Wonkbook: Are we nearing the endgame in Wisconsin?
The Wall Street Journal has a report that quotes extensively from the state's Senate Democrats and suggests they're feeling the pressure to come home. "I think we have to realize that there's only so much we can do as a group to make a stand," said Sen. Bob Jauch. Talking Points Memo, however, notes that some of those same Senate Democrats are denying that report. "Unfortunately, the WSJ fished for the quote they wanted, skipping this key step in logic: we won't come back until worker's rights are preserved," Sen. Chris Larson said in a statement.
Poll after poll shows that Gov. Scott Walker's position is increasingly unpopular and Wisconsin's voters want to see a compromise. But Walker seems to be holding out. And the state's Senate Democrats can't stay away forever. In this way, their efforts have been a very traditional filibuster: Not the 60-vote pocket veto we're used to, where the minority simply refuses to allow a majority vote, but the talk-a-thons of lore, in which a determined minority feel so strongly about their opposition to a bill that they mount a physically exhausting and politically dangerous stand against it, bringing all the other business currently facing the chamber to a halt in a desperate attempt to win the public over to their side. You can't do that forever, and you can't do it to often -- but then, nor should you be able to. The election went how it went, and after you make your case and appeal to the public and try and shame the majority, you either have the votes or you don't.
Wisconsin's Democrats have been filibustering with their feet, and it's not clear how much longer they can keep it up. That's how it's supposed to be: thwarting the will of the elected majority is supposed to be difficult, not routine. What the Democrats have is the next election, not to mention the recall effort they've launched against a handful of Senate Republicans. "It's really up to the public to be engaged in carrying the torch on this issue," Jauch told the Journal. And shouldn't it be? The Democrats have shown the voters exactly what it is that they voted for in Walker. His effort to quietly gut collective bargaining in Wisconsin has been a huge failure. Democrats have turned up the volume in the Capitol to "deafening." But at some point, the state will have to move on. The question between now and then is whether the voters can persuade some of the Republicans to come to the middle, and if the Republicans refuse their entreaties, what sort of retribution the voters will visit on them for their stubbornness.
There are few signs of an imminent budget compromise, reports Carol Leonnig: "Congressional leaders showed few signs of compromise in their ongoing budget battle Sunday, with Republican and Democratic leaders publicly accusing one another of not being serious about crafting a responsible federal spending plan quickly...Democrats accused the Republican-controlled House of proposing "reckless" cuts in a small sliver of the budget - slashing deeply into domestic discretionary programs for education and energy research...When asked if he thought Obama was serious about brokering a deal, McConnell said: 'No, I don't...I was hopeful that we would step up to the plate here, if you will, and use this divided-government opportunity to do something big about our long-term problem. What I don't see now is any willingness to do anything that's difficult.'"
Senate Democrats have unveiled their own budget, reports David Rogers: "Sharpening the contrast with House Republicans, Senate Democrats introduced Friday their own budget for the remainder of this fiscal year, restoring tens of billions for domestic and foreign aid programs even as the Pentagon would get about $2.1 billion less than the GOP proposes. The $1.077 trillion plan bills itself as middle ground between House’s own budget and President Barack Obama’s 2011 spending requests from a year ago. But it is also very much a stalking horse now for the president, trying to get Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move more toward the center in negotiations with the White House. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) served notice that he wants to have back-to-back votes Tuesday matching the new Senate alternative against Boehner’s Feb. 19th House-passed package which would cut $51.3 billion more than Democrats have recommended. "
Wisconsin's Democratic state senators could return soon, report Kris Maher and Amy Merrick: "Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they'll taint the state's Republican governor and legislators...Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker's 'budget-repair' bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions' collective-bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to vote on it, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber."
Other state senators deny the report: http://bit.ly/ibVNGi
Punk cover interlude: The Clash play "Police On My Back" live.
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.
Still to come: The Fed is not likely to scale back asset-buying early; higher health costs, not health care reform, is driving up insurance premiums; class sizes are growing in public schools; the White House is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and a polar bear cub frolics in the snow.
The Fed won't end quantitative easing early, reports Jon Hilsenrath: "Federal Reserve officials have grown more confident that a self-sustaining economic recovery is taking root in the U.S., but they want to see more evidence before they seriously consider how and when to pull back the enormous amounts of stimulus they pumped into the financial system. So when officials gather for their next policy meeting March 15, they are likely to decide to continue a $600 billion Treasury securities purchasing program. They are also likely to maintain a commitment to keep short-term interest rates near zero for an 'extended period.' Barring a surprising turn in the economy or inflation, it seems increasingly likely that the securities purchase program, known by some as quantitative easing, is likely to end in June as scheduled."
Senate Democrats are fighting to save the administration's "czars": http://politi.co/elXPSU
The GOP is running a budget "boot camp" for freshmen, report Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman: "Republican leaders have been running something of a budget boot camp for the 87 members of their freshman class in hopes of getting them to the point they can pitch the GOP’s 2012 blueprint to their constituents back home. In a normal year, the complexities of a budget plan are tough enough to explain to rank-and-file House members, most of whom are focused on more narrow issues. But this year, Republican leaders promise to address politically charged entitlement programs -- such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- when they unveil their budget in the next few weeks...The freshmen are charged with selling the GOP’s plans in their own districts so that there’s public support for making significant changes to popular safety-net programs."
States want to overhaul the administration's mortgage modification programs: http://nyti.ms/haa9ID
Corporations are pushing for a tax holiday, reports Mike Zapler: "What politician would vote against a trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan at little cost to taxpayers? Probably not too many. And that's just how a group of multinational tech, drug and energy companies are framing the pitch as they prepare to launch a coordinated campaign on Capitol Hill for a temporary tax break on overseas profits they bring back to the U.S. Politically, the so-called repatriation tax holiday could be a tough sell to a public wary of giving big business a free lunch - let alone a smorgasbord. President Barack Obama also has made clear he’s not interested in piecemeal tax measures, insisting on a comprehensive overhaul. And critics say there’s scant evidence the last tax reprieve of this kind in 2004 spurred much investment or hiring."
The unemployment rate is below 9 percent for the first time in almost two years: http://on.wsj.com/huVMxh
Technological progress won't mean abandoning manual labor, writes Paul Krugman: "The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information...The economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task -- a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs -- is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules -- a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors -- will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress."
A healthy labor movement is necessary for preserving the middle class, write Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson: http://wapo.st/ebigc6
We can't get away with deficit spending forever, writes Tyler Cowen: "The illusion is this: A government bond represents both a current asset and a future liability, yet for most people, those future tax payments feel less concrete and less real than the dollars they’re holding in a money market account. The field of behavioral economics analyzes imperfections in market decision-making, but the biggest practical problems often involve our inaccurate perceptions of what the public sector is up to and how much it will affect us. In this case, the sorry truth is that our savings aren’t worth as much as many of us think, and a rude awakening is coming. One way or another, some of our savings will be taxed away to make good on governmental commitments, like future Medicare benefits, which we currently are framing as personal free lunches."
Movie trailer interlude: James Gunn's Super.
Health premiums are continuing to rise with the price of care, reports Robert Pear: "As Congress continues to debate the new health care law, health insurance costs are still rising, particularly for small businesses. Republicans are seizing on the trend as evidence that the new law includes expensive features that are driving up premiums. But the insurance industry says premiums are rising primarily because of the underlying cost of care and a growing demand for it. Across the country, premiums have more than doubled in the last decade, with smaller companies particularly hard hit in recent years, federal officials say... Economists and state regulators say health insurance is expensive primarily because health care is expensive. 'You won’t really address the cost of health insurance unless you address the cost of health care itself,' New Hampshire’s insurance commissioner, Roger A. Sevigny, said."
Senate Democrats are giving up on confirming Medicare and Medicaid administrator Donald Berwick: http://bit.ly/i80brm
The GOP's is taking a cynical approach to health care cuts, writes Michael Millenson: "The Prevention and Public Health Fund? 'You mean, the prevention health slush fund, as we like to refer to it?' replied a GOP staffer. The Innovation Center at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services? 'An innovation center at CMS is an oxymoron,' responded a Republican aide, before adding a personal barb aimed at the attendees: 'Though it's great for PhDs who come to Washington on the government tab.' There was also no reason the government should pay for 'so-called comparative effectiveness research,' another said. 'Everything's on the chopping block,' said yet another...Those focused on the substance of health policy might be forgiven for feeling blindsided."
Turning Medicaid into a block grant would be disastrous, writes Harold Pollack: http://bit.ly/hk55k4
Budget cuts are swelling class sizes, reports Sam Dillon: "Millions of public school students across the nation are seeing their class sizes swell because of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, undermining a decades-long push by parents, administrators and policy makers to shrink class sizes. Over the past two years, California, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin have loosened legal restrictions on class size. And Idaho and Texas are debating whether to fit more students in classrooms. Los Angeles has increased the average size of its ninth-grade English and math classes to 34 from 20. Eleventh- and 12th-grade classes in those two subjects have risen, on average, to 43 students...Since the 1980s, teachers and many other educators have embraced research finding that smaller classes foster higher achievement."
Still more states are considering anti-union legislation, reports Mark Stein: "Efforts to strip public employees of collective-bargaining and other rights in Wisconsin and Ohio have received much of the attention, but at least 10 other states are pursuing similar measures. Lawmakers in Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Tennessee and South Carolina have introduced bills to reduce union power or to make it more difficult for them to sign up workers, and there is talk of similar measures even in labor-friendly California and New York. Those efforts would build on bills already working their way through legislatures in Iowa, Kansas and the traditionally progressive state of Massachusetts. The measures aren't identical, but each attempts to rein in labor unions amid concerns about state budget deficits and a national debate over public-sector pay and pensions."
Texas is fighting over federal education dollars: http://on.wsj.com/fbXs4Z
Real education reform should focus on early childhood, writes Kevin Drum: "Children of college graduates score about one standard deviation above the mean by the time they're three, and that never changes. Children of mothers with less than a high school education score about half a standard deviation below the mean by the time they're three, and that never changes either. Roughly speaking, nothing we do after age three has much effect... Intensive, early interventions, by contrast, genuinely seem to work. They aren't cheap, and they aren't easy. And they don't necessarily boost IQ scores or get kids into Harvard. But they produce children who learn better, develop critical life skills, have fewer problems in childhood and adolescence, commit fewer crimes, earn more money, and just generally live happier, stabler, more productive lives."
Cold fun in the wintertime interlude: A baby polar bear frolics in the snow.
The White House is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reports Matthew Wald: "The Obama administration is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in response to rapidly rising gasoline prices brought on by turmoil in the Middle East, the White House chief of staff, William M. Daley, said on Sunday. 'It’s something that only has been done on very rare occasions,' Mr. Daley said on 'Meet the Press' on NBC, adding, 'It’s something we’re considering.' Administration officials have sent mixed signals about the possibility of opening the reserve, which would add supply to the domestic oil market and tend to push down prices. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Friday that the administration was monitoring prices, but he has been reluctant to endorse more aggressive steps."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding hearings on climate science: http://bit.ly/eTRZ7y
The GOP wants to strip the EPA's power to regulate coal mining, reports Ben Geman: "Kentucky’s Senate delegation floated legislation Thursday that curtails the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to delay or veto permits for coal mining projects. The bill, introduced by GOP Sen. Rand Paul and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the latest attack on what lawmakers from Appalachian coal-producing states call undue EPA delays and limits on mountaintop removal mining projects. 'I think this is a good first step to reining in an out-of-control, unelected bureaucracy. I think the EPA has gone way beyond its mandated duty and is now at the point of stifling industry in our country,' Paul said Thursday."
China is planning a major energy conservation push: http://nyti.ms/fmcVCy
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.
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