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: 117.52. That's the Conference Board's employment trend index for March, up 5.1% from a year ago and the latest sign that hiring will hold up.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: The nation's health progress, in one handy chart.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Dueling election-year priorities in dueling chambers of Congress; (2) jobless-benefits bill's next challenge; (3) the latest election-year Obamacare headache for Dems; (4) don't forget about Iran; and (5) the growing impact of the book "Flash Boys."
1. Top story: Two chambers of Congress, two election-year policy battles, including over women and the workplace
House Republicans this week tackle budget plan while Senate Dems push paycheck fairness. "The House this week will vote on a ten-year Republican budget plan while the Senate debates a bill that Democrats believe will lead to more equal wages for male and female workers. Neither bill has a shot of ever clearing Congress, but both parties are looking to appeal to their base by debating measures that appeal to those voters. House Republicans will need nearly all of their conference to pass the budget plan....House Democrats, meanwhile, plan to introduce their own budget on Monday....Senate Democrats are focused on debating measures that are unlikely to garner enough support to pass their own chamber but which they believe will put Republicans who oppose their legislation in an unfavorable political position. They’ll start this week with a debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act." Susan Ferrechio in the Washington Examiner.
Senate Democrats to hold procedural vote on workplace protections for women. "The Senate is poised to hold a procedural vote Wednesday on legislation to beef up workplace protections for women who are earning less than male colleagues for doing the same work. The bill is unlikely to get Republican support. The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced last year by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), would make it easier for women to sue for sex discrimination in wages, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers for discussing how much they make. For Democrats, it's a cudgel to hammer Republicans as indifferent toward women ahead of a tough mid-term election....When a version of it came up in 2012 -- also months before an election -- Republican senators unanimously filibustered it and dismissed it as a gimmick. If the 55 Democrats vote together, they'll need five GOP votes to clear the threshold, and they don't have any yet. The most moderate of them, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), said in 2012 that existing workplace protections for women were sufficient and argued that the Democrats' proposal would 'result in excessive litigation that would impose a real burden, particularly on small businesses.' Collins' spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment, but the GOP's approach to the issue hasn't changed." Sahil Kapur in Talking Points Memo.
Obama to sign two executive orders aimed at narrowing gender gap in wages. "President Obama will take two executive actions Tuesday aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, forcing federal contractors to let their workers discuss their earnings with one another and to disclose more information about what their employees earn. The push by Obama, who also is commemorating Tuesday as 'National Equal Pay Day,' is part of a broader effort by Democrats to increase turnout among female voters during the 2014 midterm elections, which party strategists consider critical to limiting Republican gains this fall." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
But the president's own payrolls are drawing scrutiny. "President Obama on Tuesday will call attention to what he has said is an 'embarrassment' in America: the fact that women make, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. But critics of the administration are eager to turn the tables and note that Mr. Obama’s White House fares only slightly better. A study released in January showed that female White House staff members make on average 88 cents for every dollar a male staff member earns. The dueling statistics reveal the political sensitivities around a set of gender-related issues that could be critical in the midterm elections this fall. Those include pay equity, family leave, preschool and child care." Michael D. Shear and Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.
The president's actions won't solve the pay gap. "The executive orders could start a new wave of progress. About half of American workers are either expressly barred or strongly discouraged from discussing pay with each other. Obama’s action won’t change that fact for everyone, but it will affect 22 percent of the workforce. And it can have ripple effects to other companies that might want to compete for federal contracts, changing standards over time....Nobody should think that Obama’s actions Tuesday will fix the wage gap, full stop. The gap exists for many reasons, with discrimination likely among them....Conservatives like to emphasize the role that other factors, like choices about work-family balance, play in creating a pay gap. And it’s certainly true that women are more likely to interrupt their careers to care for children and other family members." Bryce Covert in The New Republic.
Explainer: The gender pay gap, state by state. Forbes.
Here's how the GOP is planning to fight back: With women. "Republicans say the Democrats’ 'war on women' line is fake. But their fear of it is real. More than a dozen female Republican lawmakers gathered last week with GOP operatives to hold a broad discussion on conservative ideas to empower female voters....With the Senate up for grabs in 2014 and Democrats promising to make women’s issues the centerpiece of the campaign, the GOP has spent the last year coming up with these new ideas to blunt a repeat of 2012, when key Senate races slipped through their fingers amid controversial Republican comments about rape. The strategy faces its first big test Tuesday, when a coalition of Republican committees will release its response to a Democratic push to make 'fair pay' a campaign issue designed to appeal to women....Still, Republicans face significant hurdles, this year and in the long run. House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the only GOP woman in leadership in either chamber. There are also fewer female Republican candidates running than in past election cycles. And, Republicans have had to teach their male candidates and incumbents how to talk to women." Anna Palmer in Politico.
Over in the House: Here's how Democrats' budget contrasts with the GOP's. "Unlike the deep spending cuts that Mr. Ryan mapped out to balance the budget in 10 years, Mr. Van Hollen’s plan proposes giving spending a boost. Democrats would increase non-military spending from 2016 to 2024 to invest in infrastructure, education and scientific research....Under the Democrats’ budget, the federal deficit would grow to $636.8 billion in 2024. That is lower than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s projected 2024 deficit of $1.074 trillion, but higher than Mr. Ryan’s proposal, which would eliminate the deficit by then."
"House Democrats’ Monday went ahead and included several items on the party’s wishlist. The Democratic budget would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, up from the current $7.25 level; overhaul the immigration system and extend emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year. Democrats emphasized that their budget would not reduce spending for federal safety-net programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. In the GOP budget, Mr. Ryan proposes offering seniors a choice between traditional Medicare and private plans subsidized by the government, starting in 2024. He would also transfer much of the federal government’s role in Medicaid to the states. Like the GOP plan, Democrats would stick to a budget deal for fiscal year 2015 that Mr. Ryan negotiated in December with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) But after 2015, Democrats would eliminate the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester for non-defense discretionary spending, as well as mandatory spending. The Democratic budget would leave in place the spending caps on military spending. By contrast, Republicans proposed increasing military spending by almost $500 billion over 10 years and cut non-military spending by $791 billion over a decade." Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.
Democrats also want to use the CBO to hit Ryan budget on poverty impacts. "The latest Ryan budget is no more likely than its predecessors to become law. But as with those those earlier documents, this year’s spending blueprint is giving both parties plenty of election-year ammunition. Democrats, looking for some policy heft to leverage their political talking points, have asked the Congressional Budget Office to analyze the impact on poverty of Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s fiscal 2015 budget." Emma Dumain in Roll Call.
House conservatives spurn Ryan's proposal and offer more austere alternative. "Conservative Republicans who believe that Representative Paul Ryan's budget plan does not cut spending fast or deeply enough will get a chance to support an alternative plan that aims to balance the budget in just four years instead of 10. The Republican Study Committee, the most influential bloc of House of Representatives conservatives, on Monday unveiled its 'Back to Basics' budget as an amendment that would replace Ryan's plan in a House floor vote this week. The study committee's version includes $7.4 trillion in spending cuts compared with Ryan's proposed $5.1 trillion in cuts. With only a scant chance of passage, the plan would give the most conservative House members, especially those backed by the Tea Party movement, some political cover with a chance to vote for both Ryan's plan and the more drastic RSC version." David Lawder in Reuters.
As it stands right now, the economy may not give either party a boost in November. "In Washington, where everything is political, the monthly jobs report is hardly an exception. The first Friday of each month offers econ wonks their best peek at who’s working, who’s not, how much, and in what sort of jobs. And it gives politicos from each party a chance to take shots at the other, depending on the data and who’s in the White House. The latest go-around Friday saw another brief skirmish, but it also showed how muted an issue the economy looks likely to be come the November midterm elections. On the one hand, a positive turn in many of the deeper job trends is clearly depriving the Republicans of ammunition. But the job market is hardly on a tear, and it may take months for the latest green shoots to translate into wider optimism. Democrats shouldn’t bank on the economy giving them much help." Neil King Jr. in The Wall Street Journal.
Other economic policy reads:
At session's end, Md. legislature backs minimum-wage hike, loosens marijuana laws. John Wagner, Jenna Johnson and Fredrick Kunkle in The Washington Post.
Ms. Lagarde has a point with low-inflation warnings. Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
Fed's Bullard sees no need for global monetary coordination. Reuters.
Germany may have an answer for the youth unemployment crisis. Matthew Yglesias in Vox.
A basket of labor data suggests jobs gains will continue. Kathleen Madigan in The Wall Street Journal.
WALDMAN: On equal pay, Republicans are boxed in. "The president can’t unilaterally set rules for every American workplace, but what he can do is set rules for federal contractors, which make up a surprisingly large portion of all American businesses; about a quarter of the American workforce is employed by companies that have at least some federal contracts. How will Republicans react? Obviously they will not be pleased. But watch carefully: I’m guessing there will be not a peep from Republicans about the actual substance of the executive orders, which are not actually going to wipe out sex discrimination in one fell swoop....Here’s what conservatives will almost certainly say: This is just one more example of Barack Obama’s disregard for the law and the separation of powers, as he continues his tyrannical misuse of his office. They won’t say that employees shouldn’t be able to discuss their pay with each other, or that contractors shouldn’t have to report their wage data. Because those are awfully difficult arguments to make, and having that discussion would make conservatives look like they’re defending sex discrimination. And that would be just fine with the White House. So they’ll stick to the process arguments." Paul Waldman in The Washington Post.
RAMPELL: The safety net catches the middle class more than the poor. "Liberals are shocked (shocked!) that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his co-partisans would consider cutting Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants and other programs that serve the neediest Americans. They have accused Ryan of trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. But long before Ryan unveiled his 'Path to Prosperity,' politicians of both parties had been redistributing government spending away from the truly destitute and toward everyone else....Since the mid-1990s, the biggest increases in spending have gone to those who were middle class or hovering around the poverty line. Meanwhile, Americans in deep poverty -- that is, with household earnings of less than 50 percent of the official poverty line -- saw no change in their benefits in the decade leading up to the housing bubble. In fact, if you strip out Medicare and Medicaid, federal social spending on those in extreme poverty fell between 1993 and 2004." Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.
TRITCH: 40 cents an hour. "Democrats have blamed the delays on Republican tactics that slow down Senate business. Like all good excuses, there is a grain of truth in that: Republican tactics do slow down Senate business. But the fact of the matter is that a handful of Senate Democrats are also standing in the way, because they continue to fret that a proposed raise in the minimum wage, from $7.25 an hour, where it has been since 2009, to $10.10 an hour by 2016, is too much, too fast....If Democrats were truly interested in standing up for a 'responsible' raise, they would have called for more than $10.10 an hour, but their opening bid was low, and now some of them are practically begging Republicans to bargain them down....The proposed raise from $7.25 to $10.10 would be the first raise since 2009 and would take until 2016 to phase in. That works out to an average raise of about 40 cents an hour each year over seven years." Teresa Tritch in The New York Times.
ROUSU: Eliminate the minimum wage for teenagers. "The current national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This is a low wage, and thankfully most Americans don’t earn the minimum wage. There is one demographic group that is more likely to earn the minimum wage than any other: teenagers. This is logical, as those who are new to the job market don’t usually have the skills necessary to command higher salaries. But this law has a devastating impact on teenagers, who aren’t trying to raise a family. In 2013, 16-19 year olds had an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent. Workers in every other wage group suffered much lower rates of unemployment. If it weren’t for the minimum wage, we would expect these rates to be much more equal." Matthew Rousu in Forbes.
BARBERA: Forecasts of U.S. fiscal Armageddon are wrong. "Conventional wisdom has it that the American national debt is out of control, and that cutting the federal deficit is an urgent task if the US is to avoid a budgetary crisis. The logic is beguiling. But it is wrong -- and the influence it exerts on policy makers may put a brake on future economic recovery....Such forecasts of a federal debt disaster depend on an assumption that is rarely mentioned: that interest rates will normalise even though economic growth will not. Combine decades of tepid expansion with traditional real interest rates, and an unsustainable debt burden quickly comes into view. But that combination would represent a dramatic break with history. It goes against everything we know about the mechanisms that determine real interest rates. It is, therefore, a slim reed on which to base a radical departure for economic policy." Robert Barbera in The Financial Times.
NOCERA: GM crisis serves as a reminder of the auto bailouts. "What makes this a particularly difficult crisis for G.M. is that it comes at a time when the company is trying to prove to the world that the old G.M. is dead. With a new chief executive in Mary Barra, 52, and a handful of newly designed cars, G.M. wants the world to believe that it has emerged from its bankruptcy as a smarter, nimbler, more transparent company. And maybe it has. But the Cobalt fiasco does not instill confidence; rather, it reminds people why General Motors had to be saved by the government in the first place." Joe Nocera in The New York Times.
KRUGMAN: Oligarchs and money. "Econonerds eagerly await each new edition of the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. Never mind the forecasts, what we’re waiting for are the analytical chapters, which are always interesting and even provocative. This latest report is no exception. In particular, Chapter 3 -- although billed as an analysis of trends in real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates -- in effect makes a compelling case for raising inflation targets above 2 percent, the current norm in advanced countries. This conclusion fits in with other I.M.F. research....But the I.M.F. evidently doesn’t feel able to say outright what its analysis clearly implies. Instead, the report resorts to euphemisms that preserve deniability: the analysis 'could have implications for the appropriate monetary policy framework.' So what makes the obvious unsayable? In a direct sense, what we’re seeing is the power of conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom doesn’t come from nowhere, and I’m increasingly convinced that our failure to deal with high unemployment has a lot to do with class interests." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Off the Obamacare deep end: The worse-the-better caucus is hurting GOP's case. "It doesn't take much for some conservatives to shout 'betrayal' these days, but the latest example is especially obtuse. House GOP leaders are rushing to quell a micro-rebellion on the right for having repaired a small corner of ObamaCare's economic damage. It's going to be a long three years until there is a new President if harm reduction now constitutes health-care treason. In the latest 'doc fix' for Medicare payments last week, Republicans tucked in a provision repealing an arbitrary $2,000 cap on deductibles in small-business health insurance. In a rational world beating White House industrial policy and allowing more consumer choice would qualify as a modest conservative victory. But some Republicans have convinced themselves that the only tolerable change to ObamaCare is to make it worse....We support repealing ObamaCare as much as anyone, but that shouldn't mean refusing to make the law less destructive to the businesses that create the most jobs. The GOP ought to run on what progress the party is making against an implacable White House, not apologize for it." Editorial Board.
COHN: The latest evidence that Obamacare is working. "It's impossible to say how big an impact the Affordable Care Act is having on the uninsured. But it's getting impossible to deny that it's having an impact at all. The latest evidence comes from the Gallup organization, which surveys respondents about insurance status. According to Gallup, the percentage of adults without health insurance has been falling since the middle of last year. Now, Gallup says, it's down to 15.6 percent. That's the lowest rate that Gallup has recorded since late 2008. These tracking surveys on the uninsured are far from precise. Among other things, people answering these surveys aren't always sure of their own insurance status. Nobody should treat them as gospel. But Gallup also found the most dramatic change in insurance status among low-income and minority populations, which would be consistent with implementation of a law that has its most dramatic impact on people with the least money." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
KOLBERT: We're still standing around and waiting on climate change. "Talk about standing around and waiting. As in the case of the destruction of the ozone layer, much of the key research on climate change was completed in the nineteen-seventies. (The first major report on the subject from the National Academy of Sciences was requested by President Jimmy Carter.) And, once again, it’s been clear since that time what needs to be done. Global warming is a product of carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, so, if we want to limit warming, these emissions have to be phased out....The fact that so much time has been wasted standing around means that the problem of climate change is now much more difficult to deal with than it was when it was first identified. But this only makes the imperative to act that much greater, because, as one set of grim predictions is being borne out, another, even worse set remains to be written." Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker.
BEUTLER: House Republicans are slowly giving in to Obamacare. "A week and a half ago, when House Republican leaders realized that their own conservative members might align to defeat legislation protecting Medicare physicians from a big automatic pay cut, they took the unusual step of cutting them out of the tangle altogether....I wonder how many of them knew at the time, or know now, that the leaders used the same doc fix bill to smuggle a bipartisan Obamacare fix through the House uncontested. The tweak itself is relatively minor....When the Associated Press laid it all out on Sunday -- including the fact that GOP leaders sought the fix at the behest of powerful business organizations -- Matt Drudge freaked out and accused Republican leaders of 'expanding Obamacare.' Republican leaders rejected that interpretation, noting that what they actually did was repeal a provision of the law, in a way that redounds to the benefit of small business owners. But Drudge has a point, too. The change will make expanding coverage under Obamacare marginally easier. And to the extent that it helps small business owners, it weakens the already splintering coalition of interest groups and movement leaders who support repealing the law in its entirety." Brian Beutler in The New Republic.
McARDLE: Digital cash will starve the homeless. "I won’t go into the arguments about whether you should give to panhandlers or not; having worked for a homeless-advocacy group long ago, I’m familiar with all of the arguments, but I’m not sure they actually matter much in practice. Most people are not so constituted as to either always give or never give. But whether you think giving to panhandlers is good or bad -- whether you think it results in immiseration of marginal people or encourages them to get help -- one thing is certain: A cashless society will cause a marked change in the streetscape of cities. Panhandling has been around as long as we’ve had cities, and neither law nor custom has ever been able to fully eradicate it. But technology just might." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.
PONNURU: Obamacare isn't failing. Now what? "The higher-coverage alternative seems like a better bet for the law's opponents, both from the perspective of winning the 2016 elections and that of actually enacting an alternative. It seems unlikely that Congress would pass legislation to strip coverage from millions of people. Even if opponents of Obamacare eventually agree on that point, devising an alternative is only the beginning. It will still be necessary to strike at the Affordable Care Act's weak points. The tax on people who don't buy insurance is one of them. It is both the law's least popular feature and a window into its coercive heart. Congressional Republicans should keep pressing on this issue. One way of doing so: Replacement plans should make sure to include an amnesty for anyone who runs afoul of that tax. That's my advice, free of charge, for Obamacare opponents in politics -- especially any of them who are thinking about running for president." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View.
Musical performance interlude: Hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra play through an earthquake.
2. The jobless-benefits bill still has a long way to go
Senate votes to restore federal funding for extended unemployment benefits. "The Senate voted 59 to 38 Monday in favor of a bill that would restore federal funding for extended unemployment benefits for 2.8 million Americans who are considered 'long-term unemployed.' The deal, carried by Democratic senators but struck with the support of several prominent Republicans -- including Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) -- came on the Senate’s fourth vote on a bill to renew the benefits. The measure, which would restore the federal funding that pays for unemployment insurance after state-sponsored insurance ends after 26 weeks, easily passed the Senate on Monday evening and now heads to the House -- where Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) has repeatedly signaled that it is unlikely to come up for a vote." Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.
Here's what the bill would do. "The Senate bill would reauthorize emergency unemployment benefits for five months. The cost of renewing expanded jobless benefits would be covered by extending so-called pension smoothing, which was set to phase out this year. That maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to pension funds, meaning short-term taxable income would rise as they claim fewer deductions. Other ways to cover the measure’s costs include extending customs user fees through 2024 and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat-rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." Kathleen Hunter in Bloomberg.
House shrugs off the bill. "The fate of expired unemployment benefits tied the Senate in knots for nearly four months. The response in the House: a nonchalant shrug. The bill’s not high on the House agenda this week, and it won’t be much higher when the House returns from a two-week recess at the end of the month. There is talk of amending the bill and sending it back to the Senate with provisions favored by Republicans -- but even that seems to be on the back burner. That leaves the package in limbo, even as Democrats threaten to make it an election year issue -- a threat doing little to spur House Republicans to action." Lauren French in Politico.
Explainer: How Democrats are trying to fix that. "While Democrats will trumpet this evening's Senate vote as a triumph, the legislation seems to face an implausible pathway to becoming law once it is sent to the House. Republican House leadership has repeatedly stated their opposition to the Senate-passed bill, noting that they do not want to bring any unemployment legislation to the floor for a vote unless it includes job-creation provisions. But Democratic House members and their aides insist they won't go down without a fight." Wesley Lowery in The Washington Post.
Animal interlude: This parrot does not want to be touched.
3. Obamacare is still causing election-year headaches for Democrats
Obama administration reverses proposed cut to Medicare plans. "Medicare has reversed proposed payment cuts to private heath plans in the popular Medicare Advantage program for the second straight year amid strong pushback from health insurers and Capitol Hill. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Monday, after proposing in February a 1.9 percent cut to private plans, said government payments to insurers in the Medicare Advantage program will increase .4 percent on average in 2015. The increase, CMS said, is slightly higher than what insurers had requested....The reversal comes after a major lobbying effort from the health insurance industry and signals that Republicans would use the cuts to attack Democrats in this year's midterm elections. The Medicare Advantage program, according to the Avalere Health consulting firm, now covers about 16 million seniors, or 30 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries, through private health plans that can offer extra benefits, like wellness plans. CMS says it reversed the proposed cuts after reconsidering several factors. The agency had initially assumed Medicare’s growth rate would be -1.9 percent. Now it says that rate would be -3.4 percent, which actually would have lowered payments to health plans. But because of various changes to how Medicare assesses risk, health plans will instead see higher payments, the agency says." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Decoding the high-stakes debate over the Medicare Advantage cuts. Jay Hancock in Kaiser Health News.
Why Democrats are fretting over the cuts. "Medicare Advantage is a privatized version of the government insurance program for adults over 65, offering perks like gym memberships and care coordination. It has long been championed by Republicans -- who have always wanted to make Medicare a more privatized operation -- and derided by Democrats -- who said it was an inefficient money suck. But amid troubling signs of Democrats potentially losing the Senate, many legislators have switched to supporting the privatized Medicare plan. On Monday, vulnerable Democratic incumbents won their fight....American Health Insurance Plan's Coalition for Medicare Choices launched their biggest-ever marketing push against potential cuts, spending lots on advertising and grassroots campaigning. Local newspapers have been writing stories about the proposed cuts, detailing the exact number of seniors who would be affected in their state. The moment feels a bit like the sequester -- cuts are being tallied and criticized, and one party is being leveled with 98 percent of the blame. Hence the dilemma for Dems, who have a vested interest in keeping the Affordable Care Act afloat, but also don't want to endanger their chances of getting re-elected. And in midterm elections, older voters are the last people you want to infuriate. They are among the voters history shows we can count on to vote in off-year elections while most of America tunes out. " Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Obamacare could cause confusion as people use it. "Obama administration officials hoping to exhale after the big finish to Obamacare’s first enrollment season may need to hold their breath a while longer. All the confusion and mixed messages out there are bound to combust if people decide they were misled -- an echo of the 'you can keep your plan if you like it' fiasco." Natalie Villacorta in Politico.
Other health care reads:
The best health-care enrollment data comes from a home office in Michigan. Sarah Kliff in Vox.
How tech giants botched Obamacare. Olga Kharif in Bloomberg Businessweek.
How much does Obamacare actually cost? Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner.
Who are the uninsured, anyway? Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.
The nation's health progress, in one handy chart. Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post.
Prank interlude: College student pranks the professor in class.
4. Russia isn't the only country in U.S. lawmakers' political crosshairs. Don't forget Iran
Senate passes Cruz's bill barring Iran's U.N. pick from U.S. soil. "A measure that would ban Iran's recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate Monday evening, a legislative victory for its lead sponsor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Several aides confirm that Cruz talked over the weekend with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chamber's third-ranking Democrat, who also has been pushing aggressively for sanctions against Iran and for the Obama administration to block granting a visa to the new envoy. The measure would bar Iran's newly tapped U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, from entering the country. Aboutalebi participated in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He was appointed earlier this year to the post by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani." Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Context: What the controversy over Iran's pick is about. "Last week, Cruz questioned the wisdom of holding talks with the Iranian government about its nuclear program in light of Iran’s choice for ambassador. The United States has objected to Iran’s anticipated selection of Aboutalebi, but the Obama administration stopped short last week of saying it would refuse him a visa to enter the United States. The State Department said it had raised the issue with Tehran....For many senior political figures in present-day Iran, the 444-day hostage crisis was a watershed moment. It thrust them into the world spotlight and still carries considerable political currency within Iran, but also shows the broad spectrum of views within the country since the Islamic Revolution. Some Iranians who were closely linked to the U.S. Embassy seizure later moderated their views toward outreach to the U.S. and the West." The Associated Press.
Senators press for sanctions threat on Iran over oil sales. "U.S. Senate advocates of Iran sanctions urged President Obama to re-instate punitive steps against Iran if it sells more oil than a November deal allows. The November multilateral nuclear agreement -- called the Joint Plan of Action or 'JPA' -- loosens threats against buyers of Iran's oil if the Middle Eastern nation's 'average daily crude oil exports remained constant over a six-month period. Recent reports, however, suggest that Iranian oil sales have remained above one million barrels per day for five straight months,' Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a letter to President Obama on Monday. The half-year pact is intended to facilitate the negotiation of a longer-term deal to limit Iran bomb-relevant nuclear activities." Diane Barnes in Global Security Newswire.
Other national security reads:
Congress and Pentagon are engaged in a new fight: Where do Apache helicopters belong? Walter Pincus in The Washington Post.
White House warns Russia: Don't intervene in Eastern Ukraine. Josh Lederman and Lara Jakes in the Associated Press.
Magic interlude: Stockholm, Sweden, explained with magic tricks.
5. How Michael Lewis's latest book, on high-speed trading, is creating waves
High-speed trading explained. "High-frequency trading has drastically altered the stock markets -- and not always for the better, as the book Flash Boys makes clear. The roots of this kind of trading lie in a regulation passed to encourage the spread of electronic exchanges. Now, some critics say it's time to decide whether new rules are in order....In recent years, high speed computers have drastically altered the way the stock market operates. What's called high frequency trading has been getting renewed attention thanks to 'Flash Boys,' the latest book from Michael Lewis. In that book, he argues the changes have created a lot of new problems." Jim Zarroli in NPR.
Review: Michael Lewis’s new best-seller focuses the public’s attention on high-frequency trading. What will change as a result? Felix Salmon in Slate.
Dark markets may be more harmful than high-frequency trading. "Fears that high-speed traders have been rigging the U.S. stock market went mainstream last week thanks to allegations in a book by financial author Michael Lewis, but there may be a more serious threat to investors: the increasing amount of trading that happens outside of exchanges. Some former regulators and academics say so much trading is now happening away from exchanges that publicly quoted prices for stocks on exchanges may no longer properly reflect where the market is. And this problem could cost investors far more money than any shenanigans related to high frequency trading." John McCrank in Reuters.
Fallout from high-speed trading hits brokerages. "Brokerages that cater to mom-and-pop investors are emerging as an early victim of the intensifying scrutiny of high-speed trading. Shares of E*Trade Financial Corp., Charles Schwab Corp. and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. tumbled last week amid concerns that regulators would ban a practice that allows brokerages to collect hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue by selling orders to middlemen who use high-frequency strategies to trade with the brokers' customers. The practice, called payment for order flow, has gained more attention since the release of 'Flash Boys,' a book by Michael Lewis that argues the markets are 'rigged' to benefit high-frequency traders, allegations that are stirring up long-running questions about the fairness of markets. The worry for some brokerages is that regulators will seize a moment when trading is in the spotlight to crack down on payment-for-order-flow arrangements, analysts said." Bradley Hope in The Wall Street Journal.
Other financial reads:
U.S. regulators to vote on final bank leverage rules. Reuters.
It's not Thursday yet, but... In this interlude, meet the man behind Throwback Thursday.
Obama administration reverses proposed cut to Medicare plans. Jason Millman.
Twitter is surprisingly accurate at predicting unemployment. Emily Badger.
How the District’s Obamacare exchange is unlike any other. Jason Millman.
Want people to think you’re smarter? Smile more. Christopher Ingraham.
A remarkably small idea that could reduce distracted driving. Lydia DePillis.
Housing bill threatened by rift on help for disadvantaged. Cheyenne Hopkins and Clea Benson in Bloomberg.
Obama announces grants helping students get 'in-demand jobs of the future.' Jim Kuhnhenn in the Associated Press.
Renewable energy investment is down, but that's OK. Bryan Walsh in Time Magazine.
Friction tests patent reform push. Megan R. Wilson and Kate Tummarello in The Hill.
Security holes in power grid have federal officials scrambling. Evan Halper in the Los Angeles Times.
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.
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