Wonkbook: What the upcoming primaries tell us about the GOP’s future

June 24

Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here.


(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: One in 10. That's the proportion of U.S. vehicles that have been recalled since January, putting the industry on track to beat the 2004 record of 30.8 million.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: These charts show how many Americans are newly insured after the Obamacare exchanges' first year— and what those enrollees' health is like.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) More insights into the GOP's future; (2) what the new EPA-related ruling means; (3) fresh future Obamacare challenges; (4) why child-care and paid-leave measures have been tough; and (5) gas-tax hike's prospects.

1. Top story: What the GOP leadership and Tuesday's primaries tell us about the party's future.

Why the GOP is watching Tuesday's primaries: It's about the party's future ability to govern. "Fear of losing a seat to a Democrat because of a Tea Party upset is one reason congressional Republicans are warily watching Tuesday’s Mississippi Senate runoff and other primary challenges to incumbents. But it is not the sole reason....Republican lawmakers and party operatives worry that the election of mavericks like Chris McDaniel, who is trying to unseat Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi, could make a difficult governing environment almost impossible by expanding the ranks of Republican senators who are willing to defy the party leadership....In fact, they suggest that a fractured majority could harm the party and its prospects by putting congressional Republicans nominally in charge but denying them real power to deliver on big issues." Carl Hulse in The New York Times.

Explainer: 8 big races to watch Tuesday. Adam Wollner in National Journal.

McCarthy now wants to shutter Ex-Im bank. "House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday that he intends to let the charter of the controversial Export-Import Bank expire this fall — a move that would appease conservatives in Congress who are demanding that the bank not be reauthorized....Two years ago, McCarthy was one of 147 House Republicans who joined with 183 Democrats in voting to reauthorize the bank's charter — over the opposition of conservatives like Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling who characterized the bank as corporate welfare." Billy House in National Journal.

Explainer: 5 key challenges for McCarthy. Peter Schroeder in The Hill.

McCarthy downplays policy differences within GOP. "Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy downplayed any divisions within the Republican Party on Sunday in the aftermath of his predecessor’s primary loss, saying internal disagreements are about tactics, not policy. 'We are all conservatives,' he said on 'Fox News Sunday.' 'The only thing we ever battle over are the tactics, not ideology.'" Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

And, yes, there are substantive policy differences between the 'establishment' and tea party, at least among voters. "The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found distinct differences in opinion — on immigration, the environment and the role of the tea party itself — between Republicans who identify with the tea-party movement and those who don't. In the poll, 43% of self-identified Republicans considered themselves tea-party supporters and 43% didn't. Those Republicans aligned with the tea party were more inclined to believe immigration hurts the country and far more skeptical of the need to address global warming." Patrick O'Connor and Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

Background reading: The two sides are converging in many instances. "The Tea Party may not be racking up many primary wins this year, but primary wins may no longer be the best metric of success. 'The goal of the Tea Party is not to elect Tea Party candidates but to change America, to affect public policy,' Richard Viguerie, the conservative activist who pioneered political direct mail and the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, tells Newsweek....And that is exactly what he sees happening. 'The Republican Party is moving to the right,' he says. 'Comprehensive immigration reform is not on the horizon. The list goes on and on and on of the issues that the Tea Party is influencing the Congress on.' Establishment candidates, meanwhile, are now 'running on Tea Party–type issues.'" Pema Levy in Newsweek.

How Cantor's primary loss has helped give tea party candidates new life. "Only a few weeks ago the tea party’s obituary was being written as GOP incumbents and establishment-backed challengers beat back over tea party-inspired foes in one primary after another. Then along came Dave Brat. The Republican economics professor’s win over Cantor has delivered a jolt to what had been a mostly sleepy primary season, infusing underdog challengers with newfound optimism. Campaign contributions that had dried up are beginning to flow. Volunteers are coming on board. And reporters that had been ignoring the underdog candidates are starting to pay attention." Alex Isenstadt in Politico.

Explainer: GOP primary candidates who could be the next David Brat. Steven Shepard in Politico.

Voting-rights legislation faces a cloudy future after Cantor's loss. "Efforts to craft a measure that would pass the House hinged on Cantor’s tacit support....In the days following Cantor’s primary loss, several left-leaning publications declared that it was a major setback for the chances of a voting rights bill making it to the House floor this year....But the congressional Democrats on the front lines of the fight to pass new voting rights legislation have, if anything, been even more insistent in recent days that they will succeed in passing a bill, even if it takes more time than they’d like....Some have argued that Cantor — with nothing to lose — could make championing voting rights legislation his final legislative push before he gives up his leadership post July 31." Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.

Not your typical tea party-establishment battle in Okla. "Four years ago, James Lankford was a Baptist minister making a long-shot first foray into politics, and T.W. Shannon was a little-known state legislator....The national tea-party machinery is squarely behind Shannon. The contest, which could be headed to a runoff, also carries broader implications for a Republican Party looking to shed its image as being led mostly by old white men. Shannon, 36, is African American and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He would become the third sitting black senator. But this is not a typical tea-party-versus-establishment fight. It’s a complicated struggle featuring two candidates who blur the lines between the competing corners of the GOP and are reluctant to identify exclusively with either one." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

SUNSTEIN: Why Republicans misread Cantor's loss. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss to David Brat in the Virginia Republican primary has produced a national 'availability cascade.' This is a process of belief formation through which a single event becomes widely known, is taken to reveal some broader pattern or truth, and produces a large-scale change in people’s judgments about probability. Like many availability cascades, this one may well lead to big mistakes. For mainstream politicians in the Republican Party, the post-Cantor cascade is likely to produce far more fear of the Tea Party than reality warrants — with unjustified effects on American politics and voting patterns in Congress." Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg View.

TAUZIN: GOP should embrace the tea party. "The tea party is not an enemy of, nor is it officially aligned with, the Republican Party. Yet while it includes libertarians, conservative Democrats, and independents, the tea party generally espouses positions such as smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, free enterprise, property rights and a deep hatred of Big Brother-style over-regulation. All these are strongly held views that course through the veins of Republicans and tea party patriots alike. Now, with the shocking defeat of House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the possible victory of tea party favorite Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, it is especially important to ask: Why such hostility?" Billy Tauzin in Politico Magazine.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: The big green test. "On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is 'the challenge of our time,' and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take. But not nearly brave enough." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

PETHOKOUKIS: Save the American economy. Have a baby. Make it three. "Washington should care about the nation's fertility rate the same way it cares about the nation's productivity and labor-force participation rates. Low fertility rates are associated with diminished economic growth....Unfortunately, increasing the birth rate is hard....Trying to nudge women to have more kids than they want is both a fool's errand and unseemly. But trying to make it easier to for parents to have the number of kids they do want — and produce the next generation of workers, taxpayers, and entrepreneurs — by lowering government hurdles is just what U.S. economy and American families need to flourish in the long run." James Pethokoukis in The Week.

RAMPELL: From boardroom to ballgame to bedtime, dads are learning to juggle. "Women have been trying for decades to juggle, balance, multitask, lean every which way, work the second shift and, most elusively, have it all. For many working mothers, the guilt from being unable to fulfill any or all of these lifestyle euphemisms has been unrelenting. Somehow men seemed relatively untouched by such work-life tensions....In fact, while women typically suffer an earnings penalty upon having kids, men tend to enjoy a fatherhood pay premium. The result has been that family-friendly labor policies, as President Obama observed at the White House’s working families summit Monday, have traditionally 'been thought of as women’s issues, which I guess means you can kind of scoot ’em aside a little bit.' Until now." Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.

FIORINA: Maybe Americans haven't become more polarized. "Although the report bears the title 'Political Polarization in the American Public,' this is an inaccurate characterization of the findings. In common parlance polarization connotes a movement away from the center toward both extremes. This has not happened in the United States. If one thinks about polarization in partisan terms, one would expect to see an increase in the proportions of Democrats and Republicans and a decrease in the proportion of independents. But the American National Election Studies report that the distribution of American partisanship has been constant since the reelection of Ronald Reagan in 1984. Gallup had the proportion of independents at an all-time high in 2013." Morris Fiorina in The Washington Post.

FRAKT: Bigger health companies — good for Medicare, maybe not for others. "Medicare’s Accountable Care Organization model...favors larger health provider organizations that can manage the costs and quality of all types of care Medicare pays for, from primary care to high-intensity hospitalization and everything in between. If that model works, it’ll be welcome news for Medicare and its beneficiaries. But health economists, myself included, have long worried about what larger provider organizations mean for private health insurance plans, the ones that serve most Americans under 65, through employer-based coverage or policies purchased on the Obamacare exchanges." Austin Frakt in The New York Times.

'Frozen' interlude: Pearl Jam perform their own rendition of "Let It Go."

2. The latest EPA court ruling matters...but it also doesn't

Justices largely uphold key EPA tool for regulating CO2. "The court’s bifurcated opinion on one hand criticized the agency for trying to rewrite provisions of the Clean Air Act. But it nevertheless granted the Obama administration and environmentalists a big victory by agreeing that there are other ways for the EPA to reach its goal of regulating the gases that contribute to global warming....The decision concerns rules separate from the more comprehensive plan the EPA proposed this month to cut carbon emissions from existing plants by as much as 30 percent over 15 years." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Why the ruling matters — and doesn't. "It is significant because it struck down an EPA rule in which the agency effectively asserted extremely broad authority to revise clear statutory text....It is somewhat inconsequential in that the ultimate effect of this decision on the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is quite limited....Hhad the EPA rule been upheld, the agency would have been able to regulate 86 percent of industrial GHG emissions under the relevant statutory provisions. After...it appears the agency will still be able to reach an estimated 83 percent of industrial GHG emissions. Moreover, this decision does not in any way curtail the EPA’s underlying authority to treat GHGs as pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act." Jonathan H. Adler in The Washington Post.

The court also scaled back the ability to band together in certain class-action suits. "The Supreme Court took a modest step Monday toward making it harder for individuals to band together in class-action suits alleging securities fraud. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that companies should be able to present evidence earlier in proposed class-action suits that fraud was not responsible for a drop in stock prices. Currently, corporations can present such evidence only at the merits stage of the litigation — but business groups say most litigation never reaches that stage, because it is cheaper for companies to settle the claims. Business groups had wanted much more from the court." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Explainer: That's not all. 8 big cases await Supreme Court rulings. Richard Wolf in USA Today.

In other climate-related news...cough, cough. "Residents of bulging metropolises around the world should brace for an increase in stagnant, polluted air that hangs around for days as a result of climate change-related shifts in wind and rainfall patterns, according to a new study. The findings highlight one way global warming can compromise human health, which is a major thrust behind the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed plan to curb power plant carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030, said Janice Nolen, an assistant vice president at the American Lung Association in Washington." John Roach in NBC News.

What climate change could cost the U.S. each year. "Annual property losses from hurricanes and other coastal storms of $35 billion; a decline in crop yields of 14 percent, costing corn and wheat farmers tens of billions of dollars; heat wave-driven demand for electricity costing utility customers up to $12 billion per year. These are among the economic costs that climate change is expected to exact in the United States over the next 25 years, according to a bipartisan report released on Tuesday. And that's just for starters: The price tag could soar to hundreds of billions by 2100." Sharon Begley in Reuters.

The White House is pushing climate solutions this week. "White House officials are spending this week highlighting the public health and economic consequences of climate change on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s speech to combat address the problem....The White House will host two roundtables to discuss the financial risks of climate change....Obama’s plan calls for boosting renewable energy and efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings, and preparing the nation for the extreme weather impacts of a changing planet. But the long-awaited plan left the specifics to be worked out." Anita Kumar in McClatchy Newspapers.

Housing nominee Castro is Obama's newest climate denizen. "As mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Julian Castro didn't have much occasion to weigh in on climate change. But as a rising star in the Democratic Party on the verge of taking a Cabinet position, climate work is essentially going to be a requirement. Now that he appears set to head the Housing and Urban Development Department, Castro will get his chance, thanks to President Obama's practice of spreading out climate work across the Cabinet. If confirmed, Castro will be handed the keys to a recently announced $1 billion program to help areas hit by natural disasters rebuild and plan for climate change. Housing and Urban Development has taken on other sustainability responsibilities." Jason Plautz in National Journal.

Other environmental/energy reads:

Maybe those EPA rules aren't the biggest deal? Rebecca Leber in The New Republic.

Animals interlude: Stunning video of polar bears swimming.

3. Future challenges for Obamacare: Paying bills, keeping promises, a potential legislative onslaught and more

What would a GOP Senate mean for Obamacare? "A Republican Senate majority wouldn't be able to fully repeal Obamacare, but it could force some pretty significant changes to the health care law....As the odds of a GOP takeover increase, a rough outline is starting to emerge of how Republicans would handle Obamacare. Full repeal might be a fantasy, but with total control of Congress the GOP might be able to chalk up some real policy wins against the Affordable Care Act, and the first targets are already coming into view....If Republicans win the Senate, for example, Obama will almost surely be presented with a bill to repeal the health care law's tax on medical devices." Sam Baker in National Journal.

Are the pre-existing condition provisions living up to their promise? "Insurance companies may have found a way to skirt one of Obamacare's most popular promises: equal access to insurance coverage for patients with preexisting conditions....They're some of the Affordable Care Act's most popular provisions — and have been key to Democrats' defense of the law. But patient advocates say the reality on the ground isn't matching the ACA's intent. They say insurance companies are explicitly breaking the law, as well as undermining its intent, with policies that put life-saving treatments out of reach for many of the patients who need them most." Sophie Novack in National Journal.

States with Obamacare exchanges need to figure out how to pay for them in year two. "The Affordable Care Act provided federal grant funding for states to get their new web portals up and running. The Obama administration doled out $4.6 billion in grants to states launching their own marketplaces. But Obamacare also requires state exchanges to become self-sustaining by the start of 2015. That means every state exchange that will operate next year now needs to figure out how to pay their bills. Every marketplace needs to be able to pay staff (which sometimes number in the hundreds), maintain office space and continue running outreach campaigns to increase the insurance rate." Sarah Kliff in Vox.

Most newly insured Americans used the exchanges — but they're in worse health than Americans overall. "Gallup previously found the nation's uninsured rate remains at 13.4 percent after a peak of 18 percent last year. That finding, along with the new data, suggests that Obamacare helped millions of Americans gain health insurance after open enrollment began last October. The bad news is that newly insured exchange enrollees reported worse health to Gallup than the national adult population." German Lopez in Vox.

Time to ditch the employer mandate? It's giving Obamacare backers more headaches. "In recent weeks, criticism of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate...has intensified, as employers...complain publicly and even some Obama administration allies acknowledge that the mandate has harmed some workers....Some supporters of the Affordable Care Act say that the employer mandate, which applies to businesses with at least 50 full-time workers, has fueled the law’s unpopularity and that getting rid of it wouldn’t hurt the central goal of reducing the number of uninsured people....But canceling the mandate would require an act of Congress, which is bitterly torn over the 2010 law." Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Other health care reads:

The Medicaid black hole that costs taxpayers billions. John Tozzi in Bloomberg Businessweek.

VA overlooked whistleblowers, report says. Lauren French in Politico.

Problem at VA still in focus on Capitol Hill. Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Measles cases are spreading, despite high vaccination rates. What’s going on? Tara Haelle in The Washington Post.

Senate panel calls on U.S. CDC to explain anthrax scare. Reuters.

Political music interlude: Like the Rangel Rap? Here are some more political jingles for your playlist.

4. Why child-care and paid-leave policies have been tough to achieve

Why hasn’t the president been more aggressive on family leave? "He's enacted other major family-related benefits, such as a the expansion of health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and proposed other child-focused policies, including a plan to offer pre-K to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The idea of paid leave, however, hasn't seriously come up in White House policy discussions, according to a person who has been deeply involved in those talks. The reason has to do with the substantial cost of such a program, and the difficulty of funding it without raising taxes on the middle class — which would violate a major 2008 campaign promise." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

It doesn't help that Congress can't agree on much these days. "Obama, free of seeking re-election, is using his second term to take executive action to promote increasing the federal minimum wage, to extend same-sex marriage rights and, in this case, call for federal agencies to adopt more flexible schedules for family-related leave. But the president’s power goes only so far, and with Congress divided on the federal government’s role in social policies that affect private employers, passing any legislation that increases the costs of doing business, or adds another entitlement program, is unlikely to happen anytime soon." Angelo Young in International Business Times.

Explainer: When it comes to working parents, can Democrats and Republicans get along? Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

That one time that America almost got universal child care. "Back in 1971...Congress passed a bill, the Comprehensive Child Development Act...that would have created a national network of federally funded child care centers, with tuition subsidized depending on a family's income....The government was to fund meals, medical checkups and staff training. No family would have been required to participate, but every one would have had the option. Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike supported the bill. The Senate passed it 63-17....Then Nixon...vetoed it with scathing language denouncing the 'radical' idea that government should help rear children in the place of their parents. The veto rested on cultural grounds more than financial constraints." Emily Badger in The Washington Post.

A more family-friendly executive branch, at the very least? "Obama signed a presidential memo Monday directing the federal government to expand access to flexible time for workers and directed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to head a $25 million initiative to help people who want to enroll in job-training programs but do not have access to child care. He said initiatives such as those addressing the minimum wage and expanded pre-kindergarten are aimed in part at helping those who struggle to afford child care....The president endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) that would protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace." Juliet Eilperin and Katie Zezima in The Washington Post.

Primary source: White House fact sheet on working-families initiatives.

Related: Is that more-flexible workplace coming to Capitol Hill? Probably not. Rebecca Gale in Roll Call.

Other labor reads:

Dean Heller, Jack Reed take another stab at unemployment benefits. Burgess Everett in Politico.

Most Americans think it's illegal to fire someone for being gay. They're wrong. Josh Eidelson in Bloomberg Businessweek.

World Cup interlude: Baby elephants have mad soccer skills. World Cup material? Eh, probably not.

5. Don't count out a gas-tax hike just yet

White House cool on gas-tax hike but won't fully rule it out. "Obama administration officials told The Huffington Post that they continue to support the closing of corporate tax loopholes, a repatriation tax holiday and other tax reforms as a means of paying for a four-year $302 billion transportation bill....The statement from Lehrich wasn't, on its face, a full-out rejection of a gas tax hike. Noting that the president hasn't proposed the idea isn’t the same as saying he opposes it or would veto it if it came to his desk." Sam Stein and Ryan Grim in The Huffington Post.

U.S. infrastructure projects are threatened. "The need to finance the Highway Trust Fund is urgent because it is running out of cash and many projects could slow or be halted by the end of the summer....On average the fund accounts for 52 per cent of the funding states receive for highway and bridge projects, according to Guggenheim Securities. The potential for delayed reimbursements is already leading some state departments of transportation to slow down their work or shelve future projects. An investment blitz in big projects in the 1950s and 1960s helped the US economy to accelerate ahead of many peers, but with that infrastructure now in decay analysts say the country is squandering its advantage." James Politi and Barney Jopson in The Financial Times.

Tougher fuel-efficiency standards help consumers save at the pump but cut trust-fund revenue. "The average miles-per-gallon of new cars that are purchased in the United States has increased from 21 miles-per-gallon in 2008 to 25.6 miles-per-gallon this year, according to a study released Monday....The result of the change is that U.S. drivers who own 2014 model cars will spend about $300 less per year on gasoline than owners of cars that were made in 2008, the study found. The CFA said the trend toward higher gas mileage was likely to continue to likely to continue to grow as new fuel economy standards that are being implemented by the Obama administration are put in place in coming years." Keith Laing in The Hill.

Long read: Conservatives see Highway Trust Fund fight as road to state control of transportation spending. David Harrison in Roll Call.

All these auto recalls are providing a windfall to dealers. "The auto industry is cruising toward a record number of safety recalls: GM has recalled 20 million vehicles in the first six months of this year, and most carmakers have lowered the bar for the kind of problems that'll have them sending you back to your local dealers. But while that sounds like bad news, it turns out that recalls can have an upside — at least for car dealers. Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at AutoTrader.com, explains that dealerships can actually make money when carmakers discover defects. The reason? Customers have to take their cars into a dealership to get the problems fixed." Sonari Glinton in NPR.

Other transportation reads:

Supreme Court to examine Amtrak's role in setting rail regulations. Brent Kendall in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama interlude: He keeps escaping the White House. Twitter weighs in on his Chipotle lunch.

Wonkblog roundup

That one time America almost got universal child care. Emily Badger.

Two charts that show why the housing market is off track. Dina ElBoghdady.

A reminder that not everyone loves more transparency for health-care prices. Jason Millman.

Very short true stories about trying to hail a cab. Emily Badger.

A hundred years of American politics, in one GIF. Christopher Ingraham.

More than one in every 10 vehicles on the road has been recalled since January. Michael A. Fletcher.

Why Obama is having so much trouble helping America’s new moms and dads. Zachary A. Goldfarb.

Et Cetera

U.S. releases immigrant families, won't say how many. Alicia A. Caldwell in the Associated Press.

Forget the FCC — should the FTC enforce net-neutrality regulations? Brendan Sasso in National Journal.

U.S. housing regaining footing as supply increases; manufacturing strong. Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.

Senators will push to legalize cell-phone unlocking. Brendan Sasso in National Journal.

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

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

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