About half of the Senate’s Republicans have signed a letter opposing any effort to lift the debt ceiling that doesn’t include entitlement cuts. In response, a group of Senate Democrats are trying to pass a measure forcing any cuts to Social Security to pass a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Bitter partisan warfare over the debt ceiling is not exactly an appealing prospect. But perhaps it can be avoided. According to a Washington Post-ABC poll that’ll be released later today (you can download the data here), there’s actually a possible fix that would avoid cutting Social Security, fulfill Republican desires to balance the program’s finances and is even popular with the public.

According to the survey, more than 80 percent of Americans believe the system is in crisis. And, in a reversal of recent results on this issue, Republicans are more trusted to handle it than Democrats: 44 percent of respondents favored the GOP, while only 42 percent favored President Obama (this is primarily due to Democrats trusting Obama at a low rate on this issue). But when it came to solutions, most cuts were opposed by a majority of Americans. Almost 60 percent were against raising the retirement age and almost 70 percent were against cutting scheduled benefits. The only fix that garnered majority support was lifting the payroll-tax cap so that all income, rather than just the first $107,000, got taxed. That’s a reform, I’m confident to say, that the Senate’s liberals would have less trouble swallowing, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, it would wipe out virtually all of Social Security’s shortfall.

So if this is just about balancing Social Security’s books, it shouldn’t be too difficult. We can pass the reform and raise the debt ceiling with no problem. Huzzah! On the other hand, if we’re in one of those conversations where we’re pretending to talk about balancing the country’s books but we’re actually only talking about “cutting spending” and revenues are off the table, well, that’ll be harder.

Top Stories

The GOP is beginning its campaign to roll back Dodd-Frank, reports Meredith Shiner: “Republicans clearly want to strike at the heart of banking reform with legislation attacking new regulations on derivatives, credit rating agencies and private equity firms. But their piecemeal approach suggests they are trying to do so without appearing to favor Wall Street over Main Street....In a two-pronged approach that began with starving funds from relevant federal agencies like the Treasury, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Future Trading Commission, the GOP now has launched into the symbolic phase of floating repeal legislation favored by the banking lobby. Republicans have proposed measures that would eliminate provisions in Dodd-Frank making credit-rating agencies like Standard Poor’s or Moody’s liable if their initial ratings are faulty; destroy the establishment of a derivatives ‘clearinghouse,’ through which companies using the complicated financial instruments to hedge commercial risk must exchange them; exempt private equity fund managers from having to register with the SEC; raise capital thresholds for companies needing to register with the SEC; and eliminate “burdensome” data collection requirements for publicly traded companies.”

Twenty-two GOP Senators have pledged to oppose a hike in the debt ceiling without entitlement cuts, reports Shira Toeplitz: “Twenty-two Republicans senators are threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling later this year unless the president concedes to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the current budget negotiations. ‘Strong leadership is needed now to advance possible solutions to ensure that our entitlement programs can serve both current and future generations. Without action to begin addressing the deficit, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to support a further increase in the debt ceiling,’ wrote Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) in the letter, obtained by POLITICO. Congressional leaders are expected to confront the country’s fiscal issues head-on in the coming weeks, when they’ll vote on a budget for the rest of the year and whether to raise the debt ceiling in May.”

Liberal Senators want a procedural hurdle to Social Security cuts, reports Alexander Bolton: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and liberal Democrats opposed to cutting Social Security benefits are trying to outflank President Obama and centrists who have signaled a willingness to cut a deal with Republicans. In a move intended to put lawmakers on the record regarding the ‘third rail’ of American politics, the liberal senators introduced a measure Tuesday to require a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress in order to pass any cuts to Social Security benefits. Sanders and allies such as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) fear that Obama might strike a deficit-reduction deal with GOP leaders that could raise the Social Security retirement age or shrink cost-of-living adjustments.”

Members of Congress have figured out how to work around earmark bans, reports Raymond Hernandez: “Congress pledged to usher in a new way of doing business in recent months when it banned earmarks, the widely criticized provisions that lawmakers insert into huge federal budget bills to pay for pet projects back home without much, if any, public oversight. The ban was one of the promises made by a newly elected class of conservatives in the House. But, as it turns out, lawmakers still have a way to get their favorite projects funded: appealing directly to federal agencies for money that is already available. And agency officials seem to be paying attention, though an executive order has directed agencies not to take on projects based on the recommendations of members of Congress.”

8-bit interlude: Futurama: The NES Game.

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Still to come: The House GOP wants a 25% top marginal tax rate; health reform’s Medicaid expansion may run up against doctor shortages in some states; voters oppose GOP governors’ budget plans; the EPA is moving ahead with new power plant emissions regulations; and street art that uses Legos.

Economy

House Ways and Means Chair David Camp wants to cut the top income tax bracket to 25 percent, reports John McKinnon: “The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee wants to cut the top U.S. tax rate to 25% for individuals and corporations, and cut or eliminate many popular deductions. The odds of quick action appear slender. But the move, from Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), is significant as a marker in what will likely be a multiyear debate over revamping the tax code. The plan also provides Republicans with a position to pitch in the 2012 election, a campaign that promises to focus heavily on the economy and jobs...Mr. Camp’s tax overhaul isn’t designed to specifically cut the U.S. budget deficit. Overall tax revenues would remain at recent average levels, or about 18% to 19% of gross domestic product, committee aides said.”

An auditing watchdog is targeting firms for not seeing the financial crisis coming: http://wapo.st/igVcUZ

Elizabeth Warren took to Congress to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, reports Brady Dennis: “Federal consumer bureau head Elizabeth Warren made no apologies Wednesday for the new agency’s involvement in ongoing settlement negotiations with some of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers, whose widespread flawed foreclosure practices drew national attention last fall. ‘If there had been a cop on the beat with the authority to hold mortgage servicers accountable a half dozen years ago, if there had been a consumer agency in place, the problems in mortgage servicing would have been exposed early and fixed while they were still small, long before they became a national scandal,’ Warren said in testimony before a House Financial Services subcommittee.”

Criticism of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ignores that it hasn’t done anything yet, writes Tim Noah: “On March 16 the House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee held an oversight hearing about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Committee Chair Shelley Moore Capito (R.-W.Va.), called it ‘one of the most important hearings this subcommittee will hold this Congress.’ Its urgency was underscored by a Wall Street Journal editorial that appeared that same morning calling the CFPB ‘a bureaucratic rogue.’...Sitting in the press section, I began to feel guilty that I’d never before written about this regulatory monster. Then I remembered: The CFPB hasn’t done anything yet. I don’t mean that as a criticism of the CFPB, which was created by last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The CFPB doesn’t open for business until July 21.”

Music festival interlude: The Dodos play “Black Night” live.

Health Care

Medicaid expansions under health reform may run up against doctor shortages, reports Jessica Marcy: “States in the South and Mountain West, which traditionally have the lowest rates of primary care physicians, could struggle to provide medical services to the surge of new patients expected to enroll in Medicaid under the health overhaul and federal incentives may not provide much help, according to a report issued today by a Washington health research group. The study, by the Center for Studying Health System Change, noted that many of the states with low numbers of primary care doctors per capita are also expecting some of the highest percentage increases in Medicaid enrollment...The new federal health law will expand Medicaid eligibility starting in 2014 to those making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.”

MedPAC, Medicare’s independent advisory board, wants cost-sharing for home health care: http://bit.ly/eru7ED

”Healthy Indiana”, conservatives’ model health program, stiffs the sick and poor, writes Jonathan Cohn: “Healthy Indiana would not meet most liberals’ expectations -- because it doesn’t really qualify as adequate insurance. The program doesn’t require coverage of vision, dental or even maternity care. It also has lifetime caps on benefits, the kind that the very sickest patients inevitably reach...To be fair, state lawmakers have recently proposed to bolster Healthy Indiana’s coverage. But, according to the estimates they commissioned from Milliman, Inc., an international actuarial and consulting firm, doing so would cost more money. That’s the underlying reality of Healthy Indiana that conservatives either don’t acknowledge or don’t realize: For what it offers, it’s expensive.”

Insurance brokers are lobbying on all fronts against new regulations: http://wapo.st/fguKQr

Domestic Policy

GOP governors’ budget proposals are meeting with public hostility, reports Amy Gardner: “Public employees aren’t the only ones balking at proposals in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to curtail public unions and slash state budgets. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, in the eyes of the public, specific spending cuts and tax increases range from marginally acceptable to extremely unpopular. Fewer than four in 10 of those surveyed would support reduced spending on roads and infrastructure, increases in state income or sales taxes, or layoffs of state employees. Only about two in 10 would support cuts to Medicaid, closing or limiting access to parks and recreation areas, or reducing aid to public schools...There is, however, wider support for limiting pay and benefits for state workers.”

A number of members of Congress have been calling on their own donors to serve as expert witnesses: http://wapo.st/gy2JBm

The FCC’s broadband plan is moving slowly, report Tony Romm and Eliza Krigman: “One year after the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan, more than half of the recommendations have yet to be implemented as the legacy of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski -- as well as the success of President Barack Obama’s broadband promises -- hangs in the balance. The 300-page plan’s bold vision for the nation’s broadband agenda has largely taken a backseat to the net neutrality debate at both the FCC and on Capitol Hill. Some 40 percent of the plan’s 218 recommendations are in progress, the Benton Foundation estimates, and nearly 10 percent of the recommendations have been completed. Thirty-four percent of the recommendations have not yet been touched.”

Obama needs to take on, not appease, the NRA, writes EJ Dionne: http://wapo.st/f0G4wa

Wisconsin’s union rules are more generous than the federal government’s, writes Gov. Scott Walker: “Imagine the outrage if government workers did not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. Consider the massive protests that would be staged by labor leaders all across the country. Think I’m talking about Wisconsin? No, I’m talking about the federal government. Contrary to what the Obama administration would lead you to believe, most employees of the federal government do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. That means the budget reform plan we signed into law in Wisconsin on Friday is more generous than what President Obama offers federal employees...It’s enough to make you wonder why there are no protesters circling the White House.”

Non-traditional graffiti interlude: Lego street art.

Energy

The EPA has announced power plant emissions rules, reports Darryl Fears: The Environmental Protection Agency released a plan Wednesday that would reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins from coal-burning power plants, drawing praise from health officials and condemnation from some industry representatives and lawmakers. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the ‘first ever’ national standard for harmful power plant emissions ‘was 20 years in the making’ and was required by the 1990 Clean Air Act. The plan would force plants to purchase scrubbers and other equipment to prevent 91 percent of mercury from coal from being released into the air...According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, coal-fired power plants are among the nation’s greatest sources of stationary pollution.”

Senate Democrats want a full review of nuclear policy: http://bit.ly/gcGpZb

The US is taking a more cautious approach on nuclear post-Japan than other countries, report Peter Wallsten and Dan Eggen: “In sharp contrast to governments across the world that are moving to warn their citizens in Japan about radiation hazards and to reassess their own nuclear power programs, the Obama administration is pursuing a cautious course -- standing firmly behind the U.S. nuclear industry. As France and Germany advised their citizens to leave the Tokyo metropolitan area, the United States urged Americans to move beyond a 50-mile radius of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant...And as governments from Berlin to Beijing this week were closing older nuclear plants for inspection or halting new permits, Obama administration officials reiterated support Wednesday for keeping nuclear power as a key part of U.S. policy and said there were no plans to shut down plants.”

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