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Wonkbook: WH plans health reform push; Fed likely to delay; BP well dead


Ding-dong, BP's well is dead. Or, at the least, sealed with cement plugs. Tests conducted Sunday affirmed that the "bottom kill" will hold, and thus that particular danger is over. Now there's just the long period of clean-up and damage assessment, and for BP, the long legal fight against claims and suits.

Speaking of long fights, the Obama administration is ramping up its campaigning on the Affordable Care Act. The bill has been battered lately by confident Republican opponents (not to mention poor poll numbers), but unbeknown to most, some of its more populist measures -- like caps on annual limits, and allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until they're 26 -- are taking effect. The White House is hoping they can use these parts as a base on which to build a campaign for the whole.

It's Monday. Welcome to Wonkbook.

Top Stories

Obama is renewing his defense of the Affordable Care Act, report Janet Adamy and Laura Meckler: "The Obama administration this week plans to revive its pitch for the health-care overhaul, hoping that a slate of consumer-friendly provisions will boost public support before midterm elections. Starting Thursday, insurers officially must adhere to about a half-dozen key changes under the law, including eliminating co-payments for preventive services and allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance policy until their 26th birthday. Democrats structured the provisions so they would kick in right before the elections, thinking incumbents would have a tangible achievement to promote on the campaign trail."

The GOP will focus on defunding health care reform if it takes Congress:

The Fed will likely delay action on the economy at tomorrow's meeting, reports Sewell Chan: "The committee’s Aug. 10 meeting was dominated by a vigorous discussion over the decision to reinvest the mortgage-related bond proceeds -- an approach Mr. Bernanke favored. The meeting on Tuesday will probably be used to assess actions the committee might take at its meetings on Nov. 2 and 3 and Dec. 14. 'Officials are likely to spend much of the session debating the pros and cons of the various stimulus options so that they can be ready to act should future data prove disappointing,' Richard Berner, chief United States economist at Morgan Stanley, wrote in a report last week."

Jeff Green profiles Ron Bloom, Obama's manufacturing czar:

BP's oil well is now dead, reports Guy Chazan: "BP's well 'is effectively dead,' said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen in a statement after tests verified the strength of a cement plug placed at its bottom... The 'bottom kill' involved flooding the gap between the well casing and the rock formation that surrounds it with cement through a relief well that intersected the Deepwater Horizon well at a depth of 18,000 feet. The operation finished Friday, and cement tests early Sunday morning confirmed that 'the well has been permanently sealed with cement plugs,' a U.S. government statement said."

Meet the man who finally killed the well. Guy Chazan reports : "Mr. Wright is the man BP brought in to oversee the relief well that has finally closed the book on the Gulf oil spill. It brings to an end a saga that exploded into the public consciousness on April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 men. The relief well Mr. Wright drilled for BP is the 41st he has designed and managed in a legendary oil-industry career that took him from the seas of Alaska to the tea plantations of Bangladesh."

Electric blues interlude: The Black Keys play "Countdown" live.

Still to come: Older workers may never be able to re-enter the labor market; why we might want some inflation; BP's responsibilities have not ended even as the spill has; the food safety bill is still stalled in the Senate; and a cat gives another cat a massage.


Unemployed people over 50 face a real chance of never working again, reports Motoko Rich: "Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group -- 7.3 percent -- is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession. After other recent downturns, older people who lost jobs fretted about how long it would take to return to the work force and worried that they might never recover their former incomes. But today, because it will take years to absorb the giant pool of unemployed at the economy’s recent pace, many of these older people may simply age out of the labor force before their luck changes."

College graduates face much greater job security than most Americans:

The recession is hurting family nest eggs, reports Ylan Mui: "In the 1980s and 1990s, the stock and real estate markets helped many families amass wealth to prepare for college costs or retirement. But now there is mounting concern among economists and business leaders over whether high rates of return will be sustainable in this century...Stock markets ended the past 10 years virtually flat. Meanwhile, the real estate crash has wiped out the gains homeowners saw earlier in the decade. Some economists are now dubbing the era a 'lost decade.'"

Home sales figure suggest a stabilizing market:

Neil Irwin explains how a little bit of inflation could help the economy: "The low inflation numbers reflect the reluctance of businesses to raise prices amid weak demand for their products and the inability of most workers to get raises at a time of high unemployment...Inflation would make the heavy debt that Americans carry a bit more manageable as wages rise but the amount owed stays the same. And it would create more incentive for businesses to invest their cash rather than sit on it, because inflation would reduce the value of hoarded money."

The SEC has unveiled stricter debt disclosure rules:

Underwater mortgages can help the economy, write Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer: "We propose a new program through which the federal government would direct the public and quasi-public entities that guarantee mortgages -- Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Department of Veterans Affairs loan-guarantee program and the Federal Housing Administration -- to make it far easier and quicker for homeowners to refinance...The agencies would direct loan servicers -- the middlemen who monitor and report loan payments -- to send a short application to all eligible borrowers promising to allow them to refinance with minimal paperwork. Servicers would receive a fixed fee for each mortgage they refinanced, which would be rolled into the mortgage to eliminate costs to taxpayers."

Tyler Cowen argues the Fed could do good by just raising the public's confidence:

Paul Krugman critiques the growing populism of the rich: "These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class -- the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet."

Great moments in cycling interlude: Drum-accompanied bike tricks.


BP will likely still use the oil reservoir the spill well tapped into:

DC's bag tax has proven effective, report Sara Murray and Sudeep Reddy: "The city doesn't have a precise way to measure the bag tax's impact. Prior to the law, residents used an estimated 270 million disposable bags a year, according to the city's chief financial officer; the city estimated that would decline by 50% in the first year after the tax was imposed...Through the end of July, the city collected more than $1.1 million from the bag fee and small donations. At that rate, receipts are likely to fall short of the expected $3.6 million in the first year. Some city officials say that suggests more people than expected are bringing their own bags to stores."

Garbage could help fight global warming:

California's progress on climate change faces a threat on the November ballot, reports Peter Henderson: "California is the clear U.S. leader on addressing climate change, unless California voters kill a landmark 2006 state law known as AB32, which was intended to cut carbon dioxide emission to 1990 levels by 2020. On Nov. 2 Californians will vote on Proposition 23, which would put AB32 on hold. The law would go back into effect when unemployment, now more than 12 percent, has remained at or below 5.5 percent for four quarters, which is not expected to happen for years."

Adorable animals being masseuses interlude: One cat gives another cat a massage.

Domestic Policy

A bill improving food safety is still stalling in the Senate, reports Gardiner Harris: "Cries of alarm about the legislation have arisen from some small farmers and their advocates, who have argued that the new regulations would be too costly and that F.D.A. inspectors would come barging into their homes. Linn Cohen-Cole, a small-farm advocate from Atlanta, calls the bill 'a fascist takeover of the entire food supply.' The bill’s sponsors in the Senate agreed to allow some exemptions for small farms and facilities, but those provisions are not forceful enough for Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana.'"

Adrian Fenty's loss in DC is worrying education reformers:

The FDA will not require genetically modified salmon to be labelled, reports Lyndsey Layton: "The labeling question has emerged as the FDA determines whether to approve the fish, an Atlantic salmon known as AquAdvantage that grows twice as fast as its natural counterpart. The decision carries great weight because, while genetically modified agriculture has been permitted for years and engineered crops are widely used in processed foods, this would be the first modified animal allowed for human consumption in the United States.The AquAdvantage salmon has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon."

A "college for all" philosophy is leaving students untrained for the workforce, writes Ilana Garon: "It has spawned a steep decline of “shop” and vocational programs at the high school level, which should ideally be the training ground for work in twenty-first-century industries. In 1990, 58 percent of New York City high school students were enrolled in some sort of vocational class, whether in a designated Career and Technical Education (CTE) school or a standard high school offering 'CTE pathways'; by 2007, that number had shrunk to 38 percent, with many of the vocational high schools underperforming in key achievement measures."

DC's experience doesn't suggest public dissatisfaction with school reform, writes Fred Hiatt:

Today's standardized tests can't measure students' education, writes Susan Engel: "We should come up with assessments that truly measure the qualities of well-educated children: the ability to understand what they read; an interest in using books to gain knowledge; the capacity to know when a problem calls for mathematics and quantification; the agility to move from concrete examples to abstract principles and back again; the ability to think about a situation in several different ways; and a dynamic working knowledge of the society in which they live...In recent years, psychologists have found ways to measure things as subtle as the forces that govern our moral choices and the thought processes that underlie unconscious stereotyping."

Closing credits: Wonkbook compiled with help from Dylan Matthews and Mike Shepard. Photo credit: White House.

By Ezra Klein  | September 20, 2010; 6:38 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: (Insurance) markets in everything


You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price by calling 877-882-4740 or check If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!

Posted by: kevindeon20 | September 20, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I wasn't paying attention in school, but how can a GOP House defund health care if Obama will veto it and the Senate Dems obstruct that effort?

Posted by: Lomillialor | September 20, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Something else I think I'm seeing more of lately is the "it's all relative to where you live!" argument. Look, there are only a few small areas of the country where $250k/year doesn't allow you to live what most people would consider a wealthy lifestyle, and having $250k/year means you can afford transportation to live half an hour away where cost of living is lower. If you have to have an apartment in Manhattan, then living in Manhattan is the trade you're making for not having a huge house. This does not mean you're not rich.

Posted by: MosBen | September 20, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Will Delaware voters choose a candidate who described himself as a Marxist in college over Christine O'Donnel?
Is this an election between a faithful supporter of Obama & Pelosi agenda vs. the Tea Party?

Is this election a referendum on whether spending stimulus money on fixing windows in abandoned federal buildings is the best way to fix our economy?

Or whether federal revenue is better spent on lowering the costs, risks, and uncertainty that those who try and launch new profit-seeking enterprizes face?

Is this a referendum on whether our nation's economic policy should be driven by lobbyists for Unions, Trial Lawyers, and environmental activists? Or would you prefer it to be driven by lobbyists for American businesses?

What is your preference?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | September 20, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't Republicans called anarchists, since it is clear by their own words they don't believe in gvmt?

FastEddie most of the business lobby money is from transnational (non-American) corporations.

And Dems are lobbied by US based businesses as well. So your choices as listed should be amended to: Do you prefer to empower a party whose lobbyists are dominated by American workers and American businesses or a party whose lobbyists are dominated by American and global businesses.

Sounds to me the Dems got this one right.

Posted by: lauren2010 | September 20, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

"Starting Thursday, insurers officially must adhere to about a half-dozen key changes under the law, including eliminating co-payments for preventive services and allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance policy until their 26th birthday."

AGAIN the misinformation continues. Dependent to age 26 does not begin today. Some did it early. Most did not. Today simply starts the clock that states that if an insurance policy renews after today it then must allow for this coverage. oh and don't forget its not free. Most actuaries estimate its cost at 1-1.5% of your premium but we'll never hear that talk here. So most (including the Federal government unless they've changed their tune and I didn't hear about it) will get this benefit starting January 1st and the last stragglers will get it September 1st 2011.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 20, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Good point Lauren!

I generally overlook the way Obama & Pelosi have faithfully served the interests of Goldman-Sachs & BP.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | September 20, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Lauren2010 - I support the role of the federal government to protect our nation against the threats of despotic nations like China, Russia, Venezuela---nations that have attacked our inate belief in human freedom. As well as to protect our nations from evil people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, responsible for brainwashing repressed individuals so that they've boarded our airplanes and took them over and flew them into our biggest buildings killing thousands and terrorizing millions.

I do not in any way support anarchy----you might want to focus on the self-described anarchists carrying signs of Mao and protesting at international economic summits.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | September 20, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, FastEddie. The best you've got is that the guy described himself as a Marxist in college? Unless he just finished college I think that's about the weakest attack I've ever seen. O'Donnell has said some pretty damn wacky things, and she said them long after college. It's one thing to make the election a referendum on national politics. We disagree on that stuff, but whatever. Making this about who has said crazier things is a strange argument for you to make in this race.

Posted by: MosBen | September 20, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

It is an ideological battle between a knee-jerk supporter of the Obama-Pelosi Maoist Progressivism and the Tea Party belief in Jeffersonian-style limited government.

Do you believe spending money on things like replacing old windows in abandoned federal buildings makes more sense than lower the cost(and thus increasing demand) on parties seeking to launch profit-seeking enterprizes.

Do you agree that the added costs, risks, and liabilities that the Obama administration has imposed during this fragile economy is costing us job growth?

Do you consider that Obama & Pelosi KNOW THIS and are relying on a new generation of Americans in poverty to support their agenda going forward?

Didn't Obama refer to his campaign as the AUDACITY OF HOPE?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | September 20, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Electric blues? give me a m***f*** break

Posted by: bdballard | September 20, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it." - Paul Krugman

Wanting to keep the fruit of one's own labor is, in Krugman's eyes, a "belligerent sense of entitlement".

All of those rich people need to pipe down and calmly empty their wallets so that the money can be put to better use by the political class. What a joke.

Posted by: justin84 | September 20, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

@Justin84: "And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it."

Yeah, it doesn't surprise me that that's Krugman's take.

And it could apply to a lot of topics. "And among the undeniably procreative, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: they are their children, and they have the right to keep them". When, in fact, many of those extra children could be put to work elsewhere, for the common good.

"And among the undeniably prolific (as in writers), a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their writing, and they want the credit."

Which is why I think each of us should get the by-line of Ezra's blog posts, in a random rotation. Because that's just more fair.

"And among the undeniably lucky in love, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: this is their boyfriend or girlfriend, and they shouldn't have to share them."

Oh, and: "Among the undeniably female, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their body, and nobody can tell them what to do with it."

And so on. It's the Six Degrees of Paul Krugman. Follow the vapid assertions down their circular chain of logic, and you move from far-left to far-right, in six steps or less. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | September 20, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

"And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it." - Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is another BEARDED MARXIST running the (formerly-known-as) Democrat party.

Time for all of us middle class American parents to kick the Bearded Marxists out of power!!!

Power to the people!!!!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | September 20, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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