Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer (though Ezra is traveling this morning, so today it's just Evan). 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: 80 percent. That's the so-called minimum medical loss ratio required of health insurance plans by the Affordable Care Act.
Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: "I've even survived an earthquake with her," said economist Andrew Rose of Fed vice chairman Janet Yellen, referring to the severe 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck as the two were working together at Berkeley.
Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: Here’s a really helpful chart on premiums under Obamacare.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) implementing Obamacare; 2) Detroit bankrupt; 3) Yellen or Bernanke?; 4) House slow on immigration reform; and 5) confirmations and nominations.
1) Top story: Obamacare trains are running on time. No wrecks.
Obama addresses health law's implementation. "President Obama, slipping back into his episodic role as a vigorous campaigner for his new health care act, said Thursday that thanks to the law, more than 8.5 million Americans are getting rebates this summer from their insurance providers. Mr. Obama was joined by families who have benefited from a provision in the law, which requires health insurers to spend at least 80 percent of the revenue from premiums on medical care rather than on administrative costs. Insurers who fail to meet that benchmark must reimburse customers, a process that began in 2012." Mark Landler in The New York Times.
Explainer: Here’s a really helpful chart on premiums under Obamacare. Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Top Treasury official: No more Obamacare delays looming. "J. Mark Iwry, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy, told lawmakers that the employer mandate is the only policy that has been considered for deferral. "We don't have any specific provision that we've identified for which we would give some relief," Iwry said in witness testimony." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.
Implementation puts his legacy on the line. "Transforming the nation’s health-care system stands as Barack Obama’s most crucial piece of unfinished business, with much of his presidential legacy riding on whether it is deemed to have succeeded or failed. While other presidents have managed to overcome intense opposition to major new social initiatives, Obama faces a degree of difficulty with health care that has no historic parallel." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.
@yeselon: Can't get over the fact that Republicans just keep fighting the idea of universal health insurance, rooting for its failure. #newgop
Premiums under Obamacare lower than expected. "The Obama administration on Thursday highlighted lower-than-expected premiums for healthcare plans sold through ObamaCare's new insurance marketplaces. In the 11 states that have released rates for next year, premiums for a middle-of-the-road plan are an average of 18 percent cheaper than the Congressional Budget Office had expected. The Health and Human Services Department highlighted the rate information in a new report Thursday, just as President Obama was set to deliver a speech highlighting the law's savings to consumers." Sam Baker in The Hill.
Strategy: Sell big by talking small. "In a speech on Thursday, Obama got deep into the specifics of the sweeping health care law, from a rule that forces insurers to send rebate checks to some consumers to the price competition in its new health insurance marketplaces— all provisions designed to save Americans money. The auditor-in-chief routine lets Obama tout how real people have pocketed savings, while steering clear of the many controversies swirling around the law, including a recent decision to extend a requirement for employers." David Nather in Politico.
Obamacare will never be a huge political success for Democrats. "I’d say stories about various problems in the implementation of Obamacare will be a net negative for Democrats in 2014, and after that, the program will cease to matter much politically at all — even as it works pretty well, and the coverage it offers is pretty popular. The key thing to remember about how people will experience Obamacare is that most people won’t experience it at all, and those who do experience it will never, ever experience a program named “Obamacare.”" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
The health-care law isn’t all that popular. And that’s not changing. "Obama shouldn’t expect to blow through much of anything when it comes to health-care law, however. The Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking the popularity — or, perhaps better put, unpopularity of the bill-now-law for quite some time...Looking at the data, it’s readily apparent that views about the law have cemented in place. When that sort of thing happens in public opinion, virtually no external event — no matter how dramatic or seemingly important — can change perceptions in any statistically meaningful way." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
@pourmecoffee: GOP now responding to Obama with its plan for health care, which is telling the uninsured "May the odds be ever in your favor."
10 million Latinos qualify for Obamacare. Is there funding to get the word out? "The Obama administration is counting on Latinos to help make the Affordable Care Act a success, but there may be troubles ahead: Hispanic health centers and community organizations say they don’t have the funding or resources to carry out the complicated sign-up process for the 10 million Latinos who will be eligible for new public and subsidized health coverage options." Jenny Gold in The Washington Post.
The Obamacare provision that terrifies insurers. "[T]he medical loss ratio (described as the “80/20 rule” by the White House) is arguably one of the most effective tools the White House has to hold down premium costs. And it’s the provision that the White House is homing in on, in arguing that the health-care law will make health care cheaper for American families...The medical loss ratio, in that context, is relatively easy: It’s a firm requirement for insurers to spend more on medical care and less on administrative cost. It should be no surprise, then, that this is the provision that terrifies insurers." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
@JohnJHarwood: Obama on Republicans and health care: "they're just offering same old song and dance. We're gonna blow through that stuff."
COHN: Obamacare won't be a train wreck. "The fact that premium bids seem to be coming in lower than CBO and other experts predicted is a pretty big deal—and not for reasons widely understood. For one thing, it means the overall price of Obamacare—the amount of money the government must spend, in order to make the law function—is going to be even lower than predicted. The reason is those subsidies." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
Music recommendations interlude: Sufjan Stevens, "Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!"
COATES: Raising the wrong profile. "[I]t is hard to comprehend the thinking that compelled the president, in a week like this, to flirt with the possibility of inviting the New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, the proprietor of the largest local racial profiling operation in the country, into his cabinet...It was candidate Obama who in 2008 pledged to “ban racial profiling” on a federal level and work to have it prohibited on the state level. It was candidate Obama who told black people that if they voted they would get a new kind of politics." Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times.
PONNURU: Libertarian populism can't save Republicans yet. "The main focus of Carney’s work is that big government and big business collude at the expense of the little guy, and he recommends that Republicans run against that collusion in order to win working-class votes. In particular he wants them to break up the big banks, end corporate-welfare programs, clean up the tax code so that powerful interests no longer profit from it, and end regulations that protect established businesses from competitors...Taken together, though, they do not seem to amount to a winning political platform. A Republican party that took on the U.S. Export-Import Bank might improve its image a bit, but how many Americans really care enough about the issue to change their votes based on it?" Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.
DONNELLY AND COLLINS: Revise Obamacare's definition of full-time work. "[T]he definition of a full-time employee under the Affordable Care Act is not encouraging the economy to grow and is reducing the take-home pay of more and more Americans..." [Our proposed legislation] defines a full-time employee for the purposes of complying with the Affordable Care Act as someone who works an average of 40 hours per week, or 174 hours per month for full-time equivalents." Sens. Joe Donnelly and Susan Collins in The Wall Street Journal.
JOHNSON: High profits are a problem for big banks. "These results create a major political problem for the big banks, a point that Tom Braithwaite has made in The Financial Times. Executives at these companies have spent most of the last four years asserting that stronger regulation in the United States, including higher capital requirements, will result in lower profits, a reduced ability to lend and a slower economic recovery for the nation." Simon Johnson in The New York Times.
Zip codes interlude: what3words.com.
2) Detroit files for bankruptcy
Detroit goes bankrupt, largest municipal filing in U.S. history. "Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history Thursday, marking a new low in a long decline that has left the U.S. automaking capital bleeding residents and revenue, while rendering city services a mess. The city, which was the nation’s fourth-largest in the 1950s with nearly 2 million inhabitants, has seen its population plummet to 700,000 as residents fled increasing crime and deteriorating basic services, taking their tax dollars with them...As Detroit faced an estimated debt of $19 billion, the state in March appointed an emergency manager vested with extraordinary powers to rewrite contracts and liquidate some of the city’s most valuable assets." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.
Here's how Detroit ended up in bankruptcy. "To get a better sense of just how Detroit got into such dire financial straits, it’s worth browsing through this May report on the city’s finances and this “Proposal for Creditors” from June. Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr laid out all the problems and economic headwinds facing the city." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
Detroit failed because it didn't do what cities do. "Detroit's dependence on cars wasn't exactly the problem. It was dependence itself. Cities should never go all in on any industry, cars or otherwise. It didn't realize that until it was too late. Detroit forgot the economic case for cities: When you put different industries and different people with different ideas in close contact with another, magical things happen. "Magical things" is, of course, the technical term economists use for a number of spillover benefits created by urban areas. Their work suggests that the magic happens mainly from the mix of ideas." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.
Explainer: The decline of Detroit, in five maps. Nate Cohn in The New Republic.
Detroit’s problems unlikely to spread to other cities, experts say. "Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing Thursday could raise anxiety levels and interest rates for cities that depend on the nearly $4 trillion municipal bond market to fund critical projects, financial officials and experts said. Detroit owed creditors about $19 billion, some experts said, and its bankruptcy could make investors more hesitant to put money in municipal bonds, especially for localities that are struggling financially. Other experts, however, said that they think the effect will be fairly muted and that Detroit’s problems are specific to the city and unlikely to spread." Zachary A. Goldfarb and Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post.
Detroit isn’t alone. The U.S. cities that have gone bankrupt, in one map. "On Thursday, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection after being saddled with debts totaling more than $18.5 billion. That makes Detroit the largest city in the United States ever to file for bankruptcy — the previous record was held by Stockton, California, which was half the size and owed $26 million. The previous debt record, meanwhile, went to Jefferson County, Alabama, which owed $4 billion when it filed for bankruptcy in 2011." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
3) Yellen or Bernanke for Fed chair?
Obama may choose between two economists to replace Bernanke at Fed. "President Obama's choice for replacing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke probably comes down to a quiet consensus builder, who would be a historic pick, or one considered brilliant but difficult to work with...Janet L. Yellen and Lawrence H. Summers — the two leading contenders on the White House's short list — offer contrasting styles that could play a crucial role in the Fed's delicate task of withdrawing its stimulus efforts over the next few years without damaging the economic recovery."Jim Puzzanghera and Christi Parsons in the Los Angeles Times.
Would Janet Yellen or Larry Summers make a better Fed chair? "Mark Thoma of the University of Oregon said Summers was too political to rebuild the Fed as an institution. "I want someone who is calm, not in the spotlight, and really has the ability to rebuild the Fed as an institution," Thoma said. "Everything he says will be big news, and it will be him, him, him." Andrew Rose, a friend and co-author to Yellen, said he valued her caution. "I've even survived an earthquake with her," Rose said, referring to the severe 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck as they were working together at Berkeley..."I can envision Janet not doing what needs to be done because she doesn't have a consensus of the committee behind her," DeLong said, "and I can envision Larry going to the mattresses and leaving blood on the walls of the Eccles Building." I think that's a vote for Summers." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.
Economists see Yellen as the front-runner. "Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal see Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve's vice chairwoman, as the clear front-runner to succeed Ben Bernanke as the central bank's leader when his term ends in January. Thirty-five of 42 economists polled said they expected Ms. Yellen to be President Barack Obama's nominee to run the Fed, beating out other possible candidates including Mr. Obama's former economic adviser, Lawrence Summers. Five respondents predicted that Mr. Summers would get the nod." Jon Hilsenrath and Phil Izzo in The Wall Street Journal.
Congress to Bernanke: So long, and thanks. "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has remained silent about widespread speculation that he will not stick around after his term as the head of the nation’s central bank ends next year. But to Congress, he’s as good as gone. Lawmakers bid farewell to Bernanke during his appearances on Capitol Hill over the past two days for what could be his final regular report to Congress. Even some of the Fed’s most ardent critics paused to thank the bearded, softspoken academic for thwarting what could have been the next Great Depression." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.
Jobless claims drop. "The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 24,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 334,000, a sign that steady job gains should continue...Still, the broader trend has been favorable. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, fell 5,250, to 351,000." The Associated Press.
Labor force participation is not coming back. "Don’t worry about labor force participation. It’s not coming back. That’s the conclusion of a new piece of economic modeling by the respected St. Louis firm Macroeconomic Advisers. And, if true, it has important implications for the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy over the next few years. Specifically, it means the monthly pace of job creation so far this year is ample to push the unemployment rate below 6.5 percent by mid-2015." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.
Nine big insurers face tighter financial regulation. "Nine global insurance companies face tighter regulation and potentially higher capital requirements because regulators have determined that they are critical to the functioning of the global financial system. The “global systemically important financial institutions” (GSifis) selected by the Financial Stability Board, which is co-ordinating global efforts to make the financial system safer, include Germany’s Allianz, AIG of the US, French group Axa and Ping An Insurance of China." Brooke Masters in The Financial Times.
U.S. debt outlook lifted. "Moody’s, the credit rating agency, raised its outlook from negative to stable on the US triple A rating in the session citing improvements in the country’s economy and smaller budget deficit forecasts." Arash Massoudi in The Financial Times.
Aww, come on! interlude: "The House Science Committee on Thursday voted to bar all spending on plans for a manned mission to an asteroid."
4) Immigration reform still stuck at House-Senate border
Senate immigration plan wins majority support from public. "Some 55 percent of Americans also support a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, a result nearly identical to those in three recent Post-ABC polls that asked the same question about “illegal immigrants.”...The opinions of Obama and Boehner are reflected in their political bases. While most Democrats (69 percent) support finding ways to grant citizenship, 58 percent of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship. Most independents (55 percent) also support establishing opportunities for citizenship for undocumented immigrants." Scott Clement and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Boehner: Immigration to pass before debt hike. "The Ohio Republican said “we’ll see, but I would hope so” when asked if an overhaul of the nation’s migrant laws would pass before the debt ceiling — which is expected to need lifting in October or November. Although Boehner urged reporters to not read too much into his remarks, it was clear Boehner was giving a brief peek at his view on a pathway to citizenship — the most controversial aspect of immigration reform.y" Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Thoughtful interlude: 10 rules of the Internet, such as "Given enough time, any object which can generate musical notes will be used to play the Super Mario Brothers theme on YouTube."
Your world interlude: Climate change 101 with Bill Nye.
5) So many confirmations
Senate confirms Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator. "After fielding an unprecedented number of questions and coming under sharp attack from several Republicans, Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy won Senate confirmation to head the agency in a 59 to 40 vote...Environmentalists see her as a key ally in efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants over the next few years, but she has also won praise from business officials who view her as open to compromise." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
...And Perez to Labor. "The Senate, on a party- line, 54-46 vote Thursday, confirmed Thomas Perez as secretary of labor. Perez, who had been assistant attorney general for civil rights, replaces former secretary Hilda Solis, who left in January." Al Kamen in The Washington Post.
Senate panel clears way for vote on FBI director pick. "The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to send the nomination of James B. Comey, President Obama’s pick to be the next F.B.I. director, to the Senate for a floor vote. The bipartisan support for Mr. Comey suggests he is likely to be confirmed easily by the end of the month to replace Robert S. Mueller III, who is mandated to leave his post as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sept. 3." Michael S. Schmidt in The New York Times.
There’s a good reason Republicans hate Obama’s labor board nominees. "[I]t is precisely this politicization of what is supposed to be an independent agency with quasi-judicial powers that has led to the partisan politicization of the confirmation process in the Senate. In terms of NLRB appointments, it is now standard practice for Democratic presidents to nominate top lawyers for labor unions and for Republican presidents to nominate officials from the virulently anti-union National Right to Work Committee or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In other cases, they name Senate staffers from their respective parties who have proven track records of protecting union or employer interests." Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Porn is everywhere. But that’s not what’s killing marriage. Lydia DePillis.
Ignore the haters. Law school is totally worth the cash. Dylan Matthews.
A top investor says Pepsi is killing Frito Lay. Here’s why. Lydia DePillis.
Here’s what it feels like to be sued by a patent troll. Timothy B. Lee.
The Senate has a student loan deal. Here’s what you need to know. Dylan Matthews.
There’s a good reason Republicans hate Obama’s labor board nominees. Steven Pearlstein.
The Obamacare provision that terrifies insurers. Sarah Kliff.
Longread: GQ's new profile of Vice President Joe Biden. Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ.
Student loan deal could move quickly. Ginger Gibson and Burgess Everett in Politico.
House poised to leave "No Child" behind. Libby A. Nelson in Politico.
House sets up Friday passage of education reform bill. Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.
Democrats renew push against sequestration. Priya Anand in Politico.
State officials balk at defending laws they deem unconstitutional. Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Members of Congress introduce bipartisan legislation as the ‘Problem Solvers.’ Ruth Tam in The Washington Post.
Treasury official defends IRS audit. Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.
Hagel says he has "no good news" on defense furloughs. Thom Shanker in The New York Times.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.