Wonkbook — The latest risk in the migrant crisis: politics

July 24

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(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 1.7 percent. That's the International Monetary Fund's latest projection for U.S. economic growth in 2014, and a further downgrade.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: This chart shows that the federal Obamacare exchange remained surprisingly busy, even after open enrollment ended.

Wonkbook's Top 4 Stories: (1) Politics and the migrant-crisis responses; (2) diving deeper into the Obamacare rulings; (3) challenges of reforming and overseeing the secretive NSA; and (4) new legal action on same-sex marriage.

1. How politics are driving (and maybe endangering) the response to the migrant crisis 

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on a solution. But they agree on one thing: Politics may help kill a bill. "Legislation addressing the crisis won’t become law until September at best — if a bill ever makes it off Capitol Hill at all. The reasons President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion request for assistance — or anything that looks like it — won’t pass Congress before the August recess range from the political to the practical. And they provide yet another example of how both parties in Congress aren’t shy about defying the president — or failing to address issues of national importance. But there’s risk for Democrats and Republicans." Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim in Politico.

House Republicans may not even be able to agree on their own plan. "A House Republican plan to address the influx of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border would cost considerably less than President Obama has requested but could get upended by the political forces that long have divided GOP lawmakers. The $1.5 billion proposal unveiled Wednesday proposes to spend far less than Obama’s $3.7 billion request....But it was unclear how rapidly the House could advance the proposal and whether House Republicans will be able to reach agreement with Senate Democrats on a final deal before Congress adjourns Aug. 1 for a five-week recess." Ed O'Keefe and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Bullet points: GOP proposal takes hawkish approach. Rachel Roubein in National Journal.

And Dems don't want to tweak a key anti-trafficking law to make deportations easier. "Many Republicans in both houses of Congress say they are unlikely to approve emergency funding without changes to a 2008 human anti-trafficking law. They want federal authorities to be able to more easily deport children who enter the United States illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But many congressional Democrats are balking, saying they do not want to speed deportation of children escaping violence in their own countries. Many of the children are trying to reunite with relatives living in the United States. No change to the anti-trafficking law will be included in the Senate bill, Mikulski said." Susan Cornwell in Reuters.

Local politicians struggle with the politics of housing children. "Around the country, in statehouses and mayor’s suites, in city council chambers and local police agencies, the challenge...is forcing an emotional, uncomfortable and politically treacherous conversation on policymakers at every level....Federal officials have turned to states as far north as New England and many places in between in the search for places to keep the children while the government figures out whether to unite them with family members in the United States or deport them." Manuel Roig-Franzia, Wesley Lowery and Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Explainer: At least 32 governors have weighed in on the border crisis. Here’s what each has said. Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Amid state and local discomfort, religious leaders are embracing the children's cause. "Around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them....The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right." Michael Paulson in The New York Times.

On Texas border, state's National Guard troops will detain only if provoked, top general says. "Most of the 1,000 National Guard troops headed to the Texas-Mexico border will take up observational positions and detain people only if they interfere with their mission, a top general over the deployment said Tuesday....Nichols said troops will be armed for their safety, but when asked if their weapons would be loaded would say only that ammunition would be in magazines." Christopher Sherman and Paul J. Weber in the Associated Press.

Countries struggle to reintegrate returned deportees. "Deportees returning...are screened by government migration officials at entry checkpoints and then reunited with family members who transport them home. But government care generally ends there, and none of the three 'northern triangle' countries...has a formalized system to ensure that deportees are safely reintegrated into their communities....Despite reintegration efforts, ongoing violence and endemic poverty push deportees to try their luck at migrating again. Moreover, many smugglers who are paid to take migrants on the journey to the U.S. border — known as coyotes — allow for repeat attempts." Brianna Lee in International Business Times.

Signs that U.S. crackdown is reducing attempts? "Ms. Vazquez isn't sure the journey is worthwhile, thanks to the rapid spread of news that the U.S. is speedily deporting undocumented Central American families. A rise in deportations...anchor a broader international effort to stem the flood of child migrants across the Rio Grande....Her cold feet come as the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the Rio Grande Valley, the most popular crossing point, has dropped sharply in recent weeks, U.S. officials say....Administration officials said it wasn't clear whether the trend would continue, and that factors such as weather could be at play." Laurence Iliff and Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

Other migrants never make it past Mexico City on the way to U.S. "Mexico City is about the halfway point of the 1,450-mile journey. But for hundreds of young men who, for one reason or another, cannot continue the journey, the capital has become a purgatory. They are left with no money and no clue how to leave....Children are only part of the exodus from Central America. Young men are most sensitive to forced gang recruitment, causing some to try their luck crossing the Rio Grande. Others must meet demands to feed growing families back in El Salvador and Guatemala. For those who head north, promise of work in the United States is the only viable option." Alex Horton in Foreign Policy.

BUSH AND BOLICK: Solving the border disorder. "These children are trying to escape horrific gang violence and dire conditions in their native countries. But the ease with which so many of them are illegally entering the U.S. underscores the inadequacy of our border security. We now have a humanitarian crisis...that demands strong leadership that respects the rule of law. Despite President Obama's reassurances, few of these children are likely to return home if nothing changes....President Obama has promised to once again act unilaterally if Congress fails to take up immigration reform. Now is the time for House Republicans to demonstrate leadership on this issue." Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick in The Wall Street Journal.

RAMÍREZ AND REAM: Don't ignore the role of sexual violence. "The emphasis on 'pull factors' and political consequences largely misses the point: These children are not so much coming to America as running from dangerous and deadly circumstances....One key factor driving this crisis is the well-documented and widespread sexual and gender-related violence in Latin America....Obama must view — and speak of — these refugees as children first, victims second, and immigrants last. It’s a simple request. An obvious request, really. We must listen to what our legal traditions and our national conscience already call for us to do." Mónica Ramírez and Anne K. Ream in The New Republic.

WILKINSON: Obama alone will decide immigration debate. "A broad amnesty would no doubt inspire legal actions and political recriminations. But Obama is already reviled by anti-immigration activists and Republicans, who will be no more willing to compromise tomorrow than today. Perhaps foolishly, Obama whetted the appetites of pro-immigration forces for bold executive action. Their energy and expectations are high. With Democrats on the cusp of solidifying Hispanic support, perhaps for a very long time, the prospect of alienating Hispanic voters through timidity or inaction may now be the more dangerous route." Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg View.

Top opinion

SMITH: The bailout's lingering, hidden costs. "The bailout...has been justified by the Federal Reserve and Treasury as preventing a financial collapse of the economy. The rescue, however, had a hidden cost for the economy that is difficult to quantify but can be crippling. New economic activity is hobbled if it is not freed from the burden of sharing its return with investors who bore risks that failed. The demand for new economic activity is enlarged when its return does not have to be shared with former claimants protected from the consequences of their risk-taking. This is the function of bankruptcy in an economic system organized on loss as well as profit principles of motivation." Vernon L. Smith in The Wall Street Journal.

KRISTOF: An idiot's guide to inequality. "The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human....There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about inequality. But whether or not you read Piketty, there’s one overwhelming lesson you should be aware of: Inequality and lack of opportunity today constitute a national infirmity and vulnerability — and there are policy tools that can make a difference." Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

SALAM: Death to Australia's carbon tax. "Because we do care what China does, and because the notion that they will cripple their ability to grow by raising energy prices because, well, we’ve done so first, is not credible, the key to reducing carbon emissions is encouraging fundamental breakthroughs in low- and zero-carbon energy that will give rise to attractive business models that don’t require artificial subsidies, and that thus can spread rapidly across borders....Instead of moving backward, Australia, Canada, the U.S., and other countries can move forward by deepening their scientific collaboration....But it’s not inevitable....This is a domain where conservatives can and should play a role." Reihan Salam in National Review.

CHOUGULE: The CBO's dire warning on deficits. "The nonpartisan government agency reported recently that the federal government’s budget deficits and the public’s share of the debt as percentage of GDP are projected to grow to levels not seen since the World War II era....The announcement comes just as the White House was celebrating its projection that the deficit would fall below $600 billion for the first time under President Obama. But the CBO has shed light on the fact that Obama has simply kicked the can down the road with year after year of trillion-dollar deficits, expansion of the entitlement state, a complete unwillingness to reform mandatory spending." Akash Chougule in Forbes.

FELDSTEIN: Fighting the Fed. "The proposed legislation is full of excessive and impossible requirements....But if the Republicans hold a Senate majority after the next election, some form of legislation requiring a monetary-policy rule could land on the president’s desk. He or she might veto it, but a Republican president after the 2016 election might not....The Fed no doubt fears that if the principle of requiring a formal rule is accepted, Congress could tighten the requirement, forcing a more restrictive monetary policy....One thing is certain: The bill will put pressure on the Fed to pay more attention to inflation, avoiding a persistent rate above its own 2% target." Martin Feldstein in Project Syndicate.

RATTNER: Let our oil and gas go abroad. "America’s renewed hydrocarbon boom could be even more robust if we eased outdated restrictions on shipping both crude oil and liquefied natural gas overseas....Experts from the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations support lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Politicians need not fret. Nothing would prevent the United States from shutting off exports during national emergencies. Nor, in the event of another huge spike in world prices, would Congress be prevented from imposing taxes on crude oil at the wellhead to prevent windfall profits." Steven Rattner in The New York Times.

Optical illusion interlude: Mind-blowing circle illusion.

2. Digging deeper into the Obamacare rulings' impact

Did the Supreme Court already tip its hand? "There's at least one reason to think that subsidies in federal-run exchanges would be in jeopardy at the high court, and that stems from a recent Supreme Court decision. The court in June mostly upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate major producers of greenhouse-gas emissions, but the court said the agency overstepped some of its legal authority to regulate small emitters. It's in this detail that Cass Sunstein, who used to oversee rulemaking for the Obama administration, said he saw a 'poison pill' that could spell trouble for future Obamacare cases if they reached the Supreme Court." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Need a briefing on the rulings? Here's what you must know about the rulings. Mary Agnes Carey in Kaiser Health News.

Profile: Meet the man who laid the way for Obamacare’s latest legal challenges. Max Ehrenfreund.

Still, Americans may not lose their subsidies. "It could be relatively easy for states in healthcare.gov to create their own exchanges....A state that is part of the federal system may be able to simply pass legislation, or even issue an executive order, declaring that it has its own exchange....Nine states participating in healthcare.gov...are considered to be in 'partnership' with the federal government; some have Democratic governors, Democratic-majority legislatures or both. They would likely be quick to establish a state exchange....Even Republican governors otherwise opposed to the Affordable Care Act might be compelled to establish their own exchanges....They’ll come under enormous political pressure." Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.

Political pressure to maintain subsidies won't come just from the voters. "The loss of insurance subsidies may also spell trouble for health care providers and the communities they serve. The Affordable Care Act paid for its generous subsidies in part by reducing payments it makes to hospitals. Hospitals took the deal because they calculated that all the new customers with insurance would help make up for the losses. The reduction in insured customers could mean big hits to those hospitals, many of which are major employers in their communities. The states in this category include some of the poorest in the nation." Margot Sanger-Katz in The New York Times.

Actually, Congress did want Obamacare subsidies for the federal exchange, GOP aide says. "'Congress always intended for the federal exchanges to do everything the state exchanges do, one of those things being the federal subsidy,' said Chris Condeluci...who was tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee from 2007 to 2010. 'I can say, even as a Republican, Congress always intended this, we just didn’t indicate it through legislative history because the process was so screwed up.'" Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

Another reminder of the political nature of the courts. "In rapid succession, six federal judges on two appeals courts weighed in....Their votes lined up precisely with the party of the president who appointed them. It was the latest illustration that presidents help shape their legacies by stocking the federal bench with judges whose views are more likely to align with their own....It's no accident when judges tend to vote with the interests of the political party of the president who named them, said law professor Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine." Associated Press.

A tricky position for Republicans. " Do they end up paying a price for wanting to take away benefits Americans are getting under the law? Yesterday, we saw Republican after Republican praise the D.C. Circuit ruling (even after the the 4th Circuit ruling came out)....Does that mean they support these Americans having to pay MORE for health care? All along, Republicans have charged that the law will hurt Americans’ pocketbooks. But then how do you cheer for a court ruling that would effectively increase health costs for Americans living in states that didn’t set up their own exchanges?" Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann in NBC News.

A sign of things to come? Lawsuit argues Tennessee deprived residents of Medicaid. "The changes to the state's Medicaid program, TennCare, following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act have resulted in thousands of individuals being blocked from coverage they are entitled to, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. And the firms involved argue it's because of politics related to the health care law....Like most red states, Tennessee has declined to participate in Medicaid expansion, but it is the first state in the country to face litigation over its Medicaid practices since the ACA went into effect." Sophie Novack in National Journal.

Meanwhile, the Obamacare exchange stayed busy even after open enrollment ended. "More than 5 million people signed up using Healthcare.gov by April 19, the end of the open-enrollment period. But perhaps more surprising is that, according to federal data released Wednesday to ProPublica, there have been nearly 1 million transactions on the exchange since then. People are allowed to sign up and switch plans after certain life events, such as job changes, moves, the birth of a baby, marriages and divorces. The volume of these transactions was a jolt even for those who have watched the rollout of the ACA most closely." Charles Ornstein in ProPublica and NPR.

How many newly insureds? Another estimate says 10 million. "Using Gallup polling and HHS data, Harvard researchers estimate that the uninsured rate declined by 5.2 percentage points in the second quarter of this year, corresponding to 10.3 million adults gaining coverage — although that could range from 7.3 to 17.2 million depending on how the data are interpreted. At least one researcher also has an HHS affiliation. The study, published Wednesday, is the latest in a recent series of surveys showing the number of uninsured dropping since Obamacare exchanges started last fall." Paige Winfield Cunningham in Politico.

Is all the fuss over the fake Obamacare applicants report worth it? Why Dems say it's not. "Democrats...argue that applicants don't get anything out of faking their identities other than receiving health insurance, which they could do just as easily with their own identities. Second, any extra government subsidies that are given out because applicants claim they are poorer than they actually are would go to the insurance companies, not the applicants. Committee Democrats say most Americans are unlikely to lie on forms so insurance companies can benefit. And finally, every applicant, fake or not, still has to pay the monthly premiums to keep the insurance." Laura Sullivan in NPR.

Report's authors warn against drawing early conclusions. "Republicans jumped on the report as proof that the health care law invites fraud, but the Government Accountability Office official said the sample is too small and investigators 'can’t draw any conclusions' until their work is complete. The investigation is ongoing, GAO’s Seto Bagdoyan said, and the 'intent of this sample was not to project in any way' based on this initial stage of work, but instead to identify areas of potential focus for future work." Mackenzie Weinger in Politico.

Other health care reads:

Insurers returned $9B to consumers under O-Care. Ferdous Al-Faruque in The Hill.

Is Obamacare working? A majority of Americans seem to think so. CNN.

Former team leader with embattled CDC bioterrorism lab resigns. Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

Dysfunctional Congress prepares to claim another victim: Veterans with traumatic brain injuries. Tim Mak in The Daily Beast.

McARDLE: Why it'd be easier said than done for states to work around Halbig. "Ohio would have to amend its constitution to allow the government to establish a state exchange, and barriers in some other states are high as well....In the end, some states will probably create their own exchanges, and many probably won’t. That wedge between the states with subsidies and the states without would leave an unstable fault line at the heart of the law, one that might cleave at any moment and destroy the whole thing." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

GLUCK: What the D.C. Circuit got wrong in Halbig. "It is true...that a single provision of the statute provides that subsidies shall be available to exchanges established by states, and that that provision does not also mention the federal government. But it is also emphatically true that the rest of the statutory text makes quite clear that the subsidies were also intended on federal exchanges. Another provision of the statute requires reporting to the IRS of subsidies doled out on federal and state exchanges alike....The statute also, in several other places, mentions state exchanges in ways that clearly are intended to refer to exchanges operated by the states or exchanges operated by the federal government for the states." Abbe R. Gluck in Politico Magazine.

Science interlude: Why does poultry have white and dark meat?

3. NSA reform is coming. What you need to know.

The challenge of keeping tabs on the NSA's secretive work. "Here's a question with no easy answer: How do you hold the nation's spy agencies accountable — when they control the secrets? Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden apparently thought the answer was to blow the lid off some of the NSA's highly classified programs. He took documents and shared them with journalists. But what about Congress? It's supposed to oversee the NSA — and other spy agencies. For the committees charged with that task, it hasn't been easy keeping tabs on the secretive world of federal surveillance." David Welna in NPR.

White House, senators near deal on surveillance reform. "The Obama administration and key U.S. senators are close to a deal on legislation that aims to end the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone call logs for counterterrorism purposes. The USA Freedom Act also would ban the 'bulk collection' of Americans’ personal data by other government agencies under several statues as well as secure other surveillance reforms. A compromise bill could be introduced as soon as Thursday, Senate aides said." Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

Privacy watchdog’s next target: Least-known but biggest aspect of NSA surveillance. "An independent privacy watchdog agency...will turn its focus to the largest and most complex of U.S. electronic surveillance regimes: signals intelligence collection under Executive Order 12333. That highly technical name masks a constellation of complex surveillance activities carried out for foreign intelligence purposes by the National Security Agency under executive authority. But unlike two other major NSA collection programs...in the news lately, EO 12333 surveillance is conducted without court oversight and with comparatively little Congressional review." Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani in The Washington Post.

The NSA keeps tracking people after they're dead. "You may be dead, but the U.S. government won't take you off its terrorist roster. That's according to newly leaked internal guidelines from last year that reveal intimate details regarding the government's process for determining whether an individual should be designated as a possible terrorist suspect. So broad are their criteria that an individual is able to be placed onto a watch list—and kept there—even if he or she is acquitted of a terrorism-related crime. Additionally, the guidelines note that a deceased person's name may stay on the list because such an identity could be used as an alias by a suspected terrorist." Dustin Volz in National Journal.

A plan to untangle our digital lives when we're gone. "Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions....But unlike these treasures...our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die. Or maybe not. Last week, the Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, a model law that would let relatives access the social media accounts of the deceased. A national lawyers' group, the ULC aims to standardize law across the country by recommending legislation for states to adopt, particularly when it comes to timely, fast-evolving issues." Molly Roberts in NPR.

Other tech reads:

The FCC is getting serious about enforcing its last remaining net-neutrality rule. Laura Ryan in National Journal.

A year after spying revelations, German officials say key questions remain unanswered. Karen DeYoung and Anthony Faiola in The Washington Post.

States would sue to kill city Internet service. Brendan Sasso in National Journal.

Kid President interlude: A pep talk for the heroes out there.

4. The latest legal action on same-sex marriage

Colorado same-sex marriage ban struck down. "Gently chiding the Supreme Court for not making itself clear, a federal trial judge in Colorado refused on Wednesday to interpret the Justices’ recent actions on same-sex marriage as binding on lower courts. U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore of Denver spoke out as he issued a ruling striking down Colorado’s ban on such marriages. Refusing a formal plea by the state to put his ruling on hold, the judge nevertheless gave the state attorney general a month to ask a higher court to do that. The Supreme Court has twice ordered delays in lower court decisions striking down state bans on same-sex marriage, but has never given reasons for doing so." Lyle Denniston in SCOTUSblog.

10 states join Indiana's appeal of ruling that struck down state's ban. "In a filing this week, the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah filed a friend of the court brief alleging it is not the judicial branch's role to determine whether same-sex marriage should be permitted....Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller also has asked for a review by the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals....The appeals court has not yet ruled on Zoeller's request, which could push the Indiana case closer to a date with the U.S. Supreme Court." Tim Evans in The Indianapolis Star.

In Florida, politics of same-sex marriage ensnare Rubio, Jolly. "Florida Sen. Marco Rubio defended 'traditional' marriage while accommodating other views during a speech and U.S. Rep. David Jolly came under withering attack in Pinellas County for speaking out in support of same-sex couples' right to wed. Jolly, a Republican like Rubio, said this week that while he personally believes marriage should be between a man and woman, he thinks Florida should allow same-sex marriage....Jolly offered his position after a judge in South Florida last week overturned the state's 2008 voter-approved ban on gay marriage." Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith in Tampa Bay Times.

Other legal reads:

Arizona's 117-minute execution could again renew death penalty debate. Associated Press.

Marijuana-legalization initiative qualifies for Oregon ballot. Maya Srikrishnan in the Los Angeles Times.

Dumb criminal interlude: How not to evade arrest.

Wonkblog roundup

The many stubborn kinds of inequality that children face growing up in the U.S. Emily Badger.

You can now pay someone’s delinquent Detroit water bill online. Kiratiana Freelon.

Did the Supreme Court already tip its hand on Obamacare subsidies? Jason Millman.

Almost half of America’s obese youth don’t know they’re obese. Roberto A. Ferdman.

Don’t think Obama has reduced inequality? These numbers prove that he has. Zachary A. Goldfarb.

Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates. Christopher Ingraham.

Meet the man who laid the way for Obamacare’s latest legal challenges. Max Ehrenfreund.

Et Cetera

Obama policies may have reduced income gap, analysis shows. Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

U.S. proposes faster changes in oil trains. Jad Mouawad in The New York Times.

GM recalls 800K more vehicles. David Shepardson in The Detroit News.

Money funds embrace SEC's move to escape FSOC. Dave Michaels in Bloomberg.

Oregon to vote on GMO-labeling initiative. Jeff Mapes in The Oregonian.

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

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

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