Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for attorney general, still hasn't been confirmed. Republicans and Democrats can't agree on language describing abortion in a separate bill designed to protect victims of human trafficking, which was originally an uncontroversial measure with bipartisan support.

While most observers have focused on Lynch and the abortion question, the rest of the bill is worth a closer look. It extends the government's "tough-on-crime" strategy for dealing with human trafficking. Emily Crockett, a journalist at RH Reality Check, reports on a few objections the bills' critics make, which have nothing to do with abortion.

At worst, it could make life more difficult for the vulnerable populations that the bill seeks to protect. ...
The bill uses an 'end demand' strategy—the idea that there will be less sex trafficking if there is less demand for sex work—and makes patronizing or soliciting a minor a crime equal to trafficking itself. ...
There are potential civil rights complications with effectively expanding the definition of and prosecuting more people as traffickers. This would include, for instance, someone who genuinely didn't know he was buying sex from an underage person. Some advocates point out that it could even target a friend of a sex worker trying to help that person out by giving him or her a ride to a job. ...
[The bill's] 'tough on crime' approach to johns might make fewer men willing to buy sex, but the ones who will are more likely to be a violent, criminal element.

Advocates for victims tell Crockett the basic problem with the bill is that it focuses on the demand for sex, not the supply of those forced to sell it. These advocates say that people who are manipulated and coerced into selling themselves for sex are typically people with limited economic options otherwise. They might try prostitution as a way of getting by, but then find themselves unable to escape an abusive relationship with an employer.

A real solution to the problem would address the supply of these victims with more generous assistance for people in poverty and a better education system. Solving those problems, though, would take bills that are anything but uncontroversial and bipartisan.


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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Lynch confirmation 2) Opinions, including Yglesias, Ponnuru and Rampell on Christie and Social Security 3) The debate over the Pacific trade deal begins, and more

Chart of the day: Americans may not like Obamacare, but they're not ready to give up on it. "Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults say that while the Affordable Care Act may still require small changes, 'we should see how it works,' according to a new Bloomberg Politics poll. Twelve percent said President Barack Obama's signature legislative accomplishment should be left alone, 35 percent said it should be repealed, and two percent said they weren't sure." David Knowles and Ben Brody for Bloomberg.

1. Top story: Little progress on Lynch's confirmation as negotiations resume

Senators debated a bill on human trafficking again Thursday. "The trafficking bill hit a snag in March when Democrats said they became aware of a provision that would ban criminal fines collected into a victims’ fund from being used to pay for abortions. Republicans argued it was simply in accordance with the Hyde Amendment, an existing law that bans federal funding from being used for abortions. Democrats said it amounted to an expansion of that law and demanded Republicans remove the measure, blocking the Senate from voting on the bill. ... [Sen. Mitch] McConnell [(R-Ky.), the majority leader,] has said he would not hold a confirmation vote on Ms. Lynch until the Senate has passed the trafficking bill." Emmarie Huetteman and Carl Hulse in The New York Times.

McConnell is playing hardball, insisting the trafficking bill go before Lynch's confirmation. "His maneuvers on Lynch shed light on how he will lead the upper chamber in this Congress, but the strategy has some risks — especially with a fragile majority. McConnell has for weeks refused to allow senators to leapfrog over a stalled anti-human trafficking bill to move to Lynch’s nomination. In fact, the GOP leader has linked the two issues, telling Democrats they will only get a vote on Lynch if they compromise with Republicans on the trafficking bill, which has been held up by a fight over abortion. Yet, McConnell has been more than willing to move from the human trafficking bill when it suits his interests — once to pass a GOP budget and this week to move a bipartisan Medicare bill. The hard-ball tactics, coming in McConnell’s first 100 days as majority leader, pose some risks for a GOP majority determined to show it can govern." Jordain Carney in The Hill.

His grand plan for avoiding shutdowns and winning concessions from the White House is a war of attrition. "The GOP strategy relies on a calculation that Republicans will be able to stage narrow fights over individual spending bills early on in the appropriations process, rather than near the end of the fiscal year in September, when the impending deadline creates a standoff in which one side has to give in or be blamed for shutting down the government, or parts of it. ... To use spending bills to challenge the administration’s regulatory agenda, GOP Republicans who hold 54 of the Senate’s seats will need the support of some Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles. And Republicans may face internal problems: House Republicans in the past have had to pull spending bills from the floor when centrists objected to cuts that were too deep." Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

McConnell's procedural tactics aren't really fair to Lynch. "Lynch’s nomination remains stalled while senators fight a partisan war over abortion, a fight that has nothing to do with her. ... There’s no principled reason to link Ms. Lynch’s nomination to the passage of the trafficking bill. Ms. Lynch should get immediate floor consideration, regardless of how Thursday’s trafficking vote goes, and on her merits she should be confirmed handily," argues the editorial board of The Washington Post.

2. Top opinions

YGLESIAS: Christie's entitlement proposal would raise the retirement age. "New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed a large across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits that would primarily target poor Americans. In a remarkable bit of political salesmanship, he also managed to get this covered in the press as primarily a proposal to reduce benefits for wealthy retirees. ... Christie would actually change the age at which people start collecting benefits... effectively proposing an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits. ... This is also a particularly painful cut for people with unpleasant jobs. Politicians don't tend to retire at age 62, and neither do political pundits or think tank scholars, because people in these jobs tend to enjoy them." Vox.

PONNURU: The plan would also punish people for saving for old age. "New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just suggested gradually ending benefits for retirees with incomes of $80,000 to $200,000. He's right to favor lower benefits for affluent people, but this is the wrong way to go about it. The kind of means-testing Christie is proposing would discourage people from saving for retirement, or working in retirement, when we should be encouraging both. But we can avoid this problem by basing means-testing on lifetime income, which Social Security already uses to calculate benefits. Future retirees who had high incomes over the course of their working lives should get lower benefits than similarly situated retirees today. At the very least, they should not get the much higher benefits that the system currently promises them. With that reform in place, the system could save money without imposing serious hardship or discouraging people from saving and working." Bloomberg View.

RAMPELL: He also wants to convert Medicaid to a set of block grants. "Christie would instead limit each state to a fixed dollar amount per beneficiary. ... Limiting federal funding on Medicaid spending would indisputably accomplish one objective: Limiting federal funding on Medicaid spending. But that’s it. It won’t make the growing costs of the program magically disappear. It would just dump them onto someone else’s doorstep, in this case the states’, which are likely less equipped to deal with complex management and cost control given their smaller scale. State governments would either have to contribute more of their own funds or, more likely, institute deep cuts to poor beneficiaries and the providers that serve them." The Washington Post.

PETHOKOUKIS: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) still has good ideas about taxes. "While Rubio's plan loses too much money, and taking investment tax rates all the way to zero would seem a political bridge too far, these are fixable issues, and something like the Rubio plan might pass some future Congress. Critically, the Rubio proposal recognizes that while the U.S. needs faster economic growth, acceleration alone might not help many middle-class families in an economy buffeted by automation of middle-skill jobs and globalization. In short, it's an attempted response to real-world problems and conditions, not ideological litmus tests. His competitors might want to try the same strategy and reject the economic nostalgia and wishful thinking that's infected much of today's GOP policy debate." The Week.

KRUGMAN: Europe's policymakers have ignored textbook economics. "Why has Europe done so badly? In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of speeches and articles suggesting that the problem lies in the inadequacy of our economic models... Basic textbook models, reflecting an approach to recessions and recoveries that would have seemed familiar to students half a century ago, have performed very well. The trouble is that policy makers in Europe decided to reject those basic models in favor of alternative approaches that were innovative, exciting and completely wrong. ... While European policy makers may have imagined that they were showing a praiseworthy openness to new economic ideas, the economists they chose to listen to were those telling them what they wanted to hear. They sought justifications for the harsh policies they were determined, for political and ideological reasons, to impose on debtor nations." The New York Times.

3. In case you missed it

An appellate court in New Orleans hears arguments over Obama's immigration policies Friday. "A federal judge in February angrily ordered an indefinite halt to the president’s assertion of executive authority that would shield up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provide work permits to many of them. The judge, in Brownsville, Tex., said Mr. Obama had abused his power and violated administrative procedures. If the government lawyers fail in their bid to reverse the judge’s preliminary injunction, Mr. Obama’s immigration efforts could remain in legal limbo for months, raising doubts about whether the policies will be carried out before the president leaves office. The rare hearing before a three-judge panel will allow lawyers for both sides to make their cases publicly." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

Concerned about the economy, the Federal Reserve might wait a little longer to raise interest rates. "Recent reports showed a slowdown in U.S. hiring in March, tepid growth in consumer spending at retail stores, a big drop in industrial output and softer-than-expected home building, reinforcing a view the economy downshifted in the first quarter and didn’t have great momentum moving into the second. Fed officials want to see continued improvement in the job market and want to be confident inflation is rising toward their 2% goal before they raise rates from near zero. ... For Fed officials, the turn of events is somewhat of a recurring nightmare. Economic growth has continually fallen short of their expectations in an expansion nearly six years old. The disappointments, in turn, have consistently forced them to recalibrate their plans." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers are ready to start debating a bill about the trade deal. "President Obama's high-stakes bid to complete one of the largest free trade pacts in U.S. history--over the objections of most Democrats--moved ahead Thursday when the Senate introduced bipartisan legislation that would give his administration vast new powers to close the deal. The fast-track trade bill from Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would allow the president to present a final agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote without lawmakers being able to amend the terms. ... Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he would hold a markup and vote on the bill April 23." Paul Kane and David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

VINIK: Opponents of the deal see stopping this bill, called "trade-promotion authority," as their best chance. "It may seem strange that the AFL-CIO is already starting an ad blitz against the deal and that liberals such as Warren and Sanders are going to war over it. After all, TPA isn’t the actual trade deal. It makes more sense once you understand that many unions and progressives view this as the main fight. ... Because TPA allows only an up-or-down vote on TPP, it means the trade bill can’t be filibustered, making it harder for opponents to block the deal. The fast-track legislation will likely go through the respective House and Senate committees and onto the floor in the coming weeks. Labor groups are mounting an all-out assault on the bill." The New Republic.


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