Wonkbook: Don’t count out immigration reform just yet

April 18

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 Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 8 million. That's the latest number of signups for health insurance in the Affordable Care Act's online marketplaces, before accounting for how many actually pay their premiums.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: How Americans die, a stunning chart from Bloomberg's Matthew C. Klein.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Signs of hope for immigration reform; (2) Obamacare's latest milestone; (3) Ukraine crisis defused -- maybe; (4) Americans still aren't feeling the economic recovery; and (5) Obama going it alone on renewable energy.

1. Top story: Don't count out immigration reform just yet

House immigration bills are still in the mix, GOP tells donors and industry. "Many lawmakers and activists have assumed the issue was off the table in an election year. But Mr. Boehner said at a Las Vegas fundraiser last month he was 'hellbent on getting this done this year,' according to two people in the room....Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered an upbeat message about legislative prospects during a recent trip to Silicon Valley....Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) also is drafting legislation....One issue that could impact the timetable in Congress is a review of deportation policy now under way by the Department of Homeland Security, at Mr. Obama's direction." Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

And Diaz-Balart says he fears what happens if Obama goes it alone. "A leading Latino Republican is warning that if the GOP-controlled House does not move on immigration reform by the August recess, Obama will employ executive action to ease deportations on his own -- making any legislative reform politically impossible until at least 2017. That would mean that if Republicans don’t act on reform by August, they may lose their chance to place their stamp on reform -- and begin to repair their Latino problem -- before the next presidential election. 'I’m convinced that if we don’t get it done by the August break, the president, who is feeling a lot of pressure from having not done anything on immigration reform, will feel that he has to act through executive action,' GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a leading Republican player on immigration, told me." Greg Sargent in The Washington Post.

A White House move could slow the pace deportations. "Obama administration officials are considering allowing bond hearings for immigrants in prolonged detention, officials said, a shift that could slow the pace of deportations because immigration courts expedite cases of incarcerated immigrants....The proposal is one of several being floated as the White House scrambles to ease the concerns of Latino groups and other traditional allies....Some called him 'deporter in chief' and excoriated his administration for expelling immigrants who could qualify for legal papers under the immigration overhaul bill that passed the Senate last year but then stalled in the Republican-led House. " Brian Bennett and Christi Parsons in Los Angeles Times.

Video: Obama also says immigration reform will "haunt" Congress. Josh Encinias in National Review.

Who's the real 'deporter in chief'? Depends on how you define 'deport.' "The left is increasingly angry with President Obama, calling him the 'deporter-in-chief.' That’s because the total number of deportations during Obama’s tenure recently passed 2 million. As Dara Lind wrote last week at Vox, that pace puts him on track to 'have deported more people by the end of 2014 than George W. Bush did in his entire eight years'...The right is mad at Obama, too -- but for the opposite reason. They say he’s deporting far fewer people than Bush, and has failed to adequately enforce the country’s immigration laws....How is it possible that the two sides could look at the same data and see such different things? The key is how you define the term 'deport' -- and what you think about a broad change in policy that started during the Bush administration and has continued under Obama." Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Republic.

Interview: Do America's deportation policies work? NPR.

Obama disputes Cantor's version of phone call in which immigration came up. "Cantor said after the two men spoke by phone Wednesday that Obama still hasn’t learned how to work effectively with lawmakers. Obama told reporters during a press conference Thursday that they actually had a 'very pleasant conversation' and that he called the Virginia Republican to wish him a happy Passover. Obama says there was a mismatch between Cantor’s stance in private and public." Associated Press.

Meanwhile, immigration hunger strikes roll on. "One week after launching their protest on the doorsteps of the White House, the three people who had been starving themselves for the president’s attention made a decision. The youngest of the strikers, 18-year-old college student Cynthia Diaz, had been subsisting on water alone for five days to bring attention to her detained immigrant mother when she appeared on Saturday’s edition of Melissa Harris-Perry. The host emphasized to Diaz, at the end of the interview, her hope that the young activist 'continue to care for' herself as she worked to liberate her mother, Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, from an immigration detention center. That had an effect on Diaz." Jamil Smith in MSNBC.

Immigration background reading:

Maybe illegal immigrants don’t hurt the economy, after all. Adam Davidson in The New York Times.

Lotsa polls on immigration. Gallup.

DIONNE: Jeb Bush's optimism school. "The Republican Party faces a long-term challenge in presidential elections because it is defining itself as a gloomy enclave, a collection of pessimists who fear what our country is becoming and where it is going. The party’s hope deficit helps explain why there’s a boomlet for Jeb Bush, a man who dares to use the word 'love' in a paragraph about illegal immigrants. The flurry doesn’t mean that the former Florida governor is even running for president, let alone that he can win. But Bush is being taken seriously because his approach to politics is so different from what’s on offer from doomsayers who worry that immigrants will undermine the meaning of being American and that the champions of permissiveness will hack away at our moral core." E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post.

WEST: H1-B visa caps show need for immigration reform. "It took less than a week for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hit the cap of 65,000 for H1-b visas. Last year, the agency received 124,000 applications and in most years, these visas get snapped up in a matter of days or weeks. The visas allow high-skilled experts to come to America for jobs where workers are in short supply. Information technology companies regularly complain about worker shortages and difficulty filling available positions. The shortage of IT workers and the limited supply of H1-b visas demonstrate why it is important for the U.S. House of Representatives to enact immigration reform." Darrell M. West in Brookings.

Top opinion

BROOKS: When the circus descends on Common Core. "We are pretty familiar with this story: A perfectly sensible if slightly boring idea is walking down the street. Suddenly, the ideological circus descends, burying the sensible idea in hysterical claims and fevered accusations. The idea’s political backers beat a craven retreat. The idea dies. This is what seems to be happening to the Common Core education standards, which are being attacked on the right because they are common and on the left because they are core....This was a state-led effort, supported by employers and financed by private foundations...though the Obama administration did encourage states to embrace the new standards." David Brooks in The New York Times.

CHAIT: What conservatives have never understood about health reform. "The health-care system still has lots of problems, beginning with the 5 million poor Americans cruelly denied health care by red state Republicans. Compared to an ideal blue-sky health-care system, we still fall short. What’s beyond question is that Obamacare has effected a revolutionary improvement by its own standards. If it’s so easy to massively improve health care, why didn’t it happen before? Because passing a health-care reform through Congress is incredibly hard. The system’s waste created an enormous class of beneficiaries with a vested interest in the status quo. And the insecurity of private insurance made Americans terrified of change....And this is what conservatives have never understood." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

IGNATIUS: Has Obama defused the Ukraine crisis? "Has the Obama administration really found the famous 'exit ramp' in Ukraine that will provide an eventual diplomatic resolution of the crisis? It’s too early to know, but there were certainly signs of progress Thursday in Geneva....If the deal holds, it’s likely to open the way for what many U.S. strategists have seen as the most stable path for Ukraine -- a country that looks east and west at the same time....Whatever his faults, Obama is no sleepwalker. He has been acutely aware of the dangers in Ukraine. He appealed for, and finally demanded, de-escalation by Putin." David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

CASSIDY: Yellen didn't say the dreaded b-word: bubble. "Yellen’s motives are certainly laudable....The potential problem with this sort of forward guidance is that it sends a signal to participants in the financial markets that they don’t have to worry about interest-rate rises, so they can take advantage of cheap credit to leverage up and take more risks. It is precisely this sort of behavior that another Fed governor, Jeremy Stein, who teaches at Harvard Business School, has been warning about in a series of speeches, the most recent a few weeks ago. In Stein’s view, which I share, financial conditions should play an explicit role in monetary policy making: the Fed and other central banks can’t simply rely on enhanced regulatory measures, which are often referred to as 'macro-prudential regulation.' To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we are currently in a bubble." John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

BLINDER: A better way to run rating agencies. "Do you remember the financial crisis of 2007-09? (I imagine so.) Do you remember that one of its chief causes was a mountain of egregiously high credit ratings assigned by the rating agencies? (Maybe not.) Do you remember that Congress, in debating the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, considered a number of ways to fix, or at least ameliorate, the credit-rating problem? (You don't, do you?) Finally, was the problem ever solved? (Don't guess: The answer is no.)...Prior to the crisis, there were two glaring problems with the credit-rating agencies....The bad news is that nothing has been done about the bigger problem: the perverse incentives that arise when security issuers hire the rating agencies and pay them for their work -- the so-called 'issuer-pays' model." Alan S. Blinder in The Wall Street Journal.

ROBINSON: A tragedy of the global commons on climate. "'There is a clear message from science,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, a German climatologist who is co-chairman of the working group that produced the new report. 'To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.' And there you have the problem. As Edenhofer noted in a statement released with the report, climate change is a problem affecting the 'global commons.' But for leaders around the world, 'business as usual' means acting in national self-interest. Someday, perhaps, the effects of climate change will be so overwhelming that governments will see the need for shared sacrifice. It’s time to acknowledge, however, that we’re not there yet." Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post.

NORRIS: Merely rich and super-rich: The tax gap is narrowing. "Will this be the year that the superrich finally pay higher taxes than the very rich? This is not, I admit, something that many people are worried about. But it is an interesting fact that our current tax system assures that -- year after year -- the superrich, those who report adjusted gross incomes of more than $10 million, have tax rates that are significantly lower than those of the very rich, those earning more than $500,000 but less than $10 million....This year, that tax advantage has been reduced, even if only for some of the highest-paid Americans. It is a start toward a tax policy that no longer discriminates against people who have to work for a living because they do not have dividend checks to support them." Floyd Norris in The New York Times.

Interstellar interlude: NASA finds the most Earth-like extrasolar planet yet.

2. What Obamacare's latest milestone means, and how we got here

New Affordable Care Act exchange milestone: 8 million signups. "The final figure is well above the White House’s initial target of 7 million sign-ups....The final figure of how many Americans will gain health coverage under the law remains unclear for several reasons....On the other hand, the 8 million figure does not include everyone who is newly insured, because more than 1 million consumers -- and possibly many more -- have bought plans directly through insurance companies. And 3 million Americans have been determined newly eligible for Medicaid as a result of the program’s expansion in 26 states and the District, according to administration figures." Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Explainers:

Here's how we got to 8 million exchange signups. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Why the exchanges hit 8 million: It's horrible to be uninsured. Sarah Kliff in Vox.

Obama to Republicans: Stop trying to repeal this thing already. "President Barack Obama called Thursday on Republicans to end their quest to repeal Obamacare -- and Democrats to 'forcefully defend and be proud' of the law. In remarks from the White House briefing room, Obama delivered a vigorous defense of the program, which has far exceeded enrollment expectations but remains a liability for Democrats in the midterm elections." Kyle Cheney and Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico.

Don't expect Republicans to go along. "Republican leaders are telling the party's House members that persistent criticism of the federal health-care law is the best path to victory this fall regardless of how the law's implementation evolves ahead of the November elections. Leaders of the congressional wing of the party say opposition to the Affordable Care Act will resonate with the voters most likely to go to the polls, and they are encouraging House members, currently at home for a two-week recess, to keep up their attacks." Michael R. Crittenden in The Wall Street Journal.

@NRCC: No, we can’t. RT @ZekeJMiller: Obama: "I think we can all agree that it's well past time to move on."

One thing's clear: This debate is far from over. "It was one of the fastest backtracks at any presidential press conference. From optimist to realist in less than 45 minutes. Obama the Optimist cited the sign-up numbers for the Affordable Care Act, the revised numbers for premium costs, and the good news on the expected life of the Medicare trust fund. Almost in awe, he declared, 'This thing is working.' But Obama the Realist admitted the Republican opposition has been unchanged by every statistic he cited.'" George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal.

Quotable: "I wish we had an alternative. You know what’s unfortunate? Is for the next six months, we're going to go into an election knowing that we're not going to do anything to address health care because we’ve gone so far for the last three years saying ‘no,’ that we don’t have an alternative to say 'yes' to. And I think that the American public, when they go to vote, they’re going to look at credibility before they look at substance." -- Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.). Caitlin MacNeal in Talking Points Memo.

Explainer: The other key number Obama mentioned — 24. "But President Obama took his moment at the podium to take a shot at the governors that have said no to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. For one reason or another, 24 states are still sitting out." Dan Diamond in Forbes.

The exchanges are working just fine, a top insurance executive says. "After taking a pretty cautious approach to the launch of the health insurance marketplaces in 2014, the nation’s largest insurer said it’s looking to expand its Obamacare footprint in 2015. UnitedHealth Group, which is participating in just five public exchanges this year, said it’s likely to join more insurance marketplaces in 2015 but didn't offer specifics....Still, the insurance giant saw its earnings fall 7.8 percent this quarter, which the company partially attributed to Medicare Advantage cuts and Obamacare taxes." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Next, focus shifts to states. Here's what insurance commissioners chatted with Obama about. "The transition to new leadership at the Health and Human Services Department following the resignation of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; the upcoming 2015 open-enrollment period; unique challenges U.S. territories face with the Affordable Care Act; issues with 'navigators,' who assist enrollees; and 2015 rates for insurance plans. A major question moving into 2015 is whether premiums will rise following the law's first open-enrollment period. State commissioners said the rates for insurance plans are still unknown, but they emphasized that their process for rate approval will remain the same." Sophie Novack in National Journal.

Nope, still no death spiral. The youth-enrollment picture looks almost exactly like Massachusetts' reform in its first year. Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

Other health care reads:

Healthcare costs in U.S. far exceed costs in other countries, report says. Stuart Pfeifer in the Los Angeles Times.

Study: Cuts to Medicare Advantage top $1,500 per senior. Sam Baker in National Journal.

Animals interlude: Check out this video of a Parkour dog.

3. Surprise! Crisis defused in Ukraine — maybe

Diplomats reach deal (at least as a first step) on defusing Ukraine crisis. "Top diplomats on Thursday laid out a series of steps to tamp down violence and political unrest in Ukraine, even as Western officials publicly doubted Russia’s resolve to use its influence to help defuse the crisis in the former Soviet republic. The potential diplomatic breakthrough...came after nearly seven hours of negotiations with Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the Ukrainian foreign minister and the European Union’s foreign policy chief. Under the agreement, all parties, including separatists and their Russian backers, would stop violent and provocative acts, and all illegal groups would be disarmed." Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan in The Washington Post.

Quotable headline: "The U.S. and Russia Are Now Actually Agreeing on Something in Ukraine." Marina Koren in National Journal.

Primary source: Full text of joint diplomatic statement. The New York Times.

Explainer: What does the agreement mean? Julia Ioffe in The New Republic.

Why Obama is skeptical. "President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn't make good on its commitments....Obama did not say what additional sanctions might be in the offing if commitments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva do not materialize. U.S. officials have prepared penalties on wealthy Russians in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, as well on the entities they run." Julie Pace in the Associated Press.

Audio: About those Russian troops... Corey Flintoff in NPR.

It's hard for Ukraine to fight back when it's basically broke. "Ukrainian officials estimate that they need up to $30 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund and western allies over the next two years. Ukraine hopes to sign a deal this month to unlock $7 billion from the IMF. The funds can’t come soon enough. Even before its ongoing clash with Russia, Ukraine was an economic basket case. Now, having lost Crimea and facing the prospect of losing swaths of land in its industrial east, Ukraine’s new government faces Russian gas debts of more than $2 billion, among other expenses. The economy will shrink by at least 3% this year, according to official sources." Jason Karaian in Quartz.

It's a crisis of more than just economics — defections, too. "Kiev’s credibility is on the line as the central government tries to persuade residents fearful of economic hardship that their future lies with Ukraine rather than Russia. Scenes of armed occupation unfolded Wednesday across eastern Ukraine. Besides the takeover of City Hall in this city of nearly 1 million, separatists farther north flew the Russian flag over six armored vehicles that fell into their hands after Ukrainian forces surrendered them, either willingly or through intimidation." Anthony Faiola in The Washington Post.

Non-lethal aid to Ukraine is on the way. "The U.S. will send medical supplies, helmets and other nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian military in response to Russia's 'dangerously irresponsible' efforts to destabilize the country, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday." Robert Burns in the Associated Press.

Other foreign policy reads:

Treasuries fall most in a month as Ukraine talks end in accord. Susanne Walker and Cordell Eddings in Bloomberg.

U.S. said to warn money managers of more Russia sanctions. Christopher Condon in Bloomberg.

What we know about the pro-Russian fliers threatening to round up Ukrainian Jews. Zack Beauchamp in Vox.

This I learned today interlude: Chili say what? Linguistics help pinpoint pepper's origins.

4. How Americans feel about the economy — and Washington

Americans don't trust anyone in Washington to fix the economy right now. "Gallup's current Economic Confidence Index score (-17) is virtually the same as where it was one year ago (-16), but Americans have less confidence in their elected officials to deal with the economy than they did a year ago. The depressed confidence in political leaders may be a lingering effect of October's federal government shutdown. This is the first time President Obama's rating has fallen below the 50% mark on the question of Americans' confidence in his ability to recommend the right thing for the economy." Justin McCarthy in Gallup.

Another poll: Plurality blame poverty not on individual failings but on fewer opportunities. YouGov/Huffington Post.

Sign of hope? Workers' earnings are on the upswing. "Are American workers finally starting to see some decent wage increases? A report Thursday offers hope....The weekly earnings of the typical full-time worker rose 3% in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, the fastest pace since 2008, the Labor Department said. That translated into median earnings -- the point at which half of all workers made more and half made less -- of $796. When you adjust for inflation, median earnings are now at their highest level since the second quarter of 2012. Even better is that the earnings growth far outpaced the 1.4% year-over-year rise in consumer prices, as measured by the Labor Department." Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

Jobless claims stay near pre-recession low. "New claims for jobless benefits hovered near their pre-recession levels last week and manufacturing in the Mid-Atlantic region accelerated in April, suggesting an upswing in economic activity after a brutally cold winter. Coming on the heels of fairly bullish data on retail sales and industrial production, Thursday's reports also hinted job growth may be picking up slightly." Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.

Primary source: Yesterday's report on Mid-Atlantic manufacturing.

CBO says minimum wage hike to $10.10 would cost firms $15 billion. "A Senate Democratic bill gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 hourly would require private businesses to spend $15 billion more in salaries when it takes full effect in 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday. The nonpartisan budget office's estimate could be used as ammunition by Republicans, who largely oppose the measure because they say it would drive up business costs. But it could also be beneficial to Democrats because the private sector spent $5.4 trillion on wages in 2012....That means the increased pay would boost employers' wage costs by just 0.003 percent." Alan Fram in the Associated Press.

Other economic/financial reads:

Biggest predictor of how long you’ll be unemployed is when you lose your job. Ben Casselman in FiveThirtyEight.

CBO says Obama budget would cut deficit, but less than White House forecasting. David Lawder in Reuters.

Selfie interlude: People are photoshopping the Obama-Biden selfie. And the results are amazing.

5. How Obama is trying to boost renewable energy without Congress

Obama touts new $15 million initiative on solar power. "The new initiative comes as the White House is hosting a Solar Summit aimed at highlighting successful efforts on the local level to speed the deployment of solar energy. Although some large solar plants are coming online and it is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it accounts for roughly 1 percent of the nation’s electricity generation....In an effort to make it easier for state, local and tribal governments to expand their solar portfolios, the Energy Department is launching a $15 million-dollar 'Solar Market Pathways' program." Juliet Eilperin and Katie Zezima in The Washington Post.

U.S. also will fund cutting-edge renewable energy programs. "As much as $4 billion in loan guarantees may be available for cutting-edge renewable energy technologies, the U.S. Department of Energy said. The Energy Department issued a draft loan guarantee for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that would avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases found to be linked to climate change." Daniel J. Graeber in UPI.

But a new government watchdog report won't help Obama's PR push. "Long before the Energy Department lost $68 million on Abound Solar, a manufacturer that went bankrupt two years ago, it should have known that the company’s chance of repaying the loan it had guaranteed was deteriorating, according to a report by the department’s inspector general. The damning report was issued as the Obama administration prepared to offer as much as $8 billion in additional loan guarantees. The loan guarantee program has been a magnet for criticism since the failure of Solyndra in 2011; that company took $528 million in loans guaranteed by the Energy Department." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Oklahoma will likely tax people who generate their own energy with solar panels. John Aziz in The Week.

Other energy/environmental reads:

Hydraulic fracturing giants meet their climate demon. Ben Geman in National Journal.

Oil and gas activity in full rebound in Gulf four years after BP oil spill. Jennifer Larino in The Times-Picayune.

Life's ponderables interlude: Why do we dye Easter eggs? This video explains.

Wonkblog roundup

Here’s how we got to 8 million Obamacare signups. Jason Millman.

Actually, cyclists make city streets safer. Emily Badger.

The government can’t agree if Fannie and Freddie will cost taxpayers $19 billion or make $181 billion. Dina ElBoghdady.

Taxpayers loaned $192 billion to the government last year. Here’s where that money came from. Christopher Ingraham.

The nation’s largest insurer thinks Obamacare exchanges are doing just fine. Jason Millman.

Teens who expect to die young are more likely to commit crime. Emily Badger.

Et Cetera

High-speed traders said to be subpoenaed in N.Y. probe. Keri Geiger in Bloomberg.

Two justices say high court will likely rule on NSA programs. Lawrence Hurley in Reuters.

One year later, little government response to Boston Marathon bombing. Steve Peoples in the Associated Press.

Indiana faces new deadline on education standards after dropping Common Core. Summer Ballentine in the Associated Press.

Plant breeders release first open-source seeds. Dan Charles in NPR.

Let's all chill out about clones. Elizabeth Lopatto in Forbes.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.

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