Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. 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: 60-37. That was the vote count in favor of moving forward with legislation that would extend unemployment benefits.
Wonkbook's Quote of the Day: "The phone companies would run the analytics and provide you the analysis: ‘Hey, this bad guy is talking to this bad guy.’"
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Why the trade deficit is shrinking.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) good news for the long-term unemployed; (2) NSA reform debate gets ready to boil; (3) shale pays its economic dividends; (4) government needs to learn how to use the Internet; and (5) brrr, still.
1. Top story: Unemployment benefits cleared a filibuster
Senate moves ahead with measure to extend long-term unemployment benefits. "The Democratic effort to extend federal benefits for the long-term unemployed got a surprise boost Tuesday as skeptical Republicans in the Senate voted to allow the proposal to advance...The triumph may be temporary, because the measure still faces big hurdles in the Senate and longer odds of passing the House. The crux of the negotiations now is the GOP demand for offsetting savings from other portions of the budget...Seemingly poised for defeat, the legislation instead cleared an early hurdle by the narrowest of margins as six Senate Republicans sided with Democrats to advance it...Of the six Republican senators who voted yes Tuesday — Collins, Portman, Heller, Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Dan Coats (Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — five said they were unlikely to support the legislation as it is currently drafted. The six voted with 54 members of the Democratic caucus to approve a motion allowing the measure to move ahead, but Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will need to clear a second 60-vote hurdle to bring it to a final vote." Paul Kane and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Congress is debating unemployment benefits. Here are seven things they should know. Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.
Obama: Nobody wants unemployment checks more than a job. "President Obama said at a White House event Tuesday that the long-term unemployed "just want a shot" and that nobody would rather have unemployment benefits than a job. "I can't name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job," Obama said...Surrounded by unemployed Americans and those who have benefited from the aid, Obama emphasized that they weren't free-loaders but rather hard-working Americans who need some help after regular unemployment insurance runs out." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Transcript: President Obama’s Jan. 7 remarks on unemployment insurance extension. The Washington Post.
The economics behind unemployment benefits. "CBO estimates that extending the current EUC [emergency unemployment compensation] program and other related expiring provisions until the end of 2014 would increase inflation-adjusted GDP by 0.2 percent and increase full-time-equivalent employment by 0.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2014...Some unemployed workers who would be eligible for those benefits would reduce the intensity of their job search and remain unemployed longer—which would tend to decrease output and employment. CBO estimates that those negative effects would be modest, though, in 2014 because most of the jobs that would not be taken by some of the people receiving the additional benefits would instead be taken by some of the many people searching for work who would not be eligible for those benefits...We find that the effect on exit from unemployment occurs primarily through a reduction in labor force exits rather than through exit to employment (job finding). This is important because it implies that extended benefits do not delay the time to re-employment substantially and so do not have first-order efficiency effects." Cardiff Garcia in The Financial Times.
@resnikoff: Now that the Senate has done something pretty decent for unemployed people, it will balance it out with something truly horrible.
House GOP leaders coach rank-and-file on discussing unemployment. "House Republican leaders sent a memo this week to the entire GOP conference with talking points designed to help rank-and-file Republicans show compassion for the unemployed and explain the Republican position on unemployment benefits. In the memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post, House Republicans are urged to be empathetic toward the unemployed and understand how unemployment is a "personal crisis" for individuals and families. The memo also asks Republicans to reiterate that the House will give "proper consideration" to an extension of long-term insurance as long as Democrats are willing to support spending or regulatory reforms." Robert Costa in The Washington Post.
@markknoller: WH firm about no budget offset for extending long-term unemployment benefits. Says that's been the practice in 4 of last 17 extensions.
How Republicans turned against unemployment insurance in the first place. "The policy's newfound controversy after years of easy passage parallels a sea change in Republican attitudes nationally on the issue. Between 2009 and early 2013, the share of Republicans who said the federal government should decrease spending to assist the unemployed has more than doubled from 26 to 56 percent in Pew Research Center polls, now representing the majority view within the party. Independents and Democrats have also grown more willing to cut unemployment aid, though clear majorities of each still said it should be "kept the same" or "increased."" Scott Clement in The Washington Post.
@davidfrum: If libertarians focused more on water pricing, less on cutting off unemployed, they cd be a real force for good.
CHAIT: How Democrats can force Republicans to help the long-term unemployed. "A month ago, Chris van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, floated a plan to Greg Sargent to block any farm bill unless Republicans agree to extend unemployment assistance. You could, of course, cut all the billions you want out of the farm bill if you actually want to reduce the deficit. In any case, the farm bill casts the GOP’s opposition to unemployment benefits – a lifeline for people who actually need government support – into stark relief...What’s more, there’s a simple way to backstop the Van Hollen plan even if Senate Democrats don’t go along with it: President Obama could pledge to veto any farm bill unless Congress extends unemployment benefits." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
@dcbigjohn: seems like adults should be able to agree that how best to help the unemployed is a worthwhile thing to have a debate over
CASSIDY: Blaming the victim. "Other than an ideological aversion to government spending of any kind, there is no reason not to extend unemployment benefits for a while longer. Economists sometimes worry that making them available for long periods will encourage the jobless to remain unemployed rather than taking jobs, but careful studies have failed to show much evidence of this. When employment openings are scarce, as they are still, a bigger worry is that curtailing benefits will encourage some of the long-term unemployed to drop out of the labor force completely." John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
Music recommendations interlude: Kings of Leon, "Work on Me," 2013.
MATTHEWS: Five conservative reforms millennials should be fighting for. "Unemployment's terrible, and Obama's "stimulus" measures haven't done nearly enough to cut down on it. Here's what we should do instead. Instead of subsidizing Solyndra and other cronies of the Obama administration through wasteful "infrastructure" spending, let's spend money on what we actually want to do: create jobs." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.
RECTOR: How the War on Poverty was lost. "[A]s the economy improves, the government should require able-bodied, non-elderly adult recipients in federal welfare programs to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving benefits. We should also reduce the antimarriage incentives rife within welfare programs. For instance, current programs sharply cut benefits if a mother marries a working father. Reducing these restrictions would begin a long-term effort to rebuild the family in low-income communities." Robert Rector in The Wall Street Journal.
HARDING: The return of dynastic wealth. "The aspiring young law student Rastignac has his choice set out for him with brutal simplicity in Balzac’s 1835 novel Father Goriot. He can work: “There’s a nice prospect for you! Ten years of drudgery straight away.” Or he can do otherwise: “There is but one way, marry a woman who has money.” Choosing between hard work or an heiress may seem archaic but according to Capital in the Twenty-First Century , an eagerly awaited book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, Rastignac’s dilemma is coming back...The choice has returned because of the rising importance of inherited wealth – on a scale that, for some, will make it a viable alternative to work. It poses a profound economic and social challenge to rich countries that believe they offer equality of opportunity." Robin Harding in The Financial Times.
YERGIN: The global impact of U.S. shale. "Much of the new global LNG capacity was developed with the US in mind. Now, with the US market cordoned off by cheap domestic gas, some of that LNG is going to Europe...Many other countries are reassessing their own energy policies in light of the unconventional-energy revolution. China, seeing the speed and extent of US shale-gas development, has placed a high priority on developing its extensive unconventional gas resources...The rise of US shale energy is also having a broader global economic impact: American shale gas is changing the balance of competitiveness in the world economy." Daniel Yergin in Project Syndicate.
EDSALL: Bridging the compassion gap. "There are several theories about Boehner’s unexpected turn. One explanation sees Boehner and centrist Republicans generally backing away from some of their more controversial stands in preparation for the 2014 election...There is another clear reason for Boehner’s shift towards the center: the economy has begun to improve." Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times.
Book recommendations interlude: Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic America.
2. NSA reform conversation will get louder in January
NSA exploring alternatives to holding database of domestic phone records. "The National Security Agency is exploring how it could relinquish control of the massive database of domestic phone logs that has been the focus of an intense national debate, according to current and former officials briefed on the discussions. The agency, in response to political and other pressures, is examining whether there are feasible ways for third parties such as phone companies to hold the data while allowing the agency to exploit the records, the officials said...Describing one possible scenario, a second former intelligence official said: “The phone companies would run the analytics and provide you the analysis: ‘Hey, this bad guy is talking to this bad guy.’ ” Having the phone companies analyze the records on behalf of the government, depending on how it is done, may still raise privacy, cost and other concerns." Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.
Obama will float NSA reforms before the 2014 State of the Union. "President Obama is preparing a package of intelligence reforms that will probably put a public advocate for the first time in the secret court that approves surveillance practices and remove a controversial telephone records database from direct government control, aides said. With plans to unveil the changes days before the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, key presidential advisors are looking skeptically at a separate proposal to require a federal judge to approve each use of a "national security letter" except in emergencies, however." Christi Parsons in The Los Angeles Times.
Obama to meet with lawmakers on NSA reform. "President Obama will summon key lawmakers to the White House on Thursday to discuss the National Security Agency's controversial spying programs, according to staffers. Congressional aides said that the meeting's attendance will be small, including only President Obama, senior White House staff, and the chairmen and ranking members of each chamber's Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Also invited are a few "key players," staffers say, such as Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner—a trio that has been particularly critical of the NSA's data-gathering efforts...It remains unclear precisely what Obama wants to discuss, but aides expect him to offer some reforms in an attempt to garner support from the lawmakers." Dustin Volz in Government Executive.
Longread: A profile of General Keith Alexander at the NSA. Shane Harris in Foreign Policy.
At least eight security experts boycott prominent security conference over NSA ties. "[E]ight computer security researchers have withdrawn from a major security conference in a protest against the conference's sponsor, computer security firm RSA. That company has been accused of taking money from the National Security Agency to incorporate a flawed encryption algorithm into one of its security products...The RSA Conference is a major cybersecurity industry event that attracted over 24,000 attendees in 2013. " Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.
Wonkbook loves naval science interlude: The Royal Navy can turn ships like nobody's business.
3. The energy boom is paying dividends
Here's how President Obama is thinking about the economy going into 2014. "The president, who sought to dramatize the need for Congress to extend the benefits, delivered what amounts to his broader economic message for 2014: Despite an improving economy, too many people are being left behind...He is presiding over an economy that has improved sharply in the five years since 2009, when it was buckling under the weight of a severe recession, but decades-long shifts in technology and globalization have left more people out of work for extended periods than at any other time in the past 50 years." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.
America’s trade deficit is shrinking. Thank fracking. "The United Stated imported only $34.3 billion more in goods and services than it exported in November, down 13 percent from October. It is the lowest monthly trade deficit in more than four years. It was strong enough to lead forecasters to dramatically upgrade their expectations of how fast the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter. Macroeconomic Advisers, one leading firm, bumped its estimate of GDP growth to 3.5 percent, up from 2.6 percent before the trade announcement!...Most of the decline in imports came about because of a $2.5 billion drop in the value of imported crude oil. That's not just a one-month trend. Through the first 11 months of 2013, crude oil imports were down almost $40 billion, a 13.7 percent drop. There were also large drops in other petroleum products (liquified petroleum gas imports, down $2.2 billion, other petroleum products down $1.6 billion). So, the domestic energy boom is translating pretty clearly into a more favorable trade balance for the United States, which in turn means stronger overall growth." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.
Graph: How exports of petroleum products are closing the trade gap. The Wall Street Journal.
Charts: How financial crises have buffeted America over the last 200 years. Catherine Rampell in The New York Times.
Economic mobility, the new partisan flashpoint. "Researchers say the issue isn't just income inequality, or even wealth inequality, but economic mobility—the ability of low-income families to work their way into better economic conditions. They add that the problem is particularly acute for children born into low-income families, who often lack the access to schools and other resources to advance...A number of Republicans are weighing in, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia scheduled to deliver major addresses on economic opportunity Wednesday; Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin will do so on Thursday." Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.
Go-getters interlude: 10 writers under 10 to watch.
4. But we're the government -- we don't do 'Internet'
The government's inability to do Web sites goes way, way beyond HealthCare.gov. "Efforts at modernizing the systems for unemployment compensation in California, Massachusetts and Nevada have also largely backfired in recent months, causing enormous cost overruns and delays. While the nation’s attention was focused on the troubled rollout of the federal health care site under the Affordable Care Act, the problems with the unemployment sites have pointed to something much broader: how a lack of funding in many states and a shortage of information technology specialists in public service jobs routinely lead to higher costs, botched systems and infuriating technical problems that fall hardest on the poor, the jobless and the neediest. As a result, the old stereotype of applicants standing in long lines to speak to surly civil servants at government unemployment offices is quickly being replaced. Now those seeking work or government assistance are often spending countless hours in front of buggy websites, then getting a busy signal when they try to get through by phone." Frances Robles in The New York Times.
Interview: Obamacare’s launch was bad. But many programs for the poor are worse. David Super talks with Ezra Klein. The Washington Post.
Chart: Think America has the world’s best health care system? You won’t after seeing this chart. Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.
About 80 percent of hip doctors have no idea how much a hip replacement costs. "[O]rthopedic surgeons don’t know much about how much their work contributes to that spending. They were able to correctly estimate the cost of a device only 21 percent of the time, according to a survey of 503 physicians at seven major academic medical centers published this week in the journal Health Affairs. Their guesses ranged from 1.8 percent of the actual price to 24.6 times the actual price. (Researchers could not release the actual costs because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the hospitals.)...Estimates within 20 percent of the actual cost were considered correct." Jenny Gold in The Washington Post.
Reddit interlude: Where "Ask Me Anything" came from.
5. Brrr, still
The polar vortex has reached the East Coast. "Officials opened warming centers, canceled schools and grappled with strained power grids as shivering residents from the Florida Panhandle to St. Louis to New York cranked up the heat. Train and air travelers suffered continued transportation snarls. The dangerously frigid air sent people to hospitals with frostbite and contributed to multiple deaths, including in Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio, authorities said...The unusually raw weather is the result of a "polar vortex," a low-pressure system of swirling Arctic-cold air that typically sits in Canada this time of year but has dropped into the Great Lakes region and New England..." Jennifer Levitz in The Wall Street Journal.
Upstate New York is getting particularly polar. (Wonkbook was in Rochester, NY last week and can confirm personally.) "As much of the country shivered under brutally cold temperatures from the so-called polar vortex on Tuesday, upstate New York is bracing for another form of winter havoc. In the Tug Hill Plateau, a region north of Syracuse, N.Y., that borders Lake Ontario, residents were preparing for biting winds and the possibility of 80 inches of snow by Wednesday afternoon...This year, the town has already recorded 211 inches of snow since Thanksgiving and will likely hit the 20-foot mark by the end of the week. Over the past day alone, certain parts of the town have received 8 to 12 inches of snow while others are counting up to 3 feet." Megan Buerger in The Wall Street Journal.
Extreme cold may be awful. But it's better than extreme heat. "The crucial issue is clothing and adaptability...A T-shirt and shorts may be comfortable at 85 degrees. But then what about 95 degrees? What about the occasional day when it's 102? You run out of options fast." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.
Matt Yglesias is wrong: It’s way better to be hot than cold. "Yglesias's argument rests on the idea that a lot of people from warmer states simply haven't figured out how to dress for winter. But surely people who grew up in cold states have figured it out. Yet they can't wait to get to the warmth. In recent decades, the trend in American migration has been people moving in from cold states in the Northeast to warmer states in the South and West. You constantly hear about retirees in colder climes leaving for Florida. You never hear about elderly Californians moving to Minnesota." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Extreme cold kills more people than leukemia, homicide and liver disease. "The bitter chill isn't just an inconvenience. It could kill you. A 2007 study by Olivier Deschenes and Enrico Moretti found that "the number of annual deaths attributable to cold temperature is 27,940 or 1.3% of total deaths in the US."...The result is that "the cumulative effect of 1 day of extreme cold temperature during a 30-day window is an increase in daily mortality by as much as 10%." In total, the authors calculate, the cold is responsible for more annual deaths than "leukemia, homicide, and chronic liver disease." This is particularly true in low-income communities. "The effect for counties in the bottom income decile is 66% larger than the effect for counties the top income decile."" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Five Conservative Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For. Dylan Matthews.
The government will never win its war on bogus diet products. Lydia DePillis.
America’s trade deficit is shrinking. Thank fracking. Neil Irwin.
Medical marijuana initiative likely headed for Florida ballot. Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.
Poll: Majority wants marijuana legalized. Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.
Immigration reform’s narrow window for survival. Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.