Wonkbook: Last call for Obamacare

March 31

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 Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 8.7 million. That was the number of visits to HealthCare.gov in the past week as of Sunday, with Obamacare's open enrollment ending.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Employment is almost back to where it was before the recession.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Final Obamacare open-enrollment day; (2) Obama can't keep foreign policy away; (3) why states matter in health-care law; (4) Obama's next steps on climate change; and (5) GM has a date with Washington.

1. Top story: Last call for Obamacare

Enrollments on ACA exchanges heading toward 7 million with deadline nearing. "The first yearly sign-up period for Obamacare closes [Monday], with early returns suggesting the administration may near a projection of 7 million enrollees made before the U.S. health exchange struggled at its startup....The government last week said 6 million Americans had enrolled by March 27, and that about 1 million people a day were visiting healthcare.gov. With four days left, that figure met a mark set by the Congressional Budget Office in February that was revised downward from an initial 7 million estimate after the law’s trouble start in October. Republicans today again questioned the credibility of the numbers....The 6 million figure announced by the administration reflects only people who selected a plan using the exchanges, not those who have paid their first premium to their insurer — the final step required to complete enrollment. While Republicans have pressed for that number, government officials have said it isn’t available because a system to automatically transfer data between the government and insurers isn’t finished. The government also hasn’t said how many of the 6 million enrolled previously had insurance." Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.

Explainers:

The Affordable Care Act's report card. David Nather in Politico.

FAQ: Repercussions and reprieves at open-enrollment deadline. Robert Pear in The New York Times.

5 unanswered questions on Obamacare enrollment. Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner.

Quotable: "I think they’re cooking the books on this. What kind of insurance will those people actually have? Will they be able to keep the doctor that they want? How much more is it going to cost them?" — Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Bloomberg.

Hey, procrastinators: Obamacare wants you. "The White House’s final Obamacare push is in high gear Sunday, as administration officials and their allies work for a last minute signup surge. More than six million people had chosen plans by late last week, and the White House wants to get that number up by the midnight Monday deadline....HealthCare.gov is holding up to the heavy traffic. It has handled 8.7 million visits over the past week, including two million this weekend alone, Health and Human Services officials wrote in a blog post. It hasn’t needed to resort to its 'virtual waiting room,' and HHS official said. The call center has taken 2.5 million calls in the last week — that’s slightly more than the total for the all of February. At busy times, people have been asked to leave a number so someone can call them back." Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico.

Plenty of procrastinators seem to be getting the message: Record volume on federal exchange. "The federal health insurance marketplace saw record volume for a Saturday, and operators at the federal call centers struggled to keep up with the volume of calls as consumers flooded the ObamaCare exchanges ahead of Monday’s enrollment deadline. According to the Obama administration, HealthCare.Gov saw two million visits this weekend, while the call centers received 380,000 phone calls. On Sunday, the insurance marketplace tweeted a warning to consumers that because of a crush of calls, those interested in coverage could leave their information and an employee would contact them later." Justin Sink in The Hill.

Photos: Heavy traffic for in-person enrollment, too. Caitlin MacNeal in Talking Points Memo.

Obamacare's invisible victory: Off-exchange enrollments. "As the final figures before the end of open enrollment are posted, a significant chunk of people who bought insurance under the law will be missing from the official tally. That's because people who bought insurance directly from insurers, and not through the law's exchanges, will not be included. And just how many people that represents is a figure that will not be available in time for the big enrollment-total reveal — and likely not for a long time after. Off-exchange enrollment is the forgotten piece of the Affordable Care Act, but it could represent millions of people who are also getting covered as a result of the health care law — many of whom are the young, healthy customers the administration is so aggressively pursuing." Sophie Novack in National Journal.

The long view: Despite the 6-million-enrollment milestone, miles to go for the health care law. "Particularly among Hispanics, many of the uncovered have no experience with insurance and little understanding of how it could help them. While counselors here universally say the federal website is now working well, the controversy over its launch, the procession of delayed deadlines, and the persistent political conflict have left many who might benefit from the law skeptical. In particular, counselors must overcome widespread fear that coverage will cost too much, although for this low-income population, premiums are often minimal after federal subsidies. As enrollment concludes, it is also clear the administration overestimated the ability of the uninsured to enroll themselves online and underestimated the difficulty of convincing healthy young people to participate. Both suggest a need for greater investment in outreach and counselors before enrollment resumes next fall. In all these ways, the law is emerging from this first open-enrollment period in an equivocal political position. Registration hasn't gone so badly as to guarantee its doom — nor so well as to ensure its survival. The direction of premiums remains uncertain. The law faces relentless resistance from Republicans in the courts, the states, and Congress, and an intensity gap in public opinion." Ronald Brownstein in National Journal.

Long read: How the ACA is helping bring in a new health-care era, with blessings and hurdles. Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.

What's next on the political front: Democrats, Republicans prepare for new round of battles. "The first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ends at midnight Monday, closing one chapter on President Obama’s landmark health-care law and paving the way for a new round of confrontations that could ultimately determine the law’s long-term prospects. Supporters face an array of political, financial and legal challenges in the coming months. Democrats and insurance industry officials are already seeking ways to blunt what may be the next big controversy: an expected increase in monthly insurance premiums next year for the health plans sold through the federal and state marketplaces. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to use the law to attack vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the midterm elections, which will decide whether the GOP wins control of the Senate." Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Other health care reads:

As Obamacare hits enrollment milestone, some call for cheaper plans. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Fighting for Obamacare through stage IV cancer. Christi Parsons in the Los Angeles Times.

Video: Should sick people pay more for health insurance? Aryeh Cohen-Wade in The Atlantic.

The Obamacare mandate that Republicans actually could kill next year. Dylan Scott in Talking Points Memo.

CASSIDY: Where are we now on Obamacare? "Despite these qualifications, though, the underlying message is a positive one. Lots of Americans who previously couldn’t obtain insurance, either because they couldn’t afford it or because insurers wouldn’t offer it to them, now have health coverage. Despite all the negative publicity surrounding HealthCare.gov’s launch, despite all the attacks by Republicans and other opponents of the law, despite all the carve-outs and delayed deadlines imposed by an anxious White House, Obamacare is up and running. Contrary to the predictions of doom, it hasn’t collapsed under the weight of its own complications. As was the case with the Massachusetts reform on which it was largely based, it will take a couple of years, or even longer, before we can really judge how the new system is working. Because each state is its own insurance market, the outcomes will differ widely across the country....An objective reading of this record would be that Obamacare, after a horrible foul-up in rolling out HealthCare.gov, has made a good deal of progress, and some of its problems are the consequence of deliberate efforts to undermine it." John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: What ever happened to Obama's Iraq? "So it turns out that health care is not President Barack Obama's Iraq. Or his Katrina. The new signup numbers — 6 million and counting — on the Affordable Care Act exchanges make it clear that the roll-out of the bungled federal website didn’t destroy the law. I should say right away that some find the very notion of comparing a broken website to a war offensive, and I understand that. Here, however, we're talking not so much about the effects of the policy disasters, but about the governing process. For that, comparisons can be useful — if they are apt. For me, the problem with ACA/Iraq comparisons isn't that they were offensive, but that they were inaccurate." Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg View.

TOOBIN: Obamacare makes progress. "The Obama Administration and its Democratic allies have made the task of promoting the A.C.A. more difficult through their own fecklessness. The law is still better known for the Web-site fiasco than for the benefits it has achieved....Support for the A.C.A. remains low in opinion polls, thanks in part to 'horror story' campaigns paid for by groups such as Americans for Prosperity. But, in a peculiar way, no politician, of any stripe, has incentives to tell the whole truth. Republicans prefer not to acknowledge any benefits at all. Some Democrats who voted for the law, particularly those up for reëlection, seem unable to acknowledge how much they still support it. It’s easier to focus on the parts that benefit middle-class voters — who tend to turn out at the polls, especially in midterm elections — and to elide the benefits to the poor, which are rarely politically advantageous. But the core of the law is the guarantee of health care to the people who need it most. As the story of Medicaid illustrates, the hardest thing about programs to aid the poor is getting them started in the first place. Obamacare has now passed that hurdle." Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker.

McARDLE: Is Obamacare now beyond repeal? "If signups accelerate significantly, and attrition is minimal, the exchanges may hit the CBO number. Especially when you take into account the de facto extension of open enrollment at least into April. Does that mean that Obamacare will basically be beyond repeal, as its supporters hope? It certainly makes things harder. But we still don't know how many of these people are newly insured, or how many of the previously insured like these policies better than their old policies — nor how much pressure it is going to end up putting on the budget. Those are things we won't know for quite a while. But if it were impossible to ever cut off an expensive entitlement that goes to the middle class, TennCare would never have been cut." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

GOTTLIEB: How Obamacare is ripping off young adults. "Obamacare is still struggling to sign up young people. In order to offset the high cost of the older, and probably less healthy people who are joining Obamacare plans, the White House must coerce a sufficient number of thirty-somethings to also join. Problem is, the health plans are too pricey to make economic sense for many young adults....The final number of young enrollees is well below the required cohort. Premiums will rise next year as a result of the adverse selection of older, and probably less healthy consumers. Why are young adults staying away? In one word, economics." Scott Gottlieb in Forbes.

Top opinion

CHAIT: What just happened to Paul Ryan's poverty promise? "Ryan wants it to be known that he does not personally have anything against the takers. And, who knows — maybe he doesn't. But even if you were to exterminate every wisp of anti-taker hostility within the party, what would remain behind is not love but disinterest. He and his party will always care about low taxes and high defense spending more. That’s why Ryan is going to postpone his innovative, new, reform-y ideas until after this year's version of the budget comes out, and issue them some time in the future as 'poverty related initiatives.' The budget is a way of reconciling your various commitments. Ryan’s commitments are fundamentally irreconcilable." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

GELB: Obama must show he'll use military means to deter Russia in Ukraine. "Don’t pop the champagne corks just yet because Vladimir Putin phoned Barack Obama to pursue diplomacy on Ukraine and environs. It may be just a ploy, like Moscow’s proposal to denude Syria of chemical weapons to head off a potent U.S. air strike against President Assad’s forces. It may just be a gambit to tamp down the West’s drive toward greater sanctions against Russia. And all sinister explanations of the call gain weight by the fact that some 25,000 Russian troops still threaten Ukraine’s borders. Even if Putin is serious about diplomacy for the moment, there is a deeper problem afoot for Obama. It is one that the White House rejects outright, but one that officials outside the White House and experts outside the administration are certainly fretting about. It is that Obama’s idea of combating aggression essentially by means of economic sanctions and 'diplomacy' is not nearly enough, that the costs of aggression have to be raised, and that there has to be a stronger and more credible military dimension to U.S. national security policy." Leslie H. Gelb in The Daily Beast.

KRUGMAN: 'Skills-gap' argument refuses to go away. "A few months ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, published an article in Politico titled 'Closing the Skills Gap.' They began portentously: 'Today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled' — supposedly demonstrating 'the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need.' Actually, in an ever-changing economy there are always some positions unfilled even while some workers are unemployed, and the current ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers is far below normal. Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment. But the belief that America suffers from a severe 'skills gap' is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die. And it does a lot of harm." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

SAMUELSON: A permanent economic slowdown? "Since the Great Recession, the bland (often unstated) premise has been that the economy would ultimately recover in full. Now, some economists question this and argue that the economic crisis created — or exposed — enduring weaknesses. We’re at a turning point. Even when producing at “'full capacity,' the economy will grow more slowly than in the past or than had been expected. If true, this cannot be good. Economic growth serves as a political and social lubricant. It makes public and private goals more affordable and achievable. Slower growth would dampen gains in living standards. It would make it harder to reduce budget deficits without tax increases. It could threaten inflationary bottlenecks, as the economy hits maximum output before attaining 'full employment' at, say, 5 percent unemployment. This would complicate the Federal Reserve’s policymaking." Robert J. Samuelson in The Washington Post.

REED AND MOORE: A moral imperative to reform immigration. "Republicans in the House of Representatives — sensing the political winds at their backs heading into the midterm election and distrustful of President Obama's willingness to enforce the law — have opted to do nothing about immigration. Their strategy is shortsighted. Reform will require moral courage and leadership, but it is necessary. Because of the federal government's failure to secure the border, antiquated policies and a patchwork of conflicting regulations, there are now millions of people who have overstayed visas or crossed our borders illegally. The current system is inadequate for the country's needs, and it is inequitable as well....Reform is the right thing to do for our economy and needed for a safe and secure border. It is also the smart thing to do for our future and the moral thing to do for the soul of our nation....We pray that our political leaders will exercise both for the good of our nation." Ralph Reed and Russell Moore in The Wall Street Journal.

NAUGHTON: No more NSA spying? Sorry, Mr. Obama, that's not true. "Obama's announcement looked to some observers as the first crack to appear in the implacable facade of the national surveillance state. This looked promising because, as we know from second world war movies, the first crack is inevitably the harbinger of the eventual total collapse of the dam. Dream on. The significant thing about Obama's announcement is the two things it left out: surveillance of the internet (as distinct from the telephonic activity of American citizens); and of the rest of the world — that's you and me." John Naughton in The Guardian.

FELDMAN: How the Supreme Court can slow the patent trolls. "Suppose you create a software program to assess the riskiness of a driver for car-insurance purposes, and your idea is to assess that risk based on how much the person texts while driving, combined with other risk indicators. Under the current software patenting paradigm, providing the description above without much more could be enough to merit protection. But this is far too broad: Your idea that someone who sends a lot of text messages while driving is likely to be a risky driver is just a general concept (and perhaps even a law of nature). By contrast, under an improved paradigm, you could patent only a far more limited and specific invention. You would have to specify the particular inputs used — texting frequency, credit score, hobbies, driving history — along with the weights and multipliers and software approach used to produce the risk score. Patent trolling is a multidimensional problem....But an effective decision by the Supreme Court, ensuring that software patents meet the same level of rigor as other patents, would be an important contribution to stemming the tide." Robin Feldman in The New York Times.

Animals interlude: This cat could beat you at ping-pong.

2. Foreign policy won't leave the president alone

Elected to 'nation-build' at home, but his focus keeps getting pulled abroad. "The crisis in Ukraine is just the latest reminder that, as many times as Obama pledges to 'spend every minute of every day' working on creating jobs, no president can avoid spending a big chunk of time conducting foreign policy. For a president elected twice on a platform to 'nation-build' at home and focus on unemployment, this is clearly a source of great frustration. It is one reason the stakes were so high for Obama's trip this week to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Saudi Arabia." George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal.

Explainer: Five takeaways from the president's foreign trip. One of them: "Obama's second-term pivot to foreign policy." Carrie Budoff Brown and Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.

U.S. and Russia fail to reach deal but pledge to keep talking. "The United States and Russia reached no agreement Sunday on how to defuse the crisis over Russia’s annexation of a Ukrainian territory and its massing of troops for possible further moves against the neighboring country, but they agreed to continue talking. Tens of thousands of Russian forces poised near eastern Ukraine are 'creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine' and raising questions about Russia’s next move and its commitment to diplomacy, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said following several hours of talks with Russia’s top diplomat....It was clear that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had made no promises about pulling troops back from the border and that Russia has no intention of withdrawing from Crimea, the strategic Black Sea territory it annexed two weeks ago. But both nations support diplomatic solutions and 'meeting the needs of the Ukrainian population,' Kerry said." Anne Gearan in The Washington Post.

Hopes of a diplomatic solution renewed? Putin calls Obama seeking diplomacy. "In a phone call with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on Friday, Obama urged Russia to 'avoid further provocations, including the buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine,' a White House statement said....A Kremlin account of the call focused less on the prospects for diplomacy and more about stabilizing a situation Moscow blamed on 'extremists.'" Ernesto Londoño in The Washington Post.

Ukraine is a big deal, but not the biggest deal, for U.S. "In speeches and remarks last week in Europe, President Obama made it clear that he considers Russia's annexation of Crimea a very big deal. But he also defined what it's not: an overwhelming national security threat, such as the U.S.-Soviet rivalry in the Cold War, that would trump all other foreign policy priorities....The president's approach to the Ukraine crisis has sparked a debate among foreign policy experts, including current and former advisors, on how aggressively to counter Russia's resurgent ambitions." Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times.

Congress keeps getting delayed on Ukraine aid bill. "U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly approved aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, but the measure will not become law until at least next week, congressional aides said on Friday. The House of Representatives left for the weekend without approving a final version of the legislation. Aides said it would be considered first thing when members return to Washington on Tuesday." Patricia Zengerle in Reuters.

But the administration has sent meals ready-to-eat to Ukraine. Justin Sink in The Hill.

Poll: Americans support Russia sanctions but don't think they'll work. YouGov/Huffington Post.

Is the Obama pivot to Asia on hold? "Plans for the United States to pivot to Asia are on hold again with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It’s just the latest complication in the Obama administration’s plans to rebalance the military toward Asia to counter China. Pentagon officials have insisted that the rebalance to the Pacific is still on despite budget constraints and new tensions in Europe that suggest America can’t ignore the old world. But lawmakers are increasingly skeptical the military can carry out the pivot, particularly if the crisis with Russia escalates." Jeremy Herb in The Hill.

Other foreign policy reads:

Long read: A legacy of pride and pain for U.S. veterans of Afghan and Iraq wars. Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Michel du Cille in The Washington Post.

Obama seeks ro reassure Saudi Arabia over Iran, Syria. Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Reuters.

U.S. mediators try to salvage Mideast peace talks. Josef Federman in the Associated Press.

Obama says air strikes could not have stopped Syria humanitarian crisis. Reuters.

'Star Wars' interlude: What happens when you give a kid a lightsaber.

3. Why the states are so important in Obamacare

Obamacare's national numbers look good. But here's why individual state results matter more. "With this year's deadline to register for individual health insurance just a weekend away, much attention is being lavished on two numbers — the 6 million Americans who have signed up so far, and the percentage of those folks who are (or aren't) young. But experts say the national numbers actually don't mean very much....the bottom line on what happens to individual insurance markets in each state after this first open enrollment season is going to depend on a lot more than just one or two numbers....It's not just an issue of the total number of people signing up in each state, or whether they're young or old. Karen Ignagni, who leads the insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, says the real issue is the balance of healthy to sick individuals." Julie Rovner in NPR.

ICYMI: Deadline near, health-care signups show disparity. "The online insurance marketplace in Oregon is such a technological mess that residents have been signing up for health coverage by hand. In Texas, political opposition to President Obama’s health law is so strong that some residents believe, erroneously, that the program is banned in their state. But in Connecticut, a smoothly functioning website, run by competent managers, has successfully enrolled so many patients that officials are offering to sell their expertise to states like Maryland, which is struggling to sign people up for coverage. The disparities reveal a stark truth about the Affordable Care Act: With the first open enrollment period set to end Monday, six months after its troubled online exchanges opened for business, the program widely known as Obamacare looks less like a sweeping federal overhaul than a collection of individual ventures playing out unevenly, state to state, in the laboratories of democracy....For consumers at least, the state of health care under the national law depends almost entirely on where a person lives. Some states have had a flowering of competition among insurers, including nonprofit co-ops — entirely new entities that are capturing the largest market share with low prices and remaking the coverage landscape in places like Maine. But in other places, including parts of states like New Hampshire and West Virginia, consumers have hardly any insurance choices at all." Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Poll: The states whose residents struggle the least (Minnesota, Iowa) and most (Alabama) to afford health care, medicines. Gallup.

The poll shows one area where Obamacare has fallen short. "This is why what it is happening now with the Affordable Care Act is so dispiriting — even with that 6 million threshold having been crossed. Of the 11 top states in the Gallup survey, from Alabama on down, only four have opted to expand eligibility for Medicaid as the Affordable Care Act called for — the provision that was supposed to achieve half of the law’s coverage expansion, with the other half coming via subsidies for people earning above 133 percent of the poverty level to buy private plans on the exchange....So: right now, we have passed a law meant to expand coverage to all Americans, and yet it does not reach the poorest of our fellow citizens in nearly half the states in the country. That, on its face, is a major policy failure. No one really wanted to say this during the law’s drafting, but its underlying goal was to get coverage to people in red states where there was no local political will to address the problem." Alec MacGillis in The New Republic.

Utah has won a big concession on Obamacare. Can it win another? "Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is looking for a way to join the Medicaid expansion, and that could have national implications....A good number of the 24 states that haven’t joined the Medicaid expansion are looking at a way they could enter the program by crafting their own plans....Even if Herbert can negotiate an arrangement with the feds, there’s no guarantee that his state will support it. The Legislature was reluctant to expand the Medicaid program this session, and the House speaker has been strongly opposed to the idea. Still, it will be important to see how Herbert and the Obama administration work together on Obamacare again." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

One state's strong marketplace website will replace another state's flawed one. "Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair....Like Maryland, Connecticut was one of the first and most enthusiastic states to embrace the idea of building its own insurance exchange rather than using a federal site to implement the law’s sweeping changes in health-care coverage. But unlike Maryland, where the system crashed within moments of launching and has limped along ever since, Connecticut’s exchange has worked as smoothly as any in the country." Mary Pat Flaherty and Jenna Johnson in The Washington Post.

Music interlude: The weekend may be over, but these happy movie music scenes will cheer you up.

4. Obama's next steps on climate change center on methane emissions

White House targets methane gas emissions. "The Obama administration outlined a new strategy Friday for addressing methane, signaling it may move to regulate a potent greenhouse gas released into the air from hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas. Methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to government estimates, but recent scientific studies suggest the real number may be between 13 and 14 percent. And while methane emissions have fallen since 1990, they are set to rise by 2030 as shale oil and shale gas production expands in the United States." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

One big target of the push: The oil industry. "The first big target is the oil industry, with new Interior Department regulations coming later this year to curb venting and flaring of natural gas at wells on public lands and wider air mandates possible from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016. Coming as part of the Obama administration’s the White House’s move had both symbolic and strategic value. It underscored President Barack Obama’s commitment to use his executive powers to set environmental policies, effectively sidestepping Congress on those issues. It also put oil and gas companies on notice that they must do more to clean up the methane pollution all along the supply chain, from wells to the burner tip." Jennifer A. Dlouhy in the Houston Chronicle.

When Obama's 'all of the above' and global warming collide. "It's part of a promise the president made last June when he unveiled his second-term climate agenda. At the same time, it keeps alive the administration's 'all of the above' energy plan that has won praise from the energy sector while giving environmentalists pause. The strategy won't result in any new regulations on oil and gas companies — at least not yet. Starting this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency will catalog and quantify methane released from the sector....After the agency is finished collecting data, it will 'determine how best to pursue further methane reductions' in the fall. Oil and gas drilling has surged in recent years — a boom fueled by fracking — and so too have fears that energy production could cause real environmental damage....This has created a political minefield for the president....A lack of clarity over how much methane is given off during natural-gas production has only fueled debate....As a result, the White House is trying to find a middle ground." Clare Foran and Jason Plautz in National Journal.

U.N. report warns world leaders about costs of climate change's impacts. "The world’s leading environmental scientists told policymakers and business leaders Sunday that they must invest more to cope with climate change’s immediate effects and hedge against its most dire potential, even as they work to slow the emissions fueling global warming....The report said that damage from climate change and the costs of adapting to it could cause the loss of several percentage points of gross domestic product in low-lying developing countries and island states....An early draft of the report had estimated that governments would need to spend scores of billions of dollars a year on adaptation efforts, according to a person who saw the early version, but the final summary made no mention of how much money might be needed. Before the Yokohama meeting, the Obama administration opposed setting a figure on adaptation spending." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Other energy/environmental reads:

U.S. drive on LNG exports hit by delays. Ed Crooks in The Financial Times.

Slow-motion interlude: A mouse-trap chain reaction.

5. What to expect from GM's date with Washington

GM hearings will test automaker's deep Washington ties. "General Motors chief executive Mary Barra got the royal treatment when she visited Washington in January: a mention in the State of the Union address, a seat in the first lady’s box and a warm welcome from lawmakers in both parties. But the mood will be markedly different this week, when Barra is to face questioning from two congressional panels about GM’s handling of a defective ignition switch that has been linked to 13 deaths. The high-profile appearances — before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday and a Senate panel on Wednesday — will be a key test of Barra’s leadership of GM, where she started working when she was 18 and this year became the first female chief executive of a major automaker. But the hearings will also highlight GM’s relationship with Washington, which came to its rescue with a nearly $50 billion federal bailout five years ago, prompting some critics to dub it 'Government Motors.'" Holly Yeager in The Washington Post.

What to expect at this week's 'theater of the absurd.' "Mary Barra already is facing a massive crisis involving the recall of more than three million vehicles, 12 related deaths and revelations the automaker knew about the defect for a decade. Now she’s set to testify before Congress, a theater of the absurd that could prove the ultimate test of how well she weathers this early challenge....She will undoubtedly face a barrage of thorny questions given her own roles at the company — she oversaw global product development and global manufacturing engineering during her rise — and what role GM’s 2009 bankruptcy and subsequent government bailout may have played in delaying an earlier recall." Anne Marie Squeo in Forbes.

This may complicate matters for her: GM expands recall by nearly 1 million vehicles. "General Motors on Friday dramatically expanded its recall of Chevrolet Cobalts and five other small vehicles to search for faulty ignition switches that may have previously been used to repair some of the cars. The company’s move means that it is recalling 2.6 million cars to fix the flawed switches, which it has linked to 12 deaths." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

Another revelation that could come up: Safety agency knew about GM flaw but didn't do anything. Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Fail interlude: This hotel door chain is installed the wrong way. Oops.

Wonkblog roundup

Utah already won a key Obamacare concession. Can it win another? Jason Millman.

Wal-Mart has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard. Christopher Ingraham.

The Wonkblog guide to efficient drinking. Christopher Ingraham.

Can Europe wean itself from Russian natural gas? Steven Mufson.

As Obamacare hits enrollment milestone, some call for cheaper plans. Jason Millman.

Et Cetera

NSA targets German private companies. Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark in Der Spiegel.

All public comments are welcome in the regulatory process. Then what? Phyllis Korkki in The New York Times.

Consumers spent more in February but showed less optimism. Reuters.

New corps of military lawyers helping sexual assault victims. Emery P. Dalesio and Michael Biesecker in the Associated Press.

Inflation falls below Fed target for 22nd straight month. Eric Morath and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

NSA revelations changing how businesses store data. Matthew Taylor in The Guardian.

In new case, Supreme Court revisits the question of software patents. Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

Fed to review stress-test procedures. Stephanie Armour in The Wall Street Journal.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

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Comments
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UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

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