Wonkbook: The White House gets off the bench
With the stopgap funding bill safely through Congress and the federal government given a two-week reprieve, the White House has decided to get in the game more directly: They've invited congressional leaders to sit down with Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff William Daley, and budget director Jack Lew to hammer out a deal.
You could imagine a great beer commercial coming out of this: The wonks and legislators are deadlocked until someone brings in an ice-cold case of Miller Lite. Suddenly, it's all backslapping and "of course revenue should be on the table" and "you're right that government needs to spend less" and "sorry about that whole Planned Parenthood thing." And I haven't even mentioned the disco ball.
But can you imagine a great budget deal coming out of this? This is the same play the White House ran to resolve the tax debate: they waited till the last minute, when inaction was about to force unwelcome consequences, and then they gathered the players in a room with Tim Geithner and Jack Lew and had Joe Biden act as shuttle envoy to Mitch McConnell. Despite the skepticism of people like, well, me, it worked. Maybe it'll work again. But the downside here, much like the downside there, is that the White House has taken ownership over the process, and they will get much of the credit or much of th blame for whether it works and what it produces.
Vice President Biden will host a summit to reach a budget deal, report Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery: "President Obama on Wednesday intervened in a partisan brawl that threatens to shut down the government, inviting congressional leaders of both parties to sit down with Vice President Biden and work out a compromise to fund federal programs through the end of the fiscal year. The president reached out to lawmakers after the Senate approved a stopgap measure to keep the government open through March 18...In a joint news conference after the Senate vote, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that Republicans would go no further until Senate Democrats offered a counter-proposal to the $61 billion package of cuts that the House approved in late February."
Many of the stopgap bill's cuts were based on evidence, reports David Fahrenthold: "An Agriculture Department program was supposed to bring broadband access to rural areas that didn't have it. Instead, it often brought broadband to suburbs that did. An Education Department program spent $911 million to create schools-within-schools but achieved only "modest or neutral" academic improvement... Republicans and Democrats are not in harmony about much of the federal budget, but they have now agreed that these things shouldn't be in it...Watchdog groups call it a start. But they say this move is less a display of the 'new' Washington's budget-cutting bravery than a revelation of the old Washington's inertia: These programs had survived for years, despite persistent troubles."
Ben Bernanke thinks the GOP's spending plan will cost “a couple hundred thousand jobs”: http://politi.co/hx4OkS
Bernanke also warned state and local governments against education cuts, reports Neil Irwin: "Even as state and local governments take difficult steps to balance their budgets and address long-term shortfalls in their pension systems, they should not neglect the education and training programs that are the key to the nation's competitiveness, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke argued Wednesday...'In the long run...the most important fiscal issue is whether the structure and composition of the government budget best serves the public interest,' Bernanke said. 'Research increasingly has shown the benefits of early childhood education and efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills for both individuals and the economy as a whole.' He added that the payoffs from preschool programs seem to be high."
Education reformers worry that Midwest union fights could endanger their efforts, reports Nick Anderson: "Various GOP proposals to narrow labor rights, dismantle teacher tenure and channel public money toward private schools raise a question: Should states work with teacher unions to overhaul education or try to roll over them?...The consequences could ripple far beyond their statehouses, polarizing what has been until now a largely bipartisan movement to fix education and perhaps complicating efforts in a divided Congress to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law. Analysts say teachers might grow leery of signing onto a school improvement agenda if they believe it will quash their rights. 'If you have someone who's proposing to do away with bargaining rights, a line has been drawn in the sand,' said Richard W. Hurd, a labor relations expert at Cornell University."
Music video interlude: The Strokes' "Under Cover of Darkness".
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Still to come: The SEC is imposing limits on bank bonuses; almost ten percent of Medicare spending is fraudulent or improper; Ohio's anti-union bill is moving forward; conservative Democrats are signing on to GOP efforts to strip the EPA of its climate-regulating powers; and picture books and sci-fi converge with Goodnight Dune.
The GOP wants to kill HAMP, reports Dina ElBoghdady: "The Obama administration's main initiative to help struggling borrowers avoid foreclosure could soon be killed in the House, where many Republican lawmakers have complained about the program's lackluster results. The initiative, known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, aims to reduce borrowers' monthly payments to affordable levels. When it was launched in March 2009, the administration projected that it would prevent 3 million to 4 million foreclosures before it expired in December 2012. But the program is far off track, having permanently modified about 521,000 mortgages as of December."
A group of Senate Democrats are organizing against Social Security cuts: http://bit.ly/fkS6FJ
Economists worry that not raising the debt ceiling could increase interest payments, reports Ben White: "Another continuing resolution aside, Republicans and Democrats are still miles apart on a broad agreement to fund the government for another year. And an even larger roadblock could pop up as soon as next month, when the nation could hit its $14.2 trillion debt limit. If Congress does not raise the limit, the U.S. could miss interest payments on its debt and see its triple-A credit rating downgraded. Either of those outcomes, economists and money managers say, could significantly damage the economic recovery and further erode the nation’s status in the eyes of investors, especially foreign governments that own large amounts of U.S. debt. That, in turn, could lead to significantly higher interest rates as investors demand higher premiums to take on the risk of a collapse in U.S. finances."
A congressman and Senator want corporate tax reform to include changes in taxes for small businesses: http://on.wsj.com/g1oEhm
Duplicative programs aren't always wasteful and in need of cutting, writes Kevin Drum: "Sometimes it's useful to have multiple small programs instead of one big coordinated program because small programs can experiment with different approaches to see what works best instead of being stifled by a single big bureaucracy. It's also the case that sometimes it's actually more efficient to have multiple programs. A homelessness program aimed at helping municipal governments is probably best run out of an agency that already deals with municipal governments and doesn't have to reinvent the wheel just to figure out who the players are and how to do outreach. Ditto for programs aimed at church groups, nonprofits, law enforcement, etc. Streamlining is a worthwhile goal, but it's wise not to get too caught up in box-drawing exercises."
State budget slashers aren't "brave", writes E.J. Dionne: "There is nothing courageous about an ideological governor hacking away at programs that partisans of his philosophy, including campaign contributors, want eliminated. That's staying in your comfort zone. The brave ones are governors such as Jerry Brown in California, Dan Malloy in Connecticut, Pat Quinn in Illinois, Mark Dayton in Minnesota and Neil Abercrombie in Hawaii. They are declaring that you have to cut programs, even when your own side likes them, and raise taxes, which nobody likes much at all. Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee has warned of possible tax increases too. Indeed, to the extent that Quinn received any national press coverage, he got pilloried in conservative outlets in January when he signed tax hikes."
The GOP's favorite economist, John Taylor, can be expected to keep the party line, writes Jonathan Chait: http://bit.ly/eXAwRo
The stimulus had a minimal impact, writes Casey Mulligan: "If Keynesian stimulus advocates are correct, economic growth should have been sharply reduced when stimulus spending slowed. I use real G.D.P. results from the Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure actual economic growth through the end of 2010...I do not begin the measurement until the fourth quarter of 2009, when the president’s Council of Economic Advisers declared that the stimulus law had successfully started a slow recovery. If the advisers were right, economic growth should have increased further when government spending grew still faster in the next couple of quarters, and then grown more slowly as government spending grew more slowly later in 2010...The quarters with more government spending growth tend to be those with less G.D.P. growth."
Almost 10 percent of all Medicare payments are improper, reports Brett Coughlin: "Nearly 10 percent of all Medicare payments are fraudulent or otherwise improper, and the government isn’t doing enough to stop them. That’s the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday. The report, issued at the request of a House subcommittee investigating Medicare and Medicaid fraud, estimates that the federal government is losing $48 billion on the improper payments -- a significant amount for a program that 'is fiscally unsustainable in the long term' unless action is taken...CMS estimates that $48 billion of estimated Medicare outlays of $509 billion in fiscal 2010 went to improper payments, including fraudulent ones.'"
A bipartisan duo of Senators wants to open up Medicare's provider database: http://on.wsj.com/gkNK9v
Rep. Paul Ryan says the administration is breaking the law by not proposing Medicare reforms, reports Richard Cohen: "House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is continuing to press the White House to take on entitlements, this time accusing President Obama of failing to follow a provision of a Medicare law. Ryan claims the White House owes Congress a plan for shoring up Medicare funding because the federal government is covering more than its targeted share of the program. Ryan points to a provision of the 2003 Medicare law that requires the president to act. 'The president has failed to lead, again, on entitlement reform. By ignoring their legal requirement to submit a plan that would rectify Medicare’s funding imbalance, the Obama administration threatens the sustainability of this critical program for current and future Medicare beneficiaries,' Ryan said Tuesday."
Ohio's anti-union bill is moving forward, report Amy Gardner and Michael Fletcher: "The Ohio Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would weaken the powers of public workers unions to negotiate their contracts. The vote came as union supporters protested the measure for a second day on the grounds of the state capitol in Columbus. The GOP-sponsored bill passed the Senate by a vote of just 17-16, with six Republicans voting against it. As the roll call finished, dozens of union supporters in the Senate gallery chanted 'Shame! Shame! Shame!' Screeches and shouts echoed down the corridors of the Statehouse, where hundreds of opponents of the bill had gathered for the day's events. The bill next goes to the House, where it is expected to pass."
Democrats are delaying Congress' attempt to block net neutrality: http://politi.co/exNU1u
Fixing education means making public sector work prestigious, not demonized, writes Matt Miller: "we'll never attract the kind of talented young people we need to the teaching profession unless it pays far more than it does today. With starting teacher salaries averaging $39,000 nationally, and rising to an average maximum of $67,000, it's no surprise that we draw teachers from the bottom two-thirds of the college class; for schools in poor neighborhoods, teachers come largely from the bottom third. We're the only leading nation that thinks it can stay a leading nation with a 'strategy' of recruiting mediocre students and praying they'll prove excellent teachers."
Children's book / sci-fi classic mashup interlude: Goodnight Dune.
Some House Democrats will work with the GOP on blocking EPA climate rules, reports Andrew Restuccia: "At least one Democrat will co-sponsor Republican legislation to permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will co-sponsor legislation slated to be introduced Thursday by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), a source familiar with the legislation told The Hill. A companion bill authored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will be introduced Thursday, but no Democrats are expected to co-sponsor the Senate version of the legislation, the source said."
House Democrats want action on an environmentally hazardous method of natural gas drilling: http://bit.ly/fYtiBn
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: White House.
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