1. The big news this afternoon is the release of recommendations for NSA reform from a group appointed by Barack Obama, with a suggested end to bulk collection. It’s a story that isn’t going to go away. Expect fights ahead.
2. Kevin Drum narrows down the list to the most important recommendations, and calls the report overall “useful but modest.”
3. More big breaking news: Obama intends to appoint Max Baucus to be the next ambassador to China. Baucus had already announced his retirement at the end of this Congress, but this could shake up the contest to replace him.
4. The budget deal passed the Senate. Ezra Klein: “This deal doesn’t show that Congress is finally working again. It shows that the two parties have accepted that it’s broken.”
5. Both for the politics of the issue and for people’s lives, the cold and hard fact that matters about the Affordable Care Act is that every day more and more people are signing up through the exchanges — now, as Sarah Kliff reports, 15,000 a day from California alone.
6. In fact, more new numbers show that people appear to be flooding at least most of the state-run exchanges. We won’t get the numbers for the federally run marketplaces for a while.
7. Jamelle Bouie is right about Obama’s fifth year in office.
8. The House Ways and Means Democrats have more examples of local news coverage of people losing their unemployment benefits, which Dems hope will pressure Republicans into agreeing to an extension. As Greg has been saying, this isn’t a fight that’s going to go away, either.
9. Steve Benen on Paul Ryan’s unconvincing threat of debt limit brinksmanship.
10. The year in money in politics, from Eliza Newlin Carney.
11. That Virginia Attorney General election is finally over, with Republican Mark Obenshain conceding to Democrat Mark Herring after the recount was increasing Herring’s margin of victory. So that makes a clean sweep for the Democrats in Virginia’s statewide offices.
12. The ongoing nominations wars in the Senate continue; Jennifer Bendery has the latest.
13. Andrew Gelman on the “effects of daughters” debate.
14. And: “Side Effects May Include Death: The Story Of The Biggest Advance In Birth Control Since The Pill.” From Sabrina Siddiqui.