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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 3.1 percent. That's the consensus estimate for real GDP growth in the first quarter, annualized and seasonally adjusted. That would be well above the 2 percent growth we've seen on average -- but it only makes up for last quarter's anemic 0.4 percent growth. This, and more data, will be out this morning. More below.
Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Does rising income inequality comes from polarization of labor markets?
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) immigration reform's high and low hopes; 2) the incredible vanishing sequester; 3) GDP data today; 4) why Democrats are worried about Obamacare; and 5) is gun control a political phoenix?
1) Top story: Will conservatives revolt over immigration reform?
Can immigration reform break 70 votes in the Senate? "The two lead negotiators in the Senate’s Gang of Eight said on Thursday that they believe their immigration reform bill will not just have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate — but majority support from both parties...Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill cannot slip by with 60 votes because the House would feel less pressure to take it up. Others in the negotiating group have said they think the bill could win at least 70 Senate votes. But the predictions of majority support from Republicans and Democrats is a more ambitious goal than any members have previously stated." Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.
Senate to begin markup of immigration legislation on May 9. "The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin marking up the so-called Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform legislation on May 9, the panel’s chairman announced Thursday. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said any amendments to the legislation, formally known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, will be made public on the committee’s website before the markups begin. The chairman predicted that dozens of amendments could be filed, so several subsequent markup dates have been scheduled: May 14, May 16, May 20, and any time after that may be needed to finish the legislation." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
@peterbakernyt: Obama praises Bush for resolve after 9/11, compassion in fighting AIDS in Africa and foresight in pushing immigration reform.
House and Senate Republicans at odds on immigration. "His broader approach means the committee could eventually consider a mix of proposals from individual Republicans and Democrats, plus the House bipartisan “Gang of Eight” — which has spent years working on immigration issues — and the Senate bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which introduced an 844-page proposal last week...Aides to top House Republicans said that a final decision on how the House will proceed is still months away, but that they’re encouraged by Goodlatte’s decision to move ahead while lawmakers continue working on potential proposals." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Rep. Goodlatte outlines Republican path on immigration reform. "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte outlined a cautious, “step-by-step” approach to immigration reform Thursday, emphasizing he will thoroughly vet any bills to fix the country’s immigration system that his panel will face this year. Goodlatte stressed that no decisions have been made on how he will proceed on the pieces of immigration reform legislation that House Republicans intend to introduce, nor even what they will look like, except for two smaller components focusing on E-Verify and a new temporary agricultural worker program." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
@robertcostaNRO: By the way, McCain's quiet presence in the immigration debate is one of the untold stories. Has let Rubio take the reins.
...It'll be conservatives' own agenda. "Influential House conservatives signaled Thursday that they will pursue their own course on revising the nation’s immigration laws, a move that some lawmakers warned could derail a comprehensive overhaul that President Obama has made a top priority for his second term...The announcement was the latest indication of the widening battle among Republicans over what to do about the country’s immigration system and marks perhaps the most serious political challenge to emerge." David Nakamura and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Why the guest worker program could be a mess. "Immigration reform advocates see the fate of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States as the great moral question of comprehensive immigration reform. But the thornier policy question, at least from the point of view of those who want to prevent another wave of illegal immigration to the United States, is how to meet the domestic demand for foreign labor legally while preventing those workers from being exploited." Adam Serwer in Mother Jones.
@damianpaletta: Lew on tax impact of immigration overhaul: "It should only lead to more and not less revenue." Says will lead to having more "on the books"
RESNIKOFF: Immigration has a security problem. But it's not what you think. "From listening to the border hawks, one might be left with the impression that current immigration enforcement is dangerously lenient. But in fact, the opposite is true: Not only is enforcement swift and brutal for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., but it has only grown more so in recent years...This is the flip-side of an unforgiving approach to immigration enforcement: Not the dangerous offenders who slip through the cracks, but the innocents and non-violent offenders who get humiliated, incarcerated, or deported outright." Ned Resnikoff in MSNBC.
Music recommendations interlude: R.E.M., "So. Central Rain," 1984.
REINHART AND ROGOFF: Debt, growth, and the austerity debate. "A sober reassessment of austerity is the responsible course for policy makers, but not for the reasons these authors suggest. Their conclusions are less dramatic than they would have you believe. Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon." Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff in The New York Times.
...And there's an appendix: A more technical, detailed response. Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff in The New York Times.
KRUGMAN: Austerity is the solution of the one percent. "The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise. You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
REICH: The poor get hit. "[One] reason the consequences of the sequester haven't been obvious to most Americans is that a large percentage of the cuts are in programs directed at the poor – and America's poor are often invisible...All across America, food pantries and community centers catering to the poor are laying off staff, reducing services, or closing. But most Americans don't know anything about this because the poor live in different places than the middle class. Poverty has become ever more concentrated geographically in America." Robert Reich in The Guardian.
BROOKS: Health chaos ahead. "I’ve been talking with a bipartisan bunch of health care experts, trying to get a sense of exactly how bad things are. In my conversations with this extremely well-informed group of providers, academics and former government officials, I’d say there is a minority, including some supporters of the law, who think the whole situation is a complete disaster. They predict Obamacare will collapse and do serious damage to the underlying health system. But the clear majority, including some of the law’s opponents, believe that we’re probably in for a few years of shambolic messiness, during which time everybody will scramble and adjust, and eventually we will settle down to a new normal." David Brooks in The New York Times.
BARRO: The non-existent Republican health policy agenda. "There’s no surer way to make a conservative health wonk huffy than by saying Republicans don’t have a health policy agenda. They insist they do, and an important part of it is high-risk pools: government entities that provide subsidized insurance to people with health risks who couldn’t be covered affordably in private markets...Too bad high-risk pools don’t count as a conservative health-care-reform plan because actual conservative elected officials aren’t willing to fund them." Josh Barro in Bloomberg.
Wonkblog interlude: The first Wonkblog debate is May 1.
2) The incredible vanishing sequester
Threat of sequester furloughs diminishing or gone for some agencies. "The Justice Department said Wednesday that it wouldn’t place employees on unpaid leave, and two senators proposed bipartisan legislation to stop the controversial air-traffic controller furloughs that started Monday...Congress and agency planners have worked to avoid furloughs for certain agencies by shifting funds between accounts, overcoming the rigid structure of the sequester that calls for indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts" Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.
Congress votes to end furloughs of air traffic controllers. "The Senate took the first step toward circumventing sequestration Thursday night with a bipartisan vote that would put furloughed air traffic controllers back on the job. The House is expected to take up the measure as soon as Friday, and the White House has promised to consider any bill which it receives...The Senate measure would give the administration flexibility to transfer money among Transportation Department accounts, creating a level of fluidity that Republicans say the department has had all along. The White House has insisted otherwise, arguing that sequestration required the across-the-board reductions that resulted in about 1,500 air traffic controllers a day having to take an unpaid day off." Ashley Halsey III and Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.
Higher revenue, lower spending may create debt-ceiling breather. "The next battle over the federal debt limit appears to be further away than many expect — and perhaps not until well into autumn. Higher tax revenue, lower spending and a potential inflow of money from the recovery of the taxpayer-owned mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mean the government may not have to borrow as much as expected in coming months, analysts say." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.
McDonough meets with Senate Republicans towards a budget deal. "White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met Thursday with about a dozen Senate Republicans in hopes of charting a path toward a potential budget deal, but aides cautioned that the session was mostly informational and unlikely to produce significant progress...Earlier this week, the White House considered trying to assemble a group of interested Republicans for further talks, according to Democratic congressional aides. But the administration rejected that approach, and is encouraging Republicans to choose their own negotiating party." Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.
...And why is the White House trying? "The ultimate goal of the White House strategy is to reach a deal that would get bipartisan approval in the Democratic-controlled Senate, thereby putting pressure on the Republican-controlled House. But first there has to be a deal between the Senate and the White House. The initial report on the administration officials’ trip to the Capitol suggested that the two sides have some way to go and are only now discussing what form any substantive talks would take." Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.
Odds and ends interlude: What's the zipcode worth?
3) GDP report today, so get your economist hat ready
This morning: the 2013 Q1 GDP report. "Well, the first quarter has come and gone, and when the government reports GDP numbers Friday morning, it probably will indeed show stronger growth. The consensus estimate is that the economy expanded at a 3.1 percent annual rate to start the year. On one level that might look like a number to celebrate...In many ways, the first quarter is shaping up to be merely the flip side of that unusually weak last report, not an acceleration." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.
Jobless claims fall to 5-year low. "The number of Americans applying for jobless benefits fell to near a five-year low, a sign that businesses are seeing higher demand and may be stepping up hiring. Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, declined by 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000 in the week ended April 20, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the lowest level since early March and the second-lowest since January 2008. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 350,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week." Josh Mitchell and Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.
...But hiring is still sluggish. "[L]ayoffs are only half the equation. Businesses also need to be confident enough in the economy to step up hiring. Many companies have been advertising more jobs but have been slow to fill them. Job openings jumped 11 percent during the 12 months that ended in February, but the number of people hired declined, according to a Labor Department report this month." The Associated Press.
Explainer: 4 ideas for fixing the problem of long-term unemployment. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
Businesses are cutting back on borrowing. "Outstanding loans by the biggest banks to U.S. companies declined 9% in the first two weeks of April compared with the end of March, according to Federal Reserve data. The slip followed a 2.7% rise in the first quarter, the smallest quarterly gain in two years...Business owners "feel very, very hesitant to invest," and the economy is "struggling to get solid footing," but "we didn't expect the wall we hit," BB&T Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Kelly King said last week." Dan Fitzpatrick and Shayndi Rice in The Wall Street Journal.
Fed is worried banks vulnerable to eventual rise in funds rate. "The Federal Reserve is scrutinizing the nation's biggest banks to ensure they can handle an eventual rise in interest rates, as concern grows among regulators about the risks posed by a long low-interest-rate environment. On Thursday, a panel of federal regulators charged with identifying market risks warned that a sudden rise in interest rates could have a destabilizing effect on financial markets. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, in its third annual report, cited interest-rate risk as one of seven major vulnerabilities to financial stability." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.
Options trading grinds to halt after major tech glitch. "A software glitch knocked out trading on the largest U.S. options exchange for more than three hours Thursday, raising fresh questions about the reliability of critical elements of the financial market. The Chicago Board Options Exchange was forced to delay trading, including in its heavily traded stock-index options contracts, until early afternoon, leaving traders and brokers in its Chicago pits to field angry calls from customers. The system outage at CBOE adds to a growing list of technology failures over the past year and increases concerns about the stability of the complex computer networks on which financial markets rely." Jacob Bunge, Jenny Strasburg, and Kaitlyn Kiernan in The Wall Street Journal.
Earth interlude: Catastrophic landslide at mile-deep open-pit copper mine.
4) Why are Democrats worried about Obamacare?
Democratic senators freak out over Obamacare implementation. "Democratic senators, at a caucus meeting with White House officials, expressed concerns on Thursday about how the Obama administration was carrying out the health care law they adopted three years ago. Democrats in both houses of Congress said some members of their party were getting nervous that they could pay a political price if the rollout of the law was messy or if premiums went up significantly." Robert Pear in The New York Times.
No, Congress isn't trying to exempt itself from Obamacare. "Based on conversations I’ve had with a number of the staffs involved in these talks, the actual issue here is far less interesting, and far less explosive, than an exemption. Rather, a Republican amendment meant to embarrass Democrats and a too-clever-by-half Democratic response has possibly created a problem in which the federal government can’t make its normal contribution to the insurance premiums of congressional staffers." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
...It's giving itself special punishment, not special treatment. "The confusion here is the word “exemption.” That makes it sound like Congress is trying to get itself out of Obamacare. But in the absolute strongest form of a fix that’s being contemplated — the one in which Congress completely repeals the troublesome Grassley amendment — Obamacare would apply to members of Congress and their staffs in the exact same way it applies to employees of The Washington Post, or Politico, or GE, or any other large employer. They wouldn’t be any more exempt from the law than I am. The key thing to understand is that, right now, Obamacare treats members of Congress and their staffs differently than it treats any other employer. They are a small exception to the entire rest of the law." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
...And Reid says no fix is needed. "[H]ere’s Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) statement on whether Congress is seeking to exempt itself from the exchanges. He says he believes there’s no problem with the legislation as it’s currently written, which means he believes the Office of Personnel Management will rule that the federal government can continue subsidizing employees on the exchanges." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Bleak outlook for Medicaid expansion. "Twenty states and the District of Columbia have agreed to expand their Medicaid programs, to cover everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty line. That leaves 30 states that haven’t, although Avalere categorizes four states as leaning in that direction (Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and New York). Some of these states have especially large uninsured populations." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Is job growth in hospitals coming to an end? "The health-care sector, one of the last redoubts of stable and well-paying jobs for less-educated workers, is beginning to look less secure. A variety of factors, from technological advances to increased attention on both costs and patient outcomes, are driving hospitals and other health-care providers to demand more from both the most- and least-skilled workers, while gradually eroding opportunities for those in the middle." Ben Casselman in The Wall Street Journal.
Watch interlude: 'Arrested Development' is back! Here's a clip.
5) Is gun control a political phoenix?
Senators quietly seeking new path on gun control. "Talks to revive gun control legislation are quietly under way on Capitol Hill as a bipartisan group of senators seeks a way to bridge the differences that led to last week’s collapse of the most serious effort to overhaul the country’s gun laws in 20 years. Drawing on the lessons from battles in the 1980s and ’90s over the Brady Bill, which failed in Congress several times before ultimately passing, gun control supporters believe they can prevail by working on a two-pronged strategy." Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times.
Once unloved, ATF comes into spotlight. "It’s the agency that Congress and the National Rifle Association love to hate. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which hasn’t had a director in seven years, has been at the heart of two searing events over the past two weeks — the investigations of the Boston Marathon bombing and the explosion that leveled a fertilizer plant and part of a town in central Texas." Sari Horwitz and Peter Finn in The Washington Post.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Poor countries can keep workers safe and still escape poverty. Dylan Matthews.
How the L.A. Times can stop the Kochs. Steven Pearlstein.
Reid on Obamacare: ‘No legislative fix is necessary.' Ezra Klein.
Four ideas for fixing the long-term unemployment crisis. Brad Plumer.
‘The outlook for Medicaid expansion looks bleak.’ Sarah Kliff.
Need a weekend longread? How about this piece: "Fertilized World," by Dan Charles, National Geographic.
Presidents are viewed more fondly in rearview mirror. David Leonhardt in The New York Times.
House Democrats pitch solutions to VA backlog. Steve Vogel in The Washington Post.
Federal spigot flows as farmers claim bias. Sharon LaFraniere in The New York Times.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.