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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 5% percent. Under the terms of the deal, Iran can't have uranium enriched beyond five percent. That means they need to dilute much of the 20 percent uranium they have on-hand. Uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent to work in a bomb.
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: The catch is that getting uranium to five percent is actually a lot harder than getting it from five percent to 90 percent, as this Business Insider graph shows.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) a Wonkbook briefing on Iran; (2) working around Healthcare.gov; (3) the Fed giveth, and the Fed taketh away; (4) the political scientist's take on filibuster reform; and (5) climate talks yield progress.
1. Top story: Everything you need to know about the Iran deal
Start here: Iran, world powers reach historic nuclear deal. "Iran and six major powers agreed early Sunday on a historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions. The agreement, sealed at a 3 a.m. signing ceremony in Geneva’s Palace of Nations, requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the first such pause in more than a decade." Anne Gearan and Joby Warrick in The Washington Post.
More on the contours of the deal: "The deal, intended as a first step toward a more comprehensive nuclear pact to be completed in six months, freezes or reverses progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities, according to Western officials familiar with the details. It halts the installation of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium and caps the amount and type of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to produce. Iran also agreed to halt work on key components of a heavy-water reactor that could someday provide Iran with a source of plutonium. In addition, Iran accepted a dramatic increase in oversight, including daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors, the officials said...In return, Iran will receive modest relief of trade sanctions and access to some of its frozen currency accounts overseas, concessions said to be valued at less than $7 billion over the six-month term of the deal. The sanctions would be reinstated if Iran violates the agreement’s terms."
Primary source: The text of the Iran deal. The Washington Post.
Look: Here's a great graphical explainer of what's in the deal. Sergio Peçanha in The New York Times.
Some more details, as flagged by Politico's Blake Hounshell in a Reuters special report: "According to a senior U.S. State Department official, Kerry told Zarif there could be no more delay. President Barack Obama's administration would call for even tighter sanctions on Iran unless a deal was reached now. Congress members were demanding new sanctions and the White House would join them...By Saturday evening, the final language was personally approved by Obama in Washington." Louis Charbonneau, Parisa Hafezi, and Arshad Mohammed in Reuters.
@samsteinhp: bill nelson wins the award for most succinct iran statement: “It is a choice between a pause or imminent war. I choose a verifiable pause.”
A step, if modest, towards slowing Iran's weapons capacity. "The deal does not roll back the vast majority of the advances Iran has made in the past five years, which have drastically shortened what nuclear experts call its “dash time” to a bomb — the minimum time it would take to build a weapon if Iran’s supreme leader or military decided to pursue that path. Lengthening that period, so that the United States and its allies would have time to react, is the ultimate goal of President Obama’s negotiating team...[T]he rollback he won for this first stage, according to American intelligence estimates, would slow Iran’s dash time by only a month to a few months." David E. Sanger in The New York Times.
Keep in mind that we are not close to the long-run deal that must be made. "For all of the drama of late-night make-or-break talks in Geneva, the deal that Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiating partners announced early on Sunday was largely a holding action, meant to keep the Iranian nuclear program in check for six months while negotiators pursue a far tougher and more lasting agreement...[T]he question appears to be not whether Iran will be allowed to continue enriching uranium, but rather what constraints the United States and its negotiating partners will insist on in return, and how large an enrichment program they are willing to tolerate." Michael R. Gordon in The New York Times.
Interview: Gary Samore, who served as White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction during President Obama’s first term. Jonathan Shainin in The New Yorker.
How the Obama administration sees the deal. "In interviews, Secretary of State John F. Kerry defended the deal, saying that the United States and its allies believe that the agreement ensures Iran will either abide by the terms or face the reinstatement of measures that have crippled the country’s economy. “We have no illusions. We don’t do this on the basis of somebody’s statements to you. We do it on the basis of actions that can be verified,” he told CNN. “The next phase, let me be clear, will be even more difficult, and we need to be honest about it,” he told reporters after the pact’s first phase was approved by diplomats from Iran and six major world powers. “But it will also be even more consequential.”" Joby Warrick in The Washington Post.
@ReformedBroker: So when does our new buddy Iran get an NFL expansion franchise and a Dunkin?
Why nuclear experts think this deal doesn't make that much scientific sense. "Analysts agree that the hardest part of enrichment is the technology to reach a low level. From there, enriching it toward the 90% purity required in a nuclear weapon isn't a major step. Uranium enriched to 5%—still allowed in Sunday's pact—is almost three-quarters toward producing 90% weapons-grade material, says Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program of the Institute for International Strategic Studies in London." Laurence Norman and Stephen Fidler in The Wall Street Journal.
Here's a graph to help you make sense of that point: How much work does it take to enrich uranium beyond a certain point? Rob Wile in Business Insider.
How two tracks of negotiations enabled a deal. "The nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran is the product of two separate diplomatic tracks, one top secret and the other widely publicized—a risky gambit spearheaded by the White House that nearly derailed the talks...While U.S. officials secretly engaged Iran for years, the effort significantly ramped up in early August after the U.S. delivered Mr. Obama's first letter to Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani. What followed was a handful of meetings in secret locations between the Iranians and the White House's top point-men: Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden's top foreign-policy adviser; and the White House's Iran expert, Puneet Talwar." Carol E. Lee, Jay Solomon, and Laurence Norman in The Wall Street Journal.
Marathon bargaining that led to Iran nuclear agreement was a wild ride at times. "At 2:04 a.m. Sunday, a one-word e-mail message flashed suddenly on the phones of weary State Department staffers working the corridors of Geneva’s InterContinental Hotel. “DEAL.”...[A last-minute] dispute was soon resolved, but the moment encapsulated the volatility — and occasional gut-churning intensity — of the bargaining process that yielded Sunday’s historic nuclear agreement. Despite the willingness of the parties, including American and Iranian presidents who strongly favored a deal, the talks progressed in fits and stumbles up to the 3 a.m. signing ceremony, when the visibly exhausted diplomats arrived at Geneva’s Palace of Nations to confirm that they did, truly, have a deal." Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan in The Washington Post.
Primary courses: The "who-said-what" from Congress in reaction to the Iran news. Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
An obstacle: Congress may want more sanctions, despite progress. But the threat is good in that it goads Iran to cooperate. "[Sen. Chuck Schumer] said that the "disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December." White House officials argue that Congress would unravel the international coalition Mr. Obama has worked to build over the past five years if lawmakers pass new sanctions against Iran. A senior administration official said such a move would "derail" the agreement reached over the weekend...The pivotal figure in the debate is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who last week said he was prepared to hold a vote next month on broadening sanctions on Iran, citing skepticism about the trustworthiness of that country." Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.
@kevinroose: Great news on Iran nuclear deal. Now we just have to get "Wonderful Christmastime" banned from radio and the world will be at peace.
How Iran is reacting: positively. "People from across the Iranian political spectrum, including many hard-line commanders and clerics who had long advocated resistance and isolation from the West, told state news media on Sunday that the deal that Mr. Rouhani’s negotiating team had made was a good start...Ayatollah Khamenei issued a short message online saying he considered the deal a success. “The nuclear negotiating team deserves to be appreciated and thanked for its achievement,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency." Thomas Erdbrink in The New York Times.
@shadihamid: Can't say I'm used to ppl in the Middle East getting excited abt better relations w- the US. That, by itself, tells us something.
How Israel is reacting: harshly and negatively. "[W]ith many Israelis viewing the United States as having abandoned its credible military threat against Iran, they have stepped up talk of a strike of their own...Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it a “historic mistake” on Sunday, while some of his top ministers deemed it “a surrender” and “the greatest diplomatic achievement for the Iranians.”" Jodi Rudoren in The New York Times.
We are seeing in this deal a very core ideal of Obama's. "Obama, who has shifted as much as most politicians on many issues, has been fairly consistent on this. He came of political age in the campus anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s, and made his political career with a then-meaningless decision in 2002 to oppose the Iraq war, has always seen issues of war, peace, and diplomacy differently than most of his peers. At a presidential campaign debate in South Carolina in 2007, he took a left-field question about sit-down meetings with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and other hostile nations. Obama promised to sit down with those leaders in his first year, a gaffe so outrageous that his aides immediately tried to spin it away to reporters — before finding that the candidate’s instinct had been right, and voters liked the idea." Ben Smith and Miriam Elder in BuzzFeed.
@blakehounshell: PSA: The Nixon-to-China analogy doesn't make sense for this Iran deal. Nixon was a staunch anti-communist; that's why that phrase exists.
Western businesses want to get into Iran. "Sanctions relief agreed to by Western powers over the weekend—designed as an incentive for Iran to cooperate on nuclear-arms talks—doesn't directly ease restrictions on selling crude. It does, however, lift sanctions against insuring shipments of Iranian oil, making its transportation less expensive, and gives Iran access to proceeds from the limited sale of crude in installments. The agreement also will allow Iran to regain access to much-needed goods, including parts for aircraft and cars, and will allow the country to sell refined petrochemical products in global markets." Daniel Michaels, Benoit Faucon, and David Pearson in The Wall Street Journal.
Under deal, Iran’s oil exports likely to rise from recent depressed level. "The nuclear deal with Iran will allow the country to export more crude oil than it did in October, although still slightly less than it has averaged this year, according to estimates by the International Energy Agency...The White House fact sheet said that $4.2 billion from new crude oil sales “will be allowed to be transferred in installments if, and as, Iran fulfills its commitments.” That would be over a six-month period. If Iran exports 1 million barrels a day during that period, the sales would be worth, at current prices, about $19 billion." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.
@ianbremmer: Ultimately, the best you can do on Iran is buy time. The question is how much time.
GOLDBERG: This is half of what Obama wanted. "U.S. President Barack Obama has had two overarching goals in the Iran crisis. The first was to stop the Iranian regime from gaining possession of a nuclear weapon. The second was to prevent Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. This weekend, the president achieved one of these goals. He boxed-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so comprehensively that it's unimaginable Israel will strike Iran in the foreseeable future." Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg.
BOLTON: We surrendered. "This interim agreement is badly skewed from America’s perspective. Iran retains its full capacity to enrich uranium, thus abandoning a decade of Western insistence and Security Council resolutions that Iran stop all uranium-enrichment activities. Allowing Iran to continue enriching, and despite modest (indeed, utterly inadequate) measures to prevent it from increasing its enriched-uranium stockpiles and its overall nuclear infrastructure, lays the predicate for Iran fully enjoying its “right” to enrichment in any “final” agreement. Indeed, the interim agreement itself acknowledges that a “comprehensive solution” will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” This is not, as the Obama administration leaked before the deal became public, a “compromise” on Iran’s claimed “right” to enrichment. This is abject surrender by the United States." John Bolton in The Weekly Standard.
HUNT: This may be the best deal we can get. "Robert Einhorn, now at the Brookings Institution, laid this out in a speech to an Israeli research organization last month. A perfect deal, as desired by the Israelis, isn’t attainable, Mr. Einhorn said, in evaluating any interim pact. “The better test,” he said, “is how it compares to alternative means.” There are three: Retain or toughen sanctions; actively work to change the regime; or use military force...[This is] less than a perfect deal. But which alternative would be better?" Albert R. Hunt in Bloomberg and The New York Times.
@strobetalbott: Beyond de-demilitarizing Iran's nuke program, ultimate goal is de-radicalizing regime & empowering secular, cosmopolitan forces in society.
Music recommendations (seriously, this is new and great!) interlude: Andrew Bird, "I Want to See Pulaski at Night," 2013.
JACOBS: Right vs. left in the Midwest. "[Here's] a natural experiment that compares the agendas of modern progressivism and the new right. Wisconsin elected Republicans to majorities in the Legislature and selected a bold and vigorous Republican governor, Scott Walker. Minnesotans elected one of the most progressive candidates for governor in the country, Mark Dayton of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party." Lawrence R. Jacobs in The New York Times.
MANKIW: How Yellen thinks about a Fed exit. "A relevant measure is the employment-to-population ratio for those in the prime working age group —25 to 54. This statistic also shows the recession’s lingering effects: the ratio declined to about 75 percent from 80 percent over the course of the recession, and has recovered to only about 76 percent today. So we have recovered only about a fifth of what we lost during the downturn. These numbers indicate that there is still much slack, or unused potential, in the economy. In turn, this suggests that inflation is unlikely to become a problem anytime soon, so the Fed can delay its exit. But the labor market data are hard to interpret, because this recession has been so different from those before it." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.
If you like your opinion in Q-and-A form: A dialogue on why a universal basic income is not a silly idea. Tim Harford in The Financial Times.
KRUGMAN: California, where Obamacare was given a chance. "It goes without saying that the rollout of Obamacare was an epic disaster. But what kind of disaster was it? Was it a failure of management, messing up the initial implementation of a fundamentally sound policy? Or was it a demonstration that the Affordable Care Act is inherently unworkable?...At a time like this, you really want a controlled experiment. What would happen if we unveiled a program that looked like Obamacare, in a place that looked like America, but with competent project management that produced a working website? Well, your wish is granted. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you California." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
FOLBRE: Single payer is for players. "Rush Limbaugh’s take on the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act could, ironically, warm the hearts of those at the other end of the political spectrum. He contends that President Obama knew all along that the Affordable Care Act would crash and burn, but pushed it through so that the conflagration would clear the way for single-payer health insurance. The conspiracy charge sounds deranged, but problems with the new health insurance system may indeed revitalize demands for more substantive reforms." Nancy Folbre in The New York Times.
FOER: Obamacare's threat to liberalism. "There’s a term of art that the Obama White House uses to describe its neurotic supporters who instantly race to the worst-case scenario: They are known as “bed-wetters.” Two months into the dysfunctional life of healthcare.gov, however, that seems a perfectly appropriate physiological reaction. Liberalism has spent the better part of the past century attempting to prove that it could competently and responsibly extend the state into new reaches of American life. With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the administration has badly injured that cause, confirming the worst slurs against the federal government." Franklin Foer in The New Republic.
WILKINSON: Obama is wounded, but Obamacare is unstoppable. "[O]ne reason the law is so complicated is that it created a raft of incentives to encourage health insurers, hospitals and other powerful constituencies to buy into its goals. That raft will now help keep the law afloat...Unless the exchanges for individual insurance policies prove to be a complete disaster -- with only the old and sick signing up for policies -- they will gradually add another pontoon to support the law. There is some evidence from up-and-running state exchanges that they may actually turn out to be, over time, a modest success. Who will sponsor the legislation to cast those consumers back into the world of pre-existing conditions and arbitrary cancellations of policies? Meanwhile, millions of people not living in states where ideology has bludgeoned humaneness into a political pulp will be added to Medicaid rolls. Who will champion the plan to eliminate their insurance?" Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg.
ANNAN: Who will act to stop climate change? "The last-minute deal at the United Nations Climate Conference in Warsaw keeps hopes for a comprehensive successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto protocol alive...We now have just one more shot, next year in Peru, to make more substantive progress toward a successor agreement before the crucial 2015 Paris conference." Kofi Annan in The New York Times.
KUDLOW: Monetary rules would help Yellen be dovish. "My concern with Ms. Yellen is whether she will abide by clear monetary rules as the central bank puts an end to extraordinary quantitative easing and related interventions in the financial markets. Can Yellen approach her monetary challenge in the disciplined way that Volcker approached his years ago?" Larry Kudlow in National Review Online.
CROVITZ: Snowden's fantasies. "Edward Snowden thought he was exposing the National Security Agency's lawless spying on Americans. But the more information emerges about how the NSA conducts surveillance, the clearer it becomes that this is an agency obsessed with complying with the complex rules limiting its authority. Contrary to the fantasies of Mr. Snowden and other critics, the NSA may be dangerously risk-averse. Last week the NSA responded to demands for disclosure by declassifying a 2,000-page trove of documents, including reports to Congress and internal training materials. They portray an agency acting under the watchful eye of hundreds of lawyers and compliance officers." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.
KONCZAL: Yes, the government should spend more each year. "On the specific “Spend One Dollar Less” argument, it’s worth noting that raw dollar spending is an incomplete way of understanding what the government does. In order to gauge the size of government spending you need to reference the actual size of the economy...Every year there is some amount of growth and inflation in the economy. As such, the amount of government spending needs to grow in dollar amounts each year simply in order to keep doing the same things on the same scale. This is why spending and debt, when actually being analyzed, are usually conveyed as a percentage of GDP." Mike Konczal in The Washington Post.
Futurama fans interlude: Where Bender's voice comes from.
2. Is a Healthcare.gov workaround just about ready?
The workaround for Healthcare.gov just went live in three states. "Allowing insurers and online brokers to directly enroll customers in subsidized coverage could be key to signing up the millions of people the government had projected would gain coverage this year -- particularly if the glitch-ridden federal site continues to have problems. But so far, some of those same technical difficulties have prevented most insurers and brokers from being able to do that. Late Friday afternoon, the administration said it had made progress in tweaking the website’s design, and was launching a pilot test of the fixes with insurers in Texas, Ohio and Florida. If successful, those fixes would roll out to insurers nationwide." Julie Appleby in Kaiser Health News.
The forgotten disaster of CuidadDeSalud.gov. "Consumers still can't enroll for insurance on CuidadoDeSalud.gov, the U.S. government's Spanish-language health website. The site was supposed to be fully operational by mid-October, but a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokeswoman said it won't be ready until the end of this month. That is just three weeks before consumers need to enroll in plans if they want coverage starting Jan 1. Open enrollment in new plans offered by the online exchanges ends March 31. Meanwhile, training materials for Spanish-speaking assisters who help consumers sign up became available the week of Nov. 11." Amy Schatz in The Wall Street Journal.
Companies are about to shift more health expenses to workers. "Many employers are betting that the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all Americans have health insurance starting in 2014 will bring more people into their plans who have previously opted out. That, along with other rising expenses, is prompting companies to raise workers' premium contributions, steer them toward high-deductible plans and charge them more to cover family members...Employees this year are responsible for an average 18% of the cost of individual coverage, but 29% of the cost of family coverage, according to a survey of employee health plans by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust." Theo Francis in The Wall Street Journal.
HealthCare.gov contractor had high confidence but low success. "At 9 a.m. on Aug. 22, a team of federal health officials sat down in a Baltimore conference room with at least a dozen employees of CGI Federal, the company with the main contract to build the online federal health insurance marketplace. For six weeks, the federal officials overseeing the project had become increasingly worried that CGI was missing deadlines, understaffing the work and overstating its progress." Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Why the White House is terrified of calling Obamacare 'redistribution.' "“Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.” These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused Democrats of seeking “socialized medicine.” But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall." John Harwood in The New York Times.
How do you get the homeless to enroll in Medicaid? "[M]ost state Medicaid programs cover only disabled adults or those with dependents, so Mr. Cannon and millions of other deeply impoverished Americans are left without access to the program. But starting Jan. 1, President Obama’s health care law will expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty line, and enrollment is expected to increase by about nine million next year. Thousands of homeless people will be among the newly covered. Housing advocates say they believe that the Medicaid expansion has the potential to reduce rates of homelessness significantly, both by preventing low-income Americans from becoming homeless as a result of illness or medical debt and by helping homeless people become eligible for and remain in housing." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.
For beleaguered IRS, a crucial test still awaits after troubled rollout of health-care law. "Whether the new law can be enforced will be up to the Internal Revenue Service, an already beleaguered agency charged under the act with carrying out nearly four dozen new tasks in what represents the biggest increase in its responsibilities in decades. None is more crucial than enforcing the requirement that all citizens secure health insurance or pay a penalty...Enforcing compliance with the law is just part of what one Treasury Department official calls “the largest expansion of IRS responsibilities in recent history.” " Tom Hamburger and Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
Here’s how Obama is cutting Medicare: accountable care organizations. "[A] group of doctors and hospitals get together to form a network responsible for taking care of a group of Medicare patients—in this case, about 9,000 Iowans. If the network can prove it’s keeping those patients healthier and spending less money to do so, it gets to keep some of the savings. The ACO can then use that money to do things Medicare doesn’t usually cover—like reaching out more to patients at home. But if the ACO does not succeed, it may face a financial penalty...About 4 million Medicare beneficiaries are now in an ACO, and more than 428 hospitals have signed up for either the Medicare program or a private ACO. An estimated 14 percent of the U.S. population is now being served by an ACO." Jenny Gold in The Washington Post.
Historical interlude: WWII combat footage in color.
3. The Fed giveth, and the Fed taketh away
The Fed wants to restrict volatile short-term borrowing, which endangers financial stability. And they want to do so in a very big way. "Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo, the U.S. central bank's leading voice on regulatory matters, said in a speech at the Economic Policy Institute that market players not subject to direct oversight from the Fed or other banking regulators [i.e. firms that are not banks] must be part of measures to reduce short-term funding risks...One policy option Mr. Tarullo said appeared "most promising" would be requiring higher levels of capital for large firms that substantially rely on short-term wholesale funding. A capital surcharge would add an incentive to use more stable funding, rather than volatile short-term loans, Mr. Tarullo said. While capital or liquidity rules would target large banks, a separate requirement that short-term market participants hold minimum amounts of extra collateral would affect all market players." Stephanie Armour and Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.
US banks warn Fed interest cut could force them to charge depositors. "Minutes of the Fed’s October meeting published last week showed it was heading towards a taper in the coming months – perhaps as soon as December – but wants to find a different way to add stimulus at the same time. “Most” officials thought a cut in the interest on bank reserves was an option worth considering. Executives at two of the top five US banks said a cut in the 0.25 per cent rate of interest on the $2.4tn in reserves they hold at the Fed would lead them to pass on the cost to depositors...The danger of negative rates has deterred the Fed from cutting interest on bank reserves in the past. If it were to do so now, it would most probably expand a new facility that lets banks and money market funds deposit cash at a small, positive interest rate. That should avoid any need for banks to charge depositors." Tom Braithwaite, Stephen Foley, and Robin Harding in The Financial Times.
Explainer: Economic data coming your way this week. Amrita Jayakumar in The Washington Post.
Hot housing markets hit headwinds. "Some of the nation's hottest housing markets over the past year are cooling off as buyers balk at paying higher prices while faced with rising mortgage rates, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of market conditions. In a number of cities across California, Arizona and Nevada—where price gains have been especially strong in the past year—sales are slowing and supply is rising. Real-estate agents and economists attribute the current slowdown to rising prices and a jump in mortgage rates, which have made homes less affordable for prospective buyers and a less compelling deal for the investors that have played significant roles buying up cheap foreclosures and other distressed homes over the past two years." Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.
The best things ever interlude: Super-smart billboards edition.
4. Political scientists debate filibuster reform
In filibuster vote, ‘Old Bull’ Democrats in Senate take back seat to young bucks. "This past week’s big fight to change the Senate’s filibuster rules essentially boiled down to a battle between two Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Levin, 79, is a popular 35-year veteran who has been the senior Democrat on the prestigious Armed Services Committee since 1997. Merkley, 57, has been in office less than five years, holds no committee gavels and has yet to usher a major piece of legislation into law...Merkley became the most prominent anti-filibuster voice, leading a collection of newcomers against the “Old Bulls” of the Democratic caucus who guard their senatorial privilege like a birthright. No bull fought harder against the young bucks than Levin." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.
Sen. Harkin is already calling for further filibuster reform. "“This has been escalating for a long period of time and it was time to stop it and that’s what we did this morning,” Harkin said. “Now we need to take it a step farther and change the filibuster rules on legislation.”" Ramsey Cox in The Hill.
Why eliminating the filibuster altogether would matter less than you think. "To see the practical effects of ditching the filibuster on the percentage of laws enacted, I conducted a thought experiment. Let’s look back in time all the way to the 1950s –the 84th Congress, to be exact. Now, based on the model I ran, I can take the level of gridlock in the 84th Congress and predict the percentage of laws enacted. However, I can also calculate a level of hypothetical gridlock had the filibuster not existed and then see what the legislative output would have been...What can we conclude from this? First, we may conclude that, on average, there is a higher percentage of laws enacted when there is no filibustering allowed (the dark blue line is always above the dark red one). Second, and more important: The differences are not statistically distinguishable." Adam Ramey in The Washington Post.
Fate of the filibuster in a post-nuclear Senate. "Whereas the Senate’s past institutional path dependence has repeatedly put major reform out of reach, the Senate’s post-nuclear path dependence makes future reform far more easy for a cohesive and frustrated majority...[M]y hunch is that Democrats’ nuclear precedent this week reshaped the path of future reform. To be sure, majorities must be willing to pay the costs of such reform, but those costs fell sharply and significantly this past week in the Senate." Sarah Binder in The Washington Post.
‘Nuclear option’ in Senate makes president more powerful. "To grasp the extent of the change in presidential prerogative that the nuclear option has wrought, consider how different the past year in nominees might look if the current 51-vote threshold had been in place...It’s easy to imagine Obama pushing for Rice under a 51-vote confirmation threshold and essentially daring Republicans to filibuster...With Democrats standing in opposition, the idea of Summers winning the 60 votes he needed to get a final confirmation vote was a pipe dream." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
Why presidential nominations aren't about to become slam dunks. "Democrats must still find a modicum of compromise with the GOP if they want to swiftly approve Obama’s team. That’s because the filibuster remains in place as a delay tactic, requiring the Senate to burn hours of floor time unless the two parties can agree to speed up procedural votes...Republicans haven’t decided whether they will use their remaining options in the procedural toolbox to slow down the approval of Obama’s high-profile nominees but are expected to discuss internal party strategy in detail when the Senate returns on Dec. 9, a Republican source said." Burgess Everett in Politico.
Get cultured interlude: And start reading The Guardian's series on the 50 greatest symphonies.
5. Climate talks yield progress
Climate deal reached in Warsaw. "Two weeks of United Nations climate talks ended Saturday with a pair of last-minute deals keeping alive the hope that a global effort can ward off a ruinous rise in temperatures. Delegates agreed to the broad outlines of a proposed system for pledging emissions cuts and gave their support for a new treaty mechanism to tackle the human cost of rising seas, floods, stronger storms and other expected effects of global warming." David Jolly in The New York Times.
There are compelling economic and ecological arguments for mulching fall leaves rather than raking them. "Officials are encouraging the practice for its cost savings: Westchester spends $3.5 million a year on private contractors who haul away leaves in tractor-trailers and bring them to commercial composting sites in places like Orange County, N.Y., and Connecticut. At the same time, environmental groups and horticulturalists are praising the practice’s sustainability, devising slogans like “Leave Leaves Alone” and “Love ’Em and Leave ’Em.”" Lisa W. Foderaro in The New York Times.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Here’s how Obama is cutting Medicare. Jenny Gold.
Yes, the government should spend more each year. Mike Konczal.
In report, 63 percent back path to citizenship. Julia Preston in The New York Times.
The NSA's director offered to resign in response to the Snowden leaks. Siobhan Gorman in The Wall Street Journal.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.