Wonkbook: What you need to know about the latest health-care delay

March 27, 2014

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 Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 39 percent. That's the percentage of uninsured adults below Medicare age who knew that March 31 is the deadline to enroll in Obamacare coverage, a new poll found.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: These 10 maps illustrate the healthiest counties in America.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Another day, another health care delay; (2) energy's importance in the Russia-West standoff; (3) parties' political markers on economic policy; (4) doc fix on life support; and (5) the Fed's global clout.

1. Top story: What we know about the new health-insurance enrollment extension

Everything we know about how Obamacare’s March 31 deadline works. "Federal health officials say March 31 is still the deadline for enrolling in health coverage and that they're only making sure anyone who tried to apply by the deadline can get coverage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had offered accommodations for previous monthly enrollment deadlines, so it's not surprising that the agency is doing this again. The Obama administration has been adamant that the latest enrollment announcement isn't a deadline extension. The big question, though, is how does the administration make sure people who say they tried to enroll before March 31 actually made that effort? As my colleague Amy Goldstein reported last night, CMS is going with the honor system. People submitting their applications on HealthCare.gov or through a call center after March 31 'attest' that they had trouble enrolling before the deadline." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Explainers:

This is who gets more time to enroll in Obamacare. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

The 17 ways you can get an Obamacare extension. Sam Baker and Clara Ritger in National Journal.

3 potential reasons for the latest ACA delay. Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

Quotable: "'What the hell is this, a joke?' House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said today at a news conference. 'The law says that enrollment stops at the end of March. I’ve got to live by the law, you’ve got live by the law and the American people have to live by the law. The president needs to live by the law, too.'" Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.

But a similar thing happened in the Bush era with the Medicare Part D rollout. "As Republicans complain about the Obama administration’s latest deadline extension for Americans to purchase health insurance, Democrats are countering with this reminder: The Bush administration did something similar in 2006. Back then, as it was implementing the Medicare prescription-drug benefit Bush had signed into law, the GOP presidential administration announced it was waiving penalties for low-income seniors and those with disabilities who signed up late. There's one key difference....Democrats didn’t try to scuttle the Medicare law’s implementation (especially since some of them had voted for it), while the same isn’t exactly true of GOP actions regarding the health-care law. But the 2006 story is a reminder that when it comes to the implementation of complex new laws, both Democratic and Republican administration have changed the rules to encourage enrollment." Mark Murray in NBC News.

But is there any verification process? "A spokeswoman for President Obama's health care law Wednesday insisted that relying on an honor system was okay because most people are 'truthful' when seeking government benefits....Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services...ducked several questions from reporters asking whether there was any verification process in place to certify that individuals applying after March 31 really did start to apply before the deadline. She also refused to say whether there were any consequences for individuals caught lying." Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner.

Here's the White House's thinking on this. "Most of the deadlines associated with the law have been kind of, shall we say, fluid....This isn't the first time we've seen this sort of thing. And it's clear the Obama administration thinks it will be better to be criticized for playing with the deadline than for preventing people who are trying to sign up for health insurance from getting it." Julie Rovner in NPR.

Timeline: Speaking of those fluid deadlines...A brief history of Obamacare delays. David Nather and Susan Levine in Politico.

Other reason: Americans still unaware of individual mandate deadline. "As the White House is announcing some leeway on the March 31 enrollment deadline, about six in 10 uninsured American adults didn't know about the deadline in the first place, according to a new poll. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted between March 11-17, found that just 39 percent of uninsured adults below the Medicare age knew that March 31 was the deadline to sign up for coverage." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Americans may be starting to feel Obamacare-repeal fatigue. Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.

Healthcare.gov is getting flooded with traffic, but it's holding up. "With a March 31 deadline to sign up for insurance under President Obama’s health law approaching, more than a million people a day are visiting HealthCare.gov, administration officials said Wednesday. The site — the main portal for insurance marketplaces in 36 states — got 1.2 million visitors Tuesday and 1.1 million visitors Monday, according to the administration. At the same time, call centers received more than 500,000 calls over those two days. Despite the crush, the website, which crashed repeatedly last year, has been stable, said Kurt DelBene, a former Microsoft executive who has been overseeing the website operations as a senior advisor to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius." Noam N. Levey in the Los Angeles Times.

So, what is the deadline now? Is there one? "The White House said anyone using a paper application must have it in by April 7. But it hasn’t made explicit any firm deadline for online applications. The guidance that CMS released does refer to the late enrollees being eligible for coverage on May 1, which suggests that April 15 would be the cut-off if patterns of recent months are followed. But Bataille declined to confirm a date." Brett Norman and Kyle Cheney in Politico.

Why the new delay matters less than you might think. "It's hard to argue that this latest delay is good news for President Obama or, more importantly in the near term, Democrats on the ballot this November. But, there's also reason to believe that the idea that this latest extension of the enrollment deadline will have less of a negative impact on the political playing field than many people in both parties seem to believe. The reason for that lack of impact is simple. Opinions about Obamacare are virtually set in stone at this point. If you like the law, there's no one piece of information that is going to change your mind. And, if you hate the law, nothing that happens is going to make you hate it. any more." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Other health care reads:

Explainer: The 9 justices on Hobby Lobby case. Josh Gerstein in Politico.

Q&A with Ezekiel Emanuel: Why employers will stop offering health insurance. Robb Mandelbaum in The New York Times.

Battered spouses can claim subsidies for health insurance. Amy Goldstein in The Washington Post.

COHN: Conservatives' real beef: That people want to sign up for health insurance. "The Obama Administration has made another adjustment to the Affordable Care Act and the critics are making another fuss....Of course, the real issue here for conservatives isn’t this one delay. It’s all of the delays, plus all of the exceptions and waivers. And it’s totally reasonable to ask hard questions about these, particularly when it comes to the limits of presidential authority and the precedent it sets for the future....But, for what it's worth, the Affordable Care Act really did give HHS a huge amount of leeway over how to implement the law — and it did so for a very good reason. Given the inherent complexity of health care, there’s no way Congress could have figured out all of the details. It made sense to delegate that authority — to put in place new systems, but leave the nitty-gritty of regulations and transitions to the administration. For each one of these extensions or delays, the ultimate question is whether they change the law’s ability to realize its basic goals — which, in this case, means encouraging people to buy new private health plans while maintaining a stable insurance market. Giving people a little extra time to enroll wouldn’t seem to impede this kind of progress. If anything, it would seem to enhance it. And maybe that's what really bothers some of the law's fiercer critics." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: HHS uses its magic wand yet again. "Liberals say they believe in a living Constitution, and apparently they think the Affordable Care Act is a living document too. Amid one more last-minute regulatory delay, number 38 at last count, the mandate forcing nuns to sponsor birth control is more or less the only part of ObamaCare that is still intact....This delay is particularly notable because HHS factotums denied up and down that it was ever the remotest possibility and even that the agency lacked any legal basis to do so. The statute directed HHS to declare an enrollment period by June 2012 and provided for no ex post facto rewrites....What a difference two weeks makes. Any time Ms. Sebelius assures Congress or the public that something won't happen, a solid bet is that it will." Editorial Board.

BEUTLER: Republicans are losing it over the latest Obamacare data. "It’s a complete accident of legislative and administrative history that the fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act should fall the week before the end of the law’s first ever, six-month-long open-enrollment period. But it’s a great coincidence for those of us in the business of cutting through all the hyperbole that accompanies each ACA anniversary, because, for the first time since the law passed, there are real data, and real beneficiaries, to hold up against the spin. And as I’ve been arguing for months now, the GOP’s position on the law can’t actually withstand on-the-ground realities." Brian Beutler in Salon.

CHEN: Even conservatives can learn to like Obamacare. "Here’s something conservatives should begin to wrap their heads around: For all of our consternation, Obamacare may be a blessing in disguise. Make no mistake: The law still needs to be repealed, because it fails to deal with the fundamental issue of health costs, represents a huge federal overreach into health care, and raises taxes to support the creation of a huge new entitlement. But Obamacare also makes it easier, from both a political and a policy perspective, to move toward the kind of health-care reforms that conservatives have long argued for." Lanhee Chen in Bloomberg View.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Obamacare may never be popular. "The headline is that the surge in unpopularity that followed the Affordable Care Act's botched rollout has mostly dissipated....Does that mean Obamacare as a whole will soon be popular? No. For one, fewer than one in five believes the ACA has helped them personally and, as I’ve argued, we’re probably at peak awareness of the law's benefits right now. Even if the ACA works as well as supporters hope, many benefits will be either invisible to consumers or difficult for them to trace to the law....Meanwhile, anyone who has anything go wrong with their health insurance will find it easy to blame Obamacare. There is also political asymmetry at work. Opponents of the ACA are dedicated (quite sensibly) to highlighting flaws and problems. Their goal is to make the law unpopular. But supporters aren’t mainly interested in making Obamacare popular; their goal is to make the law work well. Likewise, opponents target all voters, arguing the law is bad. Supporters have a different audience and message, targeting a small chunk of the population (the uninsured, mainly) and urging them to buy insurance." Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg View.

LOWRY: The Baghdad Bob of health insurance. "A core competency of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is issuing false assurances that all is well with Obamacare. An administration about-face has left the Cabinet official looking like the Baghdad Bob of American health insurance. When Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked her at a hearing two weeks ago whether the administration would extend the Obamacare enrollment period beyond March 31, she responded with a crisp and direct: 'No, sir.' To the uninitiated, that sounded like an unmistakable denial of any intention to delay the enrollment period. The uninitiated were sadly misled. The secretary subsequently referred in her testimony to a delayed enrollment period for people who were unable to enroll 'through no fault of their own.' It turns out that the administration’s definition of these frustrated would-be enrollees includes … well, everyone." Rich Lowry in Politico Magazine.

Top opinion

KRISTOF: A nation of takers? "Let’s get real. To stem abuses, the first target shouldn’t be those avaricious infants in nutrition programs but tycoons in their subsidized Gulfstreams. However imperfectly, subsidies for the poor do actually reduce hunger, ease suffering and create opportunity, while subsidies for the rich result in more private jets and yachts. Would we rather subsidize opportunity or yachts? Which kind of subsidies deserve more scrutiny?" Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

MEYERSON: The coming jobs apocalypse. "Anti-Obama partisans blame the president and his policies for the dwindling workforce, but the decline began in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency and continued through much of the presidency of George W. Bush. Clearly, either bipartisan public policy or something more fundamental than public policy is to blame. The bipartisan public policy that should raise the most suspicion is trade policy, which fostered the offshoring of more than 2 million manufacturing jobs after Congress normalized trade relations with China in 2000. But an even more fundamental factor in the declining share of working Americans is the technological automation that has eliminated millions of jobs and is poised to eliminate millions more." Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post.

TRITCH: Taxpayer subsidies and 'too-big-too-fail' banks. "There is less than meets the eye in the 'too-big-to-fail' study released on Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York....Many other studies have found the same thing, though they differ on the size of the subsidy. The reason the new study stands out is that the New York Fed is a well-known defender of bigger-is-better banking. But the study is not an admission that the biggest banks — which have only gotten bigger since the bailout — are still too big to fail. If that is what the Fed was saying, the logical next step would be to break them up, and the Fed has always been averse to doing that." Teresa Tritch in The New York Times.

AMBINDER: Labor's love lost. "Not so long ago, the American labor movement faced a make or break moment. Facing internal dissension, and a continuous hemmorage of members and clout, they managed to elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Tilting federal labor laws back in favor of unions, and passing legislation that would allow so-called 'card check' elections to establish them in workplaces, were vital. If not then, with that political configuration, then when? Five years later, and organized labor considers itself to be even worse off....I don't think unions will ever give up on Democrats. The party will always be more friendlier than Republicans. In big, populous states, union endorsements still matter. But I do predict, based on conversations I've had with labor leaders here, that, to get attention, labor will take a page from the Tea Party movement and try to become more militant and more focused on income inequality." Marc Ambinder in The Week.

KUNST: Is crowdsourced labor the future of middle-class employment? "Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 anthem may need a 21st century reboot. In 2013, 75% of the almost 1 million new jobs added to the US economy were part time according to CNBC. Obamacare, a weak recovery, and global unrest are just some of the reasons cited for this phenomenon that contributes to the hot button issues of inequality and poverty. However, one nascent winner has been the rise of crowdsourced fractional labor. With services like Airbnb, Uber, Fiverr, almost anything can be outsourced with the click of an app. Will the same technology eating and automating jobs also prove to be an entirely new path to the middle class?" Sarah Kunst in The Daily Beast.

BREMMER: A tortured policy toward Russia. "The United States has once again twisted itself into a rhetorical pretzel. As when it threatened military action against Syria if a 'red line' was crossed, the Obama administration’s rhetoric about Russia and Ukraine goes far beyond what it will be willing and able to enforce. Earlier this month, President Obama warned that America would 'isolate Russia' if it grabbed more land, and yesterday, he suggested that more sanctions were possible. Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Group of 7 nations were 'prepared to go to the hilt' in order to isolate Russia. But Washington’s rhetoric is dangerously excessive, for three main reasons: Ukraine is far more important to Vladimir V. Putin than it is to America; it will be hard for the United States and Europe to make good on their threats of crippling sanctions; and other countries could ultimately defang them." Ian Bremmer in The New York Times.

Animals interlude: Tiny dog shows big dog who's boss.

2. Why energy is key in the West's standoff with Russia

White House backs U.S. natural-gas exports. "The White House made its strongest statement yet Wednesday that it views U.S. natural-gas exports as one tool to curb Europe's reliance on Russian energy and diversify supplies. From the joint U.S.-European Union statement issued alongside the U.S.-E.U. summit in Brussels: 'The situation in Ukraine proves the need to reinforce energy security in Europe, and we are considering new collaborative efforts to achieve this goal. We welcome the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners.' Other tools include reversing natural-gas flows to allow other E.U. nations to ship gas into Ukraine and more collaboration on efficiency, renewables, and other sources. Check out the whole thing here. President Obama, in remarks in Brussels, more broadly said that energy is a 'central focus' of the response to Russia's annexation of Crimea." Ben Geman in National Journal.

Primary source: The joint U.S.-European Union statement.

Obama to EU: Cut your reliance on Russian natural gas. "President Barack Obama told the European Union on Wednesday it cannot rely on the United States alone to reduce its dependency on Russian energy, as relations with Moscow chill over its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine....During a 65-minute lunch, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso pressed Obama to step up U.S. gas exports, but he responded bluntly in telling the Europeans they needed to take politically difficult steps to develop their own resources. EU ambassador to Washington Jose Vale de Almeida quoted Obama as telling them: 'You cannot just rely on other people's energy, even if it has some costs, some downside,' in a clear reference to opposition in parts of the EU on environmental grounds to nuclear power and the extraction of shale gas. The issue will also be discussed next week at a special meeting of EU and U.S. energy ministers, officials said." Robin Emmott and Jan Strupczewski in Reuters.

Quotable: "I have no illusions or worry about the long-term future of Russia. Russia is now a gas station masquerading as a country.” — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Burgess Everett in Politico.

Zooming out: Obama, in Brussels speech, prods Europe to stand up to Russia, bolster NATO. "President Obama attempted Wednesday to rouse Europe to confront Russia’s military seizure of Crimea, framing the West’s dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a clash of ideologies lingering from the Cold War....Obama made a broad case for U.S. and European unity, for sanctions against Russia that could damage still-fragile European economies and for help leveraging American power that he made clear in this case does not include military force....Obama stressed that Moscow’s moves endanger not only that country but the international system that Europe and the United States have built over the years, a system that has been vital to the progress of democracy and international law worldwide." Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

What else Obama said: Nope, it's still not a second Cold War. "The dispute over Crimea is not another Cold War but a ‘contest of ideas,’ pitting an outmoded nationalism against the progress of democratic ideals, President Obama declared Wednesday as he sought to explain the Western response to Russia’s seizure of the peninsula from Ukraine. Speaking in the capital of Europe, Obama cast the crisis as a fight between ‘the old way of doing things’ and ‘a young century.’ He also drew a contrast between the ‘bully’ behavior of Russia and that of the Ukrainian protesters, whom he called the ‘voices for human dignity'...” Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons in the Los Angeles Times.

Primary source: Video and the full transcript of President Obama's speech. The Washington Post.

Explainer: Despite chill, cooperation between U.S. and Russia. Lara Jakes and Vladimir Isachenkov in the Associated Press.

Analysis: Russia is deeply linked to the president's priorities. "Even as he criticizes Vladimir Putin and imposes sanctions on Russia, President Barack Obama is struggling with the consequences of his own earlier quest for a fresh start between Washington and Moscow. From early in his presidency, Obama has engaged Russia to help achieve some of his key goals, including preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and, more recently, solving the war in Syria before it spreads further in the Middle East. Now, he finds that the engagement may limit how hard he can hit back at Russia without toppling everything else. White House officials insist that the U.S. can’t go back to a business-as-usual relationship with Russia as long as Putin still has control of Crimea, the strategically important peninsula he annexed from Ukraine. Exactly what might be changed is still being debated inside the West Wing." The Associated Press.

The crisis seems to be dragging down Obama's approval numbers even further. "The AP-GfK poll shows 59 percent of Americans now disapprove of Obama — a point higher than the previous high set in December....Part of Obama's problems appear to be related to foreign policy." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Primary source: The full AP-GfK poll.

Meanwhile, it also looks like a White House spokesman's short-selling advice isn't holding up so well. "Since Carney said March 18 that the only investments worth making in Russian equities are wagers the market will decline, short sellers have been pulling out as the Micex gauge rebounded 1 percent....Equities are bouncing back in Moscow after President Vladimir Putin’s push to annex Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula sparked the worst standoff with the U.S. since the end of the Cold War and sent the Micex into a bear market. The gauge is up 9.1 percent from a four-year low reached March 14 as traders bet the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama and his European counterparts don’t go far enough to curb growth in the world’s biggest energy-exporting nation." Halia Pavliva and Ksenia Galouchko in Bloomberg.

The politics of it: How the ongoing Senate nominations fight is trumping Ukraine aid. "After spending most of Tuesday fighting over how quickly to vote on a bill giving billions of dollars of aid to Ukraine, the U.S. Senate has to pause today to confirm four judges and an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It never used to work like this, but American assistance to a struggling young democracy will have to wait until at least Thursday because Democrats and Republicans are still feuding over how quickly to confirm President Obama's nominees for government jobs and the federal courts." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

And could foreign issues become big again in 2016? "Pay closer attention to the changing rhetoric from the leading 2016 presidential contenders from both parties, and it's clear they're hedging their bets against the polls, anticipating the U.S. may well be headed into crisis mode. Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and even Rand Paul have all sounded a more hawkish tone in the last month as Russian aggression continues unabated in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the prospects for curtailing Iranian nuclear ambitions aren't looking promising, the civil war in Syria rages on, and Venezuela is awash in violence within our own hemisphere." Josh Kraushaar in National Journal.

Other foreign policy reads:

Senators criticize 'delusional' administration as having no strategy in Syria. Sara Sorcher in National Journal.

Secret Service agents on Obama detail sent home from Netherlands after night of drinking. Carol D. Leonnig, David Nakamura and Michael Birnbaum in The Washington Post.

1 in 10 Secret Service agents aware of excess drinking. Paul Lewis in The Guardian.

Chewing gum interlude: Bizarre ad features giant cat.

3. Dueling economic packages position the parties ahead of November

Senate Democrats unveil their agenda. "Senate Democrats unveiled on Wednesday a strategy they believe can preserve their majority: pairing campaign-style votes with legislation that might actually get some Republican support. Democrats hope to to draw bright contrasts with Republicans on issues that appeal to the Democratic base like the minimum wage, paycheck fairness for women and protecting Medicare benefits. But they also want to push bills that could get some GOP buy-in, such as proposals to spur manufacturing and increase energy efficiency....Some of the plan’s prongs are hardly new. Democrats, for instance, have spent months talking about raising the minimum wage as part of a campaign to battle income inequality. And that familiarity was evident at the roll-out for Democrats’ plan....It’s a strategy Democrats used to great effect in 2012 — and they are confident it will work again....And if the GOP says they prefer to tinker with the tax code rather than raise the minimum wage, Democrats may counter by forcing a vote on the Earned Income Tax Credit, daring the GOP to block a tax deduction for low-income workers written by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)." Burgess Everett in Politico.

But can they shift the discussion from Obamacare? Michael R. Crittenden in The Wall Street Journal.

Republicans' plan is focused on repeal of health-care law and regulations. "Republicans argue that the best way to help middle-class families would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, House Republicans' conservative bloc unveiled an agenda largely based on rolling back government regulations they say impede business expansion. Neither package of bills is expected to gain much traction in Congress, where the parties remain deeply divided over the best approach to stubborn unemployment, low wages and too few new jobs." Lisa Mascaro in the Los Angeles Times.

Explainer: New White House report focuses on women and tipped wage jobs. "A new White House report released Wednesday makes the Democratic case for hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 and increasing tipped wages, a move that President Obama has said would help lift women and families out of poverty. The report is a blueprint for Democrats, who are staking their midterm chances on the economy, aiming to maintain their edge with unmarried women. Republicans have said that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs, citing the Congressional Budget Office report last month that said an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 would reduce employment by about 500,000 workers." Nia-Malika Henderson in The Washington Post.

Why the minimum wage isn't really connected to job creation. "The Obama administration’s initiative to expand overtime pay protections may present tough choices for businesses, but several economic studies suggest companies won’t respond with new hiring. Employers would rather reduce working hours than pay more to keep their employees on the job. And they’re not likely to hire new workers to pick up the slack, perhaps because of the costs of recruiting and training new employees. That may be why the White House has been reluctant to claim its new proposal on overtime pay would lead to faster economic growth by pushing companies to hire more workers. Instead, officials have cast expanded overtime pay as a question of fairness." David Harrison in Roll Call.

Some early clues on the Obama administration's looming overtime-pay overhaul. "It will likely be months before the Obama administration details the specific changes it plans for overtime rules, but officials are looking at making two significant shifts. In a hearing this week, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said the Department of Labor would study both raising the wage threshold and overturning the 2004 rule that made certain salaried employees exempt from overtime because they perform some managerial duties." David Harrison in Roll Call.

Congress is also headed for a collision over temporary tax breaks. "Senate Democrats appear headed for a clash this year with House Republicans over a perennial problem: what to do about a raft of temporary tax breaks known as “extenders” that benefit both businesses and individuals. In the latest crack at solving the problem, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday were considering a plan to vote next week on a somewhat pared package of extenders, according to several people familiar with the situation." John D. McKinnon and Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.

Breakdown: Tax-extender overview. Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Republicans say they aren't feeling the pressure to pass a jobless-benefits bill. Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.

Economic/financial data:

Surge in durable goods orders masks soft business investment. Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Mortgage applications fall. Reuters.

North Dakota has most stable U.S. housing market. Prashant Gopal in Bloomberg.

Other economic policy reads:

Explainer: 5 things we learned in the new economic census of business. Ben Leubsdorf in The Wall Street Journal.

Young adult workers change jobs frequently, study shows. Tom Raum in the Associated Press.

Fewest Americans earning minimum wage since 2008. Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Rent prices shut out minimum-wage workers. The Huffington Post.

Fire-rescue interlude: Astonishing rescue of man from blazing building.

4. Congress punts on permanent 'doc fix'

Boehner says lawmakers have agreement on 'doc fix'...for now. "The House will vote as soon as tomorrow to avoid an estimated 24 percent reduction in physician payment rates under Medicare scheduled to take effect after March 31, and to delay any future cuts to doctors for a year....House Speaker John Boehner said the measure represents an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, to 'patch' the Medicare payments to doctors for the next 12 months....The 'doc fix,' as it’s referred to in Congress, is considered a must-pass bill because lawmakers don’t want to risk that physicians would refuse to treat Medicare patients because their billable rates would be too low." Derek Wallbank in Bloomberg.

Here's where negotiations over a permanent fix are. "The House speaker told reporters Wednesday that House and Senate efforts have not concluded in trying to find a longer-term fix. He said there is bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the path forward, only not yet on 'how we're ever going to pay for it.' The House passed a $137 billion permanent fix on March 14, which relied on savings tied to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual insurance mandate. But that was rejected by Democrats who lead the Senate, and it faced a presidential veto threat. The temporary, smaller bill includes spending offsets from reductions in other Medicare spending; also, some of its costs are paid for by realigning sequester savings set to occur in 2025 to 2024." Billy House in National Journal.

Er, wait a minute...maybe we don't have a deal. "Yet soon after, Reid said the deal is merely a work in progress. Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., piled on, saying he does not support a short-term fix. And on Wednesday afternoon, key House Republicans concerned with health policy said they will most likely not support Boehner’s legislation." Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.

Doctors step in, opposing short-term deal. The American Medical Association (AMA) took the dramatic step of opposing a short-term "doc fix" bill Wednesday with just days left before a 24-percent pay cut is scheduled to hit Medicare physicians. The AMA urged House members to oppose the legislation, set for a vote on Thursday, because it would extend the Medicare provider sequester, among other reasons." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

The legislation would actually further delay Obamacare-mandated Medicaid cuts. Here's why that matters. "Within this doc fix is a new delay to Medicaid cuts ordered by Obamacare. These are specifically cuts to Disproportionate Share Hospital payments, which go to hospitals with the highest levels of uncompensated care. Medicaid DSH funding, which was $11.3 billion in 2011, was intentionally ratcheted down under the Affordable Care Act because the law was eventually supposed to expand coverage to about 30 million people. That means less uncompensated care for hospitals, so less funding would be necessary....Then the 2012 Supreme Court decision happened, making the Medicaid expansion voluntary....An important caveat: The Medicaid expansion would still give the hospitals much more funding than the  Medicaid DSH program does. But this delay would soften the blow a bit for hospitals in non-expansion states." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Music performance interlude: Pipe organ rendition of "Star Wars" music.

5. The Fed as the de facto global financial regulator?

Fed gives thumbs down to five banks over capital plans. "Citigroup, HSBC, Santander, Royal Bank of Scotland and Zions Bank are all facing questions about their ability to ride out another calamity in the financial markets. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said the five big banks need to resubmit their proposals to pay out billions of dollars to shareholders because of weaknesses in their capital plans. The other 25 banks subject to the review were given the thumbs up to move ahead with plans to increase their dividend payouts, which analysts have pegged at about $75 billion in total." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Chief among them: Citigroup. "Regulators rejected Citigroup Inc.'s plan for dividends or share buybacks in their annual review of the banking industry’s financial health, a major blow to Chief Executive Michael Corbat‘s efforts to restore confidence in the bank. The Federal Reserve objected to Citigroup’s plan in the test that measures whether the bank could keep lending in a severe economic downturn, according to a report Wednesday. Citigroup has 30 days to resubmit revised plans with the option to ask for an extension of time, and the New York-based bank must suspend any increased dividend payments unless it gets the Fed’s approval in writing." Andrew R. Johnson in The Wall Street Journal.

The Fed flexes its global muscle. "The Federal Reserve began flexing its muscle as the de facto global financial regulator on Wednesday, rejecting the capital plans for the U.S. units of three foreign banks....The move is the latest indication the regulator is taking seriously its effort to shore up large banks whose collapse could ripple through the global financial system. The Fed said all three foreign-based banks had problems that 'call into question the overall reliability of their capital planning process.'" Alan Zibel in The Wall Street Journal.

'Stress-test virgins' seek Fed's blessing. "While bigger firms have been through the process every year since 2009, banks such as Huntington Bancshares Inc. and Comerica Inc. are doing it for the first time. This raises the odds that regulators will find fault in the data or managers and block an increase in dividends and buybacks, according to analysts. Fed officials say the testing is making lenders stronger by spurring sales of bad assets. " Elizabeth Dexheimer in Bloomberg.

Aww interlude: See what happens during this fire drill.

Wonkblog roundup

No, legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t lead to crime, according to actual crime stats. Emily Badger.

Everything we know about how Obamacare’s March 31 deadline works. Jason Millman.

There are almost as many payday lenders as McDonald’s and Starbucks. No, really. Danielle Douglas.

Payday loans aren’t the problem. The problem is poverty. Lydia DePillis.

Doc fix would delay Obamacare Medicaid cuts. That’s good news for non-expansion states. Jason Millman.

This is who gets more time to enroll in Obamacare. Jason Millman.

Poll: Most uninsured didn’t know about March Obamacare deadline. Jason Millman.

Et Cetera

The Democrats' new immigration strategy has some activists unhappy. Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Republic.

Student loan debt deal has a tax catch. Kelsey Snell in Politico.

Cheap gas fuels chemical boom as Dow invests billions. Jack Kaskey in Bloomberg.

Amid GM controversy, auto regulator has 51 people tracking 250 million vehicles. Jeff Plungis in Bloomberg.

TSA calls for armed guards at airports. Ron Nixon in The New York Times.

Bank of America to pay $9.3 billion to settle mortgage bond claims. Margaret Chadbourn and Aruna Viswanatha in Reuters.

How Republicans are using national monuments to fight Obama. Ed O'Keefe and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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