Wonkbook: The best story you'll read on earmarks
If you want to see why holding the line on deficit reduction is going to be so difficult, read Jennifer Steinhauer's report on how members of Congress and the communities they represent are reacting to a world without earmarks. The earmark moratorium, it turns out, isn't confined to projects that sound funny when Sen. John McCain tweets about them. "Also shelved are a project to help consolidate information about warrants in Brazos County, Tex., and staffing for two new shelters for abused women and children in Salt Lake City. A rural Wisconsin county will not be able to upgrade its communication system, and a road in Kentucky will not be widened next year."
Those aren't the sort of projects the public has in mind when they hear the word "earmark." But those are the sort of projects that actually make up most of the earmarks. And as Steinhauer goes on to note, the spending freeze is going to make it much harder for politicians to get that money for their community by other means. That'll mean "scores of lawmakers are going to find themselves explaining to the people back home why their bridges will not be finished, their rape-victim programs canceled before they started, their federal requirements ignored." You can't help but wonder whether some of the new legislators who are certain this stuff is all waste and none of this spending will be missed might walk out with a different impression.
I'm not a fan of earmarks for various reasons related to their effect on Washington's lobbying culture. But they have a worse rap than they deserve. So does a lot of government spending. Which doesn't mean the grim reality of the budget deficit is any different, or the need to get our finances in order is somehow lifted. It just means it's going to get a lot harder once we start actually talking about the programs that need to be cut along the way. Yesterday, Sen. Tom Coburn said, “I could give you $350 billion worth of cuts tomorrow that nobody would miss." Perhaps he's right. But I doubt it. For comparison's sake, we appropriated a mere $16 billion in earmarks in 2010, and I think Congress -- and particularly the new members -- are going to find that more people will miss that spending than they'd thought.
Obama urged members of the Chamber of Commerce to start hiring, reports Brady Dennis: "President Obama on Monday pledged to make government an ally of companies as they emerge from the bleak downturn of recent years, even as he challenged executives to do their part to help resurrect the economy...His administration will 'help lay the foundation for you to grow and innovate,' Obama said, vowing new investment in infrastructure and education and a focus on removing 'barriers that make it harder for you to compete - from the tax code to the regulatory system.' But even as he vowed to push hard on initiatives ranging from trade deals to corporate tax reform, Obama challenged business leaders to ramp up their hiring, bring jobs back from overseas and quit sitting on such large stockpiles of cash."
Read the speech: http://bit.ly/fBqcel
The new earmark ban has put many local projects on hold, reports Jennifer Steinhauer: "Gone for now are the likes of the taxpayer-financed teapot museum, or studies on the mating habits of crabs. But also shelved are a project to help consolidate information about warrants in Brazos County, Tex., and staffing for two new shelters for abused women and children in Salt Lake City. A rural Wisconsin county will not be able to upgrade its communication system, and a road in Kentucky will not be widened next year. Across the country, local governments, nonprofit groups and scores of farmers, to name but a few, are waking up to the fact that when Congress stamped out earmarks last week, it was talking about their projects, too."
House energy chair Fred Upton opposes a clean energy standard, reports Ben Geman: "House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Monday criticized the notion of a federal 'clean energy standard' for electric utilities, comments that highlight the political hurdles facing a central piece of the White House energy agenda. In a wide-ranging interview with E2, Upton noted that more than two-dozen states have renewable electricity standards tailored to their 'state dynamics,' and that it would be difficult to overlay a federal mandate...President Obama’s State of the Union speech last month called for a “clean” standard in which the nation would obtain 80 percent of its power from low-carbon sources -- including renewables and nuclear power -- by 2035."
Real talk: No Fred Upton, no energy bill.
The vacancy levels for the federal judiciary are reaching a crisis point, report Jerry Markon and Shailagh Murray: "Federal judges have been retiring at a rate of one per week this year, driving up vacancies that have nearly doubled since President Obama took office. The departures are increasing workloads dramatically and delaying trials in some of the nation's federal courts. The crisis is most acute along the southwestern border, where immigration and drug cases have overwhelmed court officials. Arizona recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. The three judges in Tucson, the site of last month's shooting rampage, are handling about 1,200 criminal cases apiece... Experts blame Republican delaying tactics, slow White House nominations and a dysfunctional Senate confirmation system."
Mash-up interlude: The Hood Internet's "Ignition (Keep It Remixing Louder)".
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Still to come: The FDIC is proposing delays to bank executive bonuses; GOP governors want more flexibility on implementing health care reform; a bipartisan Senate duo is trying again on immigration reform; the House GOP is fighting a lawsuit against energy companies; and the new Captain America trailer.
The FDIC wants to delay bank executive bonuses, reports Marcy Gordon: "Federal regulators have proposed making top executives at large financial firms wait at least three years to be paid half of their annual bonuses, a move designed to cut down on risky financial transactions. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted Monday to advance the rule, which builds on more general requirements in last year's financial regulatory law to curtail risk-taking. The rule targets firms with $50 billion or more in assets, seeking to tie bonuses with financial performance over a longer time period...The bonus requirement would apply to major financial institutions, such as Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co."
Wall Street wants a bigger budget for the SEC: http://nyti.ms/h1mnvM
A study suggests that home prices would be lower without public support, reports Nick Timiraos: "Mortgage rates could be one percentage point higher and house prices 10% lower if the U.S. mortgage market were fully privatized, according to a paper to be released Tuesday by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. The calculations help build Mr. Zandi's case for replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with new entities constituting a public-private hybrid system for financing home loans. The proposal is the latest in a growing list of white papers by economists and academics looking to influence the debate over how to reinvent the nation's mortgage market. The Obama administration is set to issue its own recommendations as soon as this week."
Business doesn't need Congress' help in fighting regulation, writes Timothy Noah: "Granted, not all problems that arise from regulation are foreseeable during the rulemaking process. But when they aren't, business has little trouble making its complaint heard in Washington. The amount of money spent last year on lobbying--just on lobbying, not on campaign contributions--was $3.47 billion, which is more than double the $1.56 billion spent 10 years earlier. Some of that money was spent by labor unions and public-interest groups, but the overwhelming majority of it was spent by businesses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent $132 million last year on lobbying."
Comic geek interlude: The first trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger.
GOP governors are pushing for "flexibility" on health care reform, reports Sarah Kliff: "Republican governors want HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make specific changes to the new health exchanges, and have threatened to pull back on running their own exchanges if their demands are not met. 'Many of us believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be repealed by Congress if the courts do not strike it down first,' 21 of the 29 GOP governors wrote in a Monday morning letter. 'But, with no assurance of either outcome, we face the decision of whether to participate in the bill by operating state exchanges.'...The Republican governors’ letter came on the heels of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, pushing for the same modifications."
Moderate Democrats are starting to look for ways to reform the individual mandate, reports Manu Raju: "Nelson, who faces a tough road to win a third term next year, asked the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office to outline alternatives to the mandate, potentially by bringing large numbers of people into insurance coverage through open and closed enrollment periods. He may offer legislation once the congressional scorekeepers report back to him...Nelson fired back at GOP critics who said he’s trying to distance himself from the law. 'What’s their plan? Is their plan, 'hope you don’t get sick'?”
If the Supreme Court's conservatives are consistent, they will uphold health care reform, writes Laurence Tribe: "Given the clear case for the law’s constitutionality, it’s distressing that many assume its fate will be decided by a partisan, closely divided Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, whom some count as a certain vote against the law, upheld in 2005 Congress’s power to punish those growing marijuana for their own medical use; a ban on homegrown marijuana, he reasoned, might be deemed 'necessary and proper' to effectively enforce broader federal regulation of nationwide drug markets. To imagine Justice Scalia would abandon that fundamental understanding of the Constitution’s necessary and proper clause because he was appointed by a Republican president is to insult both his intellect and his integrity."
The administration is considering tweaking health care reform's long-term care provision, the CLASS act: http://on.wsj.com/eky6ZC
The danger for health-care reform is that Republicans will stand in the way of further reforms, writes Ezra Klein: Like any major piece of legislation, parts of it will work much better than we expect, and parts of it will disappoint us. Perhaps the experiment with paying hospitals a flat fee to treat a patient's diabetes will prove a smashing success, leading to lower costs and higher-quality care. And perhaps the provision allowing individuals to publicly rate their insurers will prove a disaster, with companies paying the computer-savvy to rig the ratings. In that world, the answer would be obvious: Expand the good and repeal the bad. Indeed, we should expect to do this over and over again. We'll constantly need to double down on what works, remove what doesn't, and add new ideas and refinements into the mix. Policymakers are never omniscient, but they are, at their best, persistent. And that's how we'll move from the inefficient and expensive health-care system we have to the efficient and affordable system we want: one tweak at a time.
"That assumes, however, that both parties' top priority is to get from the system we have to the system that the Affordable Care Act suggests we want: a system with lower costs and near-universal care. But is it? Increasingly, it seems not."
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer are trying again on immigration reform, reports Carrie Budoff Brown: "Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have rekindled their alliance on immigration reform, taking some early steps to test the political will for addressing the contentious issue this year. Their call list hasn’t focused so much on House and Senate members who’ve been reliable pro-immigration votes in the past. Instead, they’re looking to a strange-bedfellows mix of conservative and liberal constituencies that can provide a 'safety net' of support, as Graham put it, once the issue heats up...For all the groups getting a call from the pair, it is the presence of Graham himself who elevates the odds -- however bleak -- that the Senate could move on a comprehensive, bipartisan overhaul bill."
The National Labor Relations Board has declared it illegal to fire an employee for complaining about work on Facebook: http://politi.co/i5bQB8
The FAA reauthorization bill is full of pet projects, reports Shira Toeplitz: "Earmarks might be on the outs in Washington, but the first bill on the Senate floor since Democrats reluctantly embraced an earmark ban is still chock-full of expensive aviation pet projects that lawmakers are eager to defend for their voters back home. Tucked inside a current draft of a bill to fund Federal Aviation Administration programs are legislative line items that would direct money to state-specific projects and programs, including $12 million to subsidize flights to 44 rural communities in Alaska, a land transfer for a new airport in Nevada and new airspace testing sites likely in Oregon...Critics call these backdoor earmarks, while defenders say they’re not violating the rules of the ban and are doing an important part of a senator’s job."
Democrats reached a deal on three judges' confirmation: http://huff.to/fkUBfP
Adding college graduates will not solve our economic inequality problem, writes Lawrence Mishel: "The college premium has barely budged in 10 years. Yet income inequality among households has soared since 2001, and the wage gap between high- and middle-wage workers has grown strongly as well. Something that's not growing--the college premium--cannot explain growing inequality. Having more college graduates will leave untouched the income inequality driven by the outsized income growth (from salaries and capital gains) claimed by the upper 1 percent and the upper 0.1 percent. Wage gaps are primarily driven by increased inequalities among workers with similar educations (among college graduates, for example) rather than by differences across education groups."
Adorable animals finding common ground interlude: A French bull dog licking a cat.
The House GOP is fighting a court case against utility companies, reports Robin Bravender: "Two top House Republicans and the Senate’s leading global warming skeptic asked the Supreme Court Monday to throw out a lawsuit seeking to force electric utilities to slash greenhouse gas emissions. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), his energy lieutenant Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) submitted an amicus brief Monday in the high-profile American Electric Power v. Connecticut case. The lawmakers urged the judges to reverse a lower court ruling that allowed states and environmental groups to move ahead with a public 'nuisance' lawsuit seeking to force the utilities to cut their greenhouse gas emissions."
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson will testify before the Republican House tomorrow: http://politi.co/hYE0dZ
The administration is insisting its goal of one million electric cars operating within four years is realistic, reports Peter Whoriskey: "President Obama's goal of 1 million electric cars on the road within the next four years is achievable, according to an administration report to be released Tuesday, contradicting a finding last week from an industry panel. The administration report finds that automakers are prepared to produce 1.2 million plug-in electric vehicles by 2015. By contrast, a panel of industry leaders said that automakers' production plans are 'currently insufficient' to meet the president's goal. The opposing reports both attempted to tally electric-car production efforts, but differed over how many plug-in cars General Motors will manufacture and other matters."
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post Photo.
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