Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 24, 2014

October 23, 2014

Who’s to Blame for Ebola Hysteria?

E.J. Dionne writes that national fears about Ebola have been unduly politicized by Republicans. Dionne contends that Republicans are turning “fear into a closing argument.”

“It’s something else again to stoke alarm and to set up an unrealistic policy demand as a test of ‘toughness.’ (Yes, those quotation marks are intended to convey the cynicism involved.)”

But Paul Waldman, in the Washington Post, places an equal amount of blame on Democrats, who, he contends, are lacking in courage.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a Democratic candidate or two had the guts to stand up and say: ‘Look, everybody needs to calm down?'”

“It isn’t as though it would be outlandish for a Democrat running for Senate or governor to look for some political advantage in being the level-headed one.”

“I won’t bother going over all the reasons why we shouldn’t be terrified of a disease that has to date infected two out of 316 million of us. But Democrats might consider the possibility that being rational might actually turn out to be politically smart.”

Posted at 9:31 a.m.

‘SAT’ Now Stands for ‘Student Affluence Test’

Wall Street Journal: “On average, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test … Students from the wealthiest families outscored those from the poorest by just shy of 400 points.”

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And it’s not just about wealthier students having access to test prep:

“That would perhaps be comforting, because an obvious solution would be: Provide everyone with test prep.”

“But if the phenomenon arises from a confluence of factors, that makes it all the harder to remove income gaps from standardized tests. Family wealth allows parents to locate in neighborhoods with better schools (or spring for private schools). Parents who are themselves college educated tend to make more money, and since today’s high school seniors were born in the mid-1990s, many of the wealthiest and best-educated parents themselves came of age when the tests were of crucial importance. When the SAT is crucial to college, college is crucial to income, and income is crucial to SAT scores, a mutually reinforcing cycle develops.”

The Perils of Weaning the Economy Off of Monetary Life Support

The Wall Street Journal: “Policy makers and economy-watchers now seem more worried about disinflation rather than accelerating inflation … Inflation through September is running at a 1.7%, according to Wednesday’s CPI report. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy, also stands at just 1.7%.”

BN FD443 OER102 G 20141022130026 The Perils of Weaning the Economy Off of Monetary Life Support

The New York Times Editorial Board writes that the Fed will most likely end its bond-buying program, but “now comes the hard part.”

“Fed officials have indicated that they plan to start raising rates in mid-2015. They have stuck to that timetable, even as wage-and-price increases have failed to materialize. That policy consistency is understandable on one level: With many months to go before it has to either raise rates or admit that the economy is too weak to warrant an increase, the Fed rightly wants to project optimism.”

“It is crucial, however, for the Fed to keep rates low as long as inflation is in check. If rates are raised too soon, growth would be slowed before pay raises and adequate credit are restored to workers and consumers.”

“If that happens, the Fed effort to rescue the economy would, in the end, only further entrench inequality.”

Republican Reaction to Gas Prices are as Volatile as the Prices

Danny Vinik: “Remember in early 2012, when gas prices were approaching $4 per gallon? Republicans were eager to blame President Obama for consumers having to pay more at the pump.”

“Those comments never made any sense, because Obama has very little control over gas prices, which are determined by global supply and demand … The president isn’t entirely powerless to affect prices, since he can approve drilling permits and pipelines to increase the supply of oil. But his influence is still limited. Even after the recent explosion in U.S. oil production, the country still produces just 10 percent of global crude.”

Now that gas prices have fallen, Republican praise is absent. And, Vinik states, rightly so.

“The president doesn’t deserve credit for lower gas prices, just as he didn’t deserve blame back in 2012.”


Gas Buddy Republican Reaction to Gas Prices are as Volatile as the Prices

October 22, 2014

Ranking the Media from Left to Right

Washington Post: Pew has “taken the average viewer/consumer of all of these media outlets and plotted them on a continuum, trying to ascertain which outlets are favored by which side of the political spectrum.”

A few interesting takeaways:

  • The most liberal-friendly media outlets, according to Pew’s study, are the New Yorker and Slate.
  • 23 of the 32 outlets have a liberal-leaning audience, while nine have a more conservative one. That, more than anything else, is a testament to Fox’s domination on the political right and American conservatives’ distrust of other mainstream media outlets.

PewNew2 Ranking the Media from Left to Right

Posted at 10:41 a.m.
Social Issues

2014 Wind Installations Surpass 2013 Capacity

Bloomberg: “The U.S. added 419 megawatts of wind-power capacity in the third quarter, as installations in the first nine months surpassed all of last year, the American Wind Energy Association said.”

“Nineteen projects have added 1,254 megawatts this year, up from 1,088 megawatts in 2013 … The rate of growth in wind development has slowed in recent years as a federal credit has been allowed to repeatedly lapse by lawmakers. The tax was renewed by Congress last year and has expired again.”

“More than 20 percent of the nation’s existing 62,300 megawatts are in Texas, which had the largest rate of installations during the third quarter.”

A Potential Obamacare ‘Death Spiral’

Jason Millman contends that “ongoing legal challenges to one aspect of [Obamacare] could still put its coverage expansion in serious jeopardy.”

“The dispute has to do with whether the subsidies can be provided through public health insurance marketplaces in states that refused to set up their own, instead leaving the job to the feds.”

“The Supreme Court could potentially take up this key question next year, following appellate court rulings this summer. If these lawsuits against the administration are successful, it would result in a ‘near death spiral’ for the individual market, according to a new Rand Corporation analysis.”

“Premiums would be 43.3 percent higher on average in the individual market in 2015, while enrollment — on and off the exchanges — would drop by 68 percent, according to the research firm’s microsimulation model. In all, 11.3 million fewer Americans would have health insurance, according to its analysis.”

 A Potential Obamacare Death Spiral

Posted at 6:27 a.m.

An Increase in U.S. Air Pollution

Eco Watch: “Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration released today show that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2013, from 5,267 million metric tons in 2012 to 5,396 million metric tons in 2013. This increase comes after two years of declining emissions.”

EIA cites two major reasons emissions rose in 2013:

  • Colder weather, which increased the demand for oil and natural gas to heat homes and drove an increase in residential sector emissions (nearly half of the total emissions increase in 2013).
  • More coal-fired electricity generation. Higher natural gas prices in 2013 resulted in a small shift back from natural gas to coal-fired generation.

eiachart An Increase in U.S. Air Pollution

Ebola Infects Midterm Elections

Gallup: “Fifty-two percent of Americans are now very or somewhat confident in the government’s ability to handle Ebola, down from 61% in early October.”

“Over the last two weeks … the American public has lost some confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle Ebola, although the confidence level still remains at a majority level. It is mainly Republicans who have lost confidence in the government to handle Ebola, suggesting that this health and medical situation — as is the case with so much else in American society today, particularly during election season — has become a politicized issue.”

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Posted at 6:08 a.m.

October 21, 2014

Environmental Issues Are a Hot Topic This Election Season

New York Times: “Ads mentioning energy, climate change and the environment — over 125,000 spots and climbing on the Senate side — have surged to record levels during the 2014 midterm election cycle, reflecting the priorities of some of the nation’s wealthiest donors, with Democrats now pouring millions into campaigns to match Republicans, according to an analysis by Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising.”

“In Senate races in the general election, the analysis found, energy and the environment are the third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements, behind health care and jobs.”

Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 3.48.53 PM e1413920976223 Environmental Issues Are a Hot Topic This Election Season

Do Minimum Wage Hikes Hurt Job Growth?

Danny Vinik: “Between 2011 and June 30 of this year, more than a dozen states increased their minimum wages. This has offered economists an opportunity to examine whether those minimum wage hikes have reduced employment. The results are promising.”

“Saul D. Hoffman and Wai-Kit Shum, two economists at the University of Delaware, have now offered a more comprehensive look at the employment effects of state-level minimum wage increases. The authors examined employment effects of the 13 states that increased their minimum wages since 2011 … They focused on two specific groups: teenagers not in college and adults without a high-school diploma groups most likely to see negative job growth from a minimum wage hike.”

“Hoffman and Shum found that employment growth among teens not in college and adults without a high school diploma was stronger in states that increased their minimum wages than those that didn’t.”

“The researchers got creative and compared employment growth among teens not in college with males aged 30-49 with at least some college education … In states that increased their minimum wages, employment for the teen sample grew by 2.32 percentage points compared with 1.1 percentage points for the adult sample. In other words, job growth was 1.22 percentage points stronger for these less-skilled workers.”

“It’s not the perfect conditions for this research, but it’s pretty good. So far, the results support the Democrats’ position.”

Posted at 9:39 a.m.

Kasich: Repeal Obamacare Except for the Parts I Like

Jonathan Cohn comments on Governor John Kasich’s apparent Obamacare pitch: “The opposition to it was really either political or ideological. I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.”

“Kasich later clarified to Politico that he was speaking not about the Affordable Care Act as a whole, which he continues to oppose, but simply about the law’s expansion of Medicaid … But in the same interview, when asked about repeal of the law, Kasich said flatly ‘that’s not gonna happen.'”

“It’s easy to forget, but the basic idea of Obamacarea system of competing private insurance plans, with subsidies to help lower income people pay themused to have the support from many conservatives.”

“The reason you don’t hear more praise like this from Republicans is largely political (it’s Obama’s law) and ideological (it involves some government intervention)which, of course, was precisely Kasich’s point.”

Posted at 9:27 a.m.

Ebola Hysteria Exposes the Nation’s Underlying Culture

David Brooks explains the root cause of American’s hysteria over Ebola.

“Fear isn’t only a function of risk; it’s a function of isolation. We live in a society almost perfectly suited for contagions of hysteria and overreaction.”

“In the first place, we’re living in a segmented society. Over the past few decades we’ve seen a pervasive increase in the gaps between different social classes … That means there are many more people who feel completely alienated from the leadership class of this country, whether it’s the political, cultural or scientific leadership.”

“Second, you’ve got a large group of people who are bone-deep suspicious of globalization, what it does to their jobs and their communities.”

“Third, you’ve got the culture of instant news.”

“Fourth, you’ve got our culture’s tendency to distance itself from death.”

What Happened to the American Dream?

Matt O’Brien in the Washington Post, states that “inequality starts in the crib. Rich parents can afford to spend more time and money on their kids, and that gap has only grown the past few decades.”

“But, of course, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s also a matter of letters and words. Affluent parents talk to their kids three more hours a week on average than poor parents, which is critical during a child’s formative early years.”

“Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves.”

“What’s going on? Well, it’s all about glass floors and glass ceilings … It’s an extreme example of what economists call ‘opportunity hoarding.’ That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.”

Poor Grads Rich Dropouts What Happened to the American Dream?

Ebola Outranks Poverty and Race as one of Nation’s Top Issues

Gallup: “As the quarantine period ends for people exposed to the first person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola, the virus for the first time ranks among the top 10 issues Americans consider to be the most important ones facing the country.”

“While economic issues and dissatisfaction with government remain the top U.S. problems that Americans mention, Ebola is a top concern to a not-insignificant 5% of the public. This ties mentions of ISIS and education, and exceeds such other high-profile issues as race relations and terrorism.”

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Posted at 7:31 a.m.

October 20, 2014

The Inflationistas’ Failed Economic Model

Jonathan Chait comments on the “inflationistas” failed predictions of looming inflation.

“The inflationistas failed to understand the nature of a liquidity trap, and what happens when interest rates hit zero in a severely depressed economy. They didn’t just predict the wrong team would win. They have a failed economic model.”

Inflationista Amity Shlaes’s “defense is interesting because, in addition to dodging the larger ideological problem, she seems to fail to come to grips with the whole tradeoff problem. It’s okay that conservatives wrongly warned of rising inflation, she argues, because rising inflation is a theoretical danger and somebody has to warn us about it.”

“The inflationistas got the balance of risk totally wrong — unemployment, while falling, has remained above target, while inflation has stayed below it. Shlaes’s defense is not just factually wrong, it’s conceptually bizarre. Somebody has to worry about bear attacks, yes. But if you demand that all children be kept home from school for the year to protect them against bear mauling, it’s not enough to point out that bears exist. You need to somehow engage with the idea of a tradeoff.”

Pension Funds Follow the Herd to Risky Investments

Michael McCarthy in the Washington Post states that “U.S. pension funds mimic Wall Street investment practices. In recent years, this led them to follow everyone else into the toxic sub-prime mortgage market.”

“Neither of the usual policy suspects, lack of regulatory oversight or poor enforcement, explains why pension funds are channeled into risky investments and don’t play a greater role in social investment. In fact, my research shows that the opposite is true. Tighter, not looser, regulations led to more speculative use of America’s retirement savings.”

McCarthy’s explanation: “Pension funds have mainly followed the herd. These funds were directed into real estate when prices were skyrocketing in the 1980s, then into increasingly speculative junk bonds in the 1990s and ultimately into the sub-prime mortgages that triggered the financial crisis.”

“Pension funds could have been a major source of social investment into infrastructure or other public goods. Instead they remain an untapped resource, guided solely by financial imperatives. But this was not due to any lack of regulation.  Not only did the regulations encourage risk, they eventually required it.”

What’s the Point of an Ebola Czar?

Sam Baker in the National Journal: “All right, we have an Ebola ‘czar’ now. Realistically, what can we expect from him, and from the U.S. response to the outbreak?”

“The response to domestic Ebola cases needs to get a whole lot better, and that was part of the White House’s rationale for tapping Democratic lawyer Ron Klain to coordinate the effort. Naming an Ebola ‘czar’ was also, in part, a public-relations effort to show action and reassure the public that the government is on top of the situation.”

“But two complicating factors are at work here: First, most Americans’ Ebola fears are unfounded or exaggerated. Even with the very real shortcomings in the initial response, the risk of infection in the U.S. is incredibly low. At the same time, even if Klain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and every American hospital do their jobs perfectly, there are limits to what they can accomplish.”

The bottom line: “There will be more Ebola patients in the U.S.—each new one shouldn’t necessarily be a call for alarm. Ebola is simply here now, and it will be until the West African outbreak is contained. Politicizing the tragedy and exaggerating the risks to Americans only make things worse.”

“Controlling it in Africa is the only way to prevent a global pandemic the U.S. could not possibly wall itself off from.”

Posted at 8:33 a.m.

Voting in Texas: A Handgun License is OK, a Student ID is Not

Rebecca Leber: “Texans casting a ballot on Monday, when early voting begins, will need to show one of seven forms of photo ID. A concealed handgun license is okay, but a student ID isn’t. The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to go forward with this controversial voter ID.”

As Ian Millhiser argued at ThinkProgress: “If a confused voter brings an ID to the polls that they do not need to have, they will still get to cast a ballot. But if the same voter mistakenly forgets their ID (or fails to obtain one) because they were confused and believed that their state’s voter ID law was not in effect, then they will be disenfranchised.”

“Actual voter fraud, which is the problem that Republican legislation supposedly addresses, is difficult to find … The consequences of voter ID laws, on the other hand, are much easier to track … Existing ID requirements reduced turnout in some states during the last presidential election, particularly among young and black voters. Now, imagine the impact is even larger, because it is spread over the 33 states that now require some form of photo ID to vote. [And] costs of acquiring the needed ID ranged between $14.50 to $58.50 for 17 of the states.”

How Citizens United Puts Our Judicial System Up for Sale

Norm Ornstein warns that the impact of Citizens United on the American political system will be devastating.

Citizens United—and its progeny, SpeechNow and McCutcheon—are … about a new regime of campaign spending that dramatically enhances corruption in politics and government … It also gives added traction to extreme groups threatening lawmakers with primary devastation unless they toe the ideological line.”

But “the worst comes with judicial elections—and that worst could be worsened by a pending Supreme Court case that may allow sitting judges actively to solicit campaign funds for their own elections.”

“Here is the reality: If judges fear multimillion-dollar campaigns against them, they will have to raise millions themselves, or quietly engineer campaigns by others to do so. Who will contribute, or lead those efforts? Of course, those who practice in front of the judges will, creating an unhealthy dynamic of gratitude and dependency.”

“Worse, imagine what happens when judges are deciding cases in which the stakes are high, and well-heeled individuals or corporations will be helped or damaged by the rulings. The judges know that an adverse decision now will trigger a multimillion-dollar campaign against them the next time, both for retribution and to replace them with more friendly judges.”


The Distinction Between a Lawsuit and Extortion

Steven Rattner claims that a recent lawsuits by beneficiaries of the 2008 government bailout are “extortion” tactics, plain and simple.

AIG: “What’s relevant is that in 2008, no private capital would touch A.I.G., and without taxpayer money, A.I.G. would have collapsed, declared bankruptcy and liquidated itself. Mr. Greenberg would have received even less, i.e., nothing.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: “There’s the ultimate chutzpah: Some of the funds bought their shares after the agreement was amended in 2012 and still expect to reap a windfall at taxpayer expense.”

“Happily, none of the cases have gone well for the plaintiffs … [But] these two high-profile cases are not alone; there are at least a dozen related cases against Fannie and Freddie winding through the courts.”

“As a longtime denizen of Wall Street, I’m firmly on the side of investors trying to make money.”

“But in this case, Mr. Greenberg and the funds should consider how hard to press on this. Average Americans already feel distaste for Wall Street and rich people; bringing these rapacious lawsuits can only unnecessarily exacerbate class tensions.”

What did Janet Yellen Really Say About Inequality?

Neil Irwin notes that while Fed chair Janet Yellen’s speech Friday about income inequality was a departure from the cautious standards of her predecessors, she stopped short of offering prescriptive solutions.

“In particular, she stays away from the aspects of the inequality puzzle that have a close tie-in to the policies of the Federal Reserve.”

Irwin notes that quantitative easing “has contributed to an imbalanced form of growth in the United States.”

“If quantitative easing policies led to stronger overall growth that are the reason employers are adding more jobs, then the trickle-down benefits for ordinary workers are still meaningful. But Ms. Yellen did not address in her speech whether she agrees with the premise that a Fed-driven economic recovery has contributed to inequality, and if so what it implies for her agency.”

“It seems like Ms. Yellen offered this speech as a way to use her bully pulpit to cast public attention on an issue she cares about deeply, deliberately avoiding areas where inequality intersects with the policy areas under which she has direct control.”

“Perhaps in future appearances, Ms. Yellen will give us a sense not just of what is wrong with inequality, but what it might mean for the policies over which she has some control.”

Posted at 6:18 a.m.
Economy, Financial Markets

October 17, 2014

Fox News Gets it Right About Ebola Hysteria

Everyone should watch this video of Shepard Smith:

Posted at 10:28 a.m.

A Confoundingly Opaque Supreme Court

Limda Greenhouse comments on the new Supreme Court term that is “so confoundingly opaque.”

“In the space of eight days, the justices managed to touch on American society’s hottest of hot-button issues: same-sex marriage, access to the polls, and finally – inevitably – abortion, and all without actually issuing an opinion. Review denied, stays granted, stays lifted, news-making orders appearing randomly at odd hours from an institution usually so predictable in its schedule that you can set a clock by its yearly calendar. What on earth is the court doing and what – with saying hardly a word – is it telling us?”

“I can’t pretend to have come up with a grand theory to explain the court’s behavior. I actually doubt that there is a grand theory. Rather, I suspect that there’s something more prosaic going on: justices acting from different motivations and happening to coalesce around outcomes that serve a current purpose but that are in no one’s particular interest to explain. Explanations, after all, may bind. Silence keeps options open.”

Posted at 10:17 a.m.

Study Shows Natural Gas Won’t Slow Global Warming

Associated Press: A “new international study says an expansion of natural gas use by 2050 would also keep other energy-producing technologies like wind, solar and nuclear, from being used more. And those technologies are even better than natural gas for avoiding global warming.”

“Computer simulations show that emissions of heat-trapping gases to make electricity would not decline worldwide and could possibly go up, says the study, released Wednesday by the journal Nature.”

“Two computer models even found that when considering other factors like methane leaks, cheaper natural gas could lead to more trapping of heat by greenhouse gases.”

“The new results show it’s important to have a climate policy to go with cheap natural gas, said experts who weren’t part of the research.”

Posted at 7:29 a.m.
Energy & Environment

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