Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Evan Soltas. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here.
Wonkbook's Number of the Day: $10 billion. That's how much it could cost major banks to resolve charges of alleged rigging of foreign-exchange markets, several analysts told The Financial Times.
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Quit rates are rising, even if payroll growth has slowed.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) immigration reform's slow implosion; (2) Fed's exit appears ever more etched in stone; (3) a first down for gay rights; (4) what ending 'job lock' looks like; and (5) policies to stop energy terrorism.
1. Top story: Immigration reform's shaky second act
Program benefiting some immigrants extends visa wait for others. "Many thousands of Americans seeking green cards for foreign spouses or other immediate relatives have been separated from them for a year or more because of swelling bureaucratic delays at a federal immigration agency in recent months. The long waits came when the agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, shifted attention and resources to a program President Obama started in 2012 to give deportation deferrals to young undocumented immigrants, according to administration officials and official data. The trouble that American citizens have faced gaining permanent resident visas for their families raises questions about the agency’s priorities and its readiness to handle what could become a far bigger task." Julia Preston in The New York Times.
Schumer floats 2017 immigration plan. "Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) floated a compromise Sunday intended to break the stalemate on immigration reform on Capitol Hill. It was immediately rejected by House Republicans, but key advocates said it is an option worth considering. The Gang of Eight leader’s plan: Pass a law this year, but don’t allow it to actually start taking place until 2017 — when President Barack Obama leaves office. That’s meant to target the heart of House GOP resistance to taking up immigration measures this year — that they simply don’t trust Obama to implement the law, particularly provisions on border security and interior enforcement." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Immigration impasse could put deportations back into focus. "The pressure puts the White House in a bind. If Mr. Obama chose to shift his position on deportations, he would anger the same Republicans he needs to make any final deal to revamp the immigration system. House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday cited a lack of faith among Republicans that the president would enforce any law they passed as one reason passing immigration legislation this year would be difficult." Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.
Boehner is hit from the right on immigration. "When House Republicans gathered on Jan. 30 to actually read and discuss Mr. Boehner’s principles on immigration reform, his was already a losing battle. “Why did we even put these out there?” asked Representative Tom Price, a respected conservative Republican from Georgia, urging leaders to set aside the issue until after the November elections. A week later, Mr. Boehner shelved the issue, declaring Thursday that he could not move forward with a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws until President Obama won the trust of the Republican conference." Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker in The New York Times.
COHN: Calling the Republican bluff on immigration. "Chuck Schumer is trying to call John Boehner’s bluff over immigration reform—but in a way that should, in theory, help Boehner bring along his antsy conservative allies...Here's what Schumer said: Now I think that the rap against him—that he won’t enforce the law—is false. He’s deported more people than any other president, but you could actually have the law start in 2017 without doing much violence to it...[I]mmigration reform advocates seem open to the idea. Partly that's because they know federal agencies would need at least a year, and probably more time than that, to write the relevant regulations anyway." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
Music recommendations interlude: Devendra Banhart, "Für Hildegard von Bingen," 2013.
KRUGMAN: Writing off the unemployed. "[I]f you think the typical long-term unemployed American is one of Those People — nonwhite, poorly educated, etc. — you’re wrong, according to research by the Urban Institute’s Josh Mitchell. Half of the long-term unemployed are non-Hispanic whites. College graduates are less likely to lose their jobs than workers with less education, but once they do they are actually a bit more likely than others to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. And workers over 45 are especially likely to spend a long time unemployed." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
FULLER: Preschool is important, but it’s more important for poor children. "Public schools will continue to reinforce inequality and harden achievement gaps until gross disparities in children’s early development are narrowed. But we must avoid squandering scarce dollars on full-day programs for children who gain little from preschool — essentially to buy the political support of their well-off parents. The rekindled push to expand preschool is welcome. But unless public dollars are focused on high-quality programs for poor families — while bolstering the neighborhood organizations that serve them — good intentions will turn into dashed hopes." Bruce Fuller in The Washington Post.
SUROWEICKI: Twilight of the brands. "It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos. “Absolute Value,” a new book by Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford, and Emanuel Rosen, a former software executive, shows that, historically, the rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment." James Suroweicki in The New Yorker.
BARADARAN: The post office banks on the poor. "Approximately 88 million people in the United States, or 28 percent of the population, have no bank account at all...[A] possible solution has appeared, in the unlikely guise of the United States Postal Service. The unwieldy institution, which has essentially been self-funded since 1971, and has maxed out its $15 billion line of credit from the federal government, is in financial straits itself. But what it does have is infrastructure, with a post office in most ZIP codes, and a relationship with residents in every kind of neighborhood, from richest to poorest." Mehrsa Baradaran in The New York Times.
Opinion interview: Barney Frank talks with Isaac Chotiner. The New Republic.
DIONNE: An economic school has led to gridlock in Washington. "Paul’s words are worth remembering not only because they are entertaining but also because he has a point. To a remarkable degree, our politics are haunted by the principles of Austrian economics and their sweeping hostility to any actions by government to keep downturns from becoming catastrophes or to promote greater economic fairness." E. J. Dionne in The Washington Post.
DOUTHAT: Leaving work behind. "[L]iberalism has a very important choice to make. It’s possible to defend Obamacare’s overall goals while also recognizing its potentially perverse effects, and conceding that we should try to minimize the number of low-skilled workers exiting the labor market. But it’s also possible to argue that as a rich, post-scarcity society, we shouldn’t really care that much about whether the poor choose to work. The important thing is just making sure they have a decent standard of living, full stop, and if they choose Keynesian leisure over a low-paying job, that’s their business." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.
Obligatory interlude: Yes, it's that Russian Police Choir singing "Get Lucky."
2. So much for 'asset purchases are not on a preset course'
Jobs report isn't likely to make the Fed change course. "Federal Reserve officials don't appear inclined to alter the course they have set out for monetary policy, despite a disappointing jobs report Friday that raised questions about the economy's underlying strength. Central bank officials are on a path to reduce their monthly bond buying by $10 billion at coming policy meetings. At their meeting in late January, they lowered the purchases by that amount to $65 billion and will consider cutting them to $55 billion at their next meeting March 18-19..."We don't want to be moving monetary policy very dramatically in either direction at this point unless we see strong validation in the data," Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said in an interview after poring through the jobs report." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
Fischer's time at Citi will come up in his confirmation hearing. "The nominee for Fed vice chairman is likely to face questions at his confirmation hearing about whether he would be a tough regulator of big banks after earning several million dollars at one..."We should examine what Mr. Fischer learned from his time on Wall Street and how he would apply this experience to his new job," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. "Some of the best watchdogs have come from industry, while others have been lap dogs. We must do all that we can to ensure that our regulators will work to protect the public and break Washington's long-held bias towards Wall Street."" Pedro Nicolaci Da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.
Janet Yellen, meet the House of Representatives. "Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen will testify in the House next week on the Fed's monetary policy course and the state of the economy, less than two weeks after she took over her post from Ben Bernanke. Yellen will meet with the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, giving members of the committee their first chance to ask about her views on the Fed's bond-buying program that most agree helped lift stocks last year, and the slow winding down of this program." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.
Workers shed caution, in positive sign for labor markets. "The percentage who voluntarily left their job—the nation's "quit rate"—hit 1.8% in November, the highest in the recovery and up from a low of 1.2% in September 2009, according to the Labor Department. About 2.4 million workers resigned in November. Some retired or simply chose not to work. But most quit to hunt for a new job or because they had already found one. Figures for December, due Tuesday, will probably show further gains in quitting, economists say...Research shows much of the wage growth American workers see over their careers comes from changing jobs. Indeed, it is likely that the reduced ability of workers to jump from job to job in the wake of the last recession will depress wages for an entire generation of young Americans and could impair upward economic mobility, says Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business." Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.
Will saving on health care hurt the economy? "Lost in all the debate last week about whether or not the Affordable Care Act will hurt the economy is the fact that health care is already imposing a drag on growth. The health care sector has repeatedly helped to pull the economy from recession in recent decades, but this time around it is lagging behind the recovery. Health care spending grew more slowly than the economy in 2011 and 2012 and will probably be found to have done so again in 2013. Meanwhile, health care employment also expanded more slowly than overall employment last year — and the government estimates that in January employment actually shrank for only the second time since 1990." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.
Banks face a legal nightmare over foreign-exchange markets rigging. "Barclays, JPMorgan and five other major banks face a growing number of class action proceedings from US pension funds over potential losses from alleged foreign exchange manipulation...The banks could be liable for up to $10bn of damages to the asset management industry, according to an analyst specialising in complex financial losses, who asked to remain anonymous. All seven banks declined to comment." Madison Marriage in The Financial Times.
Everybody's watching the FCC chairman for a decision on Internet rules. "In his first 100 days as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler persuaded mobile phone companies to agree on rules about unlocking consumers’ phones, cemented an effort to increase the reliability of calls to 911, proposed tests to do away with old-fashioned telephone networks and freed $2 billion to connect schools and libraries to the Internet. Those were the easy tasks. In the coming days, the telecommunications, media and Internet industries will be watching to see how Mr. Wheeler responds to last month’s federal appeals court decision that invalidated the rules created by the F.C.C. in 2011 to maintain an open Internet." Edward Wyatt in The New York Times.
Fight over minimum wage illustrates web of industry ties. "Just four blocks from the White House is the headquarters of the Employment Policies Institute, a widely quoted economic research center whose academic reports have repeatedly warned that increasing the minimum wage could be harmful, increasing poverty and unemployment. But something fundamental goes unsaid in the institute’s reports: The nonprofit group is run by a public relations firm that also represents the restaurant industry, as part of a tightly coordinated effort to defeat the minimum wage increase that the White House and Democrats in Congress have pushed for." Eric Lipton in The New York Times.
The tax wilderness, untamed. "When Americans of a certain income level sit down to do their taxes this year, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise: The tax code, already byzantine, has grown even more complex — yet the prospects for a major improvement seem to have retreated into the distance. Major leadership changes to the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, combined with a reluctance in the House Republican leadership to confront the issue and an Obama administration focused only on the corporate tax code, add up to a consensus in Washington: It’s virtually certain that there will be no comprehensive tax code overhaul this year." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
Why the unemployment rate is useless. "We have multiple unemployment rates—by race, gender, geography and above all educational attainment. When people talk of an unemployment crisis, it would be more accurate to speak of an education crisis or a crisis of men whose skills are mismatched to today's jobs. It would be more accurate to speak of a jobs crisis in specific regions of the country or for specific industries. Yet we maintain the collective fiction that one simple average accurately captures multiple realities." Zachary Karabell in The Wall Street Journal.
Here they go again interlude: "Estimated possession value" takes over basketball stats.
3. A first down for gay rights
Missouri’s Michael Sam announces he is gay, may be first openly gay player in NFL. "Michael Sam, a bruising defensive end on one of 2013’s most surprising college football teams, announced Sunday that he is gay. He didn’t back into the revelation or simply hint at it. The Missouri defender and the Associated Press’s SEC co-defensive player of the year said it, owned it, and now stands at the fringe of one of sports’ last social frontiers: becoming the first openly gay NFL player." Kent Babb in The Washington Post.
Justice Department to give married same-sex couples equal protection. "The Justice Department on Monday will instruct all of its employees across the country, for the first time, to give lawful same-sex marriages sweeping equal protection under the law in every program it administers, from courthouse proceedings to prison visits to the compensation of surviving spouses of public safety officers. In a new policy memo, the department will spell out the rights of same-sex couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouses, even if their marriages are not recognized in the state where the couple lives...[F]ederal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse...In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse." Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.
NFL faces pressure from Congress to change Redskins’ name. "Two members of Congress have written a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging Goodell and the league “to take a formal position in support of a name change” by the Washington Redskins. The letter by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) is to be sent Monday to Goodell. “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” Cantwell and Cole write in the letter." Mark Maske, Paul Kane and Theresa Vargas in The Washington Post.
Today I learned interlude: The Pope has a master's degree in chemistry.
4. What ending 'job lock' looks like
They quit their jobs, thanks to health-care law. "Count Polly Lower among those who quit their jobs because of the health-care law. It happened in September, when her boss abruptly changed her job description. She went from doing payroll, which she liked, to working on her boss’s schedule, which she loathed. At another time, she might have had to grit her teeth and accept the new position because she needed the health benefits. But with the health-care law soon to take effect, she simply resigned — and hasn’t looked back." Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.
Millions trapped in HealthCare.gov coverage gap. "Ernest Maiden was dumbfounded to learn that he falls through the cracks of the health-care law because in a typical week he earns about $200 from the Happiness and Hair Beauty and Barber Salon. Like millions of other Americans caught in a mismatch of state and federal rules, the 57-year-old hair stylist doesn't make enough money to qualify for federal subsidies to buy health insurance. If he earned another $1,300 a year, the government would pay the full cost. Instead, coverage would cost about what he earns." Christopher Weaver in The Wall Street Journal.
Accenture, hired to help fix HealthCare.gov, has had a series of stumbles. "Accenture, the contractor urgently tapped to help fix the federal health-insurance Web site, is a favorite of corporate America but has a record that includes troubled projects and allegations of ethical lapses, a review of the consulting giant’s history shows. At the University of Michigan, students and faculty members are protesting the school’s use of Accenture to help cut costs, citing a report by a committee of alumni and graduate students that said the firm has “a disturbing pattern of problematic past performance.” In North Carolina, glitches in an Accenture-configured computer system contributed to massive backlogs for food-stamp recipients, leading the Obama administration last month to threaten to withdraw the state’s food-stamp funding." Jerry Markon and Alice Crites in The Washington Post.
Grammar obsessive interlude: At what speed do you read?
5. The policies to stop energy terrorism
U.S. utilities tighten security after 2013 attack. "PG&E and other utilities announced new safety measures after The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the attack on the Metcalf transmission substation raised concerns about the vulnerability of the electric grid to physical sabotage. Jon Wellinghoff, the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called the incident an act of terrorism. The attack on the Metcalf substation, south of San Jose, Calif., began after 1 a.m. April 16 by gunmen who took out 17 of the 20 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. It took the utility almost a month to repair the substation; no one has been arrested in the incident." Rebecca Smith in The Wall Street Journal.
Interview: Why an AK-47 may be a bigger threat to the electricity grid than a cyberattack. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.
Nuclear waste solution seen in desert salt beds. "The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons. The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.
Too much winter, and not nearly enough propane. "Even while production of the fuel is up 15 percent over a year ago, inventories are now nearly 50 percent lower than last winter, and many Southerners and Midwesterners who depend on the fuel are angry and confused. In North and South Dakota, the shortage has become so acute that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opened shelters to serve its population, most of whom rely on propane. Several states have moved to help ease delivery problems, and a number of attorneys general have called for investigations into price gouging." Alan Blinder and Clifford Krauss in The New York Times.
Wow interlude: The hairstyles of Prince, 1978 to 2013.
Sex workers’ rights are just workers’ rights. Mike Konczal.
With the clock ticking, Republicans seek a solution to raising debt limit, but not a fight. Paul Kane and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.
Snowden used low-cost tool to best NSA. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The New York Times.
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