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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: 115 days. That's how long veterans waited on average for their first appointments, says a preliminary review of VA health care.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: This chart shows the gradual, continuing erosion of conservatives' advantage with Americans on the issues.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) EPA climate rule prebuttal; (2) the VA scandal's far, long-lasting reach; (3) even worse housing news; (4) Obama's immigration gambit; and (5) political winds of change for Obamacare.
1. Top story: The EPA climate rule prebuttal
EPA's climate rules are almost here. "President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants...and will force industry to pay for the pollution it creates through cap-and-trade programs across the country. Mr. Obama will unveil his plans in a new regulation, written by the Environmental Protection Agency, at the White House on Monday. It would be the strongest action ever taken by an American president to tackle climate change....Cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent...could eventually shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants across the country. The regulation would have far more impact on the environment than the Keystone [XL] pipeline." Coral Davenport in The New York Times.
But it sure feels like they're already here. "President Barack Obama’s landmark climate rule for power plants is still days from its debut, but industry groups, environmentalists and the administration are already waging a war of words....The U.S. Chamber of Commerce grabbed headlines Wednesday with a study contending that the rule would drag down the economy, wiping out an average of $51 billion worth of output and 224,000 jobs a year. Dead wrong, the Natural Resources Defense Council responded — arguing that, to the contrary, 'hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created and Americans will save billions of dollars on their electric bills.'" Andrew Restuccia and Erica Martinson in Politico.
We've heard these horror stories from the coal industry before. "Three years ago, the operators of one of the nation's dirtiest coal-fired power plants warned of 'immediate and devastating' consequences from the Obama administration's push to clean up pollution from coal....None of those dire predictions came to pass. Instead, the massive western Pennsylvania power plant is expected in a few years to turn from one of the worst polluters in the country to a model for how coal-fired power plants can slash pollution." Dina Cappiello and Kevin Begos in the Associated Press.
More on the power plant: Power plant becomes model for cleaner operation. Dina Cappiello and Kevin Begos in the Associated Press.
Another energy firm seeks ideas to comply, not fight. "Great River Energy has a lot to lose from the Obama administration’s limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. Instead of fighting the rules, the Minnesota electricity cooperative has come up with a plan to raise the cost of the power it makes from coal to cut carbon pollution....Great River is one of a number of companies and researchers to propose ways to adapt to climate rules President Barack Obama is set to unveil next week. Some of the proposals — ranging from taxing carbon to spurring energy efficiency or expanding cap-and-trade initiatives — could fundamentally alter the way Americans get power at their homes and workplaces." Mark Drajem in Bloomberg
Quotable: "It’s a survival of the fittest, Darwinian wonkfest." — Brian Turner, deputy executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission. Mark Drajem in Bloomberg.
Opponents find success attacking renewable-energy mandates. "As renewable energy production has surged in recent years, opponents of government policies that have helped spur its growth have pushed to roll back those incentives and mandates in state after state. On Wednesday, they claimed their first victory, when Ohio lawmakers voted to freeze the phasing-in of power that utilities must buy from renewable energy sources." Diane Cardwell in The New York Times.
Can the EPA rules survive a court challenge? "The EPA will set guidelines on greenhouse gas emissions and let the states use a variety of tools to reach them, including cap-and-trade regimes....All those arrangements will be grist for litigation, however, depending upon how the administration structures them....Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act also gives the EPA authority to customize the rules for existing power plants, such as grandfathering older plants under the theory they will come to the end of their useful lives in too short a period to amortize the cost of expensive pollution controls. Each interpretation, however, could be grist for a lawsuit." Daniel Fisher in Forbes.
Cap-and-trade lives on in the states. "Many people in Washington think of cap and trade as a carbon-cutting strategy that died in the Senate four years ago. But in fact, it’s alive and well in much of the country. Advocates say it’s working. And it’s poised to gain new life from the proposed greenhouse gas rule....Nine Northeastern states already take part in a regional trading network that puts an economic price on their power plants’ carbon output, while California has a carbon trading system that is linked with Quebec....Those ranks could grow because of EPA’s upcoming climate regulation, which is expected to give states wide latitude." Erica Martinson in Politico.
Chart: The global extent and growth of climate cap-and-trade. World Bank.
Maybe climate action should get even more local, Bloomberg says. "Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his new U.N. job, said Tuesday that cities hold the key to confronting climate change because they account for 75 percent of the heat-trapping gases and their mayors have executive powers to reduce emissions." Edith M. Lederer in the Associated Press.
These emissions cuts won't reverse our new CO2 milestone, though. "A new carbon dioxide milestone has been reached according to the World Meteorological Agency. Average carbon dioxide measurements at all monitoring stations in the northern hemisphere were above 400 parts per million for the month of April, the first time that’s been recorded in human history." Brian Kahn in Climate Central.
Maybe that's not the point, though. "President Obama's foreign policy speech to West Point graduates Wednesday leveled a serious charge against Republicans who deny human-induced climate change: You're threatening national security. Check out the progression of the few climate sentences in Obama's wide-ranging remarks. He starts by telling the grads that battling global warming requires global cooperation. Then he says climate change is "a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform.'...That security message sets up Obama's pitch for trying to reach a United Nations-brokered climate accord at a make-or-break 2015 meeting in Paris." Ben Geman in National Journal.
Background reading: Why society is failing to stop global warming, in one 90-second video. Puneet Kollipara in The Washington Post.
Other energy/environmental reads:
BP asks U.S. Supreme Court justice to block Gulf spill payments. Lawrence Hurley in Reuters.
COHN: Why conservatives are missing the point. "You’ve probably heard conservatives say that limiting carbon emissions is pointless...or that it’s going to be painful....But next week...you’re going to hear one more argument. You’ll hear conservatives say that the effort is futile, because we produce only a portion of the world’s greenhouse gases — and the other big polluters aren’t about to do anything about their share....Of course, President Obama and his supporters know this....Obama will have more credibility and leverage in future talks—making possible the kind of broad, long-term global treaty that will be necessary to avert the most severe consequences of climate change." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
KRUGMAN: Cheap climate protection. "What the Chamber wanted to do was show that the economic impact of the regulations would be devastating....But a funny thing happened on the way to the diatribe. The Chamber evidently made a decision that it wanted to preserve credibility, so it outsourced the analysis. And while it tries to spin the results, what it actually found was that dramatic action on greenhouse gases would have surprisingly small economic costs." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
VINIK: Can we stop the Pikettymania, already? "Pikettymania has gotten out of control. Thomas Piketty, of course, is the French economist whose book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, has become an international sensation. The American left is treating it like gospel, accepting it uncritically. The American right is treating it like a joke, now that a writer from the Financial Times has pointed out some apparent errors in the work. Both views are overblown. Piketty has made an important, maybe even historic contribution to our understanding of economics. But he may also be wrong about a few things." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.
HILTZIK: Do people really overuse healthcare when it's free? "Here's how the idea was winnowed down to its essence recently by Steven D. Levitt, the economist half of the duo responsible for that popular economics success 'Freakonomics': 'It doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts or a whole lot of blind faith in markets to recognize that when you don’t charge people for things (including health care), they will consume too much of it.' Levitt's complacent confidence in this idea as it applies to health and medicine prompts us to inquire: Is he right? The answer, according to numerous studies and plenty of empirical evidence, is 'No.'" Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times.
AKST: Mian and Sufi's smart start. "To acknowledge the myopia of homeowners isn't to let bankers, regulators or lawmakers off the hook. But it's surely foolish to ignore the choices of millions of Americans who borrowed too much and may do so again. (Student loans, anyone?) Messrs. Mian and Sufi's proposal to shift much of the risk of falling home prices to lenders — while rewarding them for their trouble — is a good place to start. If we don't put moralizing aside and analyze dispassionately what caused the last crisis, we are unlikely to prevent the next one." Daniel Akst in The Wall Street Journal.
WINSHIP: Blowing Piketty's errors out of proportion. "I believe that Piketty’s book is irresponsibly speculative, that his inequality estimates sometimes give the wrong impression, and that his policy preferences would prove harmful to the middle class and poor in the long run. However, I also believe that few researchers that achieve Piketty’s prominence fake their data, and I have deep respect for how readily Piketty and his colleagues have made vast quantities of data available online for anyone to see. For that matter, having read the book, I know that it cannot be reduced to the charts Giles criticized." Scott Winship in Forbes.
CONTINETTI: What's holding back conservative reformers' vision? "I do not doubt for a moment that if the Republican Party adopted Room to Grow as its platform tomorrow, then both the GOP and the country would enjoy a better future....But that is the problem. Close to six years after Barack Obama’s election, the party as an institution is no closer to embracing the ideas of Salam, Douthat, Ponnuru, and Levin than it was when we celebrated the publication of Grand New Party at the Watergate in 2008. For reform conservatism to have any real-world application, it needs to find a presidential champion. And the prospects of that happening are not what you would call overwhelming." Matthew Continetti in National Review.
GREENHOUSE: Polar vision. "Professors Devins and Baum, in their article on partisanship at the Supreme Court, argue that the current dynamic is a predictable, even inevitable reflection of extreme polarization in our politics. I don’t think they’re wrong, but it occurs to me to wonder if the flow might also be running in the other direction. I wonder whether the Supreme Court itself has become an engine of polarization, keeping old culture-war battles alive and forcing to the surface old conflicts that people were managing to live with. Suppose, in other words, that instead of blaming our politics for giving us the court we have, we should place on the court at least some of the blame for our politics." Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times.
KO CHIN: What's missing from the immigration debate — health care. "Lines have been drawn on the familiar issues in immigration reform: border security, an earned pathway to citizenship, and visa programs. Notably missing from the conversation on both sides of the aisle is how to provide health coverage to the millions of newly legalized immigrants. If past debates are any indication, adding health care to the mix can be the proverbial lightning rod." Kathy Ko Chin in National Journal.
Animals interlude: Why have a normal alarm clock when you can have a cat alarm clock?
2. Just how widespread does the VA scandal reach?
The problems with VA care are systemic, report says. "At least 1,700 veterans waiting for health care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs medical facility were not included on the facility’s wait list, and patients there waited an average of 115 days for their first appointments, according to a preliminary review by the Veterans Affairs inspector general. In the review, released Wednesday, the inspector general said it has 'substantiated serious conditions' and has expanded its review to 42 VA facilities, more than the 26 initially planned. While the the interim IG report says the agency’s scheduling problems are 'systemic,' it says it would be premature to link those delays to allegations that dozens of veterans died waiting for care." Jeremy Herb in Politico.
Primary source: The full IG report. Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.
There's no doubt anymore about the problems' extent. "Just last week, top leaders including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Obama were wondering aloud whether the VA’s problems were limited to a few bad actors. Now, they don’t have to wonder....The new report’s official judgment should resolve any doubt about how deep and widespread these issues are. As of Wednesday, when the report was released, the...investigation had expanded to 42 separate VA facilities." Jacob Siegel in The Daily Beast.
Not just widespread — long-lasting, too. "Does this sound familiar? The...report — 'VA Needs Better Data on Extent and Causes of Waiting Times' — concluded that 'although VA has begun to collect data systematically on waiting times for outpatient care, it has yet to develop reliable national waiting time data.' Those are the same charges being leveled against the Department of Veterans Affairs this spring. But that GAO report is from May 2000." Jamie Reno and Christopher Harress in International Business Times.
How did the VA falsify records? "Fake appointments, unofficial logs kept on the sly and appointments made without telling the patient are among tricks used to disguise delays in seeing and treating veterans at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics. They're not a new phenomenon. VA officials, veteran service organizations and members of Congress have known about them for years. Schoenhard's nine-page memo ordered the practices stopped and instructed managers on how to detect them." Pauline Jelinek in the Associated Press.
Charts: Have any VA employees paid the price? "Falsification of records is a pretty serious offense, and VA management was clearly aware that this was taking place. Did any VA employees pay the price? Right now we cannot know, but a quick look at data from the Office of Personnel Management makes me doubt it." Andrew Biggs in AEIdeas.
What does the report mean for Shinseki? Obama remains undecided despite red line seemingly crossed. "When the president essentially put the VA secretary on probation last week, he said his red line in this situation would be evidence that the misconduct at Veterans Affairs had to be 'systemic.' The VA Inspector General’s report released Wednesday says the evidence is clear: there are 'systemic patient safety issues and possible wrongful deaths.'" Edward-Isaac Dovere and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico.
Explainer: The running list of lawmakers calling for Shinseki's resignation. German Lopez in Vox.
The whole military health system is getting a review. "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a 'comprehensive review' of the military health system on Tuesday night as The New York Times reported the deaths of two young patients who were treated at an Army hospital. The Army removed the commander at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., and suspended three other officials there, the Times reported, after two people in their 20s died after visiting the hospital’s emergency department within the past two weeks." Philip Ewing in Politico.
More on the VA scandal:
Why veterans groups oppose privatizing their care. German Lopez in Vox.
House votes to fund DOJ investigation of VA scandal. Cristina Marcos in The Hill.
Maya Angelou interlude: The late poet reciting "Still I Rise."
3. The bad news in the housing market just got worse
Freddie Mac: Many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling. "The bad news keeps piling up on the housing front, this time with glum statistics from mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which declared Wednesday that many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling. The third installment of Freddie’s 'Multi-Market Market Index' (or MiMi), which sizes up homebuying activity and other factors, found that only 10 states and the District of Columbia fall in the 'stable' range, as do four of the 50 metro areas included in the index....The outlook for the rest of the housing market looks bleak." Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.
Homeseller reluctance is making the residential shortage worse. "The dearth of residential listings nationwide is now feeding on itself, with homeowners such as Adler reluctant to sell because of the difficulty in finding a place to buy. For others who refinanced into historically low interest rates, the prospect of rising borrowing costs makes selling less appealing....Fewer homes are trading and prices are soaring in part because buyers have limited choices, especially in the strongest markets." Prashant Gopal in Bloomberg.
Team Yellen to the rescue...or not. "The hesitant housing recovery has surprised and concerned Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues at the central bank. It’s not clear how much they can do about it....The trouble from the Fed’s perspective is that many of the forces holding housing back are outside of its control. While the Fed can influence mortgage rates through its conduct of monetary policy, it can’t do much, if anything, to counteract the other causes of faltering demand: lagging household formation, stingy lenders and wary borrowers." Rich Miller and Victoria Stilwell in Bloomberg.
One sign of hope? "A steep gain in home prices in many markets that helped lift millions of Americans out of the red on their mortgages is now markedly slowing, with new data from the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller national home price index on Tuesday showing that the annual growth in prices had eased in March....But analysts said that the softening of price gains, rather than a worrisome trend, may actually be welcome news. Double-digit increases cannot go on forever, and many economists are using words like 'sustainable' and 'stable' to describe the slowdown, saying the market is becoming healthier." Shaila Dewan in The New York Times.
The hidden risk in your local housing market. "In the wake of the housing crisis, a number of academics and investing experts are urging homeowners to take a more sophisticated approach to the risks of real estate. A home can be as risky as a stock, and it needs to be treated that way. That means considering how much risk you’re taking before you buy. And, after you buy, it means seeing your home equity in the context of all the other risks you’re taking with your money." Ben Steverman in Bloomberg.
Other economic/financial reads:
Lack of affordable rental housing puts squeeze on poor families. Pam Fessler in NPR.
People more optimistic about economy but downbeat about retirement. Walter Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times.
Labor market improving across U.S. cities — except in Alabama. Matt Stiles in The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. prepares investment push into Africa. Javier Blas in The Financial Times.
Fed's junk-loan caution spurs creative accounting alchemy. Christine Idzelis and Kristen Haunss in Bloomberg.
Science interlude: Who were the original Americans?
4. Will Obama's deportation-review delay gambit pay off?
Obama delays deportation review amid push for immigration overhaul. "President Barack Obama has ordered a delay in an administration review of deportation policy in hopes that the House of Representatives will take up the larger immigration overhaul this summer, in what is seen as the last chance for action this year and maybe beyond. The decision puts the focus squarely on House Republicans, who must decide whether to bring legislation to the House floor before Congress breaks for its annual August recess." Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.
Shrewd move or false hope? "Some viewed it as a shrewd political move by Obama that just might produce an immigration law overhaul this summer, but others cautioned against raising hopes, especially given the disunity in the Republican Party over how to grapple with the thorny issue in an election year....the White House said it wanted to provide the House with a window of opportunity to pass a reform bill before the midterm election....Republican leaders, however, were cool to the president's overture." Lisa Mascaro, Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey in the Los Angeles Times.
Explainer: Did Obama just get played on immigration? Dara Lind in Vox.
Eric Cantor can't win on immigration. "Eric Cantor is simultaneously blocking immigration reform and plotting a way to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants — it just depends on whom you ask. For liberal activists, Cantor is the sole man who stands in the way of a sweeping immigration overhaul making its way into law. But to his primary challenger, the House majority leader has been insufficiently conservative on immigration — and he needs to be voted out of office for it." Seung Min Kim in Politico.
What's at stake with the immigration-reform delays: A lot. "Tens of thousands of children unaccompanied by parents or relatives are flooding across the southern U.S. border illegally, forcing the Obama administration and Congress to grapple with both a humanitarian crisis and a budget dilemma. An estimated 60,000 such children will pour into the United States this year, according to the administration, up from about 6,000 in 2011. Now, Washington is trying to figure out how to pay for their food, housing and transportation once they are taken into custody." Richard Cowan in Reuters.
Other immigration reads:
Why our leaders have every incentive to compromise on reform. Ron Fournier in National Journal.
Weather interlude: Storm chaser gets struck by lightning (but don't worry, he's OK).
5. How the politics of Obamacare are changing
Democrats are now going on offense on Obamacare. "Not long ago, many Democrats were in a defensive crouch when it came to health care, amid public anger about the botched rollout of the federal website to sign up for insurance and stories of people who lost existing coverage because it didn't meet federal standards. Many focused on fixes....Now, in at least half a dozen competitive Senate and gubernatorial races, Democrats and their allies are airing TV commercials that directly support the legislation, focusing on its guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, preventive-care benefits and a ban on charging women more for insurance." Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.
House conservatives, meanwhile, are pushing for an Obamacare alternative. "After years of bashing the Affordable Care Act, conservative House Republicans are pushing for a vote on a GOP health-care plan to show they have a policy position beyond repealing the current law. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said in January the House would vote this year on a health-care alternative. Four months later, Republican leaders are working with committee chairmen, as well as with GOP lawmakers who are also physicians, to reach a consensus on what that plan should include. Now, some lawmakers are asking to speed up the process." Kristina Peterson and Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.
What's prompting this change? "The 2010 health care law has been slowly limping toward improvement since the White House first rolled out a faulty website last fall. The law’s popularity remains low nationally, but Democrats are hanging their hope that voters will see the benefits from Obamacare before the 2014 midterm elections. If that happens, it could potentially put House Republicans in a tricky spot." Lauren French and John Bresnahan in Politico.
Poll: Despite enrollment success, law remains unpopular. Gallup.
@cflav: The people #Obamacare is supposed to help? Even they don't like it. http://bv.ms/1hefdJK @BV pic.twitter.com/ilHq9vwRdB
Other health care reads:
Obamacare might benefit college grads more than less-educated young adults. Adrianna McIntyre in Vox.
Study questions need for employer health requirement. John Ydstie in NPR.
The biggest debate in health care is over a $1,000 pill. Sarah Kliff in Vox.
Extreme sports interlude: 9-year-old skateboarder pulls off her first 540.
The dramatic shift in heroin use in the past 50 years: Whiter, more suburban. Jason Millman.
This is how women feel about walking alone at night in their own neighborhoods. Emily Badger.
Can Goldman’s economists predict who will win the World Cup? Max Ehrenfreund.
Congressional gridlock has doubled since the 1950s. Christopher Ingraham.
Freddie Mac: Many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling. Dina ElBoghdady.
Want to spot the next bubble? Look at where Harvard grads work. Matt O'Brien.
Video: What the government wants school lunches to look like. Marina Koren and Reena Flores in National Journal.
California lawmakers reject bill requiring labeling on GMO foods. Jennifer Chaussee in Reuters.
Most states take action to reduce sexual assault in prisons. Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.
Calif. rampage shows gaps in mental-health law. Michael R. Blood and Tami Abdollah in the Associated Press.
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Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.