Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: The vanishing of the ideological middle in Congress.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Sebelius's legacy; (2) Civil Rights Act revisited; (3) Why Congress is struggling to get things done; (4) the recovery's padding government coffers; and (5) a busy week in cybersecurity.
1. Top story: Sebelius to resign. What's her legacy?
Kathleen Sebelius to step down as HHS secretary. "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning, ending a tumultuous tenure as the public face of the Affordable Care Act. President Obama will nominate his budget director on Friday as her successor, according to White House officials. Sebelius entered the Cabinet in 2009, three months into Obama’s presidency, as a well-regarded former governor of conservative Kansas. She is leaving after months of intense criticism over the botched rollout in the fall of the insurance marketplace....During the firestorm, Obama made clear to his aides that he would not seek the resignation of his health secretary, and her departure is timed to brighter news for the White House as enrollment soared late last month. Still, some White House allies said Thursday night that the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov had heightened tensions between Sebelius and the president’s staff members, who had become increasingly mistrustful of the department she led. Some Democrats, meanwhile, had argued privately that someone should be held accountable for the problems with the federal insurance exchange." Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein in The Washington Post.
Departure comes as Obamacare headlines keep improving: Exchange sign-ups hit 7.5 million. "About 7.5 million people have signed up for health insurance through the new state and federal marketplaces, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday morning. The number represents a significant jump from the 7.1 million Americans who signed up by March 31, the deadline to get coverage this year. The number does not reflect the number of people who have paid their first month's premium....Sebelius has previously cited insurance company estimates that between 80 percent and 90 percent of enrollees are paying their premiums. Federal officials have said anyone who tried but was unable to sign up by the deadline will have until April 15 to finish their applications. Starting this year, most people must carry health insurance or they will owe a fine." Sandhya Somashekhar and Jason Millman in The Washington Post.
Videos: Highlights of Sebelius' tenure atop HHS. Politico.
Chart: Has Obamacare worked? A-before and-after. Alex Tribou in Bloomberg.
What Sebelius's departure means for Democrats, Obama and Obamacare. "Healthcare.gov's failures presented a two-headed problem for Obama. On a policy level, they threatened the viability of a trademark initiative commonly associated with his name. And on a political level, they're a huge liability for Democrats in November's midterm elections. The party stands no real chance of winning the House of Representatives, and the smart money now favors Republicans to take back the Senate -- in part because of anger about the law. Sebelius's exit may provide the administration the opportunity to distance itself and Healthcare.gov, but it won't make those political challenges go away." David A. Graham in The Atlantic.
Maybe it's a sign that Obamacare is doing fine. "Does the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services mean that Obamacare is succeeding or that it is struggling -- or even that it has failed? The best answer may be that the Obama Administration has decided that Obamacare has a real chance of being the sort of victory they’d always envisioned. That means that Sebelius’s departure, which the Times and others reported late Thursday, won’t have to represent a surrender. When the Affordable Care Act’s online exchange was launched, in October, and didn’t work, calling for Sebelius to go was a way of saying that the whole project ought to be discarded. There would have been a broad effort to send pieces of the A.C.A. out the door with her, as if they were personal items thrown into a cardboard box. Now, the Administration seems confident enough that the law will live; they can let her go without being quite as afraid that anyone but Sebelius herself is paying a price." Amy Davidson in The New Yorker.
Video: Sebelius recently said she was staying. The Huffington Post.
Meet the president's nominee to replace her. "Sylvia Mathews Burwell is about to become the biggest name in health care after news broke Thursday night that she will be the nominee to replace the resigning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. If confirmed, Burwell, who is the current director of the Office and Management and Budget, will become the key figure leading implementation of the Affordable Care Act at a crucial time for the health-care law during a hotly contested election year." Jason Millman in The Washington Post.
Burwell faces a host of challenges. "Despite the law’s enrollment achievements, Burwell faces challenges. Twenty-four states haven’t agreed to an expansion of Medicaid, which was a key part of providing coverage to the uninsured. The federal government runs insurance marketplaces in 36 states, more than the Obama administration anticipated, after most declined to take on that responsibility. Republicans in Congress have resisted providing billions of dollars Obama has requested to build and run the insurance exchanges." Alex Wayne, Julianna Goldman and Drew Armstrong in Bloomberg.
Other health care reads:
Dems' problem is that GOP hates Obamacare more than Democrats love it. Dylan Scott in Talking Points Memo.
Explainer: How does one doctor earn $21 million from Medicare? Sarah Kliff in Vox.
Obamacare's Medicaid trap. Sophie Novack in National Journal.
Doctors' billing system stays stuck in the 1970s for now. Eric Whitney in NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Explainer: The best evidence we have that Obamacare is working. Ezra Klein in Vox.
States not waiting for feds on e-cigarette restrictions. Jackie Kucinich in The Washington Post.
Nobody blames doctors for high medical costs. That's about to change. Darius Tahir in The New Republic.
COHN: The Sebelius legacy: One epic tech failure, millions of newly insured Americans. "Maybe Sebelius and her supporters hoped that the morning news would put a more positive spin on the evening’s. If so, they were very, very wrong. The first sentence of the New York Times article on her resignation described a 'stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.' Expect more of the same in the coming hours and days. Sebelius deserves at least some of that treatment....Still, it’s not as if Obamacare’s implementation difficulties are entirely, or even mostly, the fault of HHS. It’s a typical, if predictable, failure of Washington to demand a fall guy when things go wrong. But responsibility rarely lies with just one person. (That's one reason Obama resisted calls to fire her.) And this case is no exception. Implementing Obamacare was never going to be easy....More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of those early problems....Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for those successes, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. But her role in those achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety) is also part of her record." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
KLEIN: Sebelius is resigning because Obamacare has won. "Obamacare has won. And that's why Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius can resign. Calls for Sebelius's resignation were almost constant after Obamacare's catastrophic launch....But President Obama refused. As National Journal's Major Garrett reported, Obama believes that 'scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity.' Moreover, there was too much to be done to fire one of the few people who knew how to finish the job. Sebelius would stay. The White House wouldn't panic in ways that made it harder to save the law. The evidence has piled up in recent weeks that the strategy worked....the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team -- led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager -- can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success." Ezra Klein in Vox.
KRUGMAN: The real Obamacare nightmare. "While Obamacare is looking like anything but a nightmare, there are indeed some nightmarish things happening on the health care front. For it turns out that there’s a startling ugliness of spirit abroad in modern America -- and health reform has brought that ugliness out into the open....And that revelation, not reform itself -- which is going pretty well -- is the real Obamacare nightmare." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sebelius and accountability. "The White House kept her around through the Healthcare.gov fiasco last fall because letting her go then would have been admitting that not all was well. It also would have meant a confirmation hearing for a replacement while millions of Americans were losing insurance they liked. She's going now because the White House is claiming victory from 7.5 million sign-ups and there is a political window before premiums rise during the next ObamaCare sign-up period and before the fall elections. As a symbol of ObamaCare, which continues to be unpopular in most of the country, Ms. Sebelius is now a liability as an election spokesman even in Democratic precincts." Editorial Board.
TOMASKY: Will Sebelius win in the end? Legacy tied to Obamacare's outcome. "Today, and in the near future, she will have to endure being associated with the massive fiasco that was the launch of healthcare.gov. And that’s deserved. It’s hard to imagine what she was doing last summer instead of spending every waking minute ensuring that the initiative for which this administration will remembered, the one thing that will color and even determine its historical legacy, was going to launch well. But it happened. I don’t know how many times she got dragged up to the Hill and asked the same questions by all those Republican solons....On the surface, it all looked disastrous. But I will say this. Behind the scenes, they did get to work. I could tell just from the way people talked, the things they said were happening there, that it really was getting better. They were (and I guess still are) sitting on this battery of IT stats about response times and how long a person had to wait to be logged in and so on and so forth, and those were being cut quickly. So Sebelius and the rescue team really did do their jobs once they were up against the wall....Her fate will be forever tied to Obamacare. If it succeeds, she’ll share the credit as the secretary who helped bring it to life. If it fails, she’ll share the blame. It’s about that simple. And I think it’ll probably succeed." Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast.
BEUTLER: Republicans search for Obamacare alternative and find...Obamacare. "Republicans are finally owning up to the fact that, once universality has been enshrined as a principle, something like ACA is the most conservative way to structure it as a practical matter, without throwing existing insurance systems into rapid disarray. But many people have been saying this for years. If you accept (or acquiesce) to the need for a large coverage expansion and don't want a single payer or substantial expansion of existing public systems, you need to make sure private insurers cover the sick, which means you need guaranteed issue and community rating -- so that nobody is closed out of the system, and so that risk is spread across large populations, not assigned to individuals. But if you have those two things then you need a coverage requirement, so you're not just spreading risk among old, sick people. And if you have that mandate, you need substantial subsidies -- means tested or otherwise -- so people aren't required to purchase insurance they can't afford. Of course, that's just Obamacare." Brian Beutler in The New Republic.
McKOY: Obamacare's next task: Break our dependence on the emergency room. "It will require years of re-education and an army of out-patient offices willing to build flexibility into their practices to see a significant shift from ED care to office based care. No one will argue that emergency visits should only reflect true emergencies, yet indiscriminate use of the ED continues unabated. Expanding the primary care enterprise is desperately needed, but it may take years before we see if the initiatives outlined herein are good medicine for what ails the ACA." June M. McKoy in Talking Points Memo.
DIONNE: On 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act, politicians should follow LBJ's way. "History offers a rough kind of justice. As the nation’s current president and three of his predecessors gathered this week at the University of Texas for an LBJ Library conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they confirmed what has been building for many years now: a thoroughly justified revival of Lyndon B. Johnson’s standing....The LBJ revival is seen -- by my Post colleague Karen Tumulty, among others -- as signifying a 'leftward tilt' in the Democratic Party, and it’s true that progressives are gaining ground. But the deeper LBJ legacy is of a consensual period when a large and confident majority believed that national action could expand opportunities and alleviate needless suffering. The earthily practical Johnson showed that these were not empty dreams and that finding realistic ways of creating a better world is what Americans are supposed to do." E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post.
REINHARDT: Congress and the belief that human life is priceless. "In their public appearances, on the campaign trail or at hearings, members of Congress may find it useful to pretend that they deem human life priceless....But as a legislative body, Congress routinely, albeit implicitly, puts finite prices on human lives in the trade-offs members make during budget votes. They may forbid cost-effectiveness analysis for coverage decisions under Medicare, but they implicitly price out human life as finite at the margins of their budget allocations -- for example, in budget cuts on health programs for the poor. Congress also implicitly puts prices on human life when it foists upon the Pentagon expensive weapons systems of dubious effectiveness that please cash-carrying lobbyists, retired generals now fronting for military contractors and constituents in districts where the weapons systems are manufactured. In giving in to those entreaties, however, Congress may leave the Pentagon to send America’s forces into battle without adequate body armor or properly armored vehicles and even without sufficient troops to guard ammunition dumps left behind by the defeated enemy -- literally as free weapons supermarkets for insurgents. All of this happened in Iraq." Uwe E. Reinhardt in The New York Times.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: A partial victory for taxpayers on bank capital rules. "It's not often in the Obama era that taxpayers win a Washington policy debate, so it's worth noting this week's decision by regulators to require the largest banks to hold more capital. This is a measure of protection against another Wall Street bailout. It's not cause for celebration because this sensible new rule is being implemented along with others of the senseless variety. But a future President can build on this week's reform as she seeks to undo the policy mistakes of the last decade." Editorial Board.
FLAVELLE: Where's the recovery for public colleges? "After leveling off in 2011, education funding dropped 7 percent further the next year. Even with a small bump in 2013, state spending on higher education remained 13 percent lower than in 2008. The tax revenue came back. The money for colleges and universities didn’t....Now that tax money is coming back, lawmakers have a chance to revisit that calculation. Last year's bump in higher-education spending could signal a turnaround. Even if it is, those lawmakers have a lot of distance to make up." Christopher Flavelle in Bloomberg View.
VINIK: Ryan budget not only sins against poor. It sins against math. "On Thursday, House Republicans made their priorities abundantly clear when they passed the Ryan Budget without any Democratic support. The plan balances the budget in 10 years through dramatic spending cuts, particularly on programs and services for low-income Americans. Unsurprisingly, those cuts have been pilloried around the liberal Internet for their cruelty and hypocrisy. That critique is true. But focusing on the Ryan budget’s moral failings obscures its equally apparent logical flaws. For all the axe-wielding, it does little to tackle the drivers of our long-term debt -- the rationale behind the steep cuts to begin with." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.
SOLTAS: How factories explain the pay gap. "U.S. President Barack Obama commemorated Equal Pay Day this week by saying that women are paid less than men, only to undercut his argument with a lousy comparison. The larger problem isn’t that women are paid less than men for the same work; it’s that the American workplace puts women at a disadvantage before any apples-to-apples comparison can be made. Accounting for differences in the types of work men and women do, experience, education and hours, the pay gap shrinks from Obama's 23 percent to 12 percent. But that reduction shouldn’t be interpreted as a victory against sexism -- it should be seen as proof that the problem is in many of those factors that explain women’s disadvantage." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg View.
CUBAN: The problem with evidence-based education policy: The evidence. "The historical record is rich in evidence that research findings have played a subordinate role in making educational policy. Often, policy choices were (and are) political decisions. There was no research, for example, that found establishing tax-supported public schools in the early 19th century was better than educating youth through private academies. No studies persuaded late-19th century educators to import the kindergarten into public schools. Ditto for bringing computers into schools a century later. So it is hardly surprising, then, that many others, including myself, have been skeptical of the popular idea that evidence-based policymaking and evidence-based instruction can drive teaching practice. Those doubts have grown larger when one notes what has occurred in clinical medicine with its frequent U-turns in evidence-based 'best practices.'" Larry Cuban.
PONNURU: Maybe the gender pay gap is OK? "The 77 cent figure, we could say, is a big problem even if it doesn't result from workplace discrimination. Getting to 100 cents on the dollar, we might continue, will also require changing people's views so that more women go into male-dominated, well-paying occupations, or so that men and women split child-care duties equally....But there's no reason to expect or desire the sexes to ever have exactly the same preferences about the balance between work and family life, or about occupational choices. At some point well short of 100 percent, contrary to Clinton's implication, we'd have to conclude that we have no more work to do." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View.
RAMPELL: Who really pays for Medicare. "I don’t dispute the middle epithet: I am indeed a millennial. And since we millennials like to disrespect our elders, I feel compelled to explain why her claims about entitlement spending -- while very common, judging from other messages in my inbox -- are entirely wrong. Yes, seniors paid into Social Security and Medicare during the years they worked, if they worked. But they generally receive much more out of the entitlement system than they paid into it." Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.
Animals interlude: Wild bear tries to open car door.
2. Revisiting the Civil Rights Act, 50 years later
Obama pays tribute to LBJ’s civil rights legacy: ‘Why I’m standing here today.’ "The nation’s first African-American president on Thursday hailed the 50th anniversary of the law that abolished racial barriers, but he warned that complacency could undermine the decades of progress that made his election possible....Obama was one of four U.S. presidents to speak at the three-day conference celebrating a half-century since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or national orgin....Earlier in the week, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also paid tribute to the anniversary -- and to the legacy of Johnson, a president whose domestic achievements have long been overshadowed by the painful memories of the Vietnam War. Obama, who during his first term was sometimes criticized for what some saw as a reluctance to address the issue of race, has spoken of it more often since his reelection. He has also become aggressive in promoting gay rights and equal pay for women and assuring the protection of voting rights." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.
Primary source: Full transcript of President Obama's remarks. The Washington Post.
So much change, but from voting rights to employment, so much more needed. "The fact that the Civil Rights Act can now be the subject of a major conference is, in itself, a sign of how much the country has changed since its passage. In the early 1960s opposition to racial equality was widespread, brutal and sometimes lethal. It was also a more or less mainstream political position at the time the law was passed, and for years thereafter, at least in parts of the country. Former President Jimmy Carter, who spoke on the first day of the summit, recalled that when he was elected governor of Georgia in 1970, segregation in public services such as schools was the norm, even though it was illegal. Even today, he continued, racial inequality can be seen in employment statistics and educational outcomes. 'Too many people', he warned, 'are at ease with the still-existing disparity.' It was a salient point. The next day, panellists paused over the fact that although life expectancies for blacks in the United States have greatly improved since the 1960s, the lifetime earnings differential between black and white workers has not changed much. That evening Bill Clinton, another former president, warned against recent efforts to undermine the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed in 1965." The Economist.
Voting rights is the most important project for Democrats in 2014. "Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future....Although Obama administration officials have had the spotlight on voting rights this week, the Democratic Party has been working on building an infrastructure to encourage turnout and fight voter-restriction legislation for a few years. Now we're at the point when groups are starting to coalesce and organizers try to get the drill down to a science." Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post.
George W. Bush says education no longer legally separate but still not equal. "Former President George W. Bush, citing equal education as central to civil rights, said Thursday poor and minority children are the ones who suffer when accountability is weakened....Bush, who made education a cornerstone of his presidency 40 years after Johnson, said many of the gains of recent years have stalled. American education is 'no longer legally separate, but not equal,' the 43rd president said, noting that white students at 13 are generally at the level of African-American students at 17. 'Poor and minority children suffer the most from bad schools,' said Bush, whose hallmark 'No Child Left Behind' program, enacted with bipartisan support, was designed to bring all schools up to higher educational standards. Accountability rules and teacher-evaluation requirements generated loud opposition, and Washington officials have remained under pressure to lower the standards. Bush said weakening those standards is the wrong tack." Peggy Fikac and Mike Ward in the Houston Chronicle.
Democrats embracing photo on Social Security cards. "As Republicans push for new voting restrictions around the country, a handful of Democrats have coalesced around an impromptu idea: placing a photo on Social Security cards. Former U.N. ambassador and civil rights activist Andrew Young -- who chairs a nonpartisan voting rights group called Why Tuesday? -- buttonholed President Obama and two of his predecessors in Texas this week in an effort to win their support for the concept. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter endorsed the idea, while the White House declined to comment....The proposal drew praise from some election experts but also prompted immediate concerns on both sides of the political spectrum -- highlighting the controversy that still surrounds voting rights issues. Some voter advocates said requiring such cards could still put poorer Americans at a disadvantage, while conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued that it could pave the way for a new form of national ID." Juliet Eilperin and Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Everything you need to know about Bill Clinton’s Social Security ID card proposal. And why it won’t work. Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post.
Hillary Clinton interlude: A 6-year-old's question leaves the former first lady speechless.
3. Why Congress can't get much done
The ideological middle in Congress is dead. Really dead. "In the last three decades, the number of members in the middle in the House dropped from 344 (79 percent of the House) in 1982 to four (.9 percent of the House) in 2013. As the slide suggests, redistricting -- the decennial redrawing of the nation's congressional lines -- plays a major role in that decline. The last two nationwide redraws have largely been incumbent-protection efforts, making Republican districts more Republican and Democratic districts more Democratic. Self-sorting -- the growing tendency of people to live around like-minded people -- is also a major factor in the disappearance of the ideological middle in the House. More intriguing -- and harder to explain -- is how the middle has dropped out of the Senate, which is not subject to redistricting....There are four -- FOUR -- members of the ideological middle out of the 535 members of the House and Senate combined. That comes out to approximately .7 percent of the entire Congress. In 1982, by way of comparison, more than 75 percent of members of Congress were part of the ideological middle." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
113th Congress on pace to be least productive in history. "We've written extensively on the productivity debate in this space. So, let's start with the facts first. And the facts are these: In terms of actual laws or bills passed, the 113th Congress is headed toward historic levels of unproductivity. At the moment, according to the Federal Register, there have only been 23 public laws enacted in the second session of the 113th Congress -- a number that virtually ensures that this Congress will pass the fewest number of laws of any in history. (It's hard to imagine that, in an election year, Congress is going to go on a law-passing spree.) Don't like laws passed as a measure of productivity? How about bills passed -- although this stat can be slightly misleading since not all bills are created equal with some mattering far more than others. Still, the story remains the same....The truth of the matter is that there really isn't a debate about the pure factual truth of President Obama's assertion on Wednesday night. But, whether a divided Congress should be productive -- as defined by passing bills or making laws -- is a whole different (and much more contentious) debate. In short: Is productivity a good thing?" Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.
Obama is using that idea to fire up donors. "President Barack Obama slammed Congress at a fundraiser Wednesday night for being the 'least productive' in modern history, citing the failure of an equal pay bill and the ongoing immigration reform battle." Catherine Thompson in Talking Points Memo.
For a perfect example of Congress' polarization in action, look to the budget battle. "House Republicans rallied behind a slashing budget blueprint on Thursday, passing a non-binding but politically charged measure that promises a balanced federal ledger in 10 years with sweeping budget cuts and termination of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The 219-205 vote on the budget outline takes a mostly symbolic swipe at the government's chronic deficits. Follow-up legislation to actually implement the cuts isn't in the offing. Twelve Republicans opposed the measure, and not a single Democrat supported it....While staking out a hard line for the future, follow-up legislation is likely to be limited this year to a round of annual spending bills that will adhere to a bipartisan budget pact enacted in December." Andrew Taylor in the Associated Press.
Budget vote shows the parties' divergence. "The move underscored the different universes the two parties occupy as election season heats up. Democrats see the budget, which passed on Thursday in a 219-to-205 vote, as a political millstone, with brutal cuts to popular government programs, sweeping and controversial changes to Medicare, and tax cuts for the rich. Republicans consider it a modest step....But Republicans will try to use the vote to prove their tough-minded fiscal credentials. And Democrats will seek to tar their opponents by spotlighting the budget’s deep cuts to education, food stamps and transportation programs, its proposed transformation of Medicare, and the tax rate cuts for the rich. The budget bill tally demonstrated the Democrats’ certainty that the Ryan budget will badly hurt its supporters -- no Democrats voted for it. But the vote spoke just as loudly about Republicans’ lack of fear." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
A political win-win for both sides. "The House of Representatives saw a rare win-win day on the floor with passage of this year's Ryan budget. Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Democratic ranking member Chris Van Hollen both thanked the committee staff for all its hard work. Democrats made lots of speeches about how horrible the budget is; Republicans made lots of speeches about how wonderful it is. They took a vote, and then adjourned for a two-week break. The actual effect on public policy? None." S.V. Date in NPR.
Related: Ryan looks to the future. Paul Kane in The Washington Post.
Explainer: Breaking down the 12 Republican 'no' votes on the Ryan budget. Daniel Newhauser in Roll Call.
A silver lining? Millennials don't see budget along the same partisan lines. "Put a handful of smart millennials in a room and ask them to deconstruct the U.S. budget, and what you might get is 90 pages of level-headed analysis that doesn't fit neatly inside a partisan box. They wouldn't dictate ideological solutions, because this generation of young Americans is less partisan and more open-minded than any other. They would, however, chastise their parents' generation for accepting stasis and status quo, saying something like, 'Our future hinges just as greatly on the budgetary decisions our leaders refuse to make.'" Ron Fournier in National Journal.
The filibuster changes Democrats implemented to cut through gridlock are creating some hurt feelings. "The Senate made a historic change to its rules to limit the power of the minority five months ago. But to some senators, it might as well have happened yesterday." Burgess Everett in Politico.
Cherry blossom interlude: They've reached their peak. Here are some photos.
4. How the improving economy is padding government coffers
Jobless claims hit near-7-year low. "The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to the lowest level in nearly seven years, strengthening views of faster job growth. The report on jobless claims on Thursday was the latest sign of economic momentum after an unusually cold winter slowed activity....Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 for last week, the Labor Department said. That was the lowest level since May 2007, before the 2007-9 recession. The report joined other indicators, including automobile sales and employment data, in suggesting that the economy ended the first quarter on surer footing, positioning it for faster growth in the second quarter." Reuters.
Economists see growth spurt delayed, not derailed. "Harsh winter weather delayed -- but likely didn't derail -- the breakout growth many economists expected for the U.S. going into the year. According to The Wall Street Journal's monthly survey of economists, the second quarter's real gross domestic product will see an extra half-percentage point in growth amid a burst of consumer and business spending that was delayed or postponed during the bitterly cold and snowy winter across much of the U.S. If the forecasts bear out, that would be a significant bounce for an economy that has averaged an annual growth rate of less than 2.5% in the nearly five-year recovery -- and would help ease concern over the winter's toll on growth. Going into 2014, economists had predicted the U.S. was poised to break out of its sluggish recovery." Kathleen Madigan in The Wall Street Journal.
Rebounding economy fills state coffers with record tax revenues. "State governments collected more than $846 billion in tax revenue in the last fiscal year, the highest amount ever reported, as a rebounding economy boosted coffers hit hard by the recession. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that states collected $309 billion in individual income taxes last year, a 10 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Income taxes make up more than a third of total state tax revenues. Corporate income tax collections rose to $45 billion, up almost 8 percent from the year before....State tax collections have rebounded after a recession that dried up individual and corporate income tax revenues. In Fiscal Year 2008, just as the recession began, states collected $779 billion in total tax revenue. That number fell off a cliff in the following two years, to $713 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 and $705 billion in Fiscal Year 2010. Those shortfalls forced harsh cuts in state budgets." Reid Wilson in The Washington Post.
The economy is also helping cut the U.S. deficit. "The budget gap last month was the smallest deficit recorded for the month of March since 2000, when economic growth was running at a much faster pace than it is today. The red ink had been expected to ease this year. But Thursday’s announcement underscored just how quickly tax receipts have been increasing as economic growth speeds up and the stock market surges. While some of the increase was a result of tax increases that took effect at the beginning of 2013, budget experts said it also reflected who was benefiting the most in the current recovery. 'It’s higher-income people and it is mainly from the stock market; it’s not mainly wages,' said Alice M. Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration." Nelson D. Schwartz in The New York Times.
Other economic reads:
In equal-pay debate, devil is in the details. Josh Zumbrun in The Wall Street Journal.
Paying off student loans puts a dent in wallets, and the economy. NPR.
Ad hoc IMF reforms seen unlikely as world waits on U.S. Anna Yukhananov in Reuters.
NY Fed survey: Dealers expected Fed to end thresholds at March FOMC. Michael S. Derby in The Wall Street Journal.
Unemployment-benefits extension deal may hinge on job training compromise. Alan K. Ota in Roll Call.
Sound interlude: What sound looks like.
5. A lot has happened this week on cybersecurity
Washington is making it easier for businesses to swap notes on hackers. "Rival businesses that share information with each other about hackers who've broken into their computer systems won't be running afoul of antitrust laws, the U.S. government has confirmed. The new policy, issued jointly Thursday by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, is aimed at tamping down the perception of legal risk associated with bolstering corporate IT defenses as concerns about cybersecurity are at an all-time high....Under the clarified rules, businesses will be able to swap incident reports, the digital fingerprints that uniquely identify viruses and malware, and the IP addresses of an attacker, among other things. But competitive information such as pricing and products will still be off-limits." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.
Context: A lot of back-and-forth on key national security issue. "The policy statement is the Obama administration's latest effort to bolster cybersecurity, which officials say is one of the most serious national security issues. President Obama urged Congress to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation in 2012 that would have set security standards for critical infrastructure (such as banks and power companies) and encouraged cybersecurity information sharing. Republicans blocked the bill, warning it would impose unnecessary regulations on businesses. Obama issued an executive order in early 2013 that created voluntary guidelines to help critical infrastructure operators protect their systems. But the information-sharing portion of the legislation had remained largely unaddressed. Obama administration officials insisted Thursday that Congress must still pass cybersecurity legislation. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urged lawmakers to empower her agency to fine companies for inadequate data security, and to set a national standard requiring companies to notify consumers in the event of a data breach." Brendan Sasso in National Journal.
Feds urge banks to act over 'Heartbleed' bug. "A US regulator has warned that cyber criminals could be impersonating bank services or stealing users’ online banking passwords after the 'Heartbleed' bug, called one of the most significant breaches of internet security ever, was discovered in the software used to secure two-thirds of the web. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council said on Thursday that banks using the Open SSL software should take steps to protect themselves by upgrading the software as soon as possible to address the vulnerability." Hannah Kuchler in The Financial Times.
Explainer: What you need to know about the Heartbleed issue. Bree Fowler in Associated Press.
Other tech reads:
House panel passes bill blocking Obama administration Internet transfer. Kate Tummarello in The Hill.
Senate just passed the DATA Act. Here's why that matters. Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.
Basketball interlude: Meet the world's tallest basketball player.
Meet the nominee to lead HHS. Jason Millman.
Clean coal might work in China, but here’s why we won’t see much of it here. Max Ehrenfreund.
Should we have expected this week’s big surprise on employer health insurance? Jason Millman.
The relationship between single mothers and poverty is not as simple as it seems. Emily Badger.
How Republican and Democratic sex scandals differ. Christopher Ingraham.
Researchers have figured out how to map the social influence of public smoking. Emily Badger.
Cruz's Iran bill likely headed to Obama. Burgess Everett in Politico.
Common Core literacy standards require close reading. Charlotte Albright in NPR.
U.S. prepping to up sanctions against Russia, official warns. Ian Talley in The Wall Street Journal.
CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says. Ali Watkins, Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor in McClatchy Newspapers.
Senators agree on transportation bill principles, but others must find way to pay for it. Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.
Appeals court hears arguments on same-sex marriage ban. Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
Wonk Week in Washington! Marilyn Geewax in NPR.
Proposed changes to labor rules divide unions, business. Amanda Becker in Reuters.
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Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.