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Wonkbook: What you need to know about the Supreme Court’s new money-in-politics decision

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.


(Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 191,000. That's the number of private-sector jobs that the economy added in March, a new report shows.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: What the decision in McCutcheon means, in one infographic.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) What you need to know about the McCutcheon ruling; (2) Democrats zero in on Ryan budget; (3) election-year economic policy update; (4) a GOP health care alternative; and (5) what we know so far about the Fort Hood shooting.

1. Top story: Supreme Court strikes down aggregate campaign donation limits

Supreme Court strikes down limits on overall federal campaign donations. "The Supreme Court’s divisive decision Wednesday striking down a Watergate-era limit on campaign contributions was the latest milestone for conservative justices who are disassembling a campaign finance regime they feel violates free-speech rights. The 5 to 4 decision -- striking down the limit on the total amount of money wealthy donors can contribute to candidates and political committees -- was the fifth since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the court that agreed with constitutional arguments challenging laws designed to blunt the influence of money in politics. It again reveals a court deeply divided between liberals trying to preserve campaign finance restrictions they say are essential to ensuring democracy is not distorted by the wealth of the powerful, and conservatives who think the First Amendment trumps efforts by government to control who pays for elections and how much they spend....On its face, the ruling seems far more limited than Citizens United, which has dramatically increased spending on elections and spawned a new wave of political organizations funded by wealthy individuals. But by making clear that government may restrict political contributions only to target quid pro quo corruption -- as opposed to 'the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford' -- the dissenters and others said the court was inviting additional challenges to campaign finance restrictions." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Primary source: The full text of the Supreme Court's ruling. The Washington Post.

Explainers:

Everything you need to know about McCutcheon v. FEC. Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Winners and losers in the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling. Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Highlights from the majority and dissenting opinions. Jacob Gershman in The Wall Street Journal.

Q&A: 8 questions for Shaun McCutcheon. Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

News analysis: Ruling returns power to big donors and party leaders. "Big donors, leaders of political parties and candidates with access to wealthy supporters will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday, a ruling that could fundamentally reshape the political terrain in the 2014 elections and beyond. Election experts predicted a surge of new money into congressional campaigns and political parties, expanding the world of high-dollar fund-raising now dominated by 'super PACs' and big-spending political nonprofit groups. The decision effectively eradicates a significant campaign finance restriction brought about in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cap on the total amount any one person can give to federal candidates and parties in any two-year election cycle. Two groups in particular stand to be most empowered by Wednesday’s decision: Those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents." Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.

What's the impact on the midterms? Not much. "Back in the trenches of Election 2014, the early consensus among campaign professionals about the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling was less hyperbolic: The practical effect on this year’s fight for the Senate and House, they said, will probably be muted." James Hohmann in Politico.

How Democrats are reacting: With bills and hearings. "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he will hold a hearing on the impact of the McCutcheon decision and other rulings from the high court that he says 'have eviscerated our campaign finance laws.' Meanwhile, Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he introduced legislation intended to make donations more transparent by requiring all contributions of $1,000 or more to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours. A campaign bill in the House will be introduced by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat who also chairs the Rules Committee, said the panel will hold hearings on the ruling and that leadership will explore what can be done legislatively. A Constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), which would explicitly give Congress the power to regulate campaign finance for federal races, is a 'more attractive' option since the court ruling was made on First Amendment grounds, Schumer said....Over in the House, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said he plans to introduce legislation that will 'fully reverse this latest Supreme Court blunder.' A Democratic aide said the forthcoming bill from Larson and fellow Democratic Reps. David Price of North Carolina and Bob Brady of Pennsylvania will reinstate the aggregate limits for contributions that were in place before Wednesday’s ruling, and the lawmakers plan to circulate a Dear Colleague letter on the measure. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for passage of legislation sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) that is meant to amplify small-dollars donations to congressional candidates." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

How the White House is reacting: Muted disappointment. Nedra Pickler in the Associated Press.

GOP reaction: House Speaker Boehner praises ruling. "Speaker John Boehner praised the Supreme Court for knocking down aggregate limits on campaign donations, saying 'freedom of speech is being upheld.'" Jake Sherman in Politico.

@maevereston: On call w/reporters, @reince argues Supreme Court decision will create more transparency at a time when money is increasingly untraceable.

Explainers:

Legal reaction roundup. Ashby Jones in The Wall Street Journal.

Politicos' reaction roundup. Politico Magazine.

Plaintiff is a political hobbyist and businessman. "Shaun McCutcheon describes politics as a hobby, but on Wednesday he helped overhaul the rules of campaign finance....Mr. McCutcheon, an electrical engineer who founded Coalmont Electrical Development Corp., began his journey to the Supreme Court after bumping up against the $123,200 cap on what individuals can give to candidates, political parties and political-action committees. A late bloomer to political giving, Mr. McCutcheon, 46 years old, says he found himself quickly frustrated by the campaign-finance laws that restricted the number of candidates he could back." Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Other legal reads:

Americans agree we should move away from minimum drug sentencing. Mark Berman in The Washington Post.

Top opinion on the ruling

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The court follows the money. "The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its crusade to knock down all barriers to the distorting power of money on American elections. In the court’s most significant campaign-finance ruling since Citizens United in 2010, five justices voted to eliminate sensible and long-established contribution limits to federal political campaigns. Listening to their reasoning, one could almost imagine that the case was simply about the freedom of speech in the context of elections." Editorial Board.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Political speech wins again. "One of the Supreme Court's worst mistakes was its willingness to tolerate limits on political free speech in the name of campaign-finance reform. The current Justices have slowly been walking back this historic blunder, and on Wednesday they took another step by killing the overall limit on how much money an individual can contribute to politics....We wish the Court had gone further and overturned all of Buckley, as Justice Clarence Thomas urged in his concurring opinion. As he put it, Buckley is now 'a rule without a rationale' given how much the Court has eroded its original logic. But the Justices didn't need to go that far to overturn overall donor limits, and Chief Justice Roberts prefers incremental legal progress. Justice Thomas is nonetheless a John the Baptist on political speech, and the current majority may vindicate his logic in a future case. We hope it's soon given the pernicious doctrine laid out in the dissent joined by all four liberals." Editorial Board.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Congress must stem the flow of cash in ruling's wake. "The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned yet another federal law meant to check corruption and influence-peddling in national politics. The ruling shows two things: The Roberts Court’s destructive view on these matters wasn’t changed by the backlash to its Citizens United holding, and Congress must respond by designing new rules that can pass the court’s overly skeptical review. If lawmakers tackle the issue forthrightly, they have some workable options." Editorial Board.

BLOOMBERG VIEW: The Supreme Court's naive politics. "There are no former politicians on the current U.S. Supreme Court -- and it shows. Today's 5-4 decision striking down some limits on individual campaign contributions may be right on the law, but it's dangerously wrong on the politics." The Editors.

McCUTCHEON: I fought the law, and I won. "I have been repairing things since I was a kid. When I was in high school, I fixed many motorcycles, electronics and cars. My next-door neighbor was a man named Honest John. He was a used-car dealer in downtown Birmingham. I was low-cost help for him. And I got the work done. Since then, I have been getting things done in workshops and production operations all over the United States and around the world. Now I’m an electrical engineer, and I run a successful small business near Birmingham, Alabama. That engineer’s mindset has guided my political activity, including the decision to take my First Amendment challenge to the Supreme Court." Shaun McCutcheon in Politico Magazine.

HASEN: The subtle awfulness of the McCutcheon decision. "oday, once again, the government lost a campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC. And while it could have lost in somewhat worse ways, this opinion is pretty awful, portending a raft of new First Amendment attacks on soft money and even on the basic rules limiting how much individuals can give candidates for office....We have vintage Roberts playing the long game. The tone is one of minimalism and moderation: We are only striking down aggregate limits, not the base limits, which currently prevent individuals from giving more than $2,600 per election to federal candidates....But this is nevertheless a subtly awful decision. It is true that Roberts sidestepped today the question of whether to apply “strict scrutiny” of contribution limits in another case; he did not need to take that dramatic (and high-profile) step to do a whole lot of damage to campaign finance law. Instead, he did three things which now set the course toward even more campaign finance challenges under the First Amendment and more deregulation." Richard L. Hasen in Slate.

DRUTMAN: An even more unequal system of campaign finance. "It will further empower small set of elite donors who have the means and the motive to play an even more important role in the setting of agendas, positions and candidates. And it will probably benefit Republicans more than Democrats. So now what? Political operatives will, of course, come up with new ways to take advantage of a post-McCutcheon world. Whether it is through joint committees or through some proliferation of affiliated PACs, these operatives will almost certainly soon be in a position to ask a donor to write a seven figure check and then distribute that money in a way that was not possible prior to the ruling. The awkward super PAC dance of independence and non-coordination can end. This will almost certainly make parties and party leaders more important and super PACs less important." Lee Drutman in The Washington Post.

KLEINER: Roberts shows he has no idea how money in politics works. "In reality, the case may not have a huge impact on elections. By tearing down any restriction on the amount that an individual can donate to a Super PAC, Citizens United already opened the spigot on unlimited money in our electoral system. Today’s decision builds on Citizens United but the harm to democracy has already been done. What is striking about the opinion is how completely off-base Chief Justice Roberts is in his understanding of the role of money in politics....Roberts says that legislation cannot seek to limit what he calls the 'general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.' Roberts said 'spending large sums of money' would not 'give rise to such quid pro quo corruption.' The reality is, of course, that looking for evidence of direct trades of a Congressional vote for a donation will reveal very few instances of corruption. However, as Lawrence Lessig has established, there is a broader system of 'dependence corruption' in which candidates must rely on wealthy donors in order to have access to the political system. The Roberts Court reflects a lack of understanding in how money actually operates in our political system and has adopted such a hollow understanding of corruption that they are able to view our system as free of any corrupting influence." Sam Kleiner in The New Republic.

FISHER: Hold the hysteria, McCutcheon didn't gut campaign-finance rules -- yet. "The response from the left and good-government types to the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision was immediate, hyperbolic and predictable. 'Today’s McCutcheon decision is a devastating blow to our democracy,' fretted Public Citizen, which bills itself as 'the people’s voice in the nation’s capital.' The New York Times echoed that with the headline: 'Another Blow to Democracy.' But the decision didn’t really change much besides allowing rich individuals to contribute the maximum of $2,600 to as many federal candidates as they want, instead of just 10. The existing limits on individual contributions remain intact, although those same moneybags types now can give the limit of $32,200 to three national party committees instead of two. (Or six, if they want to go bipartisan.)" Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

RAUCH: Why we need more big money in politics. "To make politics more accountable and ultimately cleaner, progressives need to consider a counterintuitive proposition: the way forward is to bring more big money back inside the political system. In politics, as in war, strategic wisdom sometimes requires abandoning even the most cherished of means to achieve an essential end. Campaign finance has reached one of those moments now." Jonathan Rauch in The Daily Beast.

CASSIDY: Roberts's law: One dollar, one vote. "The Court didn’t go as far as it did in the Citizens United ruling, in 2010. That travesty amounted to a do-as-you-please charter for politically motivated billionaires like Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, James Simons, and George Soros. But Wednesday’s decision, once again a five-to-four ruling, represented another significant step away from the antiquated principle of 'one person, one vote' toward the more modern, and utilitarian, notion of 'one dollar, one vote'...In this case, as in Citizens United, Roberts and his cohorts relied on a twisted reading of the First Amendment that regards giving money to candidates as a form of political speech." John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

Top opinion

KRISTOF: We're not No. 1! We're not No. 1! "We in the United States grow up celebrating ourselves as the world’s most powerful nation, the world’s richest nation, the world’s freest and most blessed nation. Sure, technically Norwegians may be wealthier per capita, and the Japanese may live longer, but the world watches the N.B.A., melts at Katy Perry, uses iPhones to post on Facebook, trembles at our aircraft carriers, and blames the C.I.A. for everything. We’re No. 1! In some ways we indisputably are, but a major new ranking of livability in 132 countries puts the United States in a sobering 16th place. We underperform because our economic and military strengths don’t translate into well-being for the average citizen." Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

DICKERSON: How 'no drama' Obama learned the value of total panic. "Could the 7 million figure have been reached without the panic? If the site had been working from the first day, perhaps the sign-ups would have netted 7 million. But without the illuminating mood of panic -- which focused the mind and allowed for bringing in talented people who had a mandate to cut through the bureaucratic fog -- would it have been possible to create a website that worked? Would the president have been so easy to persuade that he should appear on Between Two Ferns? Would it have been so easy to mobilize the entire operation for the push that included more than 300 radio appearances by the president and others in the administration, 5,000 events on the ground, and 33 million views on the specialized online content they produced? The battle-stations effort Politico reports on was not there before the calamity, and there's no evidence that the president and his team could generate that kind of action on their own. Unlike the Red Sox, the administration hasn’t won the title; it's simply come from behind in Game 1 of a multigame series. We won't know how the health care law is working until we learn how many people have paid, how healthy they are, and where they live in the country." John Dickerson in Slate.

COHN: Obamacare is doomed! A trip down memory lane. "Ever since October 1, when the launch of healthcare.gov went awry, politicians and pundits have been issuing warnings of doom. And whenever the Administration proved one of these predictions wrong, by crossing some threshold or achieving some milestone, the critics simply came up with new disasters the program could not overcome....Those of us who got the enrollment predictions right did so for two very simple reasons. We listened to what people with actual knowledge (inside or outside) told us about what was happening. And we avoided rash or predictions of extreme success or failure, because such statements almost never come true. Those are good rules for talking about health care policy -- or any big debate, for that matter. And maybe the best thing about Tuesday at the White House was listening to Obama adopt a similarly measured tone. 'In the months, years ahead, I guarantee you there will be additional challenges to implementing this law,' he said. 'There will be days when the website stumbles -- I guarantee it....There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved.' The president was right. Obamacare's future will include rough patches, just as its past did. That won't preclude success and it certainly won't make it a catastrophe." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

ANDERSON: Can Obamacare ever become popular? "For quite some time, the Affordable Care Act was opposed by most Americans in large part because they feared how it would affect their health care in the future. The future is now here. Implementation has occurred. And despite the optimism from the law’s supporters that once people experienced the law, they’d embrace it, the reality is that the law remains about as opposed as it was on Day One. From here on out, how Americans feel about this law is likely to be based far less on what they hear on the news and far more on how it affects them personally. Both parties think that will benefit their own side, but only one will be right." Kristen Soltis Anderson in The Daily Beast.

KOCH: I'm fighting to restore a free society. "Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)...Rather than try to understand my vision for a free society or accurately report the facts about Koch Industries, our critics would have you believe we're 'un-American' and trying to 'rig the system,' that we're against 'environmental protection' or eager to 'end workplace safety standards.' These falsehoods remind me of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation, 'Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.'" Charles G. Koch in The Wall Street Journal.

JOHNSON: The dangerous subsidies to big banks. "The I.M.F.’s findings are straightforward. Government support lowers the funding costs of big banks, because it provides a form of guarantee to creditors. Implicit subsidies of this form are worth up to $70 billion for the United States, and perhaps as much as $300 billion for the euro area, per year (see Pages 14 and 18 of the report). As the fund emphasizes, these are big and dangerous numbers -- precisely because such commitments encourage dangerous risk-taking on a scale that can damage the macroeconomy. Financial reforms, including those from the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, contain useful measures but have not reduced these subsidies below their pre-2007 level. (The implicit subsidies are lower now than they were at the height of the crisis, but that’s the nature of a crisis -- and we are trying to look forward to what would happen in the next crisis-type situation.)" Simon Johnson in The New York Times.

GREELEY: Ryan's plan to cut the deficit isn't much of a plan. "Next year the Republicans will still be the majority party in the House. There’s a good chance that they will be the majority party in the Senate as well. Paul Ryan will write his sixth budget proposal. Will this be the one in which he finally tells us exactly what he’s going to cut? Or will that have to wait until we finally just give in and make him president?" Brendan Greeley in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Magic interlude: Another awesome episode of magic for dogs.

2. How Democrats are trying to use Ryan's budget to their advantage

Ryan budget plan is in Democrats’ crosshairs. "Congressional Democrats said Wednesday that the new House Republican budget plan will play a central role in Democratic midterm election strategy. The head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm said that the budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be the 'defining issue in the midterm elections.' And Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) suggested that Ryan’s budget was 'nothing more than a blueprint' for implementing policies sought by Charles and David Koch....The Ryan plan released this week closely resembles the House GOP budget requests proposed and passed in recent years. The plan would cut federal spending by $5 trillion over the next decade by effectively repealing the Affordable Care Act, making deep cuts to Medicare and dramatically cutting taxes for the nation’s wealthiest earners. The House Budget Committee passed the plan Wednesday evening along party lines after a day-long hearing, and the full House is expected to vote on it next week. It stands no chance of winning passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate, though it has become a topic of discussion there anyway." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

By that same token: Sarah Palin said the budget didn't go far enough. "Sarah Palin has a message from one former vice presidential candidate to another: Rep. Paul Ryan, your budget is a 'joke.'" Tal Kopan in Politico.

Top Republican: Ryan budget will pass despite conservative reservations. Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.

Here's some background. Ryan's budget takes midterms into consideration. Alisa Chang in NPR.

Obama, at Michigan campus, mocks GOP stands on health care and minimum wage. "In a speech to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,400 at the University of Michigan, Obama repeatedly mocked Republican ideas about how to improve the economy and touted his own proposal to raise the minimum wage, and poked fun at GOP attempts to repeal his landmark health-care law. The president’s appearance here in eastern Michigan was his latest bid to put pressure on Republicans to support his proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, which he promoted in January in his State of the Union address. Republicans oppose the plan, citing federal estimates that it could eliminate up to 500,000 jobs even as it raised wages for many more workers. Obama appeared energized as he left Washington a day after receiving better-than-expected news on sign-ups at health-insurance exchanges, which topped the White House goal of 7 million. Democrats fear that public opposition to 'Obamacare' and the president’s low job-approval ratings could help Republicans win control of the Senate and make further gains in the GOP-controlled House in midterm elections this fall." David Nakamura and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Why Michigan? There's a push there to raise the minimum wage. Katie Zezima in The Washington Post.

Quotable: "The House GOP’s new budget proposal and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act 'should be familiar because it was their economic plan in the 2012 campaign, it was their economic plan in 2010,' he said at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 'It’s like that movie Groundhog Day. Except it’s not funny.' Clearly in a good mood a day after announcing that at least 7.1 million Americans had signed up for health insurance through ACA exchanges, Obama followed up one punchline with another. 'If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s they’d have to call it the Stinkburger or the Meanwich,' he said, referring to the local restaurant where he stopped for lunch before his arrival on campus." Jennifer Epstein in Politico.

Bogeymen of Democrats' economic strategy: The Koch brothers. "Americans For Prosperity, a group backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers, has been the dominant third-party group spending money on House and Senate races so far this cycle. Through late March, AFP had run more than double the ads of its closest Democratic competitor -- House Majority PAC -- in nine key House races. Democrats realize they can't compete with AFP, dollar for dollar. So they have been pushing back by trying to villainize them and make them into electoral bogeymen." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Prank interlude: Good cop pull-over prank.

3. Election-year economic policy update

State of the economy: Private sector hiring boosts hope of economic thaw. "U.S. businesses last month returned to the modest pace of hiring seen before harsh winter weather curtailed job growth, a survey of private-sector hiring said Wednesday. Private-sector payrolls in the U.S. increased by 191,000 new jobs in March, according to a national employment report compiled by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. ADP +0.22% (ADP) and forecasting firm Moody's Analytics. The result came in near the 200,000 new jobs predicted by economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. The report also flashed an optimistic sign for the pace of hiring by revising February figures to 178,000 new jobs from the 139,000 reported a month ago. The ADP report is seen as a precursor to Friday's nonfarm payrolls, an economic indicator often touted as the best barometer of the nation's economic health. However, the near-expectations data means this month's private-sector payrolls report is unlikely to cause forecasters to change their estimates for Friday." Kathleen Madigan in The Wall Street Journal.

Poll: Job creation index hits six-year high in March. Gallup.

After push by Obama, minimum-wage fight moves to the states. "The more President Obama talks about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, the less likely it appears that Republicans in Congress are inclined to do it. But the stalemate matters less and less. In the last 14 months, since Mr. Obama first called for the wage increase in his 2013 State of the Union address, seven states and the District of Columbia have raised their own minimum wages, and 34 states have begun legislative debates on the matter. Activists in an additional eight states are pursuing ballot referendums this year to demand an increase in wages for their lowest-paid workers. The result is an outside-the-Beltway variation on Mr. Obama’s pledge to use his executive powers to bypass an obstructionist Republican Party in Congress. In this case, White House aides said they believed that Mr. Obama’s feverish rhetorical push for a higher minimum federal wage, to $10.10 per hour from $7.25, has helped generate political pressure on states to act." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

Interactive: The states' actions on the minimum wage. Alicia Parlapiano in The New York Times.

Potential for compromise on minimum wage? "Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has been critical to brokering other bipartisan compromises passed by the Senate in recent months, confirmed to reporters that she's working on a possible bipartisan compromise that would raise the federal minimum wage, but not at the levels being sought by Democrats. Based on conversations she's had with several colleagues, Collins said that the Democratic proposal to raise the minimum hourly wage to $10.10 per hour 'is not going to get through the Senate, much less the House.' But she refused to specify a new proposed wage limit, saying only that the Democratic proposal is too high, 'particularly given the still-fragile economy.' As part of her compromise, Collins said she would seek to raise the wage, include some small-business tax credits and an agreement to change the definition of a full-time work as set by the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours per week back up to 40 hours per week." Ed O'Keefe and Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.

Jobless-benefits bill advances in Senate -- but may not get far in House. "An extension of long-term unemployment benefits cleared another procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday morning, marking another step toward final passage this week. By a 61-38 vote, the Senate voted to end debate on a bipartisan deal to retroactively restore expired jobless aid through May. The bill needed 60 votes to clear a GOP filibuster and will face one more procedural vote before final passage, which is expected Thursday. The bill will face an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears unlikely to take up the legislation as currently written." Burgess Everett in Politico.

More Americans see middle-class status slipping. "A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity. Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realization that they're no longer part of it. They are former professionals now stocking shelves at grocery stores, retirees struggling with rising costs and people working part-time jobs but desperate for full-time pay. Such setbacks have emerged in economic statistics for several years. Now they're affecting how Americans think of themselves." Christopher S. Rugaber in the Associated Press.

It's not just income inequality. It's also wealth inequality. Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Congress looks to angels to boost the economy. "Hoping to fuel more job-creating companies, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are crafting legislation intended to encourage individual start-up investors, commonly called 'angel investors,' to pour even more capital into new and growing businesses -- but they don’t all agree on the best way to help." J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.

Think tank to Congress: You need to boost the economy. "Their paper concludes that because the Fed has slashed interest rates down to zero, the United States should be pursuing expansionary fiscal policy to get the most bang for its buck. In other words, the timing (from a macroeconomic standpoint, though perhaps not a political one) for fiscal stimulus is ideal." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Other economic policy reads:

Winter storm could mean more bad job news for women. Joann Weiner in The Washington Post.

U.S. pump prices seen extending gains from 6-month high. Barbara Powell and Mario Parker in Bloomberg.

Yellen gave a shout out to two ex-offenders in a speech this week. So what? Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

Fed's Lockhart says if weak growth persists, outlook for rates may change. Michael S. Derby in The Wall Street Journal.

IMF warns on economic growth. Chris Giles and Michael MacKenzie in The Financial Times.

Photography interlude: Stunning photos of America's abandoned malls.

4. Jindal's health-care plan's big challenge

Jindal’s health plan starts with a tough premise: Repeal all of Obamacare. "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's Obamacare replacement plan unveiled Wednesday doesn't exactly break new ground. Jindal, who has health care cred in conservative circles, offered up reforms long favored by the right as he signaled his strong desire to eliminate the president's health care law. His plan is worth noting for a couple of reasons, though. Four years after the passage of the president’s health-care law, the GOP hasn’t united behind a replacement plan, but we can piece together what a Republican administration's health policy might look like based on the various plans that have emerged. Secondly, Jindal is the first likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate to offer a vision for health care, and other candidates will also have to explain what they'd do differently from Obamacare....We're still waiting on other GOP replacement health plans. The House is looking at putting together its own package this year, and other Republican candidates looking at 2016 will have to offer serious proposals on what to do with Obamacare. And they'll have to deal with the fact that millions are newly insured by the law. As New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote the other day, that's a hard constituency to ignore." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Bobby Jindal dismisses Obamacare numbers, unveils own reform plan. "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday shrugged off news that more than 7 million people had signed up for Obamacare plans, questioning the accuracy of the numbers and reiterating a call for full repeal of the law. Even if all of those enrollees pay their premiums, the law hasn’t achieved a goal of reducing costs, he said: “The government under the threat of an IRS mandate was able to force 7 million people to participate in this program.' Jindal, who’s eyeing a 2016 bid for the presidency, used his Washington visit to position himself as the Republican candidate of ideas, unveiling a conservative alternative to Obamacare and calling for a more robust debate within his own party on policy issues." Kyle Cheney in Politico.

ACA critics: Homina, homina, homina. "Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong -- but they’ve lost the best evidence they had. On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago. It was also a wake-up call for Republicans and conservatives, and even the occasional liberal, who pushed the argument that the failed website challenges the idea at the heart of Obama’s agenda -- that government can still solve big social problems. That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do." David Nather in Politico.

Fact-check: Obamacare enrollment numbers -- what we know and don't know. Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post.

Other health care reads:

National Journal reporter Sam Baker's Twitter rant on Obamacare. Jeffrey Young in The Huffington Post.

Medicare to release doctor payments for the first time. Alex Wayne in Bloomberg.

Michigan and Wisconsin highlight divide on Medicaid expansion. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Blue Cross says '80-85 percent' of Obamacare enrollees are paying. Bruce Japsen in Forbes.

Kid President interlude: A special announcement.

5. What we know so far about the shooting at Fort Hood

Gunman in Fort Hood shooting had behavioral issues, authorities say. "An Iraq war veteran who was grappling with mental health issues opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., in an attack that left four people dead and 16 wounded Wednesday afternoon, according to preliminary law enforcement and military reports. The gunfire sent tremors of fear across a sprawling Army post still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. Many basic details about the shooting remained unclear in the chaotic hours after the first calls for help around 4 p.m., but senior U.S. law enforcement officials said the incident did not appear to be linked to any foreign terrorist organizations. The shooter was among those who died, the officials said. The officials identified the shooter as Army Spec. Ivan Lopez, 34, a military truck driver....Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said the soldier, whom he did not identify by name, served four months in Iraq in 2011. Milley said the shooter 'had behavioral health and mental health issues.' He said the soldier, who self-reported a traumatic brain injury and was taking anti-depressants, had been under examination to determine whether he had post-traumatic stress disorder. 'We are digging deep into his background,' Milley said." Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Adam Goldman and Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.

Video and primary source: The president's full remarks on the shooting. The Washington Post.

Updates as they happen: Investigation underway. The Washington Post.

Shooting opens up unresolved issues for Congress. "Another deadly shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas has pushed still unresolved issues related to the massacre there nearly five years ago back to the congressional forefront. Even before Wednesday’s incident that reportedly left four dead and 14 wounded, Texas lawmakers in particular have been continuing to push for victims from the November 2009 tragedy to be recognized by the federal government. Nidal Malik Asan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at Fort Hood -- an incident that shocked the nation and kicked off debate inside and outside of Washington. For one, there were issues with the compensation benefits for the veterans wounded and the families of those killed -- and the Texas delegation has fought for years to award Purple Hearts to the soldiers killed or wounded. Another debate has centered on exactly how to classify the shooting: was it a terrorist attack, or an act of work-place violence?" Matt Fuller in Roll Call.

Additional context: Shooting raises security questions. "The base was the site of a shooting in 2009 that ultimately killed 13 people and wounded another 32, the worst mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history. Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death last year for the shooting after being found guilty of premeditated and attempted premeditated murder. Two Pentagon officials said investigators were still trying to determine a motive. But they said there was no indication that the shooter harbored similar ideological or religious beliefs to Maj. Hasan, an American-born Muslim who had been in contact with an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen and shouted 'Allahu Akhbar,' or 'God is great,' as he opened fire....The shooting comes weeks after the Defense Department released the results of a series of probes into a mass shooting at the Navy Yard." Mark Berman in The Washington Post.

And it follows another recent military base shooting. "Wednesday’s Fort Hood shooting is the second shooting at a military base in just over a week, raising questions over whether there is enough security in place on military bases to prevent such incidents. Last Monday, a civilian male with access to the Norfolk Naval Station boarded a docked guided-missile destroyer, struggled with an armed guard and used his pistol to fatally shoot a sailor responding to the scene. Navy security forces then fatally shot the shooter. That incident is still under investigation." Kristina Wong in The Hill.

Life hack interlude: Destroying old hard drive data with ease.

Wonkblog roundup

Architect of credit default swaps to leave JPMorgan. Danielle Douglas.

Michigan and Wisconsin highlight divide on Medicaid expansion. Jason Millman.

This author wrote the book on how to overcome lobbyists. Now it looks like he’s joining their fight. Holly Yeager.

Americans finally understand that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Christopher Ingraham.

Jindal’s health plan starts with a tough premise: Repeal all of Obamacare. Jason Millman.

Does sprawl matter for social mobility? Emily Badger.

Think tank: Congress, you fix the economy. Ylan Q. Mui.

Yellen gave a shout out to two ex-offenders in a speech this week. So what? Ylan Q. Mui.

Et Cetera

Senators accuse GM of illegally hiding ignition-switch flaw. Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.

EPA failed to disclose cancer risk to people in studies. Mark Drajem in Bloomberg.

Editorial pages slam Pollard deal. Tal Kopan in Politico.

At SEC, discontent grows over closed U.S. risk council meetings. Sarah N. Lynch in Reuters.

U.S. regulators warn banks about rise in cyber-attacks. Douwe Miedema in Reuters.

Got tips, additions, or commentsE-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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