Wonkbook: Obamacare sign-ups top 6 million

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(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 6 million. That's the latest milestone that the Affordable Care Act has eclipsed for health insurance signups on the exchanges.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: These charts show how Obamacare signups have evolved over time.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Obamacare's big milestone; (2) how Obama is recommitting to NATO; (3) the economy's pulse; (4) Congress (sort of) gets things done; and (5) the NSA overhaul push.

1. Top story: Obamacare hits another milestone

Obamacare signups now exceed 6 million. "More than 6 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance under the ­Affordable Care Act, the White House announced Thursday, ­reflecting a surge in enrollment after months of technical problems prevented many people from picking a plan....There were more than 1.5 million visits to HealthCare.gov and more than 430,000 calls to federal call centers Wednesday, administration officials said....The final enrollment figure will not be known until next month, in part because this week the administration decided to give extra time to those who say they tried to enroll but failed to do so by the March 31 deadline. In addition, not all the consumers who are signing up will actually pay for their plans, which determines whether they will actually be covered....Still, the higher numbers show that many Americans are determined to get insured under the law, a process that’s become easier after an extended period in which technical glitches made it nearly impossible in many states." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Chart: Projected signups versus actual signups

Did this guy see it coming? Charles Gaba, the blogger who has tracked enrollments at ACAsignups.net, has made some highly accurate predictions of Obamacare enrollments and has projected 6.2 million or more by March 31.

Don't forget! Deadline near for Obamacare enrollment guessing contest. The Washington Post.

Explainers:

The long history of hitting the pause button on Obamacare. Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post.

Why Americans like Obamacare (and why they don't) — in two charts. Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Video: State winners in losers in ACA signups. Bloomberg.

Administration keeping up the full-court press. "The agency in charge of the health-law enrollment effort has learned to love the individual mandate as a way of getting consumers to sign up for health insurance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) sent a nudging email Wednesday to users of HealthCare.gov who have applied for coverage but haven’t yet picked a plan. The message: Hurry up....The message is more complicated than it might appear because it went out soon after the administration released guidance suggesting that some people still “in line,” or stuck deeper in the system, would be allowed to finish signing up after March 31 as long as they said they had started before that date. But what’s most striking about the message is the reference to the fine." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

The long view: It's still uphill for Obamacare. "In 2011 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that Obamacare would lower the number of uninsured by 21m in 2014 and 34m in 2021. Now the CBO is gloomier: it says the law will shrink the ranks of the uninsured by 13m in 2014 and 25m in 2021. More than 30m Americans will still lack coverage after Obamacare is fully implemented. The law’s drafters assumed that the states would all expand Medicaid, so the subsidies only kick in above that $11,700 threshold. But after the Supreme Court said the states could refuse to expand Medicaid, half of them (mostly Republican-led) did just that. In those states, millions of people will not qualify for Medicaid but are too poor to qualify for Obamacare subsidies.....The launch of Healthcare.gov in October went so badly that the CBO cut its estimate for the number of enrollees this year from 7m to 6m....The worry is that too few healthy people will enroll, prompting insurers to raise prices next year....He has also tweaked his reform in ways that may appease angry voters in the short run, but make it less likely to work in the long run....Mr Obama has also done things likely to make insurance more expensive....Just 19% of Americans said the law has helped them. More continue to oppose Obamacare than support it, though only three in ten favour scrapping it. So long as power in Washington is divided and the parties are polarised, the law can neither be amended nor repealed. It is up to Mr Obama to fix it using his administrative powers; he does not have much time." The Economist.

Some Democrats, including in red states, back easing small business mandate. "The six senators, including three who are up for re-election, wrote in an op-ed for Politico Magazine that the law is worth saving despite its many imperfections, a position that polls have shown is more popular than a wholesale repeal. Some of their proposals include adding a less costly, high-deductible “Copper Plan” to the existing marketplace options of Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze; making small-business health care tax credits available longer and making them accessible to more employers; and offering an additional, permanent way to enroll in the health care marketplace other than HealthCare.gov, the website whose rollout has been plagued by problems. Democrats in conservative states like Alaska, Arkansas and North Carolina have been hit with a barrage of ads attacking them for standing by the Affordable Care Act. They have struggled with how to best respond." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.

Some of those red states getting more attention from Obama administration. "With only four days left before the March 31 enrollment deadline, the White House is kicking into high gear trying to round up more Affordable Care Act enrollees — and Louisiana got special attention Thursday. Why? Enrollment in the federal healthcare exchange there has lagged behind other states and, perhaps as important, citizens are getting bombarded with anti-ACA ads as Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu gears up for a tight race in November. As part of its push to promote the ACA hard in the last days before the deadline to enroll, the White House has been inviting the media to dial into a series of conference calls to highlight positive anecdotes in certain states under the new healthcare law. Thursday's call showcased Landrieu's backyard, and a 34-year-old New Orleans waitress named Tierney Brinkman, who found a lump in her breast when she was 19....Other states the White House has spotlighted in similar conference calls the last few weeks include Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia....One reason Louisiana may have made the list: enrollment in the state has been sluggish and Republicans are determined to use the healthcare law to get voters to sour on Landrieu." Alisa Chang in NPR.

ACA was a big subject of president's meeting with Pope Francis. "President Barack Obama was pressed on the Catholic Church’s concerns over certain provisions in his signature Affordable Care Act during his Thursday visit to Vatican, though he said his conversations there focused on economic opportunity and global conflicts. 'We actually didn’t talk a whole lot about social schisms in my conversations with His Holiness. In fact, that really was not a topic of conversation,' the president said of his first meeting with Pope Francis....Obama was vague in his description of the extent of his discussion of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate with the pope, saying that Francis 'actually did not touch in detail' on the issue. The president’s health care law had loomed over his first face-to-face encounter with the pope, which Obama hoped would be a moment to bask in the religious leader’s popularity and to discuss ways to expand economic opportunity — not to discuss the contentious issue of requiring employers to pay for birth control. In his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, there was conversation about 'the issue of making sure that conscience and religious freedom was observed in the context of applying the law,' the president said. Obama added he told Parolin that his administration has worked to make it possible for Americans — particularly women — to be 'able to enjoy the kind of coverage that the ACA offers, but that religious freedom is still observed.'" Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein in Politico.

Other health care reads:

Appeals court upholds Texas abortion restrictions. Richard Wolf in USA Today.

COHN: What the new milestone means. "As usual, these raw numbers leave many important questions unanswered. Nobody knows how many of these people had insurance before and, if they did, what kind of insurance it was or how much they were paying for it. And the national figure for enrollment doesn’t say much about state-by-state breakdowns, which is critical, because every state has its own insurance market. In any given state, poor enrollment could lead to higher prices next year. Nor do the enrollment figures say anything about how easily people are getting insurance — or what they think about the coverage after they have bought it. You don’t have to look hard to find anecdotes of people angry about the limits or cost of their new policies, not to mention those still struggling with bureaucratic application issues....But it also isn’t hard to find stories of people grateful to get insurance that, for the first time, is available to all Americans regardless of pre-existing conditions. Nor is it difficult to find people grateful that they can finally afford coverage, thanks either to newly expanded Medicaid programs or the financial assistance — worth, in some cases, thousands of dollars a year — through the marketplaces. And the fact that enrollment will probably be close to the original projections suggests that the law is working more or less like it's supposed to work. Whether that's good or bad, obviously, is a matter of opinion. Most readers are familiar with mine." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

ROY: No death spiral, but number of uninsured enrollees remains mystery. "This is an impressive turnaround. But it sheds little light onto the two questions most analysts are focused on. First, how many of those signing up have paid their first month’s premium, thereby activating coverage? And second: How many of those with coverage were previously uninsured? At this point, we have no definitive answers. The Obama administration’s original goal was to enroll 7 million people by the end of the open enrollment period on March 31. But contrary to the commentary of some, reaching 7 million was never critical to the stability of the Obamacare exchanges. What matters more is that the mix of people signing up for coverage was sufficiently broad so as to prevent a catastrophic increase in exchange premiums next year. The information we have thus far is that there won’t be a death spiral." Avik Roy in Forbes.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN: Enrollment surge means success. Or failure. "There’s nothing at all magical about this number. Reaching it doesn’t mean that Obamacare 'works.' Surpassing the goal might have some effect on the federal budget (more signups, for example, presumably mean higher subsidy costs), but there’s no obvious correlation between the signup total and anything else. There is still way more that we don’t know about this new world and the details matter a lot for insurers setting next year’s premiums....'Success' and 'failure' remain the wrong ways to think about Obamacare. Complete failure was always unlikely, and not even the most optimistic supporters thought the law would fix everything wrong with health care in the U.S. In the real world, what counts is how well the law performs, what its strengths and weaknesses prove to be, and what fixes would actually improve things." Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg View.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Still a work in progress. "The government’s effort to extend health-care coverage to nearly all Americans is just beginning. The Congressional Budget Office projects that more people will sign up for private individual insurance under the Affordable Care Act next year than this year. To make good on that projection, the administration must improve HealthCare.gov further, avoid setting expectations that all deadlines are flexible and demystify the system for people who aren’t paid to follow the policy. Otherwise, fewer people will seek coverage, when the point was to expand the number of Americans with insurance. And those who do sign up will disproportionately be the most motivated of customers — generally, the sicker, costlier ones." Editorial Board.

SCHOEN: Time for Democrats to embrace 'Coburncare.' "Put bluntly, it’s time to ditch the individual mandate that Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty—the most hotly debated aspect of the law. This week, the White House again delayed the deadline for signing up for some Americans — further evidence of the bill’s slipshod implementation. Rather than penalize people for not having insurance, 'Coburncare' offers incentives for people to get insured. The law could be rewritten in such a way that people could be protected from being dropped by their insurance company as long as they stayed insured. This is a vastly superior approach to what Obamacare requires and makes logical and practical sense. By leaving the parameters of coverage to the state, Coburncare will take Washington committees out of the process. States, not federal regulators, oversee health care....President Obama needs to embrace these fixes now, not later. He should make it clear that these changes are consistent with Democratic principles — as they are." Douglas E. Schoen in Politico Magazine.

Top opinion

ZAKARIA: Obama’s 21st-century power politics. "The best way to deal with Russia’s aggression in Crimea is not to present it as routine and national interest-based foreign policy that will be countered by Washington in a contest between two great powers. It is to point out, as Obama did eloquently this week in Brussels, that Russia is grossly endangering a global order that has benefited the entire world. Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such. You can see a similar pattern with Iran....This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century. There is an evolving international order with new global norms making war and conquest increasingly rare. We should strengthen, not ridicule, it." Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post.

POSNER: What to do about Crimea? Nothing. "Everyone agrees that the West should tighten the screws on Russia, but no one is sure why. Russia will never return Crimea to Ukraine; and even if Russia were willing, the West could hardly demand that Crimea be handed back against the will of the Crimeans themselves. It is widely and enthusiastically said that Russia should be punished. But punished for doing what, exactly, and how? The West can’t win this contest, and we shouldn’t try....In the unlikely event that Russia tries to conquer Ukraine or Estonia, there will be good reasons to respond with significant economic sanctions, military aid, or force. Estonia is an ally, and Ukraine is an important country. But if Russia stops with Crimea, it is hard to see what could be accomplished from sanctions. And for that reason, we can be sure that Russia will not expect sanctions to last long, and so will wait them out. That means that sanctions will hurt both the West and Russia without accomplishing any good." Eric Posner in Slate.

KRUGMAN: America's taxation tradition. "As inequality has become an increasingly prominent issue in American discourse, there has been furious pushback from the right. Some conservatives argue that focusing on inequality is unwise, that taxing high incomes will cripple economic growth. Some argue that it’s unfair, that people should be allowed to keep what they earn. And some argue that it’s un-American — that we’ve always celebrated those who achieve wealth, and that it violates our national tradition to suggest that some people control too large a share of the wealth. And they’re right. No true American would say this: 'The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” and follow that statement with a call for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes ... increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.' Who was this left-winger? Theodore Roosevelt, in his famous 1910 New Nationalism speech." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

RAMPELL: ‘Big data’ needs a helping hand in Washington. "The U.S. government is collecting more information on Americans than ever before. Yet somehow it is also leaving Americans far less informed about themselves and the country they live in. In the past few years, federal statistical programs — you know, the ones that collect information openly through surveys, rather than secretly through wiretapping and malware — have been under attack. Budgets have been chopped and data series eliminated or at least made fuzzier, messier, less useful. The result is that, just when we need to better understand how the economy ticks and what we can do to help it tick a little faster, our measurement tools are breaking down." Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.

SHULTZ AND NUNN: Dealing with Russia without reigniting a full-fledged Cold War psychology. "We need to engage with Russia against the background of realism and development of our strengths and our agenda. We can use our strategic advantages, combined with a desire to see Russia as part of a prosperous world dominated by representative governments. But our willingness to use our assets with a steady hand and to vigorously pursue our strategy must also be clear. With all due respect to the importance of tactical moves, this is the time for strategic thinking and implementing a strategic design. It is also a time for maximizing cooperation at home and with our allies abroad. Our hand is strong if we play it wisely." George P. Shultz and Sam Nunn in The Washington Post.

Heartwarming interlude: Woman, blind and deaf, reacts to regaining her hearing.

2. Ukraine crisis shows Obama's challenge in recommitting to NATO

Obama's seeks to recommit to NATO alliance. "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its stunningly fast annexation of Crimea have demanded a renewed focus on the part of the world that dominated American attention in the 20th century. Often accused of neglecting Europe in his first five years in office, Mr. Obama is using his trip here to recommit to the NATO alliance, rally the Continent against Russian 'brute force' and cast the showdown as a test of common values. To show resolve, Mr. Obama decided on Wednesday to modestly increase military deployments in Eastern Europe, and aides said he would intensify efforts to broaden energy security, negotiate a trade agreement with Europe and upgrade military capabilities.Yet it will be hard to back up words with resources. The United States has only a small fraction of the force it once had in Europe, expanded energy ties will take years, and his own party leaders oppose quick action on a new trade pact. Moreover, Mr. Obama next month will head back to Asia, and aides said he would again promote his policy of pivoting toward the region he believes represents the future. One goal then for Mr. Obama, aides said, is to challenge Europe to take more of a leadership role itself, a familiar theme from Washington but one infused with new urgency by the Ukraine crisis." Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker in The New York Times.

House, Senate pass Ukraine aid bills. "The House and Senate easily passed measures that would provide aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, edging Congress closer to sending a comprehensive package to the White House to respond to the crisis in Eastern Europe. The House approved the legislation in a 399-19 vote while the Senate simply cleared it in a voice vote. The two chambers have differing legislation, though the variances are minor after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to drop a provision to reform the International Monetary Fund that Republicans opposed. House and Senate leaders will have to reconcile the remaining differences before sending a bill to President Barack Obama for his signature. The House plans to take up and clear the Senate-passed legislation by unanimous consent by the end of this week, lawmakers and aides said. Separately, the House and Senate will swiftly clear a measure that would boost U.S. international broadcasting into eastern Ukraine and Crimea — a move that its backers say is needed to battle against Russian propaganda." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

While Congress debates, IMF moves on $18 billion in aid for Ukraine. "The money from the IMF comes with stringent conditions. Ukraine is facing a period of sharp cutbacks in social spending....At a news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, President Obama called the IMF agreement 'a major step forward' and urged Congress to approve a U.S. aid proposal. Congress on Thursday moved closer to approving the package, which will provide $1 billion in loan guarantees and about $150 million in direct U.S. assistance as well as codify stiff sanctions against senior Russian officials involved in the ongoing standoff." Kathy Lally and Will Englund in The Washington Post.

But the U.S. is worried that Putin could invade Ukraine at a moment's notice. "The U.S. State Department believes the Russian army is now prepared to launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine if President Vladimir Putin decides to pull the trigger, according to a senior adminstration official. 'At this point, they are amassed and they could go at a moment’s notice if Putin gave the go ahead,' the official said. 'Don’t do it,' the official added, in a comment directed at Putin. Top Ukrainian security officials said Thursday that Russia now has 100,000 troops on its side of the Russia-Ukraine border. Other estimates put the number much lower, around 30,000, but still enough to overpower the undermanned and undersupplied Ukrainian armed forces. CNN reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence assessments have increased the likelihood that Russia will invade Ukraine in the past week. This has been based on a number of worrying indicators about the Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border." Josh Rogin in The Daily Beast.

NATO allies resistant to Obama's calls for upping defense spending. "President Obama on Wednesday sought to coax his European allies to wake up to the renewed threat of Russia and reinvest in militaries that have gone fallow. But for the moment, there appears to be little appetite among European leaders to bust their recession-scarred budgets or buck their war-weary populations in order to shore up thinly stretched armed forces. Military spending across Europe fell dramatically after the Cold War, then ramped up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the five years since the global financial crisis struck, it has been cut sharply again, while Russia’s defense spending has surged by more than 30 percent. More European cuts are on the way, even as leaders hurl a daily dose of tough rhetoric toward Moscow. That has frustrated Washington policymakers, who have long agitated for Europe to pay its fair share for security on a continent that, until last month, had looked remarkably tranquil but now faces its biggest crisis since the Cold War." Griff Witte in The Washington Post.

Also, resistance from E.U. on U.S. trade deal. "The top trade official for the European Union sought on Thursday to soothe opposition to a planned deal with the United States by imposing a 90-day period for the public to comment on protections for investors and companies. Karel De Gucht, the European Union trade commissioner, told a news conference that the consultation period, to be conducted online, was aimed at garnering support for a new approach to investment-protection rules that ensures European regulations are not undermined. The talks on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aimed at cutting tariffs and easing the burden of regulation on companies have been underway since last year. But they have progressed less rapidly than some officials had hoped, partly because of a clause that would allow companies to sue any member state for failing to comply with the terms of an eventual Transatlantic partnership." James Kanter in The New York Times.

Poll: Half of American say we’re headed back into a cold war. Gallup.

Other foreign policy reads:

Obama and Biden have managed to get a few ambassador confirmations while on the road. Colby Itkowitz and Al Kamen in The Washington Post.

U.S. to Pakistan: Sorry, you won't be getting our extra equipment. Sara Sorcher in National Journal.

Animals interlude: Dog is thankful for being rescued.

3. Taking the economy's pulse

Economic growth in last quarter of 2013 revised slightly upward. "The American economy grew by 2.6 percent in the final months of 2013, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, a slight uptick from its previous estimate but still well below the pace of growth recorded in the third quarter. The revised data for last quarter, in what was the government’s third and final estimate of economic growth for the period, reflected slightly healthier consumer spending than first thought.nThe previous estimate for the months of October, November and December, reported in late February, was 2.4 percent. Thursday’s slight upward adjustment was in line with expectations among economists on Wall Street. The pace in the third quarter was 4.1 percent. Still, the 3.3 percent increase in personal consumption expenditures last quarter was the healthiest showing since the fourth quarter of 2010, when consumption rose 4.3 percent. It also came despite wintry weather in many parts of the country during the final weeks of the holiday shopping season." Nelson D. Schwartz in The New York Times.

Another good sign: Jobless claims fall to 311K. "The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week, a sign of improvement in an otherwise slow recovery for the U.S. job market. Initial claims for unemployment benefits, a measure of layoffs across the economy, fell by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 311,000 in the week ended March 22, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 325,000 new claims for the week. The number of initial claims for the week ended March 15 was revised up a bit to 321,000. The four-week moving average of initial claims, a measure that smooths out week-to-week gyrations, fell to 317,750 last week." Ben Leubsdorf in The Wall Street Journal.

Outpacing GDP growth: Corporate profits grow. "U.S. corporate profits hit new highs last year, driven by the tight lid firms have kept on hiring and spending almost five years into the economic recovery. A closely watched measure of after-tax corporate profits rose to $1.9 trillion in the final three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Corporate profits stood at 11.1% of gross domestic product, up a bit from the prior quarter. The latest uptick underscored a factor that has dogged the economy since it emerged from recession: Many companies are guarding their cash rather than putting it back into the economy in the form of new hiring." Jonathan House in The Wall Street Journal.

Expect the surge in 'temp' jobs to continue. "The surge in contract and 'temp' jobs since the recession ended is likely to continue, a range of experts have said, in part because of slack in the labor market and decisions by many corporations to maximize flexibility in their work force. CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. said in a new forecast on Thursday that more than 2.9 million workers had temporary jobs in 2013, up 28% from 2010." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Other economic/financial data:

Mortgage rates rise with 30-year at two-month high. Prashant Gopal in Bloomberg.

Mortgages rates up after Federal Reserve meeting. Kathy Orton in The Washington Post.

Pending sales of existing homes decline for eighth month in a row. Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Other economic policy reads:

A booming economy doesn't save children from malnutrition, study says. Linda Poon in NPR.

Conn. governor just got the highest state minimum wage. Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

One year later, the Small Business Administration finally has a leader. J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.

Failing test is another stumble for Citigroup. Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg in The New York Times.

Cell phone crashing interlude: At Disneyland.

4. Congress is getting stuff done (sort of)

Congress gets busy on jobs, health care bills. "The Senate on Thursday voted to move forward with a long-stalled proposal to extend aid to more than two million people whose unemployment assistance ran out late last year. Despite a bipartisan compromise that paved the way for a final vote and almost certain passage in the Senate next week, the measure appeared likely to falter in the House, where Speaker John A. Boehner this week again called the Senate plan unworkable. The unemployment bill, however, was one among many of Mr. Boehner’s concerns as he and Republican leaders found themselves backed into a corner after it appeared that legislation they favored that would prevent a 24 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors almost failed with an April 1 deadline looming....The drama in the House was just one episode in an unusually eventful day on Capitol Hill, where actual lawmaking has already given way to the partisan grandstanding typical of an election year....The day began with a coalition of Democratic senators announcing their call for significant changes to President Obama’s health care law, an issue that is weighing on almost every Democrat up for re-election this year." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.

How the 'doc fix' bill got passed. "House Republican leaders found a way Thursday to swiftly circumvent bipartisan opposition to controversial “doc fix” legislation. Stealth....GOP leadership took to the House floor in the morning and voice-voted a one-year patch to the Sustainable Growth Rate — a pricey formula that determines how much the government pays doctors who treat Medicare patients. Republican leaders worked with their Democratic counterparts to orchestrate the ploy. As members returned to the floor when the House came into session, they discovered that the bill had already passed. Nearly all of them were surprised. No one had the chance to vote no; no one had a chance to vote yes." Jennifer Haberkorn and Jake Sherman in Politico.

Senate gets to work on jobless-benefits bill. "Senators agreed Thursday to begin debating a bipartisan proposal to renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless that would allow for retroactive payments to go to more than 2 million Americans whose benefits started expiring in late December. Senators voted 65 to 34 to proceed to debate on the bill, ensuring it will pass easily at some point next week. All 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted to proceed as well as 10 Republicans....But its outcome in the House remains uncertain, as Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has opposed previous Senate plans as insufficient in providing offsetting cuts and has highlighted the concerns of state unemployment officials who've warned that implementing the new agreement might prove too onerous for some states." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Kayaking interlude: Going over a waterfall.

5. NSA phone-data overhaul proposals under the microscope

White House pushes Congress to quickly pass changes to NSA data collection program. "The Obama administration has called on Congress to move quickly to pass legislation that would achieve the president’s goal of ending government mass collection of Americans’ phone records. 'Having carefully considered the available options, I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk,' President Obama said in a statement Thursday, adding that 'legislation will be needed'...The administration was reauthorizing on Friday the current system of data collection by the National Security Agency for another 90 days, suggesting that that would be an appropriate window of time for lawmakers to act....Attention now shifts to Congress, which has before it several competing bills that seek varying degrees of change — some more ambitious than the White House’s. But Obama’s proposal has become the baseline, analysts said." Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

Explainers:

The NSA overhaul proposals, compared. Spencer Ackerman and Nadja Popovich in The Guardian.

5 things you need to know about Obama's NSA proposal. Dana Liebelson in Mother Jones.

Many questions linger as Obama seeks to end NSA phone-records program. "The bulk collection of American telephone records has aroused the most bipartisan ire since Snowden's leaks exposed it — but as Snowden's documents have also shown, the NSA operates many other programs that collect data both domestically and abroad. The president did not address other collection activities going on under the same section of the Patriot Act, which could range over a wide record of business records, from product sales to library histories. Nor did the president touch on other authorities that could be used to collect the actual content of Americans' communications, or American phone metadata offshore....Even when it comes to just the NSA phone records collection, many question marks still remain....The NSA is in possession of years' worth of Americans' phone records, in bulk. What happens to that data going forward is unknown. And in the future, if the administration plan is put into place, it is also unknown what will happen to phone call data that the NSA requests from the telecommunication companies and places into the agency's 'corporate store,' over which it asserts free reign." Matt Sledge in The Huffington Post.

Former NSA review panel member makes the case for Obama's changes. "This is good news, indeed. The enactment of these proposals would strike a much better balance between the interests of liberty and security. They would preserve the value of the NSA’s program in terms of protecting the national security, while at the same time providing much greater, and much needed, protection to individual privacy and civil liberties. The proposals are based on recommendations made by the president’s five-member Review Group, of which I was a member." Geoffrey R. Stone in The Daily Beast.

Citing human rights, U.N. panel pressures U.S. to overhaul surveillance programs. "The UN has delivered a withering verdict on the US's human rights record, raising concerns on a series of issues including torture, drone strikes, the failure to close Guantánamo Bay and the NSA's bulk collection of personal data....The committee, which is chaired by the British law professor Sir Nigel Rodley, catalogued a string of human rights concerns, notably on the mass surveillance exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. It said the collection of the contents of communications from US-based companies under the Prism program had an adverse impact on the right to privacy. It added that the legal oversight of such programs had largely been kept secret and failed to protect the rights of those affected. The UN committee urged the US to overhaul its surveillance activities to ensure they complied with US law and conformed to US obligations under the ICCPR." Matthew Weaver in The Guardian.

Other tech reads:

Government data requests fall at Yahoo, rise at Google. Vindu Goel in The New York Times.

Video explainer: How to explain government data requests to your kids. Dustin Volz in National Journal.

'Simpsons' interlude: Model's transformation into Marge with makeup.

Wonkblog roundup

Metropolitan areas are now fueling virtually all of America’s population growth. Emily Badger.

Why are rich people’s houses so big? Because Uncle Sam pays for extra rooms. Max Ehrenfreund.

Many homeowners have no idea how much they paid for their house. Christopher Ingraham.

ICD-10 might be delayed again. How will we know when squirrels attack? Jason Millman.

Divorce is actually on the rise, and it’s the baby boomers’ fault. Christopher Ingraham.

The 10 maps that illustrate the healthiest counties in America. Reid Wilson and Christopher Ingraham.

Et Cetera

U.S. autism rate surges, CDC says. Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post.

Fed feels backlash over stress tests. The Financial Times.

Seeking to ban online gambling, GOP donor tests his influence. Nicholas Confessore and Eric Lipton in The New York Times.

Marijuana legalization with lower crime rates, study says. Matt Ferner in The Huffington Post.

Wis. governor signs bill ending early voting on weekends. Brendan O'Brien in Reuters.

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

Correction: On Wednesday, Wonkbook incorrectedly stated the value of consumer confidence in March. 82.3 was the highest – not the lowest – value since 2008, at the dawn of the Great Recession.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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