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.
Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 2.2 million. That's the number of background checks which were done for gun purchases in December 2012 alone, a 58.6 percent increase over December 2011. Background checks tend to be highly predictive of gun purchases, and so the sudden spike in December indicates a large rush of gun sales following the shooting in Newtown, Conn. and the start of a policy conversation about gun control. Gun stores are reporting record sales numbers and shortages of weapons and ammunition.
Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: A game theory diagram for the debt ceiling.
Today in Wonkbook: CAP is releasing its recommendations on gun control, and Vice President Biden will quickly follow; Obama's immigration reforms are coming.; why Wall Street thinks the debt ceiling fight is a big joke; Treasury won't use a platinum trillion-dollar coin; what's in store for American energy; and what economic data to watch for this week.
Top story: Center for American Progress releases report on gun policy
The policy discussion is turning to background checks. "[T]he White House has said it is looking for actions it can take without Congressional approval. Increasing the number of prosecutions for lying on background-check forms is an effort that the administration can undertake largely on its own, in part by pressing federal prosecutors to pursue such cases. It is also one measure that both sides of the gun-control debate have agreed upon." Michael S. Schmidt in The New York Times.
Just released and important: Gun-control policy recommendations from the Center for American Progress.
What CAP wants. "The Center for American Progress is recommending 13 new gun policies to the White House — some of them executive actions that would not require the approval of Congress — in what amounts to the progressive community’s wish list...[They] requiring universal background checks, banning military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and modernizing data systems to track gun sales and enforce existing laws." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.
Parties dig their trenches for gun-control fight. "Opposing forces in the debate over the nation’s gun laws staked out starkly different positions Sunday, with the head of the largest gun rights group declaring confidence that a ban on assault weapons would not win passage from lawmakers, while advocates of tightening restrictions on guns said such measures can be approved." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.
@davidfrum: Gun advocates: US has more gun violence - not because of more guns - but because US has more violent people. OK. If so, why also arm them?
The ball will be in Congress' court soon, once Biden lays out its findings. "Senate leaders have offered assurances that gun-safety legislation will be among the first bills introduced, a Senate Democratic aide said. But Majority Leader Harry Reid already is expressing doubts about enacting an assault-weapons ban, which President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting spree in December, several Republicans in Congress said they're open to discussing legislation aimed at stemming gun violence. At the same time, many on Capitol Hill acknowledge that building consensus to pass any gun-control bill still will be a heavy lift." Colleen McCain Nelson and Carol E. Lee in The Wall Street Journal.
@Goldfarb: VPOTUS today said he's "shooting" for Tuesday for gun control proposals but warned there's no "silver bullet."
Sen. Manchin say no to stand-alone assault weapons ban. "Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Sunday that a stand-alone ban on assault weapons would not win passage in Congress, and that the effort to curb mass shootings must include a broader discussion involving the entertainment industry and mental health issues." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.
History time longreads: How the NRA went from a marksmanship group to a mighty gun lobby. Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.
Sales of guns are soaring. "As Washington focuses on what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose next week to curb gun violence, gun and ammunition sales are spiking in the rest of e imposed...Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating." Michael Cooper in The New York Times.
@pourmecoffee: It's almost as if NRA is comically overdramatic in order to increase donations and drive up sales for its sponsor gun manufacturers.
Why Colorado is ground zero for the gun control fight. "This state, one of hunters and sport shooters, has endured two of the most horrific mass shootings in American history, and this year for the first time in more than a decade it could pass major gun-control legislation." Jack Healy and Dan Frosch in The New York Times.
And Maryland may see a tightening of gun laws, too. "Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will seek to institute some of the nation’s strictest gun-licensing requirements, ban assault weapons and restrict visitor access to schools in one of the most expansive government responses sought to last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Perhaps most controversially, O’Malley (D) will ask the General Assembly to force prospective gun owners to provide fingerprints to state police, complete a hands-on weapon-familiarization and gun-safety course, and undergo a background check to be licensed." Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner in The Washington Post.
Music recommendations interlude: Paul Simon, "Graceland," 1986.
KRUGMAN: Japan's huge economic move. "Enter Mr. Abe, who has been pressuring the Bank of Japan into seeking higher inflation — in effect, helping to inflate away part of the government’s debt — and has also just announced a large new program of fiscal stimulus. How have the market gods responded? The answer is, it’s all good." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
SIDES: How congressional dysfunction could hurt Republicans. "[I]t is far from clear how much concerns about legislative process really affect how Americans vote... Here’s how a dysfunctional process might hurt them. First, although many things affect the public’s approval of Congress, such as the state of the economy, conflict within Congress is one of them, according to research by Robert Gurr, John Gilmour, and Christina Wolbrecht." John Sides in The Washington Post.
MATTHEWS AND LITOW: Thank the Affordable Care Act for the coming bump in health insurance premiums. "Health-insurance premiums have been rising—and consumers will experience another series of price shocks later this year when some see their premiums skyrocket thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. The reason: The congressional Democrats who crafted the legislation ignored virtually every actuarial principle governing rational insurance pricing. Premiums will soon reflect that disregard—indeed, premiums are already reflecting it." Merrill Matthews and Mark E. Litow in The Wall Street Journal.
CILLIZZA: The Senate is losing its lions. "Jay Rockefeller’s retirement from the Senate, which the West Virginia Democrat announced Friday morning, is the latest in a series of departures — by death, defeat or choice — that has rapidly sapped the world’s greatest deliberative body of many of the personalities that dominated the institution, and American politics, for the better part of three decades." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
THALER: Republicans would be better off without messing with the debt ceiling. "[M]y proposal for restoring Mr. Boehner’s relevance: He should propose that the debt ceiling be raised for at least two years or, even better, propose that it be abolished. He wouldn’t need a majority of his own party to vote for such a bill, of course, because it would have wide support among Democrats. He would just have to propose it and persuade some of his colleagues to support it. That would be enough. Here is why I think this is a good idea, for him, the Republican Party and the country." Richard H. Thaler in The New York Times.
Sci-fi interlude: 22-year-old has idea. Makes short film. Hollywood finds it.
Immigration reform in 3, 2, 1...
Obama readies big push on immigration. "The White House is planning a big push in the weeks ahead for a comprehensive immigration-law overhaul that would include a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants...The administration supports legislation that would include a process for granting citizenship to undocumented workers who pay back taxes and fines, as well as a better system to help employers verify whether an applicant is eligible to work, a guest-worker program, and additional visas for high-tech workers and others to relieve a backlog." Laura Meckler and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
The strategy appears to put forward a comprehensive bill and pass it quickly. "Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept...The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future." Julia Preston in The New York Times.
Longread on immigration: The Wall Street Journal's weekend interview was with Sen. Marco Rubio.
Artsy interlude: 50 iconic works of the last five years.
Is the debt ceiling fight just a political show?
Wall Street thinks this is all one big joke. "Fresh off the fiscal cliff and on the cusp of a debt ceiling battle, Wall Street is done with Washington’s drama. The market’s new attitude toward the continuing brinkmanship? Wake me when it’s over. But after nearly two years of divided government, the market seems to treat crisis as the new normal, and investors are no longer hanging on Washington’s every word in the weeks leading up to a deal. Instead, analysts say, they now expect Washington to continue the cycle that has played out in each of the previous fiscal showdowns. Lawmakers flirt with the edge, but they strike a last-minute deal." Patrick Reis in Politico.
Ugly choices on the debt ceiling, everywhere you look. "The showdown over the nation's debt ceiling could force the government to consider drastic steps to manage its limited cash, including delaying trillions of dollars of payments to employees, Social Security recipients, contractors and others. The Obama administration has said it has no backup plan to pay the government's bills if Congress refuses to raise the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit." Damian Paletta and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
In memoriam interlude: Aaron Swartz, "American hero."
Platinum trillion-dollar coin option is no longer
Treasury says they won't mint a coin to sidestep the debt ceiling. "The Treasury Department will not mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to get around the debt ceiling. If they did, the Federal Reserve would not accept it. That’s the bottom line of the statement that Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, gave me today...The inclusion of the Federal Reserve is significant. For the platinum coin idea to work, the Federal Reserve would have to treat it as a legal way for the Treasury Department to create currency. If they don’t believe it’s legal and would not credit the Treasury Department’s deposit, the platinum coin would be worthless." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
The Fed killed the coin. "The Federal Reserve was responsible for killing a controversial proposal to circumvent the debt limit, a senior administration official told BuzzFeed Sunday...[T]he independent central bank [said it] would not have credited the Treasury's accounts for the vast sum for depositing the coin." Zeke Miller in BuzzFeed.
The philosophy behind the trillion-dollar coin. "First, the degree to which concern over the coin stems from the perception that it 'illustrates the uncomfortable foundational reality of modern capitalism: Money is nothing more than a shared illusion.'...First, the degree to which concern over the coin stems from the perception that it “illustrates the uncomfortable foundational reality of modern capitalism: Money is nothing more than a shared illusion.”" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Blue marble interlude: How observing Earth from space changes your perspective. Fascinating short film.
Changing energy in a changing world
To get higher gas mileage, American cars are losing weight. "[P]ressed to produce cars and trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas, manufacturers gathering here this week for the Motor City's annual auto show are cutting weight by substituting more plastics, aluminum and magnesium, including materials once found only in high-end race cars...Ducker Worldwide, a market researcher based in Troy, Mich., predicts the average vehicle will shed 400 pounds by the 2025 deadline through a doubling of aluminum. Steel, which now accounts for 56% of average vehicle weight, is expect to fall to 46%, according to the research group." Neal E. Boudette and Mike Ramsey in The Wall Street Journal.
Will fracking set off a oil shale boom? "An oil boom launched by “fracking” has led energy leaders to take a second look at harnessing the potential of oil shale, a fossil fuel that energy firms largely abandoned the hope of harnessing in the 1980s...has industry and lawmakers alike bullish on finding technological breakthroughs to develop other energy sources once thought too expensive to access." Zack Colman in The Hill.
Beautiful interlude: San Francisco in toothpicks.
The economy: what's coming
Economic reports for the week ahead. "Data scheduled to be released includes retail sales for December, the Producer Price Index for December, and business inventories for November (Tuesday); the Consumer Price Index for December, industrial production for December and the Federal Reserve beige book (Wednesday); weekly jobless claims, housing starts for December and the Philadelphia Fed index for January (Thursday); and the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for January (Friday)." The New York Times.
More signs of a heating-up recovery in housing: Rents are rising. "Rents grew 3.8% in 2012, up from 2.4% in 2011 and 2.3% in 2010, according to real-estate research service Reis Inc. The firm projects annual increases of 4% to 4.5% through 2016." Eliot Brown in The Wall Street Journal.
Should we blame robots or the government for rising inequality? "There’s widespread agreement at this point that wage inequality has been growing at a remarkable pace since the 1970s...But what’s causing this is a matter of dispute. One explanation, initiated by Harvard’s Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin and elaborated on by MIT’s David Autor and Daron Acemoglu, is that technological innovations are making easily automated jobs less common." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.
How slow economic growth affects politics. "We typically blame Washington for not doing more to help the economy grow. But what if we have it backward: What if it is the weak economy that is driving the failures in Washington?...Yet growth has broadly disappeared from the fiscal discussion that continues to occupy Congress and the White House, a discussion that has focused obsessively on deficits and debts, spending and taxes and fairness. But growth will be one of the most crucial determinants of whether the country can find its way back to fiscal health in the long run." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.
Productivity gains aren't trickling down into wage gains anymore. "Wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America’s gross domestic product. Until 1975, wages nearly always accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation’s G.D.P., but last year wages fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. Since 2001, when the wage share was 49 percent, there has been a steep slide." Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times.
Adorable animals best ever interlude: One pup teaches the other to go down stairs.
How the world wastes half its food. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
The coming public-private partnership fund to build health centers you should know about. Matthew Dolan in The Wall Street Journal.
Why 64.8 percent of Americans didn't get a flu shot. Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
How the White House is responding to the absurd petitions it receives on its website. Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.
Roe v. Wade at 40 years. Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.