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Wonkbook: Biden vs. Ryan, the preview

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. Romney: Romney +1.5%; 7-day change: Obama -5.0%.

RCP Obama approval: 49.7%; 7-day change: +0.8%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 61.2%; 7-day change: -12.8%.

Wonkbook's number of the day: 2 years old. That, as Roger Simon notes, was Paul Ryan's age when Joe Biden was first sworn in as a U.S. senator. Tonight, the two men will meet in the one-and-only vice presidential debate of this cycle. Here's your preview.

Top story: Previewing the vice-presidential debate

What to watch for tonight. "Expect Mr. Biden, who is able to deliver cutting sarcasm without seeming angry, to continue to make up for Mr. Obama’s passivity at the first debate by accusing Mr. Romney of dissembling about long-held policies. Mr. Ryan is prepared to vigorously set the record straight when he thinks the vice president is distorting, such as the charge that Mr. Romney has proposed $5 trillion in tax cuts directed toward the wealthy...Mr. Biden would love to see Mr. Ryan, a self-described 'numbers guy,' get lost in the weeds of budget baselines and other details that he sometimes uses to explain this discrepancy. But the trap seems too easy. If there is one thing that Mr. Ryan has been working on in his debate rehearsals, aides said, it is condensing inside-the-Beltway arguments into crisp, two-minute answers." Trip Gabriel in The New York Times.

@AlecMacGillis: I'll say it after Romney wins a debate, and after Warren wins a debate: we're too debate-obsessed. They're Cheetos for a couch-potato press.

Debate prep: The best hits, and best misses, of Joe Biden in debates.

What both Biden and Ryan will try to do tonight. "The dark art of the vice presidential debate begins with a single rule: If everybody’s talking about you, you’re doing it wrong...By now, both parties have worked out tactics for this odd ritual. They require the barbed wit of an insult comedian and the humility of the hind legs in a two-man horse costume. Candidates are told: Talk up your running mate. Zing your opponent. But avoid letting your career or your policy ideas become the focus. On the biggest night of your political life, it’s not about you. On Thursday, the stakes will be unusually high, and the job of playing second banana especially tough. Biden spent 36 years in the Senate. Ryan crafted a plan for remaking the entire government." David A. Fahrenthold in The Washington Post.

@R_Thaler: Prediction: yesterday will be a poll turning point with the debate bounce starting to fade over the next week, assuming Biden-Ryan is a tie.

What the VP debate can do for the Democratic and Republican tickets. "Vice-presidential debates rarely do have a significant impact on the outcome of elections. At best, observed Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist, they can increase momentum for a ticket considered to have won the first debate of the presidential nominees, or serve as 'a circuit breaker' for the ticket that lost. That is precisely what President Obama hopes his experienced vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., can do in his debate in Danville, Ky., on Thursday against Mitt Romney’s youthful running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan." John Harwood in The New York Times.

@jamespoulos: Hunch: everything Biden says at his debate will work to cast Ryan as young, soft, and out of touch.

Biden, in particular, will need to whip up Dem enthusiasm. "It is probably too late for Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama to do anything about the high level of Republican enthusiasm. Since the Denver debate, Republicans are feeling better about Mr. Romney’s candidacy -- and they were already fired up about the opportunity to oust Mr. Obama. But Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden may be able to return bedrock Democrats to the fold. Although some of the Democratic advantage in registered voters comes from groups like Hispanics and young voters who are always difficult to get to the polls, Mr. Obama’s debate performance may also have turned off other types of Democrats who can usually be counted upon." Nate Silver in The New York Times.

@justinjm1: Joe Biden Drinking Game is national health hazard tomorrow

Dialoguing before the debates: David Brooks and Gail Collins talk about the veep candidates.

Poll: Biden less popular than Ryan. "Vice President Biden heads into Thursday’s debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) with opinion stacked against him. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, more voters view the vice president unfavorably than favorably by a 51 percent to 39 percent margin. Opinions on GOP vice presidential nominee Ryan are more evenly divided, with 44 percent of voters viewing him favorably and 40 percent viewing him unfavorably." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

Meet Martha Raddatz, the moderator of tonight's debate. "If Martha Raddatz isn’t a household name today, she will be tomorrow. Thanks to the firestorm of criticism over Jim Lehrer’s passive performance at the first presidential debate last week and a flap over President Barack Obama attending her second wedding two decades ago, Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent, will come under intense scrutiny from tens of millions of Americans when she moderates this Thursday’s vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan...[T]he challenge for Raddatz, pundits and political strategists say, is to yield the floor to the candidates without giving the impression that, like Lehrer before her, she’s getting steamrolled. That may be a particular challenge for a Washington veteran who is known as one of city’s most aggressive reporters, a journalist who thrives on mixing it up with newsmakers, not sitting behind an anchor’s desk." Dylan Byers in Politico.

As debate moderators, will women get more respect? "The candidates weren’t kind to Jim Lehrer in the first presidential debate. The veteran moderator was talked over, interrupted, cut off and ignored. Would they dare to do the same thing to a woman? Voters and viewers are about to find out. Women, rarely seen in the moderator’s chair, will be refereeing the next two debates. Martha Raddatz of ABC News will moderate Thursday night’s vice-presidential face-off; CNN’s Candy Crowley will be the moderatoron Tuesday when President Obama and Mitt Romney square off a second time." Paul Farhi in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: If Obama's still winning after a bad debate, isn't that terrible news for Romney? He's running out of events that could give him a lead.

Pre-previewing the next face-off between Obama and Romney. "President Obama is promising a more aggressive approach in his debate next week with Mitt Romney and is offering some clues about how he intends to blunt his Republican rival’s momentum and reassure jittery Democratic supporters. The president and his proxies have rolled out a sharper-edged message in the week since his lackluster first debate, hammering Romney over his changing positions on such central issues as tax cuts, health care and education." Scott Wilson and David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@jeffzeleny: For the second night in a row in Ohio, Romney campaign draws very large crowd at rally. If you're a Democrat wondering how big? Obama size.

MILLER: How Biden can win the vice presidential debate. "Sorry, Democrats, but someone has to say it: Talking about what a 'liar' Mitt Romney is may feel good right now, but if that’s what Joe Biden focuses on Thursday night, he’ll blow the vice presidential debate just as President Obama blew the first one. No, if Biden wants to help the ticket make up for ground lost since the Denver debacle, he needs a different approach. An approach that doesn’t assume his listeners already agree with him. He needs to walk people through some political realities the way he’d explain them to a small roomful of independent or undecided voters." Matt Miller in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: Don't think arguing Romney is dishonest would help Obama. People are hoping Romney's a liar. Tory men and Whig measures.

DIONNE: Sherrod Brown’s lessons for Biden. "If anyone can testify to the problem of giving really rich people a chance to tilt the political playing field, it’s Sen. Sherrod Brown. A proud labor-populist, Brown seems to invite the hostility of wealthy conservatives and deep-pocketed interest groups...Brown can live with that. His uncompromising advocacy on behalf of workers, toughness on trade, and progressive policies on a broad range of other issues have allowed the Democrat to build a formidable organization across Ohio, and a large cadre of small donors...It would behoove the president (and Biden, too) to join Brown in reminding voters that this election will determine whose interests will be represented after the ballots are counted -- and whose will be ignored." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

SIMON: Pray for Joe. "The media mind-set is dependent not on fact, but on attitude. And now comes a man who can change that attitude: Joe Biden. Say it ain’t so, Joe...So it’s up to you, Joe. The stakes are high. The party faithful are in what Obama senior adviser David Plouffe used to call 'bed-wetting' mode...The British got through the entire Second World War with the motto: 'Stay Calm and Carry On.' The very least Democrats should be able to manage now is: 'Eat Some Crow and Pray for Joe.' Joe is in a tough spot. If he wins the debate, the media will grumble that it’s 'only a vice presidential debate' and it doesn’t really matter much. But if he loses, the headline will be: 'Team Obama 0-2.' But you can do it, Joe. Keep in mind that you were being sworn in as a United States senator when Paul Ryan was 2 years old." Roger Simon in Politico.

Top op-eds

HOWARD AND SYKES: Medicaid is broken. Let the states fix it. "The best hope for Medicaid reforms that can improve care for low-income enrollees, reduce fraud, and put the program on a sustainable trajectory is to cap federal spending to the states by using block grants. Block grants would offer states a predictable source of federal funding in return for broad state flexibility in Medicaid administration, benefits and copays. We know that well-designed block grants can work and attract bipartisan support. The best example is the successful 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for welfare reform, which helped move millions of women and children out of poverty and into the workforce. Critics of Medicaid block grants argue that they would leave insufficient funds to cover new state expenses, creating a 'race to the bottom' as states slashed funding on services for the poor. But such objections were also raised about block-granting welfare, and they turned out to be wrong." Paul Howard and Russell Sykes in The Wall Street Journal.

KLEIN: Romney beats Obama on hope. "This U.S. presidential election has come down to a candidate without real policies against a candidate without a compelling vision. Republican nominee Mitt Romney can tell you exactly what he wants to do, but barely a word about how he’ll do it. President Barack Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done. At this point, Romney and Obama are running almost perfectly opposite campaigns...It might be that polls and focus groups have given the Obama campaign reason to retreat from presenting a bold agenda for a second term. But the dulling of the vision has led to the dulling of the candidate. A quick glance at the polls suggests voters don’t seem to like that much, either." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

@pourmecoffee: I'm pretty good with Excel, but I'd hate to be guy who keeps spreadsheet trying to reconcile Romney's positions. #VALUE! #REF! #DIV/0!

KINSLEY: Maybe Pres. Romney wouldn't be so bad. "Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not hoping for this or expecting it, but maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Mitt Romney became president...I’m not quite feeling that fear of disaster for the country that has colored and energized my opinion of the Republican candidates in most of the presidential elections of my voting life: Nixon, Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush Junior...Whether Romney belongs on the unthinkable list depends on how big a liar he is: The bigger the liar, the more acceptable he would be. Not that I approve of lies by politicians...If he has been telling the truth about his beliefs and intentions for the past year or so, he’s plainly unacceptable. But if he has been faking it -- if he’s actually the classic moderate Republican business man we suspect and not the conservative zealot he plays on TV -- then it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he won." Michael Kinsley in Bloomberg.

Campaign interlude: Wonkblog's new series of posts, 'The Ad Wars,' by John Sides.

@jeffzeleny: Romney said he watched TV ads this morning in Ohio: "It's a good thing I don’t do that very often. My blood pressure would be very high."

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

Still to come: the Internet's massive effect on labor markets; what does and doesn't work to improve hospital outcomes; the alternatives to Simpson-Bowles; solar tariffs slapped on Chinese solar panels; and the Republican candidate for governor in Washington state performs the "Gangnam Style" dance routine.


How the Internet has (and will continue to) changed the way labor markets work. "If you thought it has been tough to find good work over the last couple of years, just wait. The old problem was a bad economy, the kind of thing that ends. Trends suggest that we’re heading for a global online arbitrage of opportunity, however, with good workers in bad places able to snatch business away from better-performing environments. If that happens in large numbers, the competition will get really fierce for everyone...64 percent of respondents said at least half of their work force would be online by 2015, and 94 percent predicted that in 10 years most businesses would consist of online temps and physical full-time workers." Quentin Hardy in The New York Times.

Markets are up. Earnings are down. Here’s what’s really going on. "Earnings season is underway, and it’s looking to be a doozy. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stocks are forecast to have suffered a cumulative 2.7 percent drop in profits, according to FactSet, the first decline in 11 quarters. But there is a mystery hanging over the markets: In the quarter, the S&P 500 rose 5.8 percent. In other words, investors are paying more for shares of companies that are making less money...That suggests that the central banks have succeeded not only in propping up asset prices through their bond-buying programs but also in reassuring the financial markets that the banks have the world’s economic problems under control. Investors are willing to pay more for shares that earn less because they’re more confident about taking the risks than they were just three months ago."Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Fed: Economy grew ‘modestly’ in September. "The Federal Reserve said the economy grew 'modestly' in September thanks to boosts in housing and auto spending, according to its 'beige book,' which was released Wednesday. The report, issued eight times a year, compiles economic observations from each of the Fed’s 12 district banks." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@RobinBew: #Fed Beige book shows all #US regions growing. No sign of recession. But we still think fiscal tightening sill slow things down in 2013,

Nein, nein, nein, says the German central bank. "In what could be interpreted as a subtle escalation of tension among top central bankers in the euro zone, the German Bundesbank said Tuesday that it welcomed plans by the country’s Constitutional Court to determine whether it was legal for the European Central Bank to buy government bonds...Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court said last month that it would consider the legality of bond buying as part of a larger suit brought by citizens and some euro-skeptic members of the German Parliament. The suit challenges Germany’s participation in the euro zone rescue fund. In an initial ruling, the court refused to block Germany’s participation in the rescue measures. But it has not ruled on the underlying constitutional issues raised by the suit." Jack Ewing in The New York Times.

Fed governor calls for size cap to prevent 'too-big-to-fail.' "A top Federal Reserve official Wednesday called on Congress to consider capping the size of the nation's financial firms, marking one of the most high-profile challenges to the way Wall Street does business. In a Philadelphia speech, Fed governor Daniel Tarullo recommended curbing banks' growth by putting a limit on their nondeposit liabilities, which are sources of funding for operations that go beyond consumer deposits. The idea takes direct aim at the biggest U.S. banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs and Citigroup Inc., all of which rely heavily on such funding. Firms outside of this tier make much greater use of regular deposits. Mr. Tarullo, who drives much of bank policy-making at the Fed, is the highest-ranking regulatory official to call for limiting the size of banks." Victoria McGrange and Alan Zibel in The Wall Street Journal.

Adorable interlude: Two kittens falling asleep in workboots.

Health Care

Medicare shift fails to cut hospital infections. "A high-profile Medicare policy that sought to reduce certain hospital-acquired infections by cutting payments tied to treating them turned out to have no impact, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which looked at the effect of the 2008 payment change on bloodstream and urinary-tract infections related to catheters, found 'no evidence' that the shift had any measurable impact on the infections, which were already decreasing before the change went into effect. The study follows other research that has cast doubt on the effectiveness of some efforts to tie reimbursement to quality-improvement efforts in health care, an approach that is being considerably ramped up under the federal health overhaul." Anna Wilde Mathews in The Wall Street Journal.

Change a sock, save a life? "At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts, health reform means testing out new payment models and delivery systems. It also means changing the socks that patients wear. About six years ago, the health care system set a goal: It would aim to end preventable harm in its hospitals by 2012. It has just now released the results of that effort, which included 'hundreds' of small changes -- such as having patients wear socks with treads that could prevent falls...The hospital saw its rates of ventilator-associated pneumonia -- caused by bacteria in the breathing tube -- drop by 90 percent after it began implementing some small changes, like elevating patients’ beds at a 30 degree angle and brushing patients’ teeth daily...Sand notes they have not met their goal of eliminating preventable harm by 2012, but they have reduced it by 50 percent." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Shrinking funds for public health. "The Center for Disease Control is among the federal agency that faces budget cuts under the sequestration that Congress passed last year. It provides about half of all funding for local and state public health work...If the sequester cuts take effect, Blumenstock’s colleagues at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials estimate that state public health budgets could see their federal funding cut between 8 percent and 11 percent...Public health departments have already seen budgets shrink in recent years, as states cut back during the recession. Across the country, local and state health departments have shed 52,200 jobs since 2009. Federal grants to the state for emergency preparedness also have declined by 19 percent over the past decade, from $940 million in 2002 to $758 last year." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Domestic Policy

The alternatives to the Simpson-Bowles budget plan are emerging. "Simpson-Bowles holds a hallowed place in the hearts of Washington’s deficit hawks, who want to use the plan as a starting point for any fiscal cliff deal. But alternatives to the Simpson-Bowles model are now beginning to emerge. On Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) flatly rejected the Simpson-Bowles approach to tax reform as insufficiently progressive, arguing that deficit reduction should take precedence over tax=rate cuts for the wealthiest Americans. On Wednesday, David Walker, CEO of Comeback American Initiative, proposed another alternative that would challenge the political orthodoxy of both parties. To most Democrats’ chagrin, Walker’s group wants to block-grant Medicaid, repeal and scale back parts of the Affordable Care Act, and raise taxes on Americans who are above the poverty live but pay no federal income taxes, as it outlined in a 2011 fiscal reform plan." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: I disagree with much of it, but Schumer's tax reform speech yesterday is one of the most thoughtful contributions to the debate.

The case for public broadcasting. "What’s the actual case for public radio and television? The usual arguments in favor of public broadcasting focus on the facts that a) public television and radio are highly educational and b) that this government spending mainly benefits rural areas with few other media options...[I]f Congress took this funding away, NPR and PBS would likely survive, though perhaps diminished -- PBS gets just 15 percent of its budget from the government, and NPR just 2 percent...In many rural areas, local stations receive more than 50 percent of their funding from state and local governments...Is that a problem? Can’t people in poorer or rural areas just watch other TV channels? Listen to other radio content? Perhaps. But the second argument is that public television tends to be more educational than what the private sector offers." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@SuzyKhimm: Thanks to Goldman Sachs and PBS, there are now three muppets on Wonkblog's landing page right now: Miss Piggy, Kermit, and Big Bird.

The fiscal...what are we calling it now? "Originally, Hill staffers called it 'taxmageddon.' Then Ben Bernanke called it 'the fiscal cliff,' and it stuck. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that’s the wrong metaphor: The damage doesn’t happen all at once, so it’s more of a 'fiscal slope.' The Economic Policy Institute decided this still made the situation sound too cliff-y and began calling it 'the fiscal obstacle course.'... The good news, they argue, is that if you look at the various components of the fiscal cliff separately, you’ll see that the parts that do the most for deficit reduction do the least for the recovery, and vice versa. This suggests an 'a la carte' approach to the fiscal cliff, in which we extend the most stimulative policies and wave goodbye to the most costly policies...The most stimulative policies are, predictably enough, the policies that were intended to be stimulus. Among the least stimulative policies are the Bush tax cuts. Somewhat to my surprise, the spending sequester is a really nasty hit to the economy...The fiscal cliff isn’t a drop to be avoided at all costs. It’s a series of choices to be made, in which we have to decide whether a set of policies do enough for the economy to justify their cost. So if there’s room for yet one more name, how about calling it 'the fiscal collision'?" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

The case against patents. "[T]here’s an even more radical case making the rounds—maybe we should just… abolish patents altogether. That’s the conclusion of a eye-catching recent paper by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It’s titled 'The Case Against Patents' and argues that our patent laws now do more to hinder innovation than to promote it. And, since there’s no way to salvage the system, the United States would be better off scrapping patents entirely." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Federal appeals court reinstates limits on Montana campaign contributions. "One month before Election Day, a federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that would have allowed unlimited campaign dollars to flow into state-level campaigns in Montana. The decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came late on Tuesday, one week after a federal judge in Montana struck down that state’s limits on campaign contributions as an unconstitutional restriction of free-speech rights. Although Montana and its three reliably Republican electoral votes have been largely overlooked in this year’s presidential race, the state has become a pitched battleground over campaign-finance rules." Jack Healy in The New York Times.

Gangnam interlude: Washington state gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna's attempt at a Global Korean Day celebration.


U.S. confirms tariffs on China's solar industry. "The United States hit China with tariffs as high as 250 percent on Wednesday for selling solar cells below fair value, while also imposing a separate 16 percent tariff to counteract Chinese subsidies to its solar firms. The final ruling on the tariffs, which are slightly higher than preliminary ones set by the administration in May, follows a Commerce Department investigation on Chinese trade practices. Though Commerce can begin collecting those duties, the U.S. International Trade Commission must approve the tariffs by Nov. 23 for them to stand." Zack Colman in The Hill.

SEC applies disclosure requirements on foreign oil and mining. "A divided Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved regulations Wednesday that will force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. The 2-1 SEC vote for the rules caps a two-year, behind-the-scenes battle that pitted oil companies like Exxon against human-rights groups and their allies like George Soros and Bill Gates...The law forces SEC-listed oil, natural gas and mining companies to reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects." Ben German in The Hill.

BP closes in on settlement for oil spill. "BP PLC and the U.S. Justice Department are close to a broad deal that would resolve both the company's civil and criminal liabilities arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, people familiar with the talks said. Though negotiations on criminal and civil penalties have been going on for months, the two sides have intensified negotiations over a combined settlement in the last two weeks and have come closer to an agreement, according to people familiar with the matter. But substantial differences remain between BP and the government, and there is a risk that the recent momentum could stall and the chances of a deal fizzle, these people cautioned...BP could be liable for between $5.4 billion and $21 billion in civil penalties under the Clean Water Act alone, depending on whether it were found to be grossly negligent, which it has denied. A settlement at the higher end of that range could imply some negligence on BP's part and empower plaintiffs with pending lawsuits to seek higher damages, legal analysts said. As of last month, the two sides were about $6 billion apart on a final settlement figure, according to one person familiar with the negotiations." Daniel Gilbert in The Wall Street Journal.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.



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