York Times.

Court reverses ruling on swipe fees in favor of banks. Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Explainer: The evolution of the death penalty in one map. Lane Florsheim in The New Republic.

Musical performance interlude: Billy Joel, Jimmy Fallon sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with help of iPad app.

4. Signs of progress in the CIA-Senate spat?

Democrats have votes to reveal findings in CIA report of Bush-era interrogation tactics. "Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she has the votes on the narrowly divided panel to publicly reveal the executive summary and key conclusions of a 6,300-page report on Bush-era interrogation tactics, a move sure to fuel the Senate’s intense dispute with the CIA over how the panel pieced together the study. That vote is likely to happen sometime this week. But rather than a strong bipartisan signal from Congress, a vote to unveil the study appears set to divide along party lines because of that dispute....The full Senate doesn’t have to approve the report before it hits Obama’s desk for him to review the conclusions. But it’s Obama who will ultimately decide whether the document needs to be further redacted, as the CIA will likely recommend. Obama says he is 'absolutely committed' to releasing the Senate report and has urged the committee to proceed — and Senate Democrats aren’t letting up until details of the CIA’s use of secret prisons and interrogation techniques are in the hands of the public." Burgess Everett in Politico.

CIA chief Brennan shifts to conciliatory tone. "Seeking to defuse an escalating battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director John Brennan sent a note to the agency’s workforce Friday praising the panel and pledging to cooperate on the release of a report that is harshly critical of the CIA. A week after the agency and the committee traded allegations of illegal conduct, Brennan said in the note that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other members of the panel 'carry out their oversight responsibilities with great dedication and patriotism' and that the agency 'has benefited over the years from their leadership.' The conciliatory tone of the letter was in stark contrast to the stream of recriminations that erupted in public last week....In previous remarks, Brennan had struck a defiant pose, signaling that the agency would be vindicated and warning that lawmakers should avoid unsubstantiated allegations." Greg Miller in The Washington Post.

Still, the spat takes us into uncharted territory. " Managing relations between Congress and the intelligence community is always tricky — an outgrowth of closed-door oversight into sensitive national security issues where lawmakers often complain that they must ask the right questions to get the right answers. But now that the Justice Department is involved in the dispute between Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee staff and the CIA — deciphering whether the CIA violated the Constitution or federal law by searching Senate computers, or whether Democratic staffers hacked into the CIA’s system to obtain classified documents — things have escalated to an unprecedented level." Darren Samuelsohn in Politico.

Other privacy reads:

NSA breached Chinese servers that were seen as threat. David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth in The New York Times.

Obama meets with Internet CEOs about privacy issues. Scott Horsley in NPR.

Revelations of NSA spying costing tech companies. Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times.

Hedgehog interlude: A hedgehog sits in a baking tray.

5. Monetary policy: Fed meeting fallout

Yellen slipped up a bit last week. Now, markets want clarity from the Fed, and from Russia. "In a week heavy with diplomacy — U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday in The Hague — markets will seek clarity from the U.S. Federal Reserve on its monetary policy and from Russia over its intentions in Ukraine. While the U.S. data calendar is relatively light, Yellen has got investors talking by suggesting interest rates could start rising next spring, compared with most economists' expectations for the second half of 2015. The question is whether the host of Fed policymakers due to speak this week, including the Fed's Chicago President Charles Evans, will try to distance themselves from Yellen." Robin Emmott in Reuters.

Yellen's six-months remark merely echoed markets' view, Fed official says. "Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was likely just repeating the views of private analysts and investors when she said the central bank could raise interest rates around six months after ending its massive bond-buying program, a top Fed official said on Friday. 'On the considerable period being six months, the surveys that I had seen from the private sector had that kind of number penciled in,' St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said during a lunch with journalists. 'That wasn't very different from what we had heard from financial markets. So, I just think she's just repeating that.'" Jason Lange in Reuters.

Fed's statement actually offers deeper hints on interest rates. "Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen caused a stir last week when she suggested the central bank might start raising short-term interest rates a little sooner than investors were expecting. In focusing on that, Wall Street might have glossed over news of greater consequence....Why do they want to keep short-term interest rates so low for so long? What risks are they taking in the process? The official policy statement didn't explain. Ms. Yellen in her news conference acknowledged that even though officials agreed on the rate outlook, they don't agree on the reasons for it." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

What should the Fed do on unemployment? "Two top Federal Reserve policymakers staked out diametrically opposite views on Friday about whether the U.S. central bank should be willing to risk higher unemployment in order to head off a potential financial crisis. One Fed Board member, Jeremy Stein, said that it should. The other, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, disagreed. The two former economics professors debated in the jargon-laden lingo and polite tones of lifelong academics at a conference held in the Fed's Washington headquarters. But it suggested the real-life tensions that loomed as Janet Yellen ran her first policy-setting meeting earlier in the week, in the Fed building across the street." Ann Saphir and Jason Lange in Reuters.

Other economic policy reads:

After Boehner rejects jobless-benefits bill, Senate to proceed with it anyway. Humberto Sanchez and Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.

Mortgage tax breaks trickle up, study shows. Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

After winter's chill, economists predict a warming trend. Marilyn Geewax in NPR.

Animals interlude: An artistic discussion of cats sitting on glass.

Wonkblog roundup

Teamsters score a win against “sharecropping on wheels.” But will the trucking industry really change? Lydia DePillis.

Why low-calorie liquor is doomed. Lydia DePillis.

Florida senator’s secret Medicaid expansion plan won’t work. Jason Millman.

Why we wrote about the Koch Industries and its leases in Canada’s oil sands. Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin.

More than 40 percent of the homes for sale in metro San Francisco are now asking more than $1 million. Emily Badger.

Women are better than men at enrolling in Obamacare. Jason Millman.

Living paycheck to paycheck: It's not just for the poor. Christopher Ingraham.

Et Cetera

Schools plagued by inequality along racial lines, Education Dept. study says. Lalita Clozel in the Los Angeles Times.

Ryan's poverty remarks distract from policy push. Henry C. Jackson in the Associated Press.

U.S. energy boom may signal new export era. Ralph Vartabedian in the Los Angeles Times.

NHTSA response to GM's delayed recall to be reviewed in audit. Jeff Plungis in Bloomberg.

U.S. regulators failed to spot deadly GM defects that others saw. Julia Edwards, Eric Beech and Karl Plume in Reuters.

Rising interest rates slow down housing sales. Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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