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(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Today's Wonkbook has everything you could possibly want to know about the policies in President Obama's budget. And then it's got much, much more than that. Give Evan Soltas a pat on the back next time you see him. It's a heroic effort.

But the budget -- and the way it's been rolled out -- is playing a more subtle purpose, too. It's meant to help pass gun control and immigration reform.

As Karen Tumulty writes, "For the first time in a while, members of the two parties — at least some of them — appear to be talking about getting things done." Immigration and gun control really are grinding forward. But as everyone in those negotiations will admit, it's touch-and-go. The key is to keep members of the two parties talking about getting things done.

The budget could have interrupted that. For the last three years, at least, the annual budget has heralded a period of angry polarization as Republicans mass to assail the president and Democrats counterattack. It's been a moment for the two parties to recall why they can't stand each other.

This budget was built to be different. It includes key Republican priorities like chained-CPI and Medicare means-testing (though, to be fair, past budgets have included Medicare means-testing too). And the roll-out has been decidedly non-confrontational.

Last night, President Obama invited 12 Republican senators -- Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, John Boozman, Susan Collins, Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Deb Fischer, Orrin Hatch, Pat Roberts, Marco Rubio, John Thune and Roger Wicker -- for a two-and-a-half hour dinner at the White House. They ate in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House and the statements released afterwards were very friendly. "I commend the president for reaching out to us," said Isakson, who helped plan the event
Will this lead to a budget deal? Perhaps eventually, though the odds remain long. What it won't do is interrupt the work being done on immigration and gun deals. This budget is all about keeping the two parties talking. And, thus far, it's succeeded in that.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: $4.6 trillion. That's the difference in net deficit reduction between the Republican budget proposal and Obama's proposal over the ten-year horizon. Much, much more on the Obama budget below. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The incredible shrinking labor force.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) a complete budgetary roundup; 2) immigration reform outlines drawn; 3) Senate deal sealed on gun control; 4) new index of social well-being introduced; and 5) when did the Senate go soft on advise-and-consent?

1) Top story: Everything you need to know about the White House budget

Here's the 101 on Obama's 2014 budget proposal. "In the first budget of his second term, President Obama set aside the grand ambitions that marked his early days in office and sent Congress a blueprint aimed at achieving a simple goal: ending the long partisan standoff over the national debt...Instead, with sharp automatic spending cuts threatening to slow the economic recovery and another showdown over the federal debt limit looming this year, the blueprint establishes a budget deal with Republicans as Obama’s top fiscal priority." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

Read: The full text of the 2014 budget. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Interactives: Dive deep into the Obama budget, and see how it stacks up against the alternative proposalsDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Wonktalk: What the Obama budget says about him and his second-term visionDylan Matthews and Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Explainers: Winners and losers in the Obama budget, and 12 things you might have missedBrad Plumer and Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Obama had Republican senators over for dinner again to talk compromise. "On a day in Washington where legislative compromise suddenly seemed possible once again, President Obama will be hosting another dozen Senate Republicans for dinnerWednesday night. This latest round of mealtime diplomacy – which will take place in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room, rather than the Jefferson Hotel – will feature lawmakers ranging from moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins to conservative John Boozman (Ark.). Other attendees include GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Thune (S.D.)." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

What's the economic vision in the Obama budget? "[The budget gives] Mr. Obama a chance to lay out his plan for tomorrow’s economy, centered on manufacturing, education, alternative energy, infrastructure and science...The budget puts particular emphasis on education and manufacturing. In Mr. Obama’s view, both are critical to widespread economic growth." Annie Lowrey and Motoko Rich in The New York Times.

@grossdm: The federal budget deficit in March was $106 b. In March 2012 it was $198.1 b. The primary deficit is melting away.

Budget sticks to 2011 caps on domestic discretionary spending. "The Obama budget calls for $1.058 trillion in spending for so-called discretionary domestic programs—spending other than for defense or entitlements such as Medicare. That honors a cap set by Congress and Mr. Obama as part of the 2011 debt-limit deal." Janet Hook in The Wall Street Journal.

@ByronTau: Haven't seen any blast OFA emails organizing to pass President Obama's budget. Curious.

Republicans call on Obama to cut entitlements. Then one of their leaders criticizes him for proposing it. "House Republican campaign chief Greg Walden on Wednesday launched an attack on the entitlement changes contained in President Obama’s budget proposal — a signal that the entitlement reform well might already be poisoned. Appearing on CNN, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman accused Obama of “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors” and signaled Republicans may try to use the changes against Democrats in the coming election." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@jonathanweisman: Wait, Greg Walden attacked Obama budget for its "shocking attack on seniors" when the House-passed budget pockets the same Medicare cuts?

A detailed look at the budget's specifics:

Tax benefits curbed for highest-incomes. "Outlining his budget proposals to Congress on Wednesday, Mr. Obama pushed to raise more than $600 billion in new revenue, mainly by curbing deductions for the most affluent taxpayers and forcing millionaires to pay a minimum rate of 30 percent. Under the White House plan, deductions for tax breaks like mortgage interest and contributions to charities would be capped at a maximum rate of 28 percent. The caps would limit the value of the breaks to the top 3 percent of taxpayers who face higher marginal tax rates and generate about $529 billion in additional revenue over 10 years." Graham Bowley in The New York Times.

@JohnJHarwood: Having signed "permanent" estate-tax change in cliff deal - 40% on estates >$5-million - Obama budget now proposes 45% rate beginning 2019.

Changes to Medicare and health programs. "[The Obama budget proposes] equiring drug makers to offer Medicare the same lower prices and rebates for prescription medications that they currently charge the Medicaid program. Obama also wants to speed up a measure in the 2010 health-care law that already requires manufacturers to provide steadily larger drug discounts to Medicare enrollees through 2020. The additional savings would amount to $11 billion over 10 years...The budget would also increase Medicare premiums charged to higher income beneficiaries — for a savings of $50 billion over the next decade. Another big ticket item: slashing $81 billion out of the rates Medicare pays providers of “post-acute care” such as skilled nursing facilities and hospitals." N.C. Aizenman in The Washington Post.

@MichaelSLinden: Obama's budget would mean about $1 trillion in lower Medicare spending from 2010-2019 relative to projections when he took office in 2009.

...And the White House wants to reverse cuts to Medicaid. "The White House wants to reverse $500 million in cuts to the Medicaid program meant to start in 2014, aiming to ensure that states have adequate funds to assist those that remain uninsured under the Affordable Care Act...The White House budget essentially proposes something close to that: not reversing the DSH cuts, but delaying their implementation for one year." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@JohnJHarwood: On those entitlement cuts in Obama's budget: are they big enough for a possible deal w/Rs including tax hikes? No - will take more for deal.

Dept. of Defense: "President Obama’s proposed $526.6 billion defense budget would keep military spending relatively steady in 2014, while calling on the Pentagon to find $150 billion in savings over the next decade as it wraps up an era of costly ground wars and invests to fight emerging threats such as cybersecurity...The plan puts off decisions on steeper troop reductions and deep cuts to weapons programs — steps that would achieve bigger savings. The proposal amounts to a roughly 1 percent drop in spending compared with 2013." Ernesto Londono in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Education: "The White House budget proposal shows that the president wants to boost discretionary spending for the Department of Education by 4.6 percent, to $71.2 billion...Obama is proposing several new initiatives aimed at expanding pre-school to all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds, improving high school and streamlining federal programs that support education in science, technology, engineering and math. He wants to expand on the competitive grants that have become a signature of his education policy, this time creating a college version of Race to the Top." Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Justice: "The Obama administration’s 2014 budget proposal includes an extra $173 million for Justice Department programs to combat gun violence...The budget also includes $222 million in funding for state and local programs to foster gun safety, including proposed improvements to the system of submitting state criminal and mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System." Peter Finn in The Washington Post.

Dept. of State: "The Obama administration’s budget proposal for the State Department earmarks $4 billion for security for overseas personnel and facilities...The budget also proposes $580 million to promote economic and political reforms across the Middle East and North Africa in response to the upheaval that followed the Arab Spring two years ago." Douglas Frantz in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Interior: "President Obama’s proposed budget for the Department of Interior would add muscle to controversial initiatives including a $13 million increase in funding for the U.S. Geological Survey to enhance preparations for climate change and enable water and wildlife managers to adapt to the effects of warming, such as sea-level rise. In addition, the spending plan would provide more funding for what has become a pressing issue – crime on the nation’s most violent Indian reservations, where rape is pervasive." Darryl Fears in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Agriculture: "Wednesday’s White House budget proposal would provide $22.6 billion in discretionary spending to the Department of Agriculture, similar to the amount the agency received in the 2012 budget enacted by Congress. The proposal includes a series of cost-saving measures at the USDA in coming years, including eliminating direct farm payments, decreasing crop insurance subsidies and targeting conservation programs. But it also proposes new investments in renewable energy and rural development...The president’s budget also proposes a continued steady level of funding for the USDA’s supplemental nutrition programs." Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

Environmental Protection Agency: "President Obama’s budget would provide $8.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $252 million increase from the funding the agency has for fiscal 2013, but a 3.5 percent cut from the agency’s enacted 2012 spending plan. EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the budget represents an increase from the $7.9 billion the agency has for fiscal year 2013 after sequestered funds are subtracted. About $176 million is targeted at greenhouse gas emissions and their impact, including $20 million to study effects on human and ecosystem health, he said." Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Housing and Urban Development: "The Department of Housing and Urban Development would receive $47.6 billion in the president’s proposed 2014 budget, an increase of more than 6 percent from that sought for 2013, and a 9.7 percent increase over the 2012 enacted level...The budget also includes $2.4 billion to combat homelessness, including money for 10,000 new vouchers that are to be used to house homeless veterans." Steve Vogel in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Labor: "The Department of Labor would receive $12.1 billion in discretionary funding in the proposed 2014 budget, an increase of $100 million from that proposed for 2013, money the White House said will help unemployed workers gain skills to find new jobs." Steve Vogel in The Washington Post.

Dept. of Veterans Affairs: "The president’s proposed $152.7 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs represents a 10.2 percent increase from the previous year, and reflects the inexorable growth in disability compensation and pensions owed by the government to veterans. The budget includes $66.5 billion in discretionary spending, mostly for health care, which represents about a 4.3 percent increase over last year’s budget." Steve Vogel in The Washington Post.

Leading opinion on the budget:

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The president's budget. "President Obama knew full well that many Democrats and liberals would be sharply critical of his decision to propose reducing the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, one of the centerpieces of his 2014 budget, which was released on Wednesday. In fact, he was counting on it. He wanted to show that he was willing to antagonize his supporters to get a budget compromise, putting Republicans on the spot to do the same...For now, it has served its purpose — no one will be able to accuse Mr. Obama of refusing to touch entitlements, and no one can credit Republicans for being at all serious about a deficit-reduction compromise." The New York Times Editorial Board.

THE WASHINGTON POST: An offer to negotiate. "Though far  from perfect, the budget President Obama released Wednesday represents the best hope for replacing sequestration with a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal before the federal government hits its statutory borrowing limit in late summer — and before Congress gets paralyzed by the politics of the 2014 elections." The Washington Post Editorial Board.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: The president's priorities. "The real news is that his budget ratifies much of the spending increase of the first term and tries to lock it in...So nearly all the deficit reduction would come by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge-fund managers, smokers, millionaires—and savers with his new tax on the buildup of wealth inside 401(k) plans and IRAs above $3 million...The Obama years have turned much about U.S. politics on its head, such as the fact that Presidents usually restrain Congress on spending. Since 2010, the House has restrained a President who wants to keep spending like it's 2009." The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.

BLOOMBERG VIEW: A way forward. "[T]he $3.8 trillion U.S. spending plan is remarkable as a political document that both recognizes the stasis in Washington and presents a way around it. For that alone, the president deserves credit...If this blueprint wins over enough Republicans -- and doesn’t lose too many Democrats -- it could be a major part of Obama’s legacy. And if it frees Congress to start thinking about how to cure what really ails the U.S. -- such as long-term unemployment and high health-care costs -- then it could result in faster growth, higher tax revenue and lower deficits." Bloomberg View Editorial Board.

KLEIN: The $4.6T difference between the budgets. "Budgets are a rare opportunity to cut through the two parties’ rhetoric and see the numbers behind their visions for the country. In this case, the difference between Obama and the House Republicans’ visions for the country is about $4.6 trillion over the next decade...The House GOP budget sees tax revenues totaling 18.8 percent of GDP over the next decade, while Obama’s budget puts them at 19.1 percent. The difference over 10 years, using the GOP’s numbers? Three-tenths of a percentage point of GDP, or about $640 billion. House Republicans see an average deficit of 0.6 percent over the next decade, while Obama’s looking at 2.5 percent. The difference there is 1.9 percent of GDP, or more than $4 trillion." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

YGLESIAS: The key contrasts in this budget. "Rich vs. poor: In a way this is cliché, but it's also quite important...Obama expands Medicaid, increases EITC and Child Tax Credits, makes the Opportunity Tax Credit permanent, and spares the poor from the cuts involved in adoping the chained CPI. How does he do it? Well, he does it in several ways, but one big part of the story is reducing tax deductions for rich people...Young vs. old...Jobs vs. austerity." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

CROOK: All in all, this is a pretty good budget. "It's a political more than policymaking exercise -- and seen that way, this year's budget looks smart. At the cost of offending some progressives, it's a plan that could split a few sensible Republicans from the herd...Overall, the split between higher taxes and tighter control of spending looks about right -- especially since Obama's tax proposals are themselves moderate." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

PORTER: How should we measure inflation for Social Security. "The chained C.P.I. may be a better index to measure prices across the population, but not necessarily for the old – who spend a larger share of their income on health and housing. Economists at the Labor Department have been experimenting for years with a special price index for those over the age of 62. Since 1982 it has risen 0.2 percentage points per year faster than the standard C.P.I. The chained C.P.I., by contrast, has lagged behind the regular index over the longer term by about 0.3 percentage points a year." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

@resnikoff: Both AFL-CIO and SEIU are opposed to chained CPI, but the former has a much harsher judgment of the White House budget as a whole.

TANKERSLEY: Unemployed lose out in Obama budget. "According to the projections in Obama’s new budget, America won’t return to full employment until about 2018. That assumes the projections are correct; in recent years the Obama administration’s forecasts have proven to be overly optimistic, forecasting that the economy would soon enter a period of speedier growth that has still not arrived." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

LOWREY: A budget focused on inequality. "The Obama budget proposal released Wednesday, like other White House budgets before it, also emphasizes the problem of inequality and the failure of the American economy to promote a thriving middle class...So far, the Obama administration has tackled the issue of inequality in two major ways. It has raised taxes on the wealthy, and it has expanded programs to aid lower-income Americans." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

@dylanmatt: INBOX: "STATEMENT: Budget continues the President's 'friends with benefits' relationship" #no #stop #imalreadydead

LEONHARDT: The Obama budget and sin taxes. "President Obama’s budget continues the Democratic preference for cigarette taxes over alcohol or soda taxes – even though alcohol and soda consumption may cost society more money than smoking. In his budget, Mr. Obama calls for almost doubling the federal cigarette tax, to $1.95 per pack, up 94 cents from the current level. The tax increase would raise about $8 billion a year over the next decade and help pay for early childhood education...But the Obama budget helps highlight how politically popular tobacco taxes are even though they may pack less of a fiscal punch than other sin taxes." David Leonhardt in The New York Times.

Music recommendations interlude: The Kinks, "Low Budget," 1979.

Top op-eds

BARRO: Do we underinvest in public schools? "When the subject is health care, liberals have drawn the right lessons from the last 40 years of cost growth, understanding that more money doesn’t necessarily mean better outcomes. They should apply that same lesson to education: In a cost-bloated sector with poor quality improvement, we should be figuring out how to spend money better, instead of spending more of it." Josh Barro in Bloomberg.

BLOW: Rand Paul goes to Howard. "During the speech Paul asked, rhetorically and incredulously: “How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American Congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote?"...They lost it in 1976 when Ronald Reagan adopted the racially charged “welfare queens” trope. They lost it when George Bush used Willie Horton as a club against Michael Dukakis. They lost it when George W. Bush imperially flew over New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." Charles M. Blow in The New York Times.

HUNTER AND HEGSETH: The VA is failing our vets. "Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is in an analogous quagmire as it struggles to provide benefits quickly to veterans of all generations. From whistleblowers to unfavorable watchdog reports to wasted money, evidence of VA dysfunction is staggering. We have been strong supporters of the department’s efforts to improve operations, but the time for good intentions is over. Veterans are not getting the service they deserve." Duncan Hunter and Pete Hegseth in The Washington Post.

DALMIA: The myth of immigrants on the dole. "A perennial objection to relaxing the border with Mexico is that the U.S. has to stop poor, low- skilled foreigners from overburdening its social-welfare system. In fact, the opposite is the case: Immigrants help protect this safety net for everyone." Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg.

DIONNE: Learning from Thatcher, Kuo. "Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday, changed Britain and altered the trajectory of global politics. David Kuo, who passed away Friday, received well-earned attention for his work in and out of politics on behalf of the poor." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Legitimately terrifying simulations interlude: How popular tourist sites will look, post climate change.

2) What immigration reform looks like in the Senate

Broad outlines of Senate agreement emerge. "During the first decade after passage, the bill sets ambitious goals for border authorities — including continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border and 90 percent effectiveness of enforcement in several high-risk sectors — and for other workplace and visa enforcement measures. It provides at least $3 billion for Homeland Security officials to meet those goals during the first five years, with a possibility of additional financing." Julia Preston and Ashley Parker in The New York Times.

...But can the Gang of 8 hang tight? "Most members of the group are prepared to band together, defeating one by one any controversial amendment that can upset the deal’s balance. Such unity is considered essential if the senators hope to keep the core of the bill intact, hold the support of a cross-section of labor and business interests — and ultimately win the kind of broad bipartisan vote that forces the House to also act on an immigration bill." Manu Raju and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.

Poll finds broad support for immigration reform. "Some 54% in the survey agreed with the statement that immigration strengthens the country and "adds to our character," a higher reading than the 47% who agreed with that statement in mid-2010 and the 41% in 2005...Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they favor giving citizenship to those who came here illegally and now hold jobs. Support jumped to 76% for a plan that required immigrants to pay fines, back taxes and pass a security check, among other measures, to gain citizenship. Bipartisan legislation now being written in the Senate could open a pathway to citizenship with similar requirements." Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

This bill really does crack down on the border. "Federal authorities would be required to establish vast new border fences and surveillance as part of a bipartisan Senate plan aimed at allowing the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to earn permanent residency and, potentially, citizenship, aides familiar with the proposal said Wednesday...[T]he Government Accountability Office found that the Border Patrol had only 44 percent of the Southwestern border under “operational control” in 2010." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Best in meteorology interlude: Meet the rapping weatherman.

3) Gun control deal cut in Senate. Can it make it through the House?

Manchin, Toomey unveil compromise on background checks. "Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey unveiled a bipartisan deal to expand background checks for commercial gun purchases — including those at gun shows and online — Wednesday morning, opening a pathway for the biggest change in U.S. gun laws in nearly two decades...The bipartisan agreement could give political cover for enough Republicans to vote Thursday and exceed the 60-vote requirement needed to allow the Senate to proceed to what would be an emotional floor debate on gun control legislation...The Manchin-Toomey proposal would require background checks for sales at gun shows and online, but it will exempt personal transfers from such checks." John Bresnahan, Dan Berman, and Reid J. Epstein in Politico.

...And this is Sen. Toomey's moment. "Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) rose to prominence as a conservative firebrand...Now he’s emerged as the possible savior of gun control efforts in Congress, calling expanded background checks a matter of common sense...Showing a pragmatic side on an issue like gun control could help Toomey soften his image among moderate voters, especially in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs." Emily Schultheis in Politico.

...But will this all be worth zero when it gets to the House? "House Speaker John Boehner cast serious doubt Wednesday on whether he would bring the Senate’s gun control bill to a vote. Boehner danced around roughly a half-dozen different questions on bipartisan agreement introduced in the Senate, and repeatedly said the House would “review” whatever the Senate passes." Jake Sherman in Politico.

How loopholes in background checks let buyers skirt the current laws. "Since 1998 more than a million potential sales have been rejected — usually because the would-be buyers are convicted felons or fugitives from justice, or they have been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution, among other reasons. How many of those rejected buyers were able to buy guns without background checks, from private sellers in person or over the Internet, is difficult to say, in part because restrictions imposed by Congress make it difficult for law enforcement officials to track firearms sales." Michael Cooper, Michael S. Schmidt, and Michael Luo in The New York Times.

Michelle Obama gives speech on gun policy. "First lady Michelle Obama, with tears in her eyes and her voice cracking, spoke out for the first time here Wednesday about the gun violence afflicting young people in cities across the nation. She took a rare step for any first lady into the legislative fight of the hour." Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

How states are moving to restrict the capacity of gun magazines. "With President Obama’s push for limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines stalled, some states are restricting their size in a shift that authorities say could dramatically reduce deaths in future mass shootings...Firearms experts say restrictions on magazines — detachable ammunition storage and feeding devices — might not prevent a fatal shooting but could prevent it from turning into a massacre." Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.

Obama, Bloomberg bless gun deal. NRA doesn't. "President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) on Wednesday gave their blessing to the compromise gun control legislation crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). In a statement, Obama stressed that he wanted gun legislation that does more than the Manchin-Toomey bill, but said progress is progress...Bloomberg, who has been even more outspoken than Obama on the need for new gun laws, said he would push hard for the bill, which would require background checks on all commercial gun transactions." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Medical interlude: Making the brain see-through

4) A new index of social well-being

Introducing a new index of well-being. "A new benchmark out Thursday examines countries not on economic measures such as gross domestic product, but rather on the well-being of their population, in such areas as nutrition, basic medical care, shelter and environmental sustainability. The U.S. ranked sixth overall in the 2013 Social Progress Index, which assesses 50 nations selected as a representative sample of the world. Sweden placed first, followed by the U.K., Switzerland, Canada and Germany...The Social Progress Index, which is to be released this week in England, is derived from data collected by the World Health Organization, World Bank and other institutions. It was put together by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter and economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is backed by businesses as well as philanthropies including the Skoll Foundation." Brenda Cronin in The Wall Street Journal.

What you need to know from the Fed minutes released yesterday. "A few Fed officials think QE should be stopped immediately; a few think that it should be shrunk fairly soon; many think that it should be slowed if we see a rebounding job market; a few think it should continue at its current size until the end of the year; and a couple think it may need to be increased. The minutes also make clear that Fed officials are not all on the same page in determining the economic climate that would trigger that tapering." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

The U.S. labor force is shrinking away. "The U.S. labor force is shrinking. Back in 2007, 66 percent of Americans had a job or were actively seeking work. Today, that number is at 63 percent and falling...Labor force participation rates for younger workers, ages 16 to 54, has been dropping sharply for a number of reasons — some good, some terrible." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

U.S. rethinks use of consultants in reviews of foreclosure abuses. "Daniel Stipano, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's deputy chief counsel, is expected to tell a Senate subcommittee that the agency is "currently evaluating its use of independent consultants" in light of the botched review. The use of consultants in the foreclosure review, which regulators halted this year, "differed substantially from the agency's normal practice in many significant ways," Mr. Stipano is expected to say." Alan Zibel in The Wall Street Journal.

Cultural interlude: How to do satire.

5) Since when is the Senate so nice in advising-and-consenting?

EPA nominee Gina McCarthy is seeing smooth sailing in Congress. "Though the EPA remains a source of friction in Washington, people who have followed Ms. McCarthy's career say the lack of an orchestrated campaign against her is likely due to her background, including working for a pair of GOP governors and a reputation for taking business concerns seriously." Keith Johnson in The Wall Street Journal.

...And Sri Srinivasan also had an easy hearing. "Sri Srinivasan, President Obama’s nominee to one of the country’s most politically significant appeals courts, breezed his way through an uneventful Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that ended with at least one Republican saying he would support the nomination." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.

Sally Jewell confirmed to head Interior Dept. "Jewell, who began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil and worked as a commercial banker before heading the nearly $2 billion outdoors equipment company REI, represents an unconventional pick for a post usually reserved for career politicians from the West. The Senate voted 87 to 11 in favor of confirming the future Interior chief, with all of the no votes coming from Republicans." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Love Obamacare? The White House has a job for you: navigatorSarah Kliff.

INTERACTIVE: Dive deep into the budgetDylan Matthews.

The 12 million losers in Obama’s new budget. Jim Tankersley.

Oops! Fed minutes, inadvertently released early, show a divided FOMCNeil Irwin.

The incredible shrinking labor force, in one chartBrad Plumer.

The White House wants to reverse $500 million in Medicaid cutsSarah Kliff.

Interactive: How the Obama budget stacks up against Paul Ryan’sDylan Matthews.

The $4.6 trillion difference between the White House and House Republicans’ budgetEzra Klein.

READ: The White House’s 2014 budget. Brad Plumer.

Et Cetera

Any day is great for a long read, but do you know what they say about Thursdays? Even if you don't, how about The New York Times's mega profile of Anthony Weiner and Huma AbedinJonathan Van Meter in The New York Times.

Gun control, immigration, budgeting: Is this a political thaw? Karen Tumulty and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

Obama administration considering a privatization of the TVARyan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

Postal Service nixes plan to end Saturday mail deliveryLisa Rein in The Washington Post.

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

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.