Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara. 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: 9.63 million. That's the number of millionaires in the United States now, a record high.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Two charts that demonstrate the relationship between inequality and GDP.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Obamacare and the midterms; (2) it's the economy, stupid; (3) CIA-Senate spat's complex implications; (4) immigration advocates show clout; and (5) Ukraine aid holdup.
1. Top story: What does Obamacare hold for the midterms?
Democrats' 'keep it but fix it' strategy is in need of repairs. "Democrats blamed the Florida loss on an unfavorable electorate dominated by Republican voters. Turnout there in November will look very different, they said. They may well be right. But turnout is not determined in a vacuum. Republican voters were more enthusiastic about voting. That shouldn't be overlooked as Republicans have sought to use Obamacare as the No. 1 issue for turning out their base. What's more, the repeal posture that Democrats claimed would be Jolly's undoing didn't prevent him from winning, even though Democrats routinely pointed to national polls that showed repeal was unpopular....Being the fix-it candidate is not a very promising bet right now — and not just in the Florida's 13th district. Negative intensity is outpacing positive intensity when it comes to how voters are associating the law with candidates for Congress." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.
One of those polls. "President Barack Obama’s health-care law is becoming more entrenched, with 64 percent of Americans now supporting it outright or backing small changes. Even so, the fervor of the opposition shows no sign of abating, posing a challenge for Obama’s Democrats during congressional races this year, as a Republican victory in a special Florida election this week showed. 'In off-year elections, turnout is a huge factor,' said J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the survey for Bloomberg. 'The anti-Obamacare segment is both more likely to say they will definitely vote and more likely to say their vote will be strongly influenced by their view of Obamacare; that can be enough to sway a race.'" Mike Dorning in Bloomberg.
Another poll that reaches similar conclusions. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Both parties now know Americans overall want the law fixed. Actually doing that is easier said than done. "If they agree on what the public wants, why don’t they give it to them? Mainly because what the public wants is amorphous and probably impossible. People want to change it because news stories have emphasized the botched rollout and difficulties with implementation, and because both parties are promising to fix it. Many Americans are also unaware that most of the provisions of the law are already in effect. And they like all those provisions, except the individual mandate: A 'keep and fix' solution that polls well, then, would probably involve eliminating the individual mandate and keeping everything else. But the reason the mandate is there is because it’s hard to make the other parts work without it." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
Democrats seek the right Obamacare message in wake of special election loss. "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, is about to embark on a large-scale public opinion survey that will — in part — seek to uncover how voters in key districts across America feel about the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The DCCC bi-annual National Research Project, which begins in the next several weeks, will also include focus groups across several dozens competitive districts. The DCCC is devoting much of its energy to uncovering how – and how much – they should talk about the battered health care law." John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman in Politico.
But are they running from 'fix it'? "Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., certainly isn't saying so. 'I think that our candidate Alex Sink — she's so excellent, so superb — and she said it just right. There are many good things about the Affordable Care Act that are good for the health and well-being of the American people,' Pelosi told journalists Thursday. 'There are some things that need to be fixed. Let's do that. And that is the message of our members." Frank James in NPR.
Republicans pounce on additional Obamacare changes. "Some opponents of the law say the hardship exemptions show the Obama administration is walking away from the individual mandate, even though at the same time the president has said he would veto efforts by the House to repeal the mandate entirely....Federal officials say that last week’s adjustment only creates an opt-out for a small number of people and they believe most Americans who had had their plans canceled would likely want to buy other coverage rather than avoid the mandate, since they had already been buying it voluntarily." Louise Radnofsky and Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.
And emboldened Republicans prepared another vote to delay the individual mandate. "Congressional Republicans attacked Obamacare with new ferocity but sometimes questionable veracity Thursday, energized by a campaign triumph in Florida that gave health care issues their first airing of the election year....The blizzard of charges came as House Republicans readied yet another in a series of attempts to repeal, roll back or dismantle the health care law, arranging a vote for Friday on a measure to eliminate the so-called individual mandate. The same measure would revise the system for paying doctors and others who provide care for Medicare patients, ending a stop-gap system in which reimbursement levels are often threatened with cuts until Congress can pass a short-term fix. The bill will mark the 51st since Republicans won control of the House a little more than two years ago that they have held a vote to undo part or all of Obamacare." The Associated Press.
COHN: Mandate putting both parties in bad position. "The individual mandate has always been among Obamacare’s most unpopular features. But the latest Republican effort to attack it just ran into trouble, for reasons that ought to give Democrats a little confidence — along with a little pause." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
ROVE: Republicans shouldn't uncork the champagne yet. "To Republicans, a word of caution over the special election in Florida's 13th congressional district: Don't uncork the champagne. David Jolly's victory on Tuesday over Democrat Alex Sink by 48.4%-46.6% is significant. President Obama won the district twice, and its changing political demographics make it Democratic-leaning — despite being held for 42 years by C.W. 'Bill' Young, a popular Republican, until his death last fall. Still, special elections don't always dictate how midterms turn out." Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal.
PONNURU: The low turnout Democrats are concerned about has something to do with Obamacare. "'Low turnout, not Obamacare, poses chief threat, Democrats say,' is a headline in the Los Angeles Times today. Okay, but aren’t these two things related? Doesn’t the unpopularity of Obamacare (and the unpopularity of Obama to which it contributes) demoralize Democrats and make them less likely to vote, and at the same time enrage Republicans and make them more likely to? The article doesn’t mention the possibility — although it includes a quote from a Democratic pollster that suggests that’s part of what’s happening." Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review.
CASSIDY: It's time for Democrats to embrace Obamacare. "Trying to pussyfoot around Obamacare was an awkward strategy, and, evidently, it didn’t work. If other Democrats are to avoid meeting Sink’s fate in November, they need something more convincing to say about the Affordable Care Act than 'mend it, don’t end it,' which is now their default position. But what could that be? Here’s a heretical idea. Rather than parsing the individual elements of the law, and trying to persuade voters on an à la carte basis, what about raising the stakes and defending the reform in its entirety as a historic effort to provide affordable health-care coverage to tens of millions of hard-working Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford it? Instead of shying away from the populist and redistributionist essence of the reform, which the White House and many Democrats in Congress have been doing since the start, it’s time to embrace it." John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
Other health care reads:
Long read: Obamacare co-ops defy forecasts to win market share. Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.
Doctors renounce GOP's permanent 'doc fix.' Elise Viebeck in The Hill.
Reversing course, the White House protects an Obamacare subsidy from sequester cuts. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.
Millions may avoid Obamacare penalty as deadline looms. Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.
GOP launches Obamacare enrollment audit. Elise Viebeck in The Hill.
How to shave $1 trillion out of health care. Victor R. Fuchs in The New York Times.
KRUGMAN: Rising wages don't mean we should hit the breaks on monetary policy. "Suddenly, it seems as if all the serious people are telling each other that despite high unemployment there’s hardly any 'slack' in labor markets — as evidenced by a supposed surge in wages — and that the Federal Reserve needs to start raising interest rates very soon to head off the danger of inflation. To be fair, those making the case for monetary tightening are more thoughtful and less overtly political than the archons of austerity who drove the last wrong turn in policy. But the advice they’re giving could be just as destructive....Is wage growth actually taking off? That’s far from clear. But if it is, we should see rising wages as a development to cheer and promote, not a threat to be squashed with tight money." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
ROBINSON: CIA out of line. "The top-secret document that the CIA seems most determined to hide is not some dossier on al-Qaeda but rather an index of the agency’s own excesses and failures. Now take another step back. Look at how the CIA’s role has expanded to include what most of us would consider military operations, including flying and firing armed drones. Look at the breathtaking revelations about the NSA’s collection of phone-call data. Look at how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in a series of secret rulings, has stretched the Fourth Amendment and the Patriot Act beyond all recognition. We should want the CIA to be capable of ruthlessness when necessary. We should want the NSA to be overly ambitious rather than overly modest. But then it is our duty, as custodians of this democracy, to haul the spooks back into line when they go too far." Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post.
GOLDMAN AND AXEEN: No, Obamacare isn't responsible for slowing health care spending. "Long term, it is hard to predict health care spending. Growth reflects a complicated dynamic between patients, providers, and insurers—all operating in a highly regulated environment. Maybe the ACA will find the key to limiting cost growth. But it hasn’t done it yet." Dana P. Goldman and Sarah Axeen in Forbes.
WILLIAMSON: Hey Congress — this time it's personal. "If Senator Feinstein’s claims are in the main substantively correct, then the CIA has done serious violence to the law and to our constitutional order. And I suspect that she is largely on the money: CIA Director John Brennan has said that the facts will not support her allegations of 'this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking,' the presence of the word 'tremendous' in that sentence suggesting that what is really in dispute here is not the CIA’s actions but merely the scale of the CIA’s actions. Congress has not been very interested in the abuses of the imperial executive when its victims were ordinary American citizens, or even Congress’s own constitutional turf. But now that the CIA is making the matter personal, we ordinary citizens might have some hope that Congress will be spurred into action by its members’ vanity, if not by their sense of duty." Kevin D. Williamson in National Review.
BLOOMBERG VIEW: How to fix the mortgage market. "What to do about a mortgage market that has become a ward of the federal government is one of the biggest questions left over from the 2008 financial crisis. Two senators — South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson and Idaho Republican Mike Crapo — have come up with an answer that makes sense, at least for now....It's far from perfect, but paring down government involvement in housing to the level envisioned by Johnson and Crapo would be a huge achievement. If the plan succeeds, it will be easier to have an intelligent debate about the government's proper long-term role, and take further steps later." The Editors.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: In defense of Common Core. "Common Core offers a richer and more logical learning plan, but also one that's harder to carry off well. It's easier to teach students facts and grade them on answers than to spur them to think and at the same time make sure they are gaining the required skills and knowledge. The standards should have been field tested before they were adopted, but that failure isn't a reason to toss them out at this point. Given the lack of field testing, what's needed now is flexibility, care in upgrading instruction and more reasonable ways of measuring Common Core's successes and weaknesses. This is where the federal government and many states are failing, and where California is getting it right." Editorial Board.
2. It's not just Obamacare. It's also still the economy, stupid.
Poll: Jobs, economy and government remain most important problems in Americans' minds. "Three issues — unemployment, the economy in general, and dissatisfaction with government — dominate when Americans name the most important problem facing the nation. Nineteen percent mention unemployment or jobs, 18% say dissatisfaction with government, and 17% the economy in general. Unemployment edged out the other two issues in February, but dropped slightly in March." Gallup.
IMF warns inequality is a drag on growth. "The world's top economic institution is sounding the alarm about a growing chasm between rich and poor, warning that rising income inequality is weighing on global economic growth and fueling political instability. The International Monetary Fund's latest salvo came Thursday in a top official's speech and a 67-page paper detailing how the IMF's 188 member countries can use tax policy and targeted public spending to stem a rising disparity between haves and have-nots....The IMF is wading deep into a problem that no less than President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have called a defining issue of our time, and the fund's potential prescriptions are likely to be a lightning rod for debate. They include raising taxes and redistributing wealth....Inequality in several advanced economies, including the U.S., has returned to levels not seen since before the Great Depression, the fund said." Ian Talley in The Wall Street Journal.
Chart: Number of millionaires in U.S. reaches a new high. Walter Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times.
Explainer: Obama was right: To boost the economy, spread the wealth. Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post.
And the same day, senators reached a deal to extend long-term unemployment benefits. "Senate negotiators struck a bipartisan deal Thursday that would renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, allowing for retroactive payments to go to more than 2 million Americans whose benefits expired in late December. Ten senators, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans, announced the pact and set up a timeline in which the legislation could pass the Senate in late March. Its outcome in the House remains up in the air, however. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has opposed previous Senate plans as insufficient in providing offsetting cuts, did not offer a statement on the new proposal." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.
What it would do: "The compromise would retroactively restore for five months long-term unemployment benefits that expired on Dec. 28. The bill would be paid for by an extension of U.S. Customs fees established by the recent budget deal through 2024 and by making changes to federal pension programs over the next 10 years. The legislation would prohibit millionaires and billionaires from getting unemployment benefits and also provide for enhanced job training and placement programs." Burgess Everett in Politico.
Explainer: The Senate has a deal on unemployment insurance. Here's what you need to know. Danny Vinik in The New Republic.
U.S. jobless claims fall to new three-month low. Reuters.
Foreclosures hit lowest level since 2006. Erin Carlyle in Forbes.
Retail sails rebound after tough winter. Eric Morath and Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.
Other economy reads:
Economists see China slowdown as biggest threat to U.S. recovery. Kathleen Madigan in The Wall Street Journal.
Some jobless facing eviction after loss of benefits. Andrew Perez and Arthur Delaney in The Huffington Post.
Arnold Schwarzenegger interlude: Arnold crushes things for charity.
3. The complex legal, policy implications of the CIA-Senate spat
CIA-Senate spat raises murky legal, policy issues. "A dispute between the CIA and the Senate that flared into public view this week has no obvious path toward criminal prosecution and may be better resolved through political compromise than in a court system leery of stepping into government quarrels, legal experts say....Legal experts say prosecutors will likely be hesitant to wade into a separation-of-powers dispute between two branches of government that involves a muddled area of the law and raises as many policy questions as it does legal ones. The Justice Department receives far more requests to open criminal probes than it chooses to pursue. Federal courts, too, are reluctant to referee power disputes between the two other branches of government. If prosecutors were to get involved, they would confront murky legal questions." The Associated Press.
Sen. Feinstein's claims of CIA violating computer fraud act shaky, legal expert says. "For one thing, it's not clear whether the CIA had rights to the accessed computers, at least as defined under the CFAA, said Orin Kerr, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School and a former trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. It's also not clear if the restrictions the Intelligence Committee had in place for governing access to the computers were strong enough to trigger a CFAA access violation claim, Orin wrote in a blog for Lawfare." Jaikumar Vijayan in Computer World.
U.N. human-rights watchdog wants the report at heart of the spat released. "A United Nations human rights watchdog called on the United States on Thursday to release a report on a Bush-era interrogation program at the heart of a dispute between the CIA and a Senate panel. Critics, including experts on the U.N. civil and political rights panel, say the CIA program set up after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States included harsh interrogation methods that constituted torture banned by international law. The U.N. Human Rights Committee began a two-day examination of the U.S. record on Thursday, its first scrutiny since 2006, attended by nearly 80 activist groups." Stephanie Nebehay in Reuters.
The spat has also led the Senate to approve a new CIA top lawyer. "The Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to confirm President Obama’s nominee to become the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, as senior lawmakers escalated pressure on the agency’s director to make public a voluminous report on the C.I.A.’s defunct detention and interrogation program....One of Ms. Feinstein’s allies in her fight against the C.I.A., Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, characterized his vote on Thursday less as an endorsement of Ms. Krass than as a vote for change at the spy agency. Mr. Udall has criticized Robert Eatinger, the C.I.A.’s acting general counsel, for referring a criminal case to the Justice Department about the conduct of the Intelligence Committee’s staff. Mr. Udall and Ms. Feinstein have said that Mr. Eatinger has a conflict of interest in the matter, since he was a lawyer overseeing the detention and interrogation program, and his name is mentioned about 1,600 times in the committee’s report." Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times.
What Congress' war with the CIA is really about. Marc Ambinder in The Week.
Why CIA, senators are still feuding over 9/11 secrets. The Associated Press.
Other technology and national security reads:
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Washington is ‘a threat’ to the Internet. Sarah Frier in Bloomberg.
NSA: We didn't pose as Facebook. Julian Hattem in The Hill.
Senators 'very close' to ending NSA phone programs. Darren Samuelsohn in POLITICO.
Happy it's Friday interlude: 17 smiling dogs that will brighten your day.
4. Latino community showing its clout on immigration
Under pressure, Obama calls for immigration-enforcement review. "President Obama on Thursday ordered his administration to review its immigration policies to determine ways to make it more humane, a response to mounting pressure from advocates to stem deportations of illegal immigrants. The move came after Obama met at the White House with three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has been drafting a letter to the president expressing concerns about the administration's deportation policy....Obama has said repeatedly that he is powerless to expand a decision in 2012 to suspend the deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country illegally by their parents. But the congressmen are among a growing number of lawmakers and advocacy groups that are calling on the president to use his executive authority to do more to relieve pressure on the nation's more than 11 million undocumented immigrants." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.
Another meeting with advocates in the works. "President Barack Obama will meet Friday afternoon with immigration advocates, including those who have publicly called for him to stop deportations, according to two people who have received invitations. The White House session marks the second day in a row that Obama will confront the issue of his deportation record in light of the immigration reform bill stalled on Capitol Hill." Reid J. Epstein in Politico.
Conservative House Republicans softening on immigration? "As the smell of Chick-fil-A sandwiches cooling in the corner wafted over them, some of the House's most conservative members took an unusually soft tone on immigration reform on Wednesday. While acknowledging at their monthly 'Conversations With Conservatives' event that little in the form of actual legislation is likely to be done on the issue this year, several conservatives implicitly voiced their support for allowing those who were brought into the country illegally as children, and for those who are willing to work hard, to solidify their status in the country....The change in tone among conservatives comes weeks after House Republican leadership admitted that despite putting out a series of immigration-reform principles, nothing will be done this year to act on them. At the same time, this is an election year and Republicans openly acknowledge the need to appeal to Hispanic voters." Sarah Mimms in National Journal.
But some GOP bills are undermining party's Latino outreach efforts. "The party’s bid to improve its standing among the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc continues to be overshadowed by strenuous opposition — some say hostility — to immigration reform. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to eliminate the public advocate for immigrants who face hearings at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And this week, House Republicans overwhelmingly supported a bill called the Enforce Act, which would limit President Obama’s use of 'prosecutorial discretion' — the legal rationale used to stop deportations of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants. GOP aides said the bills were not intended as anti-immigration measures but rather to rein in executive overreach by Obama in a broad array of areas, and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) says that immigration reform is simply on hold. But Democrats pounced on the measures, and immigrant advocates quickly denounced the Republican votes." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.
Art interlude: Drawing the Oscars selfie.
5. Politics complicating Ukraine aid
Ukraine aid package stalls in Congress amid Republican infighting and partisan bickering. "A proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine’s fledgling pro-Western government stalled Thursday amid festering Republican Party feuds over foreign policy. Tensions erupted on the Senate floor late in the day after the chamber did not advance the measure, with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) berating the dozen or so of his Republican colleagues who, for various reasons, objected to the legislation....Some Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) — a foreign aid critic and potential 2016 presidential candidate — opposed the package because they said it would indirectly benefit Russia, because the Ukrainian government owes the Russian Federation billions of dollars. Others objected to the addition of a White House-backed provision, not directly related to the Russia-Ukraine standoff, that would spur reforms at the International Monetary Fund." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Quotable: "'You can call yourself Republicans. That’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,' McCain said on the Senate floor. 'Ronald Reagan would never — would never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to by the American people.'"
Here's what the IMF reforms would do. "The proposed reforms would double the size of the IMF's main source of funding, which are country contributions known as "IMF quotas," to about $733 billion. They would also increase the voting power of emerging-market countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia in directing IMF resources. Congressional approval is the final hurdle before the changes, introduced in 2010, are enacted. In January the administration tried to slip the IMF reform package into its draft federal spending bill, only to withdraw it amid Republican resistance. Now with Vladimir Putin's invasion of the Crimea and the new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Washington this week seeking U.S. support, the administration claims the IMF reforms are crucial to rescuing Ukraine. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed legislation that would aid Ukraine and approve the IMF changes. That will go to the full Senate, where it is likely to pass. The Republican-led House is a different story." Judy Shelton in The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. on alert as Russian forces mass near Ukraine border. "As Russia turned up the heat, the United States was trying to tamp it down. An American official said that the Obama administration had deferred a request from Ukraine’s interim government for military assistance like arms and ammunition, although the administration was 'still considering' it. Asked about Russia’s military moves, a senior State Department official said, 'We’re very concerned.'" Steven Lee Myers and Alison Smale in The New York Times.
Snowstorm interlude: Most insanely comprehensive weather forecast ever.
This timelapse from a San Francisco street may change how you see the Google bus. Emily Badger.
Obama was right: To boost the economy, spread the wealth. Christopher Ingraham.
Why the DOJ won’t back down on auto lenders. Danielle Douglass.
Reversing course, the White House protects an Obamacare subsidy from sequester cuts. Jason Millman.
Obama administration plan would regulate for-profit colleges. Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.
Many states weigh GMO label initiatives. Pamela M. Prah in Pew Stateline.
Some prosecutors fighting effort to end mandatory minimum prison sentences. Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.
BP regains ability to bid on leases for U.S. land, water. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.
Senate’s Fannie Mae wind-down plan faces high hurdles. Clea Benson, Cheyenne Hopkins and Kathleen Hunter in Bloomberg.
EPA's proposed rules on water worry farmers. Ron Nixon in The New York Times.
Transportation secretary: Feds lacked data to investigate GM defects. David Shepardson and Marisa Schultz in The Detroit News.
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