Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 16, 2014

September 15, 2014

The Wide Gulf in Partisan Differences Over Key Issues

With the midterm elections on the horizon, a new Pew Research poll shows a large partisan split on the issues that matter most to Americans.

“Foreign policy, the budget deficit and immigration are among the most dominant issues for Republican voters; each is named by 70% or more as “very important” to their vote in the fall. But only about half of Democratic voters say each of these issues are very important to their vote decisions.”

“In contrast, both the environment and economic inequality rate as very important to about seven-in-ten Democratic voters—but no more than about four-in-ten Republicans.”

9 12 2014 011 The Wide Gulf in Partisan Differences Over Key Issues

Did Job Growth Plummet With an Increase in the Minimum Wage?

Danny Vinik reports on some good news about low-income wages.

“Between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institue found, the real wages of the bottom 10 percent of Americans grew 0.3 percent … The poorest workers generally see their wages stagnate, not rise. But there’s a good reason for why that trend reversed itself and it has to do with the minimum wage … In the meantime, states have raised their own minimum wagesand that has made a difference for the poorest workers.”

“In 2014, 13 states raised their minimum wages … Gould compared wage growth for the bottom 10 percent of Americans in those 13 states with the rest of America. In the former, real wages grew 0.9 percent, a non-negligible increase. In the remaining 37 states, real wages declined 0.1 percent. In other words, wage growth for the bottom 10 percent of Americans is entirely attributable to states that increased their minimum wages.”

gould min wage 2 Did Job Growth Plummet With an Increase in the Minimum Wage?

Conservatives oppose minimum wage increases because they claim “it will reduce job growth. So, did that happen in those 13 states? Jared Bernstein … found that job growth was higher in states that raised their minimum wages than it was in those that didn’t (1.8 percent versus 1.5 percent).”

Posted at 12:16 p.m.

A New Trend in Health Care: ‘Pay Less, Get More’

Sarah Kliff argues that the typical story of American health care — “a lousy deal where we get less and spend more” — may be changing.

There are two trends pointing to a new era of “get more, pay less.”

“The first is lots more people getting coverage. This is mostly Obamacare: the health care law is expected to expand insurance coverage to 26 million people by 2024.”

“The second big trend is in what we spend … Over the next decade, forecasters think our health spending will grow at a slower rate, even as millions and millions of Americans gain access to health insurance. After two decades of spending more and getting less, we’re entering an era of spending less and getting more.”

“We have had periods of relatively slow health care growth before. In the mid-1990s, for example, there was a stretch of time when health spending grew at the same rate as the rest of the economy.”

helath growth.0 A New Trend in Health Care: Pay Less, Get More

Most health economists attribute that to the rise of HMOs, which were unpopular, and ultimately declined.

“But some health economists say that this time feels different. For one, the changes are happening in private insurance and Medicare, suggesting there’s no single — and thus easily reversible — force driving the change.”

Posted at 10:58 a.m.

What Accounts for America’s ‘Missing Workers?’

Washington Post: A new paper by Federal Reserve staff analyzes “the number of people who consider themselves part of the workforce — including both people who have a job and those who are looking for work … This number, the labor force participation rate, has been decreasing steadily since 2000.”

labor force chart What Accounts for Americas Missing Workers?

The authors “argue that the number of people who aren’t working but would be if economic conditions were better is relatively small … America’s labor force has shrunk, the researchers find, largely because of an aging workforce and other, larger trends, not just because of a bad job market.”

“Most economists agree that an aging population accounts for about half of the decline in labor force participation since the crisis. The rest is a mystery.”

“One possible explanation the authors consider in the paper is an increasingly automated, global economy with fewer and fewer jobs in the middle of the income distribution. An education has become necessary for a job that pays well, and competition for jobs that require little skill has become so intense that real wages are falling. Perhaps the economy just no longer has work for some people.”

Posted at 10:39 a.m.

Do Republicans Hate Obamacare or Just its Name?

Jonathan Cohn: “Obamacare isn’t very popular … But what about the law do people find so objectionable? … A new poll from Morning Consult sheds some light on that question.”

“The survey solicited opinion on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, but split respondents into two different groups. One group got the following question: Do you think all states should expand Medicaid as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act? Sixty-two percent of all respondents said yes, but there’s a sharp partisan split. Among self-identified Republicans, 49 percent said no and just 36 percent said yes.”

“The second group of respondents got a slightly different question: Do you think all states should offer Medicaid to low income adults who make below the federal poverty line. The new wording didn’t really change how Democratic respondents felt. But it had a clear effect on everybody else.”

The results are charted below.

morning consult medicaid 1 Do Republicans Hate Obamacare or Just its Name?

Implications: “When people say they have negative feelings about Obamacare, they may not be talking about the law itself. They may be reacting to the president who signed it.”

Posted at 10:26 a.m.

Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham: “Incarceration rates have risen steeply in the United States over the last 20 years, a period of time that also covers a precipitous decline in crime. These two facts … don’t necessarily mean that the one trend has driven the other.”

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzing “state-level data also reinforce the idea that increases in the local prison population don’t predict decreases in crime very well.”

“The scatter plot below, which does not include local jail populations, shows the relationship between the change in incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012 in each state, compared to the change in its crime rate over the same period of time. Nationwide, the crime rate declined by 40 percent during this time, as the imprisonment rate rose by 24 percent. Notably, though, some of the states with the steepest declines in crime — New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland — actually decreased their imprisonment rates.”

“If anything, this picture suggests a narrative that runs counter to the common view that more prisoners lead to less crime: To the extent that there is any trend here, it’s actually that states incarcerating more people have seen smaller decreases in crime.”

 Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

America’s Trust in Government at New Low

Gallup: “Americans’ trust in each of the three branches of the federal government is at or near the lows in Gallup’s trends, dating back to the early 1970s. Americans’ trust in the legislative branch fell six percentage points this year to a new low of 28%. Trust in the executive branch dropped eight points, to 43%, and trust in the judicial branch, at 61%, is also the lowest measured to date.”

“Although trust in the executive branch was lower during the Watergate era, the erosion of trust at that time was limited to that branch. Today, less than a majority trust the executive and legislative branches, and judicial trust, though still high on a relative basis, is the lowest Gallup has measured.”

oreq6 mezeo3oyolsz fta Americas Trust in Government at New Low

September 12, 2014

How States Fared Implementing Obamacare

A new Brookings Institution study looks at the decisions various states made in implementing the Affordable Care Act and the ramifications of those decisions.

The Washington Post summarizes some of these findings:

“In the five states most resistant to Obamacare implementation — Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming — those purchasing their own health insurance were $245 worse off on an annual basis when compared to enrollees in all other states’ individual markets… Even though premiums in these states started out lower, they almost caught up by the end of the second quarter of 2014. And though the average cost per enrollee started much lower in direct enforcement states, the costs exceeded all other states by the end of the second quarter. The results indicate that these states saw a sicker mix of enrollees under the ACA, Kowalwski writes. This could reflect that these Obamacare-resistant states didn’t have a particularly strong effort to sign people up for coverage.”

“Interestingly, states that tried setting up their own exchanges and struggled to do so had bigger problem, the analysis finds. Kowalski here looks at trends in the six glitchy states — Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon — compared to states that built better-functioning exchanges. She finds that average costs per enrollee in the well-functioning exchanges increased in the second quarter of 2014, though the increase was below trend. This suggests those states were able to pull in healthier enrollees.”

“Enrollees in states that took a more ‘passive’ approach to the law — refusing the main elements of the coverage expansion without ceding direct enforcement to the federal government — were $330 better off annually compared to those in the six states experiencing the worst technical problems.”

Posted at 12:48 p.m.

Big Majority Think States Should Expand Medicaid Coverage

A new Morning Consult healthcare poll finds that voters in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage are better informed about the status of expansion than those in states that have expanded Medicaid coverage.

“The survey also found that 6 in 10 voters believe Medicaid should be expanded as provided in the healthcare law. While only 36% of Republicans agree, 62% of all voters in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage believe all states should expand the program as provided in the law.”

all states expand total Big Majority Think States Should Expand Medicaid Coverage

Posted at 12:40 p.m.

A Solution to Gun Violence That Doesn’t Involve Gun Bans

Pro Publica: “A 2004 Justice Department-funded evaluation found no clear evidence that the decade-long [assault weapons] ban saved any lives. The guns categorized as ‘assault weapons’ had only been used in about 2 percent of gun crimes before the ban.”

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, offers a different view: “When you look at this issue in terms of the greatest opportunity to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prevent gun violence, background checks are a bigger opportunity to do that.”

“While assault weapons do appear to be used more frequently in mass shootings, like the ones in Newtown and Aurora, Colorado, such shootings are themselves rare events that are only responsible for a tiny fraction of gun homicides each year. The category of guns that are used in the majority of gun murders are handguns.”

“Despite this data — and perhaps because many Americans do not have an accurate understanding of gun violence statistics — an assault weapons ban has continued to have broad public and political support.”

“Meanwhile, as gun control groups have moved their focus away from gun bans, Americans are buying fewer assault weapons than they did when a ban seemed imminent.”

Posted at 6:56 a.m.
Gun Control

Ted Cruz’s Obamacare Nightmare Becomes Reality

Jonathan Chait contends that Senator Ted Cruz’s Obamacare nightmare has become a reality.

“Once Americans had grown accustomed to the sweet comfort of affordable health insurance, Cruz foresaw, they would never give it up: ‘[Obama’s] strategy is to get as many Americans as possible hooked on the subsidies, addicted to the sugar. If we get to Jan. 1, this thing is here forever.’”

“Indications of Cruz’s prescience are popping up everywhere.”

“As the law shocked detractors last spring by exceeding its enrollment targets, the anti-Obamacare community fixated on a final hope: that consumers looking to enroll this fall for next year would encounter soaring premiums. Not only has the hoped-for premium shock failed to materialize, rates seem to be coming in actually lower than this year. In a market where annual large price hikes have occurred for decades, the result is almost unfathomably positive.”

“The Republican crusade against Obamacare is not ending; rather, it is shrinking and mutating … the next Republican candidate will be running in an environment where repealing the law would create millions and millions of now-identifiable victims. Since the start of the year, Obamacare has gone from a weakness Republicans were salivating at the chance to exploit to an issue they no longer want to talk about.”

Posted at 6:20 a.m.

A Surge in Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues

Christopher Ingraham: “New revenue figures out of Colorado show that legal recreational marijuana sales have surpassed medical marijuana sales. The milestone is largely symbolic, but the overall trend shows a strong increase in recreational sales since the spring.”

 A Surge in Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues

“Recreational marijuana is taxed at a much higher rate than medical weed, making it considerably more expensive. Many users opted to stick with the medical market, and still more have continued to buy marijuana through black market channels where its even less expensive.”

“If the latest sales figures do portend a shift from the black market and legal market, it will likely be due to a combination of higher quality and decreasing prices.”

“One last finding: July marked the first time that Denver County represented less than half of the total marijuana sales. This suggests that the marijuana market in Colorado is truly becoming statewide.”

September 11, 2014

Education’s Critical Role in the Battle Against Income Inequality

Eduardo Porter comments on a recent analysis by labor economist Lawrence Katz who demonstrates the yawning gap between the wages of a family of two college graduates and a family of high school graduates. “Between 1979 and 2012, that gap grew by some $30,000, after inflation.”

“This clever calculation … amounts to a powerful counterargument to anybody who doubts the importance of education in the battle against the nation’s entrenched inequality.”

“But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 2.54.12 PM Educations Critical Role in the Battle Against Income Inequality

“This pattern of stagnant mobility and rising inequality of education adds up to a dumbfounding paradox. American workers with a college degree are paid 74 percent more than those with only a high school degree, on average, nearly the biggest premium in the O.E.C.D.”

Causes of this educational stagnation: the high cost of college, .and the inability of the educational system to prepare underprivileged Americans for college.

“But there is another critical factor that is more intangible, and that is a loss of faith in what might be called a national project.”

Posted at 2:55 p.m.

Obamacare: It’s About Politics, not Policy

Sam Baker of National Journal: “Obamacare has taken on a political life of its own, largely separate from the complex series of health care policies it actually comprises.”

“The health care law has essentially become a proxy for the president who signed it—voters’ approval or disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is largely a reflection of how they feel about President Obama, rather than what they think the health care law has or hasn’t done.”

“Democrats hoped for years that Obamacare would become less of an abstraction once its biggest benefits kicked in. That doesn’t appear to be happening.”

Public approval of Obamacare is “a party-ID issue, not one about a particular set of health care policies.”

Posted at 1:38 p.m.

A Comprehensive View of the Death Penalty

Niraj Chokshi of The Washington Post: “We’ve written a lot about execution, but found the chart below by Alex Pudlin particularly efficient in conveying the variety of statistics related to its implementation in recent decades. Since 1976, white defendants have been executed more than any other racial or ethnic group. Texas has executed five times more individuals than second-ranked Oklahoma and, nationwide, death penalty executions peaked in 1999.”

 A Comprehensive View of the Death Penalty

Posted at 7:16 a.m.

The Anti-Obamacare Absurdities Must End

Henry Aaron, David Cutler and Peter Orszag, writing in The New York Times, argue that the courts should reject the challenge to the Obamacare’s subsidies.

“We note that the statute, while vague at points, confirms, when read in its entirety, that tax credits are to be available on all the exchanges, nationwide. The law specifically instructed the secretary of health and human services to create and manage the exchanges for states that chose that option. And when the law was passed, everyone involved in the law’s passage understood that this directive vested federal exchanges with the same mission and authority as state-mandated exchanges.”

“Limiting tax credits to the 14 states that manage their own exchanges (along with the District of Columbia) would destroy this careful architecture … To keep premiums affordable, the law requires nearly everyone to buy insurance, and offers low- and moderate-income people financial help … If both the sick and the healthy buy insurance, premiums can be kept within reason.”

“The record is unambiguous: Congress, in 2010, understood and endorsed the links connecting the sale of insurance, the requirement to carry insurance and the financial aid to make it affordable.”

“If the full District of Columbia Circuit takes up the case, it should reject this sophistry … Whatever one thinks of the Affordable Care Act, it is absurd to argue that its drafters intended to make insurance unaffordable.”

Posted at 7:05 a.m.

How Banks Cozy up to the Fed

Stephen Haber and Ross Levine, writing in The Wall Street Journal note that while the Federal Reserve exercises a degree of political independence, “it is intimately connected, and even answerable, to the financial institutions that it is supposed to regulate.”

The authors point out that of the Fed’s directors “private banks choose six of the nine. The other three are typically the CEOs of major corporations or executives at other financial institutions, such as private-equity firms.”

“A growing body of academic research indicates that the stock market values these bank-Fed connections.”

A recent paper, Stock Returns over the FOMC Cycle “finds evidence suggesting that the Fed has been leaking information … Although the information from these lesser-known meetings is not released to the public until weeks later, the authors found that stock prices respond immediately after the meetings, suggesting that people and financial institutions are trading and possibly profiting on information contained in those meetings.”

Also: “In the months and years leading up to the [2008 financial] crisis, the Fed did nothing to curtail the run-up in risky lending that caused the crisis. We also point out that when the Fed finally acted, it not only rescued the banks, it also bailed out their shareholders as well as the executives who had helped steer the banks and country into the crisis.”

Terrorism is Not a Major Worry to Americans

Gallup: “Four percent of Americans currently mention terrorism as the most important problem facing the U.S. Although low on an absolute basis, it is the highest percentage naming this issue since May 2010. Mentions of terrorism have been near 1% for the past four years.”

“Thirteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., terrorism is far less top-of-mind for Americans than it was immediately after those attacks. Mentions of terrorism did increase slightly this month as terrorist groups such as ISIS took actions that directly affect the U.S., prompting calls for U.S. action from many politicians and some journalists.”

oditbw1z30iq6irbff xpq Terrorism is Not a Major Worry to Americans

The Inefficiency of America’s Health-Care System

Jared Bernstein: “The U.S. health-care system is uniquely inefficient. We spend far more than other countries on everything from hospital stays to MRIs to prescriptions to end-of-life care. It’s also the case that private-sector spending makes up a much larger share of health spending here than it does in other advanced economies.”

“Are these two facts causally related? The figure below … plots their intersection, with the public share of health spending on the Y-axis and the GDP share on the X-axis. Each dot is a country.”

“It may be possible to fix the inefficiencies and keep half of the U.S. system in private hands. That surely was a goal of the Affordable Care Act, as it was clear for political reasons that the legislation needed support from private stakeholders if it was going to pass. But my hunch is that it would be hard to move that U.S. dot to the left on the X-axis without also moving it higher on the Y-axis.”

Chart of Health care spending in advanced economies: share of GDP and public share of expenditures

hthexp country The Inefficiency of Americas Health Care System

Posted at 5:08 a.m.

September 10, 2014

Delaying Immigration Action Weakens Executive Powers

Brian Beutler argues that it was a mistake for President Obama to delay action on deportation relief.

With the prospect of a Republican Senate, it will be more difficult for Obama to take executive action.

“He will still be bound by his modified pledge to announce deportation relief before the end of the year, but will have to act in the aftermath of an election Republicans just won opposing what they tendentiously describe as ‘executive amnesty.’ They’ll rewrite the story of their victory around their position on deportation.”

“Obviously that won’t imbue them with the magic power to prevent Obama from moving forward anyhow. But it might spook Obama into doing nothing at all (there won’t be enough pearls for the centrist commentariat to clutch). And it will definitely encourage conservative hardliners to place ‘executive amnesty’ at the center of proximate fights over funding the government and increasing the debt limit. That might bode poorly for Republican presidential hopefuls. But for the families who were promised deportation relief, it spells danger.”

Posted at 11:34 a.m.

The Myth That Small Government is Good Government

Jonathan Chait contends that the real problem is not “Big Government” but “what you might call Big Small Government.”

“In very different ways, both right and left have exhibited forms of this mental block.”

On the right there is the “axiomatic belief … that bad government equals big government, and big government equals centralized government … This has frequently left conservatives in the odd position of neglecting to tout powerful cases where their anti-government formula has a genuinely useful application.”

“It may seem intuitive that physical proximity makes a government more accountable. This is the image small-­government acolytes conjure when they praise the virtues of local government against the distant capital. But even if it was once true that geographic space inhibited representation … it is certainly no longer. Who do you know more about: your senator or your state legislator? How about your city council member?”

“Left and right alike use small and local as terms of approbation, big and bureaucratic as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.”

Obesity Rates Remain High

New York Times: “Obesity rates in states around the country are beginning to slow, but the epidemic is still affecting the poor and minorities disproportionately, new research shows.”

“In 2013, adult obesity rates rose in six states – Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming – which was a drastic shift from 2005, when the rate increased in every state.”

“The new report was based on federal government statistics and released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health.”

Obesity Map 1 Obesity Rates Remain High

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit a Record High

The Carbon Brief: “Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2013, according to the latest measurements by the World Meteorological Organisation.”

“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 396 parts per million (ppm) – 42 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels.”

wmo co2 increase 550x408 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hit a Record High

“WMO measurements revealed an increase in global carbon dioxide concentrations from 2012 to 2013 of almost 3 ppm. This is larger than recent annual increases of around 2.1 ppm and the largest annual increase since 1984.”

September 9, 2014

The Real Way to Kill the Death Penalty

Daniel LaChance, writing in The New York Times: “Recent accounts of botched executions and DNA-based exonerations of death-row prisoners have revived hope that judges and voters will finally see capital punishment for what it is: an intolerable affront to human dignity.”

“But while such optimism is understandable, it is misplaced. Support for capital punishment is, in fact, in decline — but it’s less the result of a moral awakening on the part of the public than a symptom of a 40-year-plus process of disillusionment.”

“The problem, it turns out, isn’t foot-dragging by defense lawyers or bleeding-heart judges. It’s money … The costs of capital trials and appeals overwhelm budgets everywhere, but particularly in places, like the South, where the political will to fund them is the weakest. It has simply become unsustainable to be both pro-death penalty and anti-taxation, as so many Americans are.”

“Resources for fighting the death penalty are scarce, and for too long, abolitionists have spent them appealing to the humanistic ideals they wished most Americans shared, instead of one they actually do: distrust of government. Arguing that the death penalty is an affront to human dignity just doesn’t work. But portraying it as another failed government program just might.”

Posted at 9:03 a.m.
Judiciary, Social Issues

Limited Doctor-Choice Plans Hold Promise

Sarah Kliff argues that narrow networks – or limited choice plans – “aren’t all bad.”

“Health economists actually tend to be quite fond of these products, as they help hold down spending. The potential for savings is big: limited choice plans can reduce patient spending by as much as a third, new research from economists Jon Gruber and Robin McKnight finds.”

“Using a natural experiment from Massachusetts, Gruber and McKnight find that patients who switched to narrow network plans had access to a smaller set of equally good hospitals. They used more primary care but went to the emergency room less. And these patients, along with their employers, ended up saving a whole bunch of money.”

“While Massachusetts’ experiment shows the potential of limited network plans, it doesn’t suggest that every foray into limited choice will go equally as well.”

“Its probably most fair to read this study as a proof of concept: set up correctly, limited choice plans can save money without sacrificing quality. Whether all plans work this way is something we’ll learn more about, as more people on Obamacare keep enrolling in these products.

Posted at 8:52 a.m.

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