(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

But it’s not just sweepingly ideological reforms that are unpopular. Cutting Medicare polls poorly even if you leave out the details. Almost 80 percent of Americans oppose Medicare cuts in the abstract, while 70 percent oppose Medicaid cuts. Slightly over half of the country wants the Defense Department left alone. The only deficit-reduction option that is popular? Raising taxes on the rich. That gets the go-ahead from 72 percent of us -- though, as any budget wonk will tell you, it can’t solve anything beyond a small fraction of our fiscal problem.

In general, the poll shows overwhelming opposition to the main Republican approaches for reducing the deficit -- even when they’re posed vaguely. Almost 60 percent of Americans, for instance, want a mix of tax increases and spending cuts in the final deal, while only 36 percent think spending cuts should be deployed on their lonesome. The silver lining for Republicans is that though their policies run far behind the Democratic alternatives, they run slightly ahead: 46 percent of Americans trust them on the debt, versus 42 percent who trust Obama.

Back in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike named their representatives to the White House’s deficit reduction talks yesterday, and it’s almost exactly the group you’d pick if you didn’t want a deal. Republicans called up Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl, two of their more partisan, less budget-focused, members. Note that the invitation was for four congressional Republicans, but the GOP decided to only waste the time of two. Senate Democrats called up Max Baucus, who was the only senator on the fiscal commission who opposed the final report, and Daniel Inouye, who has not previously been known for his budgetary restraint. Pelosi sent James Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen. Of that group, only Van Hollen is an obvious pick. The rest seem hand-chosen to signal that if a deal’s going to get made, it’s not going to get made in these negotiations. As thing stand, the Gang of Six remains the most credible deficit-reduction game in town, though that’s not, at this point, saying much.

Five in the morning

1) Americans oppose the major elements of the Ryan budget, and most other deficit-reduction options, report Jon Cohen and Dan Balz: ”Despite growing concerns about the country’s long-term fiscal problems and an intensifying debate in Washington about how to deal with them, Americans strongly oppose some of the major remedies under consideration, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey finds that Americans prefer to keep Medicare just the way it is. Most also oppose cuts in Medicaid and the defense budget. More than half say they are against small, across-the-board tax increases combined with modest reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Only President Obama’s call to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans enjoys solid support.”

2) Republicans and Democrats have named their representatives for the White House’s debt talks, reports Erik Wasson: ”After deriding President Obama’s proposal for debt negotiations to be led by Vice President Joe Biden, congressional Republicans announced they would send House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) as their representatives for the May 5 talks....The Republicans will be negotiating with one of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) liberal lieutenants, Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), in addition to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee...Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) named Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to the talks.

That is not a group that inspires confidence, reports Elise Foley and Jennifer Bender: http://huff.to/hWGqFo

3) Zach Goldfarb looks at what happened when Standard Poor’s revised Britain’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative”: “Within a year, a new Conservative Party-led coalition in Parliament put in place dramatic measures to cut government spending by 25 percent, raise the national sales tax to 20 percent from 17.5 percent and reduce the annual budget deficit. The prized National Health Service was saved from cuts. S&P rewarded Britain, saying the country was no longer at risk of a downgrade and upgrading its rating to ‘stable.’ But the austerity plan came with significant costs. Economic growth, which had been tepid in the wake of the global recession, slowed dramatically. In fact, in the final three months of 2010, growth turned negative, and the British economy shrank by half a percentage point.

4) Republicans and Democrats alike are taking aim at Obama’s Medicare board, reports Robert Pear:”Democrats and Republicans are joining to oppose one of the most important features of President Obama’s new deficit reduction plan, a powerful independent board that could make sweeping cuts in the growth of Medicare spending. Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania, opposes the board. Mr. Obama wants to expand the power of the 15-member panel, which was created by the new health care law, to rein in Medicare costs. But not only do Republicans and some Democrats oppose increasing the power of the board, they also want to eliminate it altogether.”

5) McDonald’s is adding 50,000 jobs. Annie Lowrey asks whether this is our economy’s future: ”The jobs we’re adding, for the most part, aren’t great ones. The National Employment Law Project took a closer look at employment and jobs-growth data in February. What it found wasn’t encouraging. The advocacy group says that just 14 percent of recent job growth comes from high-wage industries. About half comes from low-wage industries. According to NELP’s report, restaurants and food services businesses, “especially” fast food outlets, comprised 7 percent of hiring. And most gigs, NELP found, came “from rapid hiring by the temp industry,” meaning the positions that often come without benefits, health care, or much income security. The picture contributes to a larger, yet equally depressing, labor-market story: The country has produced far too few good, stable, middle-income jobs over the past 10 or 20 years, not just the past three. “

Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States interlude: After all, he’s won the coveted Gary Busey endorsement.

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Still to come: Dick Durbin is ready to reform Social Security; the New York Times editorial board is tired of watching both parties duc defense cuts; Mitt Romney doesn’t get the conservative credit he deserves for protecting Massachusetts’s businesses during health-care reform; and a brisket recipe that I highly, highly recommend you try.


The president’s budget speech was the product of more planning than was evident, reports Sam Stein: Several high-ranking administration officials have confirmed that the White House laid out plans for the address as far back as the last calendar year, with the president’s economic team and other senior staff members ‘meeting regularly since February to put the policy together and work on the speech.’...Another White House official described the planning as even more specific, asserting, “Its been on the schedule for the Wednesday after the [continuing resolution avoiding a government shut down] was resolved for months now.” Because a vote on the continuing resolution was delayed on several occasions, the date of the speech remained, consistently, in flux.”

Rep. David Schweikert is struggling with his vote on the debt limit, reports Phil Rucker: “This is his dilemma: He knows Congress has little choice but to raise the amount of money the government can borrow to prevent the economic havoc sure to follow if the United States defaults on its loans. He also knows doing so is deeply unpopular — not only among his conservative base, but among some moderates and liberals, too. ‘I desperately want to vote ‘no,’ ‘ Schweikert said at the town hall. ‘I also desperately don’t want [the economy] to crash.’”

Dick Durbin is preparing to take on Social Security reform, reports Michael O’Brien: “Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip who’s negotiating with two other Democrats and three Republicans on a major deficit-reduction plan, broke from more liberal members of his party, who want to safeguard Social Security from any changes. Durbin said he wouldn’t be signing on to a “Sense of the Senate” resolution by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a liberal who caucuses with Democrats, saying that benefits should not be cut. And he warned that revisions to the program, such as means-testing benefits for wealthier Americans, could be among the changes suggested by the negotiators.”

Both parties need to get serious about defense cuts, editorializes the New York Times: ”The budget plan they pushed through the House this month would spend $7.5 trillion on the military over the next dozen years. And that does not include the cost of actual war-fighting. The country cannot afford to spend that much, and it doesn’t need to. The $7.5 trillion was President Obama’s projection, which he has since lowered to $7.1 trillion. Saving $400 billion is better but still not enough, especially since it can be achieved merely by holding annual nonwar-related spending at its current swollen level, adjusted for inflation.”

Ruth Marcus is glad Standard Poor’s weighed in on America’s debt: “Our greatest intangible asset — the fact that the United States is viewed as the world’s safest investment — could evaporate. Pffft. Interest rates would rise. The economy would tank. The higher cost of servicing the debt and the accompanying collapse of tax revenue would make it that much harder to escape this decidedly unvirtuous circle. Truth is, you don’t have to be in the ratings business to see how difficult it will be for the United States to avoid this fate. The dysfunctionality of the political system is evident to any casual newspaper reader...Which is why I’m thankful to S&P. The more shake-’em-up warnings that could prod the political system into action, the better.

Democrats have put everything on the table, I write. For now, Republicans haven’t. ”President Obama’s 2012 budget included a call for bipartisan negotiations on Social Security and a set of principles the administration says it will pursue in a deal. The White House’s subsequent debt proposal included a host of Medicare reforms, including one that lowered the program’s target growth rate and empowered the Independent Payment Advisory Board to design new insurance options in Medicare that paid more for treatments of proven value and less for treatments of less value...Republicans, as of yet, have not admitted the need for new taxes, or even the expiration of temporary tax cuts. There are individuals in both parties who have been relatively more or less responsible, but in general, one party has put everything on the table and the other hasn’t. That’s an important difference between their fiscal stances.”

Make this now interlude: A seriously incredible brisket recipe.

Health Care

The Ryan budget’s effect on health-care reform is difficult to discern, reports Julian Pecquet: ”The CRS report obtained by The Hill says that neither the budget resolution nor the ‘Roadmap to Prosperity’ that preceded it ‘provided sufficient detail regarding specific provisions that would be repealed or retained to determine the disposition of [numerous] provisions.’ The House approved Ryan’s budget last week in a party-line vote.Some effects from the Ryan budget are clear: The Republican budget retains a half-trillion dollars in cuts to Medicare payments, for example. Conversely, it would clearly eliminate only a small number of provisions in the new healthcare law.”

Mitt Romney deserves more credit than he’s getting, editorializes the Boston Globe: “Conservatives might be more favorably disposed if they understood the part Romney played in warding off various schemes feared by business. After an Urban Institute study recommended an individual mandate, Romney made that the core of his plan. That was a way of sidestepping the approach many Democrats favored: a payroll tax of 5 to 7 percent on businesses that did not offer health coverage...Now, conservatives have come to view that individual mandate as an intolerable imposition on personal liberty, rather than an insistence on personal responsibility. In no small part that’s because such a mandate also plays a central role in Obama’s health care plan. But if they weren’t hyperventilating about the national law, they might come to recognize that the role Romney played on the state level was skillful, creative, and business-friendly.”

Domestic Policy

The White House is using various executive branch powers to force more disclosure of campaign spending, reports Kenneth Vogel: “The White House last week began circulating a draft executive order that would require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions – including those that otherwise would have been secret – to groups that air political ads attacking or supporting candidates...Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a decree that could result in shareholders having more say in corporate election spending. Democratic appointees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission are pushing measures that could make public currently anonymous contributions to outside groups.

Obama met with immigration activists to reaffirm his commitment to their cause, reports Abby Philipp. “President Obama told about 70 community and religious leaders on Tuesday that he hasn’t given up on immigration. According to Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, Obama made a “compelling case” in a meeting at the White House that he was still committed to changing the immigration system, despite his failure to move legislation in either body of Congress in the last two years. Obama said he wouldn’t let the failed voted in December on the Dream Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to attend public universities and achieve a path to citizenship, be the last word on that bill.”

Matt Yglesias details the strange incentives facing universities: “Along comes a clever faculty member who figures out a way to teach a lot of your large introductory courses just as well at a small fraction of the cost. You implement the changes, and now your cost structure is lower. What happens next? Well what doesn’t happen next is that you cut tuition. Maybe you use the extra money to pay yourself more and to hire more staff. But you probably don’t do that either. If you want to get paid more, you need to deliver results. But results in this case don’t mean cutting tuition. Results mean getting higher in the rankings. And you don’t move up the rankings by getting more cost-effective at educating the kinds of students you’re currently getting at the University of Miami. You move up the rankings, roughly speaking, by increasing the average SAT scores of your freshman class and/or by poaching faculty stars from other schools. To accomplish the latter, you need to spend more money.”

We are but insignificant specks interlude: A beautiful video of stars.


Americans aren’t afraid of nuclear-power plants, but they’re not interested in building more of them, report Peyton Craighill and Jon Cohen: “A slim majority of Americans see nuclear power plants as a safe energy source, but nearly two-thirds reject the idea of building new reactors in the United States at this time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

Former WH “climate czar” Carol Browner is heading back to the Center for American Progress: http://politi.co/eMJKtD

Overfishing and acidification are destroying the oceans, warns Mark Bittman: “Aidification makes it difficult for calcifying organisms — coral, snails and oysters and other mollusks, and more — to build shells and skeletons sturdy enough for them to survive. Many of these are on the bottom of the food chain and, as they begin to die off (we’ve already seen massive oyster declines on the Pacific coast), the effects trickle up....If acidification endangers marine life leisurely, fishing does it quickly. Around 70 percent of global fish stocks are fully or overfished, and 30 percent have collapsed, which means they produce less than 10 percent of their original capacity. Commercial fish catch has declined by 500,000 tons per year since 1988, not for lack of effort, money or technology — in fact because of those factors — but for lack of fish.”

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.