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Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 142. That's the number of public bills that have become law this session of Congress, putting the legislative branch on pace for its least productive session in modern history.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Don't celebrate the decline in the long-term joblessness just yet.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Summer recess is here — sort of; (2) Happy Jobs Friday!; (3) the status of "too big to fail"; (4) rough waters ahead for Obamacare website — again; and (5) the timetable for handling the Ebola outbreak.
1. Top story: We've hit summer recess — sort of. What did Congress get done?
What made it: House's highway bill, bipartisan VA bill. "Senators voted 91 to 3 to approve legislation injecting more than $16 billion into VA to help deal with extensive treatment delays and a recent record-keeping scandal....On transportation, the Senate voted 81 to 13 in favor of an $11 billion stopgap highway measure after weeks of squabbling with the House over the scope of the legislation. The bill, which replenishes the Highway Trust Fund, will keep about 6,000 state highway and transit projects rolling through next spring. Both measures now go to President Obama." Josh Hicks and Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.
What didn't: Emergency border funding. House GOP postpones recess to find another solution. "The exercise is largely political because whatever Republicans ultimately pass will face Senate opposition and a White House veto threat. However, lawmakers are wary of heading home for a month-long break in an election year without casting a vote on how to address the thousands of undocumented minors along the southwest U.S. border....The proposal also would have dispatched National Guard troops to the border and changed a 2008 law to make it easier to return children home to Central America." Susan Davis in USA Today.
Cruz is on the attack. "Boehner had to abandon a planned vote yesterday on a bill to address the crisis of undocumented children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border after Cruz, a Tea Party favorite from Texas, riled up immigration opponents in the House Republican conference....He’s given President Barack Obama a talking point that Republicans in Congress won’t act even in the face of a humanitarian crisis, a possible predicate for his own executive action on immigration." Jonathan Allen and Kathleen Hunter in Bloomberg.
Or was another senator more influential? "Some Republicans frustrated over the last-minute collapse of support for a border bill have been blaming Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But it turns out they may have the wrong Republican senator in their sights. A number of sources on Capitol Hill say lobbying by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions helped sway that state's House delegation against the bill, leading to the collapse." Betsy Woodruff and David M. Drucker in the Washington Examiner.
Senate Democrats' bill fails to attract moderates, Republicans. "The $2.7 billion funding measure...was always a long shot to secure the 60 votes needed to clear the chamber, due to Republican opposition and lack of support from some moderate Democrats....The Democrats’ border funding bill, which also included money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and funds to combat wildfires, did not include changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that Republicans and some Democrats said were crucial to stemming the influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border." Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett in Politico.
Administration to shuffle around millions in funding for migrant crisis. "Surveillance drones that hunt drug smugglers along the Mexican border could soon be grounded. Installation of pole-top cameras and ground sensors to intercept illegal crossings might be delayed. About $44 million has already been diverted from the government's health-related accounts, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to pay for food, beds, clothing and medical care for the crush of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the Southwestern border. And that's just the beginning." Lisa Mascaro and Brian Bennett in the Los Angeles Times.
Immigration courts may just get more overwhelmed. "In immigration courts across the country as the nation's already overburdened immigration system struggles to handle a crush of new juvenile cases. The cases are being transferred from one immigration court to another, often across the country, as growing numbers of unaccompanied minors held in shelters in one state are placed with family members in other states....The transfers have generated confusion, adding to the perception that some unaccompanied children are not showing up for court hearings." Daniel González in The Arizona Republic.
Congress used budget gimmicks to prop up Highway Trust Fund. "The two houses had played legislative ping pong with the issue in recent days because of a dispute over the House bill's reliance on what critics called a 'gimmick' for its funding. The bill covers more than half of its cost by letting companies defer required contributions to their employee pension plans, thus raising corporate profits and, temporarily, the tax revenues from those profits." Associated Press.
Explainer: How the House transportation bill is paid for. Associated Press.
We avoided the 'highway cliff' avoided, but states want a long-term solution. "States were bracing for a drop in payments during the height of construction season. And Congress’ inability to agree on a long-term funding solution has wreaked havoc on state transportation departments, which plan their projects years, not months, in advance....And given the broader paralysis in Washington on a whole range of issues, many observers worry that Congress will just run out the clock again....Business groups...have pushed for a gax tax increase....But lawmakers in both parties are reluctant to raise taxes." Curtis Tate in McClatchy Newspapers.
Explainer: Least productive Congress ever? Mark Murray in NBC News.
As expected, Cantor steps down from leadership post, but adds he'll exit Congress early. "Cantor said he has asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election for his district that coincides with the general election on Nov. 4. By having a special election in November, the winner would take office immediately, rather than in January with the next Congress." Markus Schmidt in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
BARRO: The budget gimmick both parties love. "Here’s how it works: You let companies set aside less money in their pension plans....They report higher profits and pay more in corporate tax. That generates a little extra revenue, which you can put in the highway fund. Over the long run, this policy doesn’t actually generate any added revenue, since in later years, companies will have to increase their pension contributions to make up for what they didn’t set aside today....But since Congress measures the costs of laws over a 10-year window, the added revenues in the near term count, and revenue losses far in the future don’t....Pension smoothing is the cornerstone of the House bill to fix the highway fund." Josh Barro in The New York Times.
BALZ: Another self-inflicted wound for GOP. "Republicans may yet...end up in control of both houses of Congress come January. But...before a lengthy August recess, they have shown a remarkable capacity to complicate their path to victory. The latest blow came Thursday in what has become predictable fashion: chaos in the House. Amid fractious infighting, House leaders abruptly pulled their alternative to President Obama’s bill to deal with the influx of Central American children crossing the border. What was said to be a national crisis turned into one more problem facing deferral. But there was more over the week that could contribute to the deteriorated brand called the Republican Party....The House voted to sue Obama." Dan Balz in The Washington Post.
KRUGMAN: Why doesn't knowledge rule in policy debates? "Am I saying that the professional consensus is always right? No. But when politicians pick and choose which experts — or, in many cases, 'experts' — to believe, the odds are that they will choose badly. Moreover, experience shows that there is no accountability in such matters. Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar. All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice?" Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
SALAM: It's time for legalized prostitution. "The stigma associated with selling sex remains strong, as is the stigma against buying it. This is despite the growing evidence that decriminalizing the buying and selling of sex has significant public health benefits. A pair of economists...found that when Rhode Island accidentally decriminalized indoor prostitution due to a quirk of statutory language, cases of female gonorrhea plummeted, as did the number of rape offenses. A recent study drawing on data from Vancouver, British Columbia, found that the decriminalization of sex work has the potential to greatly reduce the spread of HIV." Reihan Salam in Slate.
KOTLIKOFF: America's hidden credit card bill. "There’s a different way to borrow — one that’s more subtle, harder to see and, therefore, cheaper to do. You still take in money, pledge to return it, and leave future generations on the hook. But you call the money you take in 'taxes,' not 'borrowing.' And you promise repayment in the form of pension, health care and other benefits, but you don’t record the present value of those promises as official debt. Social Security is a prime example....Social Security’s hidden debt is just a small part of the story....Even if we do nothing...we should at least be transparent about our insolvency." Laurence J. Kotlikoff in The New York Times.
KASHKARI: Brother, can you spare a job? "The people I met during my week in Fresno are proud. They don't want to be homeless. They don't want to be poor. They don't want to depend on a shelter or the state. Most want jobs but simply cannot find one. But this poor job market doesn't just affect people seeking minimum-wage jobs; it also affects people up the education ladder. An educated, professionally trained photographer told me that when the economy faltered, his photography work dried up. Now he is grateful to have a job serving coffee. Unfortunately, stories similar to his are playing out in many cities across California....California's record poverty is man-made." Neel Kashkari in The Wall Street Journal.
THOMA: Behind the Fed's promise about short-term rates. "What the Fed can do is try to convince people that future short-term rates will be lower than they thought. If the Fed succeeds here, then it should be able get long-term rates to come down today. That's the purpose behind its promise to keep future short-term rates low, at the zero bound, long after they would normally be increased. Whether this policy succeeds depends on if investors believe the Fed, how far the interest rates can move if they do believe, and how much business investment and housing respond to interest rate movements. On all these fronts, we have reasons to be suspicious." Mark Thoma in CBS News.
ROY: 50 years after Civil Rights Act, integration elusive. "To those on the left the persistence of black poverty is most obviously the result of systemic racism and of the inadequacy in the scale and scope of existing government programs. Conservatives often make the opposite case....Both perspectives have their strengths and their weaknesses. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past several decades, it is the limits of the ability of federal intervention to solve these problems....But the traditional American conservative view — get government out of the way, and everything will work out — is not sufficient to address chronic, intergenerational black poverty." Avik Roy in Forbes.
POSNER AND WEYL: Piketty misunderstands inherited wealth. "Piketty’s...focus on inequality misses that something great is also going on — that more and more people can live off society’s accumulated wealth and so don’t have to work. The real danger is not inequality per se but bad policy that suppresses growth and thus the accumulation of wealth, delaying this utopia for the masses longer than necessary. So while progressive taxes may serve as a short-term palliative, we should focus on giving the most capable part of the population better incentives to innovate, while allowing everyone else to benefit from their brilliance as rentiers." Eric Posner and Glen Weyl in The New Republic.
Animal rescue interlude: The weekend is almost here to rescue you from late-week work doldrums, and a bear just rescued a crow from drowning.
2. Previewing the jobs report
What are economists looking for? "Economists are devoting at least as much attention to wage growth....Stagnant pay...is seen as the biggest missing piece in the recovery. Yet there are growing signs that wage gains are picking up....Many economists expect broader advances in the second half of the year and will be eager to see if a slow climb began July. Economists will also be scrutinizing the quality of the jobs being generated. In June, the lion's share of the employment gains went to part-time workers....More critically, the number of part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs — a key measure closely followed by the head of the Federal Reserve — rose by 275,000 to 7.5 million." Paul Davidson in USA Today.
Explainer: What to watch for in the jobs report. Ben Leubsdorf in The Wall Street Journal
Signs of that much-sought wage growth ahead. "Though economists cautioned against reading too much into the rise in the employment cost index, they said a tightening jobs market suggested wage growth would soon accelerate significantly....The Employment Cost Index, the broadest measure of labor costs, rose 0.7 percent. That was the largest gain since the third quarter of 2008....It is one of Fed Chair Janet Yellen's favorite labor market gauges and is being closely watched for clues on the timing of the first interest rate increase....Fed officials on Wednesday acknowledged the improvement in labor market conditions, but said 'significant underutilization of labor resources' remained." Lucia Mutikani in Reuters.
Workers: If there is a recovery, most of us still don't feel it. "Most people are still earning less, adjusted for inflation, than before the recession struck....Even many who kept their jobs through the recession — or easily found work after being let go — are no better off....Finding a steady full-time job has become harder....Some of this...is due to the still-sluggish recovery....But the trend might also reflect a lasting shift among restaurants and coffee shops....There were 4.6 million available jobs in May....Yet not enough of those jobs are being filled....Whatever wealth most Americans have is mainly tied up in their homes. But...owning a home has still been a bad investment for many." Josh Boak and Christopher S. Rugaber in the Associated Press.
Obama's labor executive order ups the ante on labor disputes. "The key provision of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order requires prospective contractors to disclose labor law violations from the past three years in connection with 14 federal laws providing protections....As worded, the order leaves some questions unanswered — including what exactly counts as a violation and which 14 federal statutes companies must comply with — and pulls together a seemingly disparate group of requirements." Dimitra Kessenides in Bloomberg Businessweek.
In federal labor disputes, McDonald's just became the boss of its franchise workers. "Having McDonald’s treated under law as a boss of the workers in its thousands of franchised stores poses a threat to the company on several fronts. First, it would raise at least the theoretical threat of workers at a store filing with the government for a unionization election....Second, it would strengthen the case for treating McDonald’s as a co-defendant in pending cases alleging rampant wage theft....And third, it’s a symbolic victory for organized labor’s efforts to convince the public that fast-food corporations are responsible for abuses in the industry" Josh Eidelson in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Court backs Wisconsin's collective-bargaining restrictions law for public unions. "Wisconsin's collective bargaining reforms, which prompted protests from organized labor, do not violate the free speech and equal protection rights of public sector union workers, the state's supreme court ruled on Thursday. The reforms, passed in 2011 by Republican lawmakers, severely limit the bargaining power of public sector unions while forcing most state workers to pay more for benefits such as health insurance and pensions. The court ruled the public sector union members do not have a constitutional right to negotiate with their employer for wages and on other matters and that the law does not restrict their free speech and association rights." Brendan O'Brien in Reuters.
Other economic reads:
Current status of long-term jobless benefits bill: Still dead. Steven T. Dennis in Roll Call.
World income inequality even worse than within the U.S., Fed study says. Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.
CASSELMAN: Don't celebrate the drop in long-term joblessness yet. "If Cajner and Ratner are right, that suggests Yellen’s policy is working. If they’re wrong, that could mean that, as Krueger has argued, the long-term unemployed are beyond the reach of traditional stimulus efforts. That wouldn’t necessarily mean we should give up on them....Nor would it necessarily mean that the Fed should hurry to reverse course; there are other arguments for keeping rates low at a time of anemic wage growth and moderate inflation. But it would rob Yellen of one of her most powerful arguments in favor of continued stimulus....I hope Cajner and Ratner are right. But they haven’t convinced me yet." Ben Casselman in FiveThirtyEight.
GALBRAITH: Don't kid yourself. We'll never have a pre-2008 economy again. "Two reactions usually follow. One is that of the Washington Post, whose report on July 30 was ebullient....The other comes from economists who insist that things could have been better, if only policies had been different....Is the baseline that we use for these judgments a reasonable one? Are we still in the world that existed from 1945 to 2007? Or have things changed in ways that make the record of those years much harder to repeat? There are at least four broad reasons to fear that we now live in a rougher world — a world in which we can no longer expect the 'normal' times we have grown so used to." James K. Galbraith in Politico Magazine.
Wacky food interlude: This ice cream changes color when you eat it.
3. What's the status of 'too big to fail'?
Is big banks' 'too big to fail' advantage waning? "The GAO study found that the largest banks receive more of a market advantage during the 2008 financial turmoil than during economic boom times. However, the watchdog found that such advantages declined or reversed in 2013....The report appears to provide support for both sides of the debate: Community bankers can claim they are still at a disadvantage. The largest financial institutions can highlight the decreased level of any advantage....The GAO report found that the 2010 Dodd-Frank law could make the possibility of a bailout less likely." Cheyenne Hopkins in Bloomberg.
Explainer: Where does the "too big to fail" debate stand? Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.
Ending 'too big to fail' could rest on obscure contract language. "Wall Street and global financial regulators, trying to squash the lingering perception that banks remain 'too big to fail' are looking to an obscure change in derivatives contracts to solve the problem. The main industry group for the $700 trillion global swaps market is rewriting international protocols to impose a 'stay' or pause designed to prevent trading partners from calling in collateral all at once when a bank nears failure. U.S. and international banking regulators are considering making use of the new protocols mandatory." Jesse Hamilton and Silla Brush in Bloomberg.
Could fund managers spawn next financial crisis? "Fund managers have caused problems in the past. The collapse in 1998 of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund run by some of the brightest minds on Wall Street and in academia, led to a rescue instigated by the Federal Reserve. Bear Stearns’s bail-out of two hedge funds it had been running contributed to its collapse in 2008. In the same year a money-market fund run by the Reserve group was forced to 'break the buck' (impose losses on investors), setting off a run that prompted the Fed to provide a backstop yet again. All this has made regulators nervous." The Economist.
Profile: Meet Paul Singer, the billionaire hedge-fund manager who helped pull Argentina into default. Rebecca Robbins in The Washington Post.
Argentina has a love-affair-gone-wrong with U.S. dollars. "Argentina's economic problems are many. It has been elbowed out of international credit markets for more than a decade now — at the very least, ever since it failed to pay its international debts back in 2001 — which has made it difficult, if not impossible, to borrow money from abroad. It has also seen its foreign reserves, which it uses to pay its debts, tumble in recent years, and inflation soar. And its isolationist policies have left it lingering on the outskirts of a growing interconnected global economy. But its most severe issue might also be its most innocuous-sounding: Argentina loves U.S. dollars a little too much." Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post.
Explainer: What's behind the battle over Argentina's debt? Peter Eavis and Alexandra Stevenson in The New York Times.
What's next in the Argentina debt crisis? Look to credit default swaps. "The more meaningful impact of the missed deadline is likely to be on credit default swaps, which provide investors with protection against default. It’s up to the International Swaps & Derivatives Association to determine whether a default has occurred. If it does, holders of the credit default swaps are entitled to a big payment. People can buy swaps to speculate on a default even if they don’t own any Argentine bonds. There is a small possibility that ISDA will disappoint those speculators by not declaring a default, since a deal could be worked out any day now." Peter Coy in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Primary source: Economists call on Congress to mitigate fallout from ruling on Argentine debt. Center for Economic and Policy Research.
CFTC says it needs flexibility to oversee cross-border swaps. "A lawyer for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission...defended the agency’s reliance on guidance rather than formal rules in a lawsuit brought by Wall Street’s largest lobbying groups. Congress directed the CFTC to regulate overseas trading of swaps to prevent a catastrophic market failure like the one involving American International Group Inc. (AIG) in 2008, Robert Schwartz, a lawyer for the agency, said at a hearing in federal court....The lawsuit...is one of a series of Wall Street challenges to U.S. efforts to overhaul financial regulation following the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression." Andrew Zajac and Silla Brush in Bloomberg.
Other financial reads:
U.S. fine against BNP Paribas hits bank's bottom line. Fabio Benedetti-Valentini in Bloomberg.
Debit overdraft fees often exceed cost of purchases. Josh Boak in the Associated Press.
Sports and politics interlude: Cole Hamels for Congress?
4. Warning: Rough waters ahead for the Obamacare website (again)
HealthCare.gov cost keeps rising as feds seek to prevent repeat of rollout. "Andrew M. Slavitt...at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Congress that the agency was changing requirements for its contracts to expand the scope of work....Mr. Slavitt said...the second round of open enrollment, starting in November, would not be perfect....In January, the administration brought in a new company, Accenture Federal Services, to lead work on the exchange....The company is helping the government develop an insurance exchange for small businesses, is expanding the federal exchange to serve additional states and is adding new features to verify the income of people seeking federal subsidies." Robert Pear in The New York Times.
A way around HealthCare.gov has its own problems. "There's another part of the enrollment system that isn't quite ready, and it doesn't sound as if it will be by the time the Affordable Care Act's second enrollment period rolls around. It's known as 'direct enrollment,' in which a consumer can go to a private online Web broker....The Web brokers envisioned a process in which an insurance shopper who comes to one of their Web sites could find an ACA-compliant health plan, find out their eligibility for subsidies and, if eligible, get that subsidy to purchase coverage — all within that same Web site....But that's not how things have worked in practice." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.
SCOTUS asked to hear case upholding ACA federal-exchange subsidies. "Their lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which ruled that the Obama administration can legally award the subsidies through federally run insurance exchanges — not just those run by the states themselves. The individuals behind King v. Burwell say the subsidies are being improperly awarded through Virginia’s federally run exchange. Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the goal is to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible, since millions of Americans obtaining insurance subsidies could be affected. The conservative group is funding the litigation." Paige Winfield Cunningham in Politico.
Related: Court upholds Obamacare individual-mandate tax. Stephen Dinan and Tom Howell Jr. in The Washington Times.
Hospital dividends pile up for hospitals thanks to ACA insurance expansion. "Even as Obamacare continues to be attacked by foes and challenged in court, hospital chains and insurers are making more money, more patients using ERs are paying for their care, and the country as a whole is enjoying slower growth in its health-care spending....Taxpayers too may be benefiting from the law approved in 2010. Medicare spending rose by just $1 per beneficiary in 2013, the fourth year in a row that saw a slowdown." Alex Wayne and Shannon Pettypiece in Bloomberg.
Hospitals fight proposed change in medical training. "The reaction also raises questions about the sensitive politics involved in redistributing a large pot of money...that now goes disproportionately to teaching hospitals in the U.S. Northeast. All of the changes recommended would have to be made by Congress. The report for the Institute of Medicine...called for more accountability in the distribution of the federal funds earmarked for doctor training — $15 billion annually. About two-thirds of that cash comes from Medicare. The report also called for an end to providing the money directly to the teaching hospitals and to dramatically alter the way the funds are paid." Julie Rovner in Kaiser Health News.
Other health care reads:
FDA seeks to regulate certain medical lab tests. Andrew Pollack in The New York Times.
Stunt interlude: Watch as this man jumps from a rooftop.
5. What's the timeline for tackling the Ebola breakout?
Even with fast-track to clinical trials, vaccine still months away. "If the vaccine proves safe and shows signs of effectiveness, researchers could conduct more robust human trials later in 2015. Getting to that point could be valuable, Fauci added, because even if the drug isn’t approved, 'by then, if you needed it on an emergency basis, you could vaccinate health workers.'...Part of the problem in moving forward with a vaccine has been a lack of interest from drug companies, given the small potential market. The latest outbreak in West Africa appears to have altered the views of at least some companies." Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.
Interview: We have the science to build an Ebola vaccine. So why hasn't it happened? Sarah Kliff in Vox.
Also several months until the Ebola outbreak is contained. "Frieden said the CDC is sending 50 additional staff to West Africa to advise countries on controlling the disease....Although controlling the epidemic could take six months, the 'CDC, along with others, are surging to begin to turn the tide,' Frieden said....Frieden said the CDC is advising against travel [to the three most-affected countries] both for the benefit of travelers and host countries....The CDC's epidemic intelligence service, known as disease detectives, will train others in West Africa to track down every contact of patients diagnosed with Ebola, Frieden says." Liz Szabo in USA Today.
Explainer: Key numbers from the Ebola outbreak. The Wall Street Journal.
Related: U.S. says outbreak won't change plans for Africa summit. Elise Viebeck in The Hill.
Bill Nye interlude: Need I say more?
What that $34 overdraft fee is really costing you. Danielle Douglas.
The taxi industry is crushing Uber and Lyft on the lobbying front, 3,500 to 1. Emily Badger.
Families are finding alternatives to student loans. Jonnelle Marte.
Colorado proves that it’s possible to smoothly launch a legal pot market. Tina Griego.
Sen. Mike Lee thinks Uber explains why we should turn highway funding over to the states. Nancy Scola.
The federal government’s own statistics show that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Christopher Ingraham.
There’s a way around HealthCare.gov, but it’s still not all that great. Jason Millman.
When separate doors for the poor are more than they seem. Emily Badger.
Argentina’s insatiable — and destructive — appetite for U.S. dollars. Roberto A. Ferdman.
Want to live longer? Send your kids to college. Christopher Ingraham.
Jobs are the secret to getting millennials to move out of the basement. Dina ElBoghdady.
Feds shifting money from refugees to help kids flooding border. Tina Griego.
For-profit colleges cash in on GI bill funds. Goldie Blumenstyk in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Oregon LNG wins natural-gas export license. Jennifer A. Dlouhy in the Houston Chronicle.
Judge orders Microsoft to turn over data held overseas. Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.
Energy boom brings new focus on pipeline, rail safety. Jeffrey Stinson in Pew Stateline.
Europe unprepared if Russia cuts off natural gas, analysts say. Maria Gallucci in International Business Times.
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