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The gun vote didn't fail because a couple of red-state Democrats bolted, or even because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association, or even because Sen. Pat Toomey couldn't bring along more Republicans.

Those factors help explain why the gun vote didn't clear the extraordinary bar set for it to succeed. But they're not the main reason it failed.

The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.

The Manchin-Toomey bill received 54 aye votes and 46 nay votes. That is to say, a solid majority of senators voted for it. In most legislative bodies around the world, that would have been enough. But it wasn't a sufficient supermajority for the U.S. Senate.

Of the senators from the 25 largest states, the Manchin-Toomey legislation received 33 aye votes and 17 nay votes -- an almost 2:1 margin, putting it well beyond the 3/5ths threshold required to break a filibuster. But of the senators from the 25 smallest states, it received only 21 aye votes and 29 nay votes.

It's typical to say that this is how the Senate's always been. It's also wrong. The filibuster didn't emerge until decades after the first congress, and its constant use is a thoroughly modern development.

As for the small state bias, that, too, has changed over time. During the first Congress, Virginia, the largest state, was roughly 12 times the size of Delaware, which was, at the time, the smallest state. Today, California is 66 times the size of Wyoming. That makes the Senate five times less proportionate today than it was at the founding.

It's easy to question the strategies of the gun bill's architects, but the truth is they compromised repeatedly, sought support widely and openly, worked hard to address criticisms and allay concerns, and did everything in their power to marshal public opinion on their behalf. They did what they were supposed to do.

But then the Senate did what it is built to do. It took a bill supported by most Americans and killed it because it was intensely opposed by a minority who disproportionately live in small, rural states.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 54. That, of course, is the number of votes the Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks received in the Senate. It needed 60 to clear the filibuster. It didn't get them, along with six other proposed changes to federal regulation of firearms.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) gun control falls in Senate; 2) full text of immigration reform bill released; 3) the helps and harms in the economy; 4) will Obamacare create a "train wreck"?; and 5) Obama dines with Dems.

1) Top story: The downfall of gun control

Gun-control overhaul is defeated in Senate. "President Obama’s ambitious effort to overhaul the nation’s gun laws in response to December’s school massacre in Connecticut suffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, when every major proposal he championed fell apart on the Senate floor. It was a stunning collapse for gun control advocates just four months after the deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown led the president and many others to believe that the political climate on guns had been altered in their favor." Ed O'Keefe and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Senate bill to extend background checks killed by filibuster. "So much for significant new gun-control legislation. The bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill to extend background checks to gun shows and Internet sales has died in the Senate. It got 54 votes, but that wasn’t enough to overcome what was essentially a Republican filibuster. The Manchin-Toomey compromise bill was a scaled-back version of earlier proposals to extend background checks to unregulated private gun sales. Many gun experts argued that the slimmed-down proposal would have only marginal effects on gun violence. But even that small step couldn’t get through the Senate." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@justinwolfers: It's astonishing that the anger, sorrow and momentum for change formed in the wake of Sandy Hook led to no substantive changes in gun laws.

How did the vote split, exactly? "The bill, which was expected to come up short, lost the support of four Democrats on Wednesday: Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). All four face difficult reelections in 2014 in rural states with strong gun cultures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the amendment for procedural reasons. Four Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Toomey." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Here are the Senate's 9, mostly-ill-fated, gun control amendments. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

What happened with the gun amendments: Everything failed. Let's look at this amendment by amendment. "The Senate voted on seven out of nine pieces of gun legislation Wednesday afternoon. All the amendments required 60 votes to survive Senate procedural moves and ensure final passage, because of the way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) chose to structure the vote. All seven failed." Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

@RonBrownstein: Obama + victim family sharp post-vote remarks on #guncontrol show big change from earlier gun losses: Dems will likely keep the issue alive.

Why, also, did all of the gun amendments need 60 votes to pass? "The answer is a combination of Senate procedure and the complex politics of guns...[A]nother route [besides cloture] is to require a 60-vote threshold on the final vote for each individual amendment rather than to end debate on each measure. Instead of drawing the process out over days or weeks, the votes then can be taken in quick succession...So, why didn’t Reid try to get the unanimous consent agreement to set all amendment votes at a 51-vote threshold? Because to do that would have opened the bill up to the very likely possibility that amendments favored by gun rights advocates would be added to it." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@samsteinhp: I'm more curious about how Bloomberg, gun control groups will help Landrieu, Tester and Hagan than how they'll punish Baucus, Pryor, Begich

How Obama reacted to the Senate votes. "Flanked by family members of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims and former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, President Obama decried a Senate vote defeating gun control legislation, saying a minority of senators “blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.” “All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Mr. Obama said." Michael D. Shear and Mark Landler in The New York Times.

Watch: Obama's remarks from the Rose GardenSteve Benen in MSNBC.

...And why this is a huge loss for Obama. "Never before had President Barack Obama put the moral force and political muscle of his presidency behind an issue quite this big — and lost quite this badly...It was a bitter defeat for a president accustomed to winning...More than anything, it was an emotional blow to Obama." Glenn Thrush and Reid J. Epstein in Politico.

More reactions: Comment from individual senators in the aftermath of gun controlGinger Gibson in Politico.

Did gun control ever have a chance? "In the nearly 10 years since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, even modest gun safety legislation has proved impossible to advance on Capitol Hill, where the momentum has been in the other direction, with lawmakers pushing various expansions of gun rights...They were no match for the reason Democrats have avoided gun control fights for years: a combination of the political anxiety of vulnerable Democrats from conservative states, deep-seated Republican resistance and the enduring clout of the National Rifle Association." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

@markknoller: The Senate vote was a major legislative defeat for Pres Obama, who made 13 speeches on gun violence proposals since Sandy Hook shootings.

All of this happened despite public opinion running the other way. "As the weeks and months have passed since the Newtown tragedy, the public’s resolve to enact stricter gun laws has softened, which may also explain what is happening on Capitol Hill. An AP/GfK poll conducted in the last week found that support for enacting stricter gun laws is now at 49 percent, down from 58 percent in January...Nearly 9 in 10 Americans, including majorities across party lines, support background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and online." Megan Thee-Brenan in The New York Times.

Is the political fight over guns over? Or just beginning? "The inability of what happened in Newtown to move the gun debate in Congress forward in any meaningful way — the biggest “victory” for gun control advocates was that the bill got the requisite votes to be debated and amended on the Senate floor — suggests that there are no external events or tragedies that will fundamentally alter the political calculus of members of Congress when it comes to gun laws. What Obama seemed to suggest in his remarks was that the next round of the fight as he sees it is the 2014 election where those who stood in the way of his package of gun control proposals would face the wrath of voters." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: Very big gun control would matter and was never on the table. Small-bore gun control would matter only a little and apparently also failed.

GIFFORDS: A Senate in the grip of the gun lobby. "These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them...Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe." Gabrielle Giffords in The New York Times.

BALZ: Gun vote shows gulf between Washington, nation. "If there were ever a moment that symbolized the difference between the power of public opinion and the strength of a concerted minority, it came Wednesday when the Senate defeated a bipartisan measure to expand background checks on gun purchases...“If you ever wanted a textbook example of intensity trumping preference, this is it,” said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “You could have 100 percent of those polled saying they wanted universal background checks and it would still be defeated. You can’t translate poll results into public policy.”" Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

@ReformedBroker: If we're not preventing mental patients and felons from buying guns, then gun ownership should be mandatory. Let's just shoot it out now.

MILBANK: Courage in short supply. "There were moments of courage on the Senate floor Wednesday. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), seriously ill with cancer, had traveled to Washington to cast his vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave an uncharacteristically moving speech explaining why he was reversing his position and would vote for a ban on military-style assault rifles (the proposal failed, 40 to 60). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defied most in his party to speak, and vote, in favor of the background-check measure. Bravest of all were Manchin and Toomey, both risking their “A” ratings from the NRA to follow their consciences." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

DICKERSON: Why Newtown wasn't enough. "The tragedy last December at Sandy Hook Elementary was supposed to tip conventional wisdom, which held that supporters of gun rights were more passionate and likely to hold their lawmakers accountable than supporters of gun control. In the end, the conventional wisdom held. Now gun control advocates like Michael Bloomberg will have a chance to make good on their threats to hold these legislators accountable in the next election. It may be even more difficult than getting a bill passed." John Dickerson in Slate.

Music recommendations interlude: The Beatles, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," 1968.

Top op-eds

KLEIN: Obama's three fateful leadership tests. "Right now, the Obama administration is running one of the most consequential tests in recent history. The early results will unnerve many who think they know how Washington works...The centerpiece of the gun-control bill, expanded background checks, has fallen apart in the Senate. It’s too early to say what the final outcome will be on a budget deal. Obama’s efforts have led to encouraging comments from Republicans who were happy to be invited to dinner and glad to see entitlement cuts in the president’s budget, but who are nowhere near proposing concessions of their own. Immigration, meanwhile, is moving forward, and insiders are more optimistic today than they were a month ago." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

POLLIN AND ASH: Austerity after Reinhart and Rogoff. "[G]overnment deficit spending, pursued judiciously, remains the single most effective tool we have to fight against mass unemployment caused by severe recessions. Recent research by Prof Reinhart and Prof Rogoff, along with all related arguments by austerity proponents, does nothing to contradict this fundamental point." Robert Pollin and Michael Ash in The Financial Times.

LAFFER: An internet sales tax is a good idea. "At the state level, there are reforms that can alleviate the problems associated with declining sales-tax bases and, at the same time, allow the states to move closer to a pro-growth tax system. One such reform would be to have Internet sellers collect the sales taxes that are owed by in-state consumers when they purchase goods over the Web...he sales tax base in the states should be broadened by treating Internet retailers similarly to in-state retailers, and the marginal income-tax rate should be reduced such that the total static revenue collected by the state government is held constant." Arthur B. Laffer in The Wall Street Journal.

KLEIN: Politics and Mad Men. "In fact, the 1960s marked a low point of congressional polarization; as the country was coming apart, Washington was working overtime to pull it together. When today’s Beltway graybeards long for the comity of the “Mad Men” era, they are recalling a political system in which polarization flowed into Washington, was more or less homogenized by the establishment, and then flowed back out as consensus. What we have today might be called the “Mad Congress” era: Relative calm flows into the capital, angry polarization flows out." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

BLOW: The kids are not alright. "According to a Unicef report issued last week — “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries” — the United States once again ranked among the worst wealthy countries for children, coming in 26th place of 29 countries included. Only Lithuania, Latvia and Romania placed lower, and those were among the poorest countries assessed in the study." Charles M. Blow in The New York Times.

WOLF: How central banks beat deflation. "Why are the high-income countries not mired in deflation? This is the puzzle today, not the absence of the hyperinflation that hysterics have wrongly expected. It is weird that inflation has remained so stable, despite huge shortfalls in output, relative to pre-crisis trends, and prolonged high unemployment. Understanding why this is the case is important because the answer determines the correct policy action. Fortunately, the news is good. The stability of inflation seems to be a reward for the credibility of inflation targeting. That gives policy makers room to risk expansionary policies." Martin Wolf in The Financial Times.

LEVI: More U.S. oil won't destroy the climate. "Imagine, for instance, that every barrel the U.S. adds to the market is offset by four-fifths of a barrel that others remove, so that the net increase is only one-fifth of a barrel. Since producing and burning a barrel of oil leads to about half a ton of carbon dioxide emissions, the net climate damage from every added barrel of U.S. oil works out to about $2. Even if the U.S. government analysts are way off, and the social cost of carbon is $100 a ton, the net climate damage from every extra U.S. barrel is probably less than $10...[T]he economic benefit gained from a barrel of U.S. oil production will almost always exceed these costs by more than that." Michael Levi in Bloomberg.

2) Senate releases immigration bill

Immigration bill debuts. "Many groups—high-tech organizations, farmworker groups, large companies and immigration advocates—applauded the bill before offering their wish lists of ways to change it. Meanwhile, groups hoping to limit immigration vowed to intensify their efforts. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group that plans a campaign to fight the bill, set up a talk-show blitz in Washington." Sara Murray and Miriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal.

Read: The full text of the Senate immigration billBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

...And how is work going in the House on immigration reform? "A secretive bipartisan House immigration coalition has broken its official silence to applaud the release of comprehensive Senate legislation, with eight members saying in a joint statement they hope to reach their own agreement “soon.”...The House group has been working on its own legislation off and on for four years, but its existence only became public knowledge in the last few months." Russell Berman in The Hill.

How immigrants see reform. "With the bipartisan group of eight senators having introduced their sweeping immigration bill in Washington this week, immigrants across the country are paying close attention to how the legislation might change their lives. They spoke with guarded optimism at the prospect of the proposal becoming law, enabling people who have lived here for decades without authorization to travel and work legally." Jennifer Medina in The New York Times.

Interview: Michael Clemens on the research on immigrationDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

What Sen. Paul says about the politics of an immigration deal. "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will push to strengthen the border security requirements in the immigration bill unveiled Wednesday by the Gang of 8...One [amendment] would force Congress to vote on an annual border security report that would include statistics on how many people illegally enter the country...The likely 2016 presidential candidate told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that he is part of a sizable block of conservatives who will vote for a bill if there’s enough border security guarantees." James Hohmann in Politico.

Conservatives see a turning tide on immigration. "[E]ven some of the talk show hosts most vehemently opposed to illegal immigration said they were worried that times have changed. They said their listeners seemed less agitated by the prospect that 11 million illegal immigrants might be granted legal status and concede that proponents of the legislation — who now include some conservative radio personalities — are better at promoting their message this time around." Michael D. Shear and Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Inside immigration reform:

High hurdles to citizenship. "Under the proposed bill, undocumented immigrants would have to wait 10 years for a chance at permanent legal residency and three more for citizenship. They would have to pay at least $2,000 in fines, along with hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. And they would be required to learn English, pass criminal-background checks and prove they have lived continuously in the United States and have been employed regularly during that time." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Immigrant groups are traded. "[The bill includes a] proposal to scrap the so-called diversity visa lottery, in which foreigners from many countries may apply for an American green card...[It would also] eliminate 70,000 future green cards for some relatives, such as siblings and unmarried adult children, who may now be sponsored by a legal immigrant...One of the key components of the bill is an increase in the number of skilled foreigners who can obtain work visas, a demand made by high-tech and scientific employers who say they cannot find enough American workers with special skills." Pamela Constable in The Washington Post.

Family-based visas are cut. "The bill would eliminate the 65,000 family-based visas that are given out every year to the siblings of U.S. citizens, as well as those given to the married adult children who are 31 and older. The changes would be phased in 18 months after the bill is enacted...The bill does create a hybrid “merit-based” system that would allocate up to 250,000 visas a year based on a wide variety of factors, including family relationships, education, employment, and length of stay in the U.S. But relatively speaking, the system would award very few points to those who are siblings, more strongly favoring those who have been in the U.S. for a long time without family ties." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

How the border would be secured. "The proposed immigration bill lays out a detailed, ambitious and extremely expensive plan to secure the U.S. southwestern border, will special emphasis on the porous stretch south of Tucson, Ariz. It would earmark more than $5 billion over five years to curb illegal border crossings by adding 3,500 federal border agents, building new fences, increasing aerial and ground surveillance, deploying members of the National Guard to assist in border security and speeding up the prosecution of people who are caught crossing illegally." Pamela Constable in The Washington Post.

A reprieve for asylum-seekers. "Right now, those who come to the United States seeking asylum face a one-year deadline to apply for a visa. Under the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill, that deadline would be completely lifted — a change that immigration and human-rights advocates are celebrating...The bill would also streamline the process for those declaring that they are seeking asylum when they first arrive to the U.S., make it easier for the spouses and children of asylum-seekers to gain admission and give the State Department more leeway to designate and move refugees." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

3) What's helping, and what's hurting, the economy

Housing and auto sales lifted economy, Fed says. "Growth was moderate or modest in all of the Fed’s 12 banking districts, and it accelerated in two — New York and Dallas — from January and early February...The Fed survey [the Beige Book], which is based on anecdotal reports, found that hiring was unchanged or improved slightly compared with the previous report. And it noted that consumer spending — which drives most of the economy — grew modestly. But the report also said higher taxes and a spike in gasoline prices had slowed sales." The Associated Press.

High student debt is dragging down the economy. "Nowadays, younger Americans are becoming less likely to take out loans to buy a house or a car. One possible reason? They’re too overloaded with student debt. That’s one takeaway, at least, from some interesting new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York...What’s particularly notable is that these student loans appear to be crowding out other types of borrowing" Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Is manufacturing the answer to job losses in manufacturing? "Obama’s acting commerce secretary, Rebecca Blank, announced a small-bore program Wednesday that hopes to plant the seeds of new, advanced manufacturing activity in cities across the country...This year, the program will offer grants to 20 to 25 communities, of about $200,000 each, to write “strategic plans” for their advanced manufacturing futures. The plans are supposed to say what each region is good at, what sort of product it might become a manufacturing hub for, and what federal help the region needs to make that happen." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Can monetary policy create jobs? "[O]n Wednesday morning, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard warned that focusing on unemployment could put the central bank’s decades of work stabilizing inflation at risk...The problem, Bullard said, is that the Fed really only has one antidote for an ailing economy — adjusting the price of money — and that tool’s impact on unemployment is indirect...[But] Bullard [also] said he is becoming “concerned” that inflation is too low, and that if prices fell further, he would be ready to ratchet up the Fed’s $85-billion-a-month bond-buying program." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

...And are central bankers heroes? "The activism and boldness of the central bankers is, as Lagarde says, a contrast with the work of heads of state and finance ministers, which has been consistently been behind-the-curve and, with notable exceptions, not on par with the scale of the crisis...So are the central bankers heroes? No. They’re guys who did their jobs, in some cases quite well, at a time that plenty of other key leaders didn’t do theirs." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

The debate over Reinhart-Rogoff's debt study continues. "Professors Reinhart and Rogoff admit their mistakes but argue that they do not change the ultimate lessons of the paper, originally published in The American Economic Review...Both the University of Massachusetts and the Harvard authors now find that countries whose debt loads are 90 percent or more of their annual economic output tend to experience slower growth than countries whose debt loads are lighter — though the effect is much smaller than previously thought." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

In ruins interlude: 30 abandoned, beautiful places

4) Is a "train wreck" coming to Obamacare?

Will the Affordable Care Act create a "train wreck"? "Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is not too confident about the implementation of ObamaCare. Baucus, who played an instrumental role in writing the healthcare law, said Wednesday he's afraid it will turn into a "huge train wreck" as major pieces of the law are implemented next year. Baucus told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that he's worried about the public's persistent misunderstandings about the law, and pressed her for details about how the administration will sell the public on new benefits." Sam Baker and Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

The future of Obamacare, as seen through Ft. Dodge, IA. "UnityPoint Health (which was, until this week, named Iowa Health System) is one of the 32 Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations that volunteered to have part of their Medicare payments tethered to a set of quality metrics. While UnityPoint has hospitals across the state, it decided to focus its ACO effort on a relatively small segment of its population to limit the health system’s exposure to the possibility of losing money on the endeavor." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Republicans want to increase funding by $4B for a measure in Obamacare. "House Republicans are trying to pump an extra $4 billion into ObamaCare. The Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Wednesday to beef up funding for the healthcare law’s high-risk insurance pools, which have stopped accepting new patients due to a lack of funding. It’s the first time Republicans have tried to fix, rather than repeal, a program in the healthcare law, and the move has angered many on the right." Sam Baker in The Hill.

...And here's how Democrats would like to fund it. "A new bill from House Democrats would reopen enrollment in ObamaCare's struggling temporary insurance plan by raising taxes on cigarettes. The measure from Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.) and colleagues counters GOP legislation that would shore up the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan (PCIP) using funds for public and preventive health initiatives...The PCIP was designed to offer insurance to vulnerable patients while the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. The Obama administration suspended enrollment in the program earlier this year, citing cost concerns. " Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Should we regulate the nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals? "Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require hospitals to maintain a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio at all times, and allow the government to audit and penalize hospitals that fail to comply with this rule. Boxer said her bill, S. 739, is meant to help address the nation's shortage of nurses, and would also ensure patients get the care they need while in the hospital." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

5) Another budget dinner

Obama dines with Senate Democrats on budget issues and more. "Some of the 12 Senate Democrats who had dinner with President Barack Obama on Wednesday night offered positive reviews but little else after emerging from the two-hour meeting...The White House offered a bit more in its readout. “The president enjoyed dinner this evening with a group of Democratic senators,” an official said. Obama told the group he will continue to work with the Senate on the budget through the regular order process to try to “see if there is common ground with congressional Republicans on a plan that reduces the deficit in a balanced way.”" Jennifer Epstein in Politico.

Maybe we should have more tax brackets, not fewer. "An alternate view, which you see in the Progressive Caucus Budget, is that the widening income inequality means we should have more tax brackets at higher rates, as not everyone in the top 10 percent is the same. There’s a huge difference between someone who makes $150,000 and someone who makes $1,500,000 and someone who makes $50,000,000, and the tax code should reflect that.  So their plan includes Rep. Jan Shakowsky’s idea for more upper-income tax brackets." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Et Cetera

Your two Thursday longreads: Check out Bloomberg's and Buzzfeed's rival profiles of Denis McDonough. Julianna Goldman in Bloomberg, Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ben Smith in Buzzfeed.

The U.S. Postal Service is losing $25M a dayJoe Davidson in The Washington Post.

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