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Wonkbook: Maybe the NSA should just run HealthCare.Gov

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.

(Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)
(Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

The two top stories this week make for an odd pairing.

On the one hand, there's the evolving NSA story, in which the U.S. government is further proving it has the capacity to break into seemingly any electronic communication made at any time anywhere. What makes these revelations so unnerving to both the U.S.'s critics and its allies is the extraordinary technological competence and reach on display. Apart from law and morality, the final limit on what the U.S. government can do -- feasibility -- seems less binding by the day.

"The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us," former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview (via AP). "Let's be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous."

On the other hand, there's Obamacare, in which the U.S. handed hundreds of millions of dollars to more than 55 competitors to build a web site (okay, okay, a digital infrastructure) that doesn't actually work. What makes these revelations so unnerving is the U.S. government's extraordinary technological incompetence. The limit on the technology the government can build -- or even pay someone else to build -- seems far lower than anyone wanted to believe.

"It doesn’t surprise me at all," says Fred Trotter, author of 'Hacking Healthcare.' "What you need to run a massive consumer web site is the latest in horizontal scaling and that’s hardly approved software for the federal government. The federal government has very conservative mechanisms for purchasing off-the-shelf software and creating new software. That puts a lot of constraints on them."

The joke here is obvious: Can't President Obama just ask the NSA guys to run the Obamacare web site? After all, the ones who are no longer spying on foreign leaders will need something to do.

But the more serious question is whether both of these visions of the government can be right at the same time. Is it possible that the U.S. government can contain both the terrifying technological competence implied by the NSA stories and the unnerving technological incompetence displayed in the Obamacare stories?

You could make an argument for it. The NSA has much more in-house technological talent than the Centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services. They've also had a lot longer to get their systems up and working. Perhaps they're just better at what they do.

But it seems at least as likely that the NSA is a whole lot less omniscient than the Snowden documents suggest. A program that sounds inescapable and infallible on paper might be a mess in reality. The wrong calls might get tapped. The data analysis might make the wrong associations. The e-mail collection might fail. (This doesn't, by the way, make the revelations any less unnerving: It makes it more likely that the wrong people will get caught in the net of surveillance.)

The fact that the NSA operates in secret and without market competition makes it even likelier that their tech has a lot more fail than anyone is able to report. And it's not as if the NSA has any interest in coming out and explaining that it doesn't have nearly the capacity some of these stories imply. It's better to be feared than loved, and it's much better to be feared than mocked.

Without more information on both the extent of Obamacare's problems and the reality of the NSA's surveillance it's flatly impossible to say which, if any, of these views is correct. But it's hard to believe that technological incompetence and and technological omniscience of PRISM can both exist, exactly as currently understood, in the same institution.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 60 million. That's how many Spanish telephone calls the NSA tapped in one month. Spain is not happy to hear that.

Wonkbook's Quote of the Day: "[C]ertainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous," said an unnamed NSA official of the program to listen in on foreign leaders' calls.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: The NSA story is coming back, in one graph.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) the NSA's mess; 2) Tavenner testifies; 3) what the Fed is thinking before its meeting; 4) Rubio folds on comprehensive immigration reform; and 5) watching the fiscal mini-deal.

1) Top story: Is the NSA crackdown just beginning? 

Obama set to ban spying on heads of allied states. "President Obama is poised to order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on the leaders of American allies, administration and Congressional officials said Monday, responding to a deepening diplomatic crisis over reports that the agency had for years targeted the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany...The White House said Monday evening that no final decision had been made on the monitoring of friendly foreign leaders. But the disclosure that it is moving to prohibit it marks a landmark shift for the N.S.A." Mark Landler and David E. Sanger in The New York Times.

@ggreenwald: One more time: what's driving the international part of NSA story is not spying on leaders but bulk spying on tens of millions of citizens

Obama's team says they didn't know... "In the midst of the controversy over U.S. surveillance this summer, top intelligence officials held a briefing for President Obama at the White House — one that would provide him with a broad inventory of programs being carried out by the National Security Agency...White House officials said Obama was not told about the extent of the world leader surveillance program before this summer because briefings are tailored to the president’s priorities." Scott Wilson and Anne Gearan in The Washington Post.

...But the NSA is like, 'Oh, yes, you did.' "The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping. Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift...Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader's cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. "But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous." "People are furious," said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. "This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community."" Ken Dilanian and Janet Stobart in The Los Anegeles Times.

@ianbremmer: Apparently the NSA was very busy, but nobody knew what they were up to. #TechnicalStuff

Sen. Feinstein isn't OK with spying on our allies. "The chair of the Senate intelligence committee, who has been a loyal defender of the National Security Agency, dramatically broke ranks on Monday, saying she was "totally opposed" to the US spying on allies and demanding a total review of all surveillance programs..."It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community," Feinstein said in a statement to reporters." Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian.

 ...And she has the leverage to put the whole thing under scrutiny. "The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee promised a total review of all U.S. spying programs for the first time in decades...[A] senior administration official disputed the assessment, saying the administration wasn't making "across the board" changes in its surveillance policies. The official said "individual" changes were being made, but declined to describe them." Siobhan Gorman in The Wall Street Journal.

NSA bills set up a choice in Congress: End bulk collection of phone records or endorse it. "After nearly five months of controversy and debate, members of Congress may face a clear choice over the National Security Agency’s program to collect the phone records of nearly every American: endorse it or shut it down. On Tuesday, lawmakers are expected to introduce the first comprehensive NSA legislation since the agency’s phone records program was disclosed in June. The proposal, from a bipartisan coalition in the House and the Senate, would effectively halt “bulk” records collection under the USA Patriot Act. Another bipartisan group of lawmakers is preparing legislation that would preserve the program while strengthening privacy protections." Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

@interfluidity: i find NSA spying on foreign leaders lots less troubling than its surveillance of everyone else, not very troubling at all, even. just me?

Derek Khanna says it's a vote away from passage in the House. "Sources have confirmed that the current pending legislation, to be introduced by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), already has 59 co-sponsors, a number that is likely to increase by tomorrow... confirm that the co-sponsors for the pending legislation include six congress members that voted against the Amash Amendment. If the 205 Members who voted for the Amash Amendment vote for the new very similar legislation also supported by Amash, then the legislation may only require one other Member to obtain a the bare majority of 212 votes that would have carried the Amash Amendment." Derek Khanna in Politix.

Big NSA reforms are now on the table. "Barack Obama will receive a classified dossier in the next two weeks that will lay out the consequences for US foreign relations of the National Security Agency's powerful surveillance apparatus and provide the White House with a raft of possible reforms. The document is being drafted by a top-level group of experts appointed by the president to conduct an external review of US surveillance capabilities and the damage to public trust resulting from the Edward Snowden disclosures. The review, parts of which will be declassified and released to the public, will be completed by mid-December. However, a senior administration official familiar with the process said a secret "interim report" will be shared with the president shortly." Paul Lewis in The Guardian.

The NSA spied on 60 million Spaniards in just one month (apologies: text in Spanish only). "La Agencia Nacional de Seguridad estadounidense (NSA) espió 60 millones y medio de llamadas en España tan sólo entre el mes de diciembre de 2012 y principios de enero de este año, según muestra un gráfico que forma parte de los documentos secretos del ex agente Edward Snowden a los que EL MUNDO ha tenido acceso en exclusiva." Glenn Greenwald in El Mundo.

@PeterBeinart: What's worse: being spied on by the NSA or not being important enough to be spied on by NSA?

Spain summons U.S. ambassador on reports of spying. "The Spanish government on Monday summoned the American ambassador to address allegations that the National Security Agency had recently collected data on 60 million telephone calls in Spain...After his meeting with Spanish officials, the ambassador, James Costos, issued a statement in which he acknowledged Spain’s worries about the surveillance programs and said, “Ultimately, the United States needs to balance the important role that these programs play in protecting our national security and protecting the security of our allies with legitimate privacy concerns.”" Raphael Minder in The New York Times.

CASSIDY: Who watches the watchmen? "“These decisions are made at N.S.A.,” someone described as “a senior U.S. official” told the Journal. “The President doesn’t sign off on this stuff.” Who does, then? The head of the N.S.A.—a post currently held by Army General Keith Alexander, a four-star officer who recently signalled his intention to stand down? Somebody lower down the totem pole at the spying agency? And what role, if any, is played by the Director of National Intelligence, currently James R. Clapper, a former lieutenant general in the Air Force, who reports directly to the President?" John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

Music recommendations interlude: Coldplay, "Spies."

Top opinion

CHAIT: There is a small budget deal in the works. Here is what it is. "The small deal would aim to replace the automatic cuts (sequestration) that both parties hate for a couple of years, with deficit reduction spread over a longer time frame. This would spare program cuts that have caused bipartisan dismay, and also alleviate the pressure immediate deficit reduction is placing on the recovery. Making a deal like this would require a much lower target of agreed-upon long-term deficit reduction." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

BARRO: Why rate shock is an essential part of healthcare reform. "Before Obamacare, our health insurance system was already a thicket of subsidies and transfers. The law doesn't simplify the system, but it does make the thicket of subsidies and transfers more sensible: directed more at people who have low incomes or high health needs, and greatly shrinking the share of the population that doesn't have health coverage at all. Making the thicket more sensible will mean that some people's costs go up, producing "rate shock."" Josh Barro in Business Insider.

PONNURU AND LOWRY: The bad ideas behind the shutdown. "If someone had missed the intervening weeks, he would have had no idea of the drama and political pain that had ensued before the party accepted a version of the initial unacceptable compromise. From one point of view, the entire episode was all rather pointless; from another it was quite important. It was the latest and most consequential expression of an apocalyptic conservative politics. It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom — and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal." Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry in National Review Online.

FRIEDERSDORF: Will the Left turn on Obama? "During President George W. Bush's tenure, most Republicans felt that criticizing him would just help Democrats. Only the end of his presidency freed them to see its flaws clearly...Will some Democrats behave similarly when President Obama leaves office? Right now, most feel that criticizing the White House can only help House Republicans. But one day soon they'll be able to look back at Obama's two terms with clearer eyes. How many will feel chagrin at policies that transgressed against their values? How many will pressure their party's establishment to change?" Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

TAYLOR: Economic failure causes political polarization. "It is a common view that the shutdown, the debt-limit debacle and the repeated failure to enact entitlement and pro-growth tax reform reflect increased political polarization. I believe this gets the causality backward. Today's governance failures are closely connected to economic policy changes, particularly those growing out of the 2008 financial crisis." John B. Taylor in The Wall Street Journal.

SEIB: Research cuts ought to worry businesses. "Business leaders have many reasons to complain about the budget high jinks consuming Washington, but here's one that gets too little attention: the damage automatic budget cuts are doing to basic research in America...A study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that overall federal research-and-development funding could be reduced by $57.5 billion, or 8.4%, if the sequester remains in place for the next four years." Gerald F. Seib in The Wall Street Journal.

HILTZIK: The acid test for the GOP's ability to govern: immigration reform. "You know a bill is in trouble in Congress when its opponents come up with increasingly infantile reasons for killing it. That's the coming fate of immigration reform in Washington. To hear House Republicans talk, it's worth killing because (a) passing it would give President Obama a victory when he's already had too many, (b) he's just using it to hurt the GOP, (c) it may or may not, but probably will, lead to "amnesty," and (d) Obama wants it to happen." Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times.

DASCHLE: Seize the moment on entitlement reform. "[A]s congressional negotiators renew their quest for a consequential budget agreement, there will never be a more opportune moment to look at federal entitlement spending, because there’s more common ground than ever before. While Democrats oppose all efforts to repeal or defund the ACA, most acknowledge and actually support efforts to reform and modernize Medicare and Medicaid — unlike a few years ago...The second reason why modernizing Medicare and Medicaid makes sense now is that many in the private sector, and many states, are already engaged in building a new health paradigm." Tom Daschle in Politico.

This is awesome interlude: What Politico Playbook would have looked like in the Civil War. (Hey, Michael Schaffer, how 'bout one of Wonkbook?)

2) goes before Congress

Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance. "Four sources deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act tell NBC NEWS that 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a “cancellation” letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. One expert predicts that number could reach as high as 80 percent. And all say that many of those forced to buy pricier new policies will experience “sticker shock.”" Lisa Myers and Hannah Rappleye in NBC News.

...And what the NBC story has wrong. "This all sounds very ominous until you consider that the naturally high turnover rate associated with the individual market means that it’s highly unlikely that individuals would still be enrolled in plans from 2010 in 2014. In fact, the Obama administration publicly admitted this when it issued the regulations in 2010, leading Republicans like Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) to seize on the story in order to push for repeal of the grandfather regulations. The debate was widely covered in the press, so it’s unclear what exactly the NBC investigation unit has uncovered." Igor Volsky in Think Progress.

Obamacare chief Marilyn Tavenner heads to the Hill Tuesday. Here’s what to expect. "On Tuesday, Tavenner will be the first Obama administration official to testify before Congress on the Affordable Care Act's launch. She is likely to face a barrage of questions about the circumstances that lead to the Web site's faulty launch -- and the Obama administration's prior claims that they were on track for a successful launch." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out. "Thousands of Californians are discovering what Obamacare will cost them — and many don't like what they see. These middle-class consumers are staring at hefty increases on their insurance bills as the overhaul remakes the healthcare market. Their rates are rising in large part to help offset the higher costs of covering sicker, poorer people who have been shut out of the system for years...On balance, many Americans will benefit from the healthcare expansion. They are guaranteed coverage regardless of their medical history. And lower-income families will gain access to comprehensive coverage at little or no cost...[M]iddle-income consumers face an estimated 30% rate increase, on average, in California due to several factors tied to the healthcare law." Chad Terhune in The Los Angeles Times.

White House signs off on limited waiver for insurance penalty. "With website woes ongoing, the Obama administration Monday granted a six-week extension until March 31 for Americans to sign up for coverage next year and avoid new tax penalties under the president's health care overhaul law...Previously you had to sign up by the middle of February, guaranteeing that your coverage would take effect March 1, in order to avoid fines for being uninsured." Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in The Associated Press.

Sen. Ron Johnson wants to protect existing plans. "Senator Ron Johnson announced Friday that he will be introducing legislation designed to let people keep their current health-care plans under Obamacare. The bill would grandfather currently existing plans into Obamacare and rescind a slew of new mandates the law put on those plans...In an interview, Johnson explains he began focusing on introducing the bill upon hearing the tragic story of some of his constituents who are being forced off their current plan." Jonathan Strong in National Review Online.'s data hub is working again. "Health-insurance exchanges in all 50 states couldn't function for about 16 hours Sunday and Monday due to the outage, which affected a data hub on which the exchanges rely to transmit information about enrollees' identity and income. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the connectivity failure wasn't linked to other problems the exchanges have encountered." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

...But the website still has a long way to go. "Insurers said they were still not getting full, accurate information about people who signed up for their health plans on the federal website. Insurers need to know the specific plan chosen by a consumer and the amount of any federal subsidy so they can properly bill the policyholder. Under federal rules, an enrollment is not effective until an insurer receives payment of the first month’s premium...However, insurers said they saw the problems as more significant, affecting 25 percent to 30 percent of enrollments...[T]he government put a time stamp on each transaction, so insurers would know which one occurred last [in the case of apparent cancellations]. But the stamp shows the time the files were sent to insurers, and the government sends all the files at the same time once a day, so multiple transactions are shown as having occurred at precisely the same moment." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Obamacare and the limits of the wayback machine. "“If it gets fixed, six months from now it will be remembered as a rocky episode and nothing more,” said Mike Leavitt, who presided over the Medicare Part D launch as President George W. Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary. But if the website is still failing by then, Leavitt said, “it will brand Obamacare in a very harsh light.” Lately, House Democrats have been using the wayback machine to remind the public that the early weeks of the Medicare prescription drug program in late 2005 and early 2006 were pretty disastrous, too." David Nather in Politico.

In a twist, Republican senators fight to keep tax increase as part of new health care law. "Republicans in Congress don’t usually fight for tax increases, especially ones that are part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. But GOP senators balked when Democrats proposed delaying a new temporary fee on everyone covered by health insurance...Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposed delaying the fee in recent budget talks with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell and other Republican senators objected; the fee was left intact. GOP senators complained the delay was basically a favor for labor unions, traditional Democratic allies that oppose the new fee." The Associated Press.

COHN: Obamacare's worst case scenario isn't as bad as you think. "What if it’s December and Obamacare’s official online portals are still barely functional?...[A]ccording to experts and industry sources I consulted over the last week, the law would probably be more resilient than commonly assumed. The damage would be real, these experts say, but it probably wouldn't last. One reason is a series of Obamacare provisions few people know exist and even fewer understand. They’re known among health wonks as the “three Rs”—reinsurance, risk adjustment, and risk corridors. (Catchy, right?)" Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

LIND: How the right's Obamacare hypocrisy backfires. "Conservatives want all social insurance to look like Obamacare. The radical right would like to replace Social Security with an Obamacare-like system, in which mandates or incentives pressure Americans to steer money into tax-favored savings accounts like 401(k)s and to purchase annuities at retirement, with means-tested subsidies to help the poor make their private purchases. And most conservative and libertarian plans for healthcare for the elderly involve replacing Medicare with a totally new system designed along the lines of Obamacare." Michael Lind in Salon.

FLAVELLE: Obamacare will survive its botched rollout. "The U.S. will probably keep spending more than its peer countries on health care. But expanding government-subsidized insurance and standardizing what it means to be covered, along with removing co-pays for preventive care, should start to close the gap in health outcomes between the U.S. and other countries. And while the mayhem around might slow that process, it's unlikely to prove fatal to the law. That doesn't mean we should stop talking about the website's problems. It just means we should keep reminding ourselves why it's so important they get fixed." Chris Flavelle in Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, in health policy:

Wendy Davis couldn’t stop a Texas abortion law. But a federal court just did. "[T]he United States District Court for the Western District of Texas issued an opinion striking down two key parts of an abortion restriction the state passed earlier this year. The decision halts two key provisions of House Bill 2: A requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital and another barring medical abortions." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Why you need to care about kidney disease. "Doctors often don't test for it, and patients may have no symptoms until they are in crisis. Yet kidney disease is fast becoming a dangerous health threat, and one of the most costly, in the U.S. Kidney disease is a frequent complication of diabetes and hypertension that currently costs Medicare about $41 billion a year in treatment, including dialysis. That figure is giving urgency to a push for widespread routine screening." Laura Landro in The Wall Street Journal.

Epic fail interlude: NYPD edition.

3) What the Fed is thinking before its meeting

The Fed’s dilemma: Continue cleaning up the last crisis, or prevent a new one? "Should they still be focused all-out on fixing the economic damage wrought by the last crisis? Or should they worry more about risks building in the financial system that could contribute to a future crisis?...This contingent looks around and sees all kinds of ugly side effects of the Fed's easy money policies. There is "reaching for yield" in which investors take on inappropriate risks in order to try to goose their returns. There is a shortage of Treasury bonds, used as ultra-safe collateral for a wide range of transactions." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

...Which is exactly the attitude that Christina Romer warns against in her latest paper. "I worry that guilt over letting asset prices reach the stratosphere in 2006 and 2007 has made some policymakers irrationally afraid of bubbles. As a result, they focus on the slim chance that another bubble may be brewing, rather than on the problems we know we face—like slow recovery, falling inflation, and hesitancy on the part of firms to borrow and invest." Christina D. Romer lecture to Johns Hopkins University.

Interview: Eugene FamaJeff Sommer in The New York Times.

U.S. industrial production rises. "Industrial production—a measure of output at U.S. factories, utilities and mines—increased a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in September from the prior month, the Federal Reserve said Monday. The gain, driven largely by rebounding utility use, pushed overall output back to its 2007 average for the first time since the recession. Capacity utilization, a measure of slack across industrial firms, rose 0.4 percentage point to 78.3%. That marked the highest level in five years." Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

Pending home sales go plop. "The National Association of Realtors' gauge of pending sales of existing homes fell 5.6% last month from August, the trade group said Monday. That pushed the measure down to its lowest level since December 2012. The 1.2% drop from a year ago marked the first time in more than two years that pending home sales were lower than they were a year earlier...Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected a 0.5% monthly rise. "This is worse than we expected and it surely lays to rest the notion that the housing market is strong enough to absorb the rise in mortgage rates with no ill-effects," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics." Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

What happens if inflation rises and wages don't? "If the Fed drives up inflation, prices would rise first. Even if wages follow, the very people who most need help would feel the short-term pain most acutely. It would feel something like a temporary national sales tax. Second, there’s no guarantee that incomes would keep pace with higher inflation." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

At the source of the shutdown, the economy falters — and anger at Barack Obama runs high. "If you want to understand the congressional Republicans who have forced confrontations with Obama on the “fiscal cliff,” the government shutdown and the debt ceiling — and whether those lawmakers might feel encouraged to force more confrontations in the future — you need to understand the economic struggles of the Republicans’ home districts...Forty-five House Republicans have most consistently pushed their caucus to brinkmanship over the past several years, according to a Washington Post analysis of voting patterns. On average, the economy in the districts those Republicans represent is significantly worse than it is in the nation at large. The median income in those districts last year was 7 percent lower than the national median, according to the Census Bureau. The unemployment rate averaged 10 percent. That was almost two percentage points higher than the national rate, and two percentage points higher than the overall rate in the states that contain each district." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

This is so great interlude: What the Writers' Guild likes.

4) Rubio folds

Rubio favors piecemeal immigration approach over comprehensive bill. "Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) office, in a statement Monday, said Congress should be open to passing a series of immigration bills rather than attempting to pass the comprehensive legislation Rubio authored and the Senate passed earlier this year. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said those who favor comprehensive immigration reform need to be realistic about what Congress can pass." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Why Jeff Denham switched. "Something very notable happened over the weekend in the debate on immigration. A House Republican joined Democrats in support of an immigration plan that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants...Call it the triple threat. Denham represents a district where (1) President Obama won, (2) there’s a large Hispanic population and (3) a serious Democrat is challenging him. In short, Denham must by political necessity walk a much more moderate line on immigration than almost all of his Republican colleagues." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Here come the lobbyists. "Determined to rally support, outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bibles, Badges & Business for Immigration Reform are descending on the Capitol Tuesday to lobby lawmakers to vote this year on immigration legislation." Donna Cassata in Time Magazine.

Video longform interlude: Long-distance train trips.

5) Watching the fiscal mini-deal

Would the White House accept a budget deal without taxes? Maybe! "In an e-mail responding to this article, White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage wrote, “Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms. And any budget deal needs to have first and foremost the goal of creating good jobs for middle class families and growing the economy—that’s our north star in any budget deal, big or small.” You catch the key word there? "Big." The White House's position is that "any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms." But everyone agrees that the next budget deal won't be big. It will be small, or, at best, medium-sized." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Congress could prevent shutdowns — but that might create new problems. "There is a way to prevent government shutdowns...If lawmakers miss their Oct. 1 deadline, agencies would stay at the previous year’s spending level for 120 days. After that, spending would drop by 1 percent every 90 days...Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) will use his spot on the House-Senate negotiating team to push his prevention measure, said his spokeswoman Caitlin Dunn." Connie Cass in The Washington Post.

Food stamps will get cut by $5 billion this week — and more cuts could follow. "[T]he food-stamp program is now set to downsize in the weeks ahead. There's a big automatic cut scheduled for Nov. 1, as a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill expires. That change will trim about $5 billion from federal food-stamp spending over the coming year. And that's not all: The number of Americans on food stamps could drop even further in the months ahead, as Congress and various states contemplate further changes to the program." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Amazon ran the technical analysis of whether we have to shut down Kindles on planesLydia DePillis.

The Ketchup Wars: McDonald’s won’t serve Heinz anymoreLydia DePillis.

Obviously Wall Street is ambivalent about record Apple profitsLydia DePillis.

Wendy Davis couldn’t stop a Texas abortion law. But a federal court just did. Sarah Kliff.

Obamacare chief Marilyn Tavenner heads to the Hill Tuesday. Here’s what to expectSarah Kliff.

The Fed’s dilemma: Continue cleaning up the last crisis, or prevent a new oneNeil Irwin.

Food stamps will get cut by $5 billion this week — and more cuts could followBrad Plumer.

Would the White House accept a budget deal without taxes? MaybeEzra Klein.

Et Cetera

House votes to set up commission on VA backlogPete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.



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