Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 20, 2014

September 19, 2014

A Fundamental Shift in the Nation’s Energy Market?

Financial Times: “Large wind farms and solar plants are now cost-competitive with gas-fired power in many parts of the US even without subsidy, according to Lazard, raising the prospect of a fundamental shift in the country’s energy market.”

“Costs have fallen and efficiency has risen for solar panels and wind turbines … to the point that in areas of strong wind or sunshine they can provide electricity more cheaply than fossil fuel plants.”

“The falling cost of renewable power will encourage greater investment by generators and utilities, and could help ease public concerns about the cost of federal and state regulations intended to support alternative energy and cut carbon dioxide emissions.”

“In the first half of this year, almost half the utility-scale generation capacity added in the US has been in solar and wind power, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.”

“The economics of wind power have been improving sharply, with its lowest possible unsubsidised cost dropping from a minimum of $101 per megawatt hour in 2009 to a minimum of $37 per MWh today.”

“The decline in solar costs has been even more dramatic: since 2009 the lowest possible cost of generation from a large photovoltaic solar plant has plunged almost 80 per cent, from $323 per MWh to $72 per MWh.”

Posted at 10:13 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare is Not the Core of America’s Health-Care Problem

The Economist: “Obamacare is indeed costly and overcomplicated. Yet it is not to blame for America’s health mess, and it could just contain the beginnings of a partial solution to it.”

“At the core of America’s problems with health care is a great delusion: it likes to think it has a vibrant private marketplace. In fact the country has long had a subsidy-laden system that is the most expensive and complicated in the world, with much of the government cash going to the rich, millions of people left out and little individual responsibility.”

“Health reformers should concentrate on three areas that could make its flawed market work better: directing handouts towards the poor rather than the affluent, nudging individuals to take charge of their own health care, and making sure that prices are transparent.”

“Congress should move towards scrapping both the tax break for employer-provided health insurance and the requirement that firms offer it. Those savings could be used to help cover subsidies for the poor.”

“Reform will work only if prices are transparent … Cosy deals between hospitals and insurers that suppress price information should be barred.”

“Obamacare’s effects will not be fully understood for years; but it will never be the core of the problem. If America wants to stick to the idea that it has a health-care market, then it should focus on trying to make it more like a market—with prices, competitors and some form of choice.”

Posted at 10:01 a.m.

What Does it Take to be America’s Wealthiest One Percent?

Ezra Klein looks at what it takes to be America’s wealthiest 1%.

“A report from the Pew Research Center, working off of data from the Census Bureau, lays it out. In 2011, America’s wealthiest 1 percent had at least $2,385,306 to their names. That’s $63,236 more than you needed to hit the top percentile in 2009.”

“By contrast, you qualified as above average if you had more than $71,298 — about 1/30th of what the top 1 percent hold.”

FT 14.09.18 Wealth TAB.0 What Does it Take to be Americas Wealthiest One Percent?

Posted at 9:48 a.m.

The Obama Administration’s Biggest Policy Mistake

Matthew Yglesias notes that the “biggest mistake” of President Obama’s presidency is “the systematic neglect of the Federal Reserve and of his ability to influence its course of action.”

“This is a failure that sounds boring but has likely doomed millions of people to needlessly long spells of unemployment; permanently reduced the structural capacity of the American economy; and, through poor macroeconomic performance, reduced his political ability to drive change in environmental policy, bank regulation, and other areas.”

“The experience of the United Kingdom is illustrative. The UK government has enacted much sharper levels of fiscal austerity than anything done in the US … And yet largely thanks to more stimulative monetary policy, the UK has done as well or better than the United States in terms of job creation. If we had paired that kind of monetary policy with our superior fiscal policy and better luck at fossil fuel extraction, we could potentially have enjoyed significantly faster employment growth.”

“FDR’s long-term impact on American policy comes from the structural reforms of the New Deal … That recovery — driven by Roosevelt’s pursuit of aggressive monetary policy in the form of ditching the gold standard — is what gave him the political clout to pursue those structural reforms.”

“Had Obama been as attuned to monetary matters as FDR, he could have secured a better result for the country and a firmer legacy for himself.”



Posted at 9:26 a.m.
Economy, Financial Markets

Breaking the Cycle of Climate Despair

Paul Krugman points to a number of new studies showing that “saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?”

“It’s easier to slash emissions than seemed possible even a few years ago, and reduced emissions would produce large benefits in the short-to-medium run.”

“Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.”

“You mostly hear this from people on the right, who normally say that free-market economies are endlessly flexible and creative. But when you propose putting a price on carbon, suddenly they insist that industry will be completely incapable of adapting to changed incentives.”

But: “You can find this attitude in the mostly European ‘degrowth’ movement, or in American groups like the Post Carbon Institute; I’ve encountered claims that saving the planet requires an end to growth at left-leaning meetings on ‘rethinking economics.’”

“So here’s what you need to know: Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception.”

Majority Happy With Obamacare Plans

The Hill: “A majority of people who signed up for ObamaCare over the last year are happy with their plans, despite widespread discontent over how they signed up, according to a new poll.”

“About 70 percent of people who bought healthcare plans through government exchanges said they were happy with their plans and believed they would receive high-quality care, according to a tracking survey by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit policy group.”

“Another 61 percent believed their plans were affordable.”

 Majority Happy With Obamacare Plans

Chart from Daily Kos

Posted at 7:03 a.m.

September 18, 2014

Detroit as a Test Case for How to Revitalize American Cities

Warren Buffett, Lloyd Blankfein, Michael Bloomberg and Michael Porter, writing in the Detroit Free Press, contend that “Detroit has shifted from being the prime example of a dying city into a test case for how to revitalize an American city in the 21st century.”

The authors highlight a $20-million program to spur small-business growth and encourage and support entrepreneurship.

“Detroit’s leaders are making the tough decisions necessary to begin bringing it back from bankruptcy. In June, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $195-million state aid package for the city as part of a ‘grand bargain’ to remove Detroit from bankruptcy … In addition, the Obama administration allocated $300 million to Detroit to support public transit, remove blight, and hire police officers and firefighters. Together, this bipartisan leadership is making it possible for Detroit to turn the corner.”

“Private sector leaders and organizations have joined together to make Detroit more of a magnet for entrepreneurs and small-business owners.”

“The opportunity for growth in Detroit is stronger now that it has been in decades. With effective bipartisan leadership, vibrant economic development organizations, access to greater capital, and a support network that also offers business opportunities, entrepreneurs and small-business owners have a much better chance of succeeding.”

Posted at 1:12 p.m.

Credit Ratings ‘Shopping’ by Banks Still a Risk

Matt O’Brien of the Washington Post reports that credit rating agencies are still allowing banks to shop for the most favorable ratings on questionable bonds.

“‘Ratings shopping,’ of course, gives credit rating agencies good reason—i.e.,  their bottom lines—to give banks the ratings they want.”

“Dodd-Frank didn’t fix this, and now it’s coming back … The Financial Times reports that banks are once again asking around to get AAA ratings on dubious bonds. One way to tell is that Fitch has only ‘been hired for four of the 29 subprime auto ABS deals this year, after telling issuers that the vast majority of bonds did not deserve AAA ratings.’ … We haven’t gotten rid of the credit rating agencies’ perverse incentives to rate bonds better than they deserve just to drum up business.”

“It was dumb enough to create a system that encourages the credit rating agencies to take a Panglossian view of the bonds they’re supposedly rating. It’d be even dumber to leave it in place after we’ve seen what a disaster it is.”

7.3 Million Enrolled in Obamacare

Politico: “There are 7.3 million people enrolled in health insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges, Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner told Congress on Thursday.”

“That figure includes people who have paid for their premiums and are enrolled as of Aug. 15. Tavenner said that CMS expects the figure to change slightly as people move in and out of the system.”

“It was the first official enrollment update since shortly after the open enrollment season ended in April. As of April 19, 8,019,763 had chosen health insurance plans, but not all had paid premiums.”

Bloomberg: “While 8 million people selected health plans using the federal system and 14 state-run insurance markets, their enrollment wasn’t confirmed until they paid the first month’s premium to their insurer. Insurance companies including Aetna Inc. and WellPoint Inc. have previously said they’ve collected premiums from 80 to 90 percent of their Affordable Care Act customers.”

Posted at 12:24 p.m.

Taking Action on Climate Change May Add No Costs

The Hill: “Global efforts to tackle climate change won’t break the bank, and devastate economic growth, according to a new report from international leaders.”

“The report from 24 former and current global government, economic, academia and business leaders, concludes that countries at all levels of income can ‘build lasting economic growth’ and reduce ‘risks of climate change.'”

“The leaders make the case that tackling global warming is possible due to technology changes and opportunities for more economic efficiency.”

Rebecca Leber: “The report notes that the countries of the world are going to have to spend $90 trillion over the next 15 years upgrading infrastructure If [they] decided to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the process, the report says, that would tack on just $4 trillion more.”

“According to the New Climate Economy’s calculus, the 15 countries with the highest emissions saw health costs averaging 4 percent of GDP in 2010dwarfing the extra costs of efforts at reducing climate change:”

new climate economy report figure Taking Action on Climate Change May Add No Costs

Americans Now Hate Both Parties Equally

Gallup: “Americans’ views of the Democratic and Republican parties are now similar, mainly because of their more positive ratings of the GOP. Since bottoming out at 28% last fall during the government shutdown, Americans’ opinions of the Republican Party have grown more positive and are nearly back to pre-shutdown levels. Over the same time period, ratings of the Democratic Party have generally held steady.”

“Neither party is viewed positively overall, and thus voters may be choosing between two unappealing options this fall rather than between two appealing ones, and thus claims of a voter mandate by the party that does better in the Nov. 4 elections may be more wishful thinking than reality.”

rlbkuulviukbifmbbwaotq Americans Now Hate Both Parties Equally

Attacking Obamacare is Losing Some of Its Punch

Wall Street Journal: “Though Republicans continue to hammer away at the Affordable Care Act, the health-insurance law is losing some of its punch in the 2014 campaign.”

“Polls show that voters don’t see the law as a top concern, and both Democrats and Republicans say the election will turn on a range of issues.”

“That outlook is causing both parties to adjust. While some Republicans had billed the election as a referendum on the health law, the GOP is now delivering a broader indictment of what the party describes as the Obama administration’s failures. Some Democrats are cautiously stepping out to defend the law, highlighting its most popular provisions while suggesting fixes.”

“The health law remains unpopular, surveys show, but polling also suggests it isn’t driving voters’ decision-making. Just 3% of the most enthusiastic voters cited the law as the reason for their eagerness to vote, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll this month that found the economy was the top concern.”

Posted at 6:53 a.m.

September 17, 2014

Is There a Link Between Concussions and Violent Behavior?

In light of recent stories about violent acts committed by NFL players, Dan Diamond, writing in Forbes, examines the link between violence and head injuries.

“There’s increasing evidence that the NFL’s domestic violence arrest rate — which is ‘downright extraordinary,’ Benjamin Morris writes at FiveThirtyEight — could be associated with more than the culture of football.”

“NFL players get arrested for domestic violence at an ‘extremely high [rate] relative to expectations,’ Morris writes. ‘Domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to [an] estimated 21 percent nationally.’”

morris datalab nfl vaw 2 Is There a Link Between Concussions and Violent Behavior?

“You can’t draw a straight line between players who are known to abuse their partners and a record of football head injuries. At this point, that data is incomplete, partly because NFL concussion data is so piecemeal.”

“But neurologists have repeatedly found a neurobiological link in individuals who commit repeated acts of violence.”

Morris explains that it’s like smoking and cancer: “Many people smoke and do not have cancer. But certainly smoking raises the odds of lung cancer, just as damage to the prefrontal cortex can raise the odds of impulsive, aggressive behavior.”

Posted at 12:02 p.m.
Social Issues

Jindal Claims Ignorance of Science

Rebecca Leber of the New Republic comments on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent response to reporters’ questions about how he views the theory of evolution. ‘The reality is I’m not an evolutionary biologist,’ Jindal said.”

Jindal joins the ranks of Republicans who claim ignorance of any issues remotely related to science.

Leber: “Marco Rubio, John Boehner, and Rick Scott, have all used versions of ['I'm not a scientist'] to dismiss climate change science or promote creationism.”

President Obama’s response:  ‘I’m not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me that tobacco can cause lung cancer then I”ll say, ‘OK! It’s not that hard. I’m not a scientist, but I read the science.'”

Leber concludes: “No one would mistake these Republicans for scientific experts. But as policymakers they have a responsibility to understand what the actual scientists tell us.”

Posted at 11:27 a.m.
Energy & Environment

A Grassroots Response to Climate Change

Mark Bittman contends that the upcoming United Nations Climate Summit “is a little like a professional wrestling match: There appears to be action but it’s fake, and the winner is predetermined. The loser will be anyone who expects serious government movement dictating industry reductions in emissions.”

“Carbon polluters clearly have more political clout than makers of hair spray, and there’s another tragic element at work here, a hole in the heart of government that developed at about the same time as that in the ozone layer: Neoliberalism.”

“Neoliberalism has given us a ‘system’ in which corporate power is stronger than ever and government controls weaker than they’ve been in a century. The net result is that some corporations are more powerful than governments, both domestically and globally. To fix, or combat, or deal with a threat to the wellbeing of citizenry like climate change is the business of government, but governments are no longer able to dictate what industry does.

“That’s what makes [the People's Climate March] important … It’s not so much about changing light bulbs as it is about changing the system that’s powering our destruction.”

“The only choice is for people to fight climate change ourselves, by confronting the fossil fuel industry and fighting plutocracy.”

Little Trust in Our Mass Media

Gallup: “Americans’ confidence in the media’s ability to report ‘the news fully, accurately, and fairly’ has returned to its previous all-time low of 40%. Americans’ trust in mass media has generally been edging downward from higher levels in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.”

Bottom Line: “Americans’ overall trust in the Fourth Estate continues to be significantly lower now than it was 10 to 15 years ago.”

“As the media expand into new domains of news reporting via social media networks and new mobile technology, Americans may be growing disenchanted with what they consider ‘mainstream’ news as they seek out their own personal veins of getting information. At the same time, confidence is down across many institutions, and a general lack in trust overall could be at play.”

“Americans’ opinions about the media appear affected in election years, however.”

oxaql7cfykw0gma1z24e1a Little Trust in Our Mass Media

American Taxes Are More Regressive Than You Think

Danny Vinik comments on how regressive our state and local tax rate structure is.

“You would expect the actual rate structure of state and local taxes to be somewhat similar [to the federal tax rate strucutre.] But that’s not the case. In fact, state and local taxes are extremely regressive, with the poor paying a much higher rate than the rich do. WalletHub cites a report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Fairness that determined the combined rate of state and local taxes for different income levels.”

www.itep .org pdf whopaysreport.pdf  American Taxes Are More Regressive Than You Think

Posted at 7:24 a.m.

August 2014 Was the Hottest Ever

The Hill: “The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.”

“While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius.”

“All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.”

“‘In the broader context, these continuing high ranked months and seasons confirm and add to the long-term trend in temperatures that have been seen in recent decades,’ said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Posted at 5:39 a.m.
Energy & Environment

September 16, 2014

Texas Feud Over Climate Education Reflects National Battle

Clare Foran of the National Journal reports on a Texas Board of Education proposal to introduce textbooks that “teach climate-science doubt—presenting the link between greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and global warming as an unsubstantiated and controversial theory.”

“The skirmish over Texas textbooks is part of a national battle over climate education.”

“Science-education activists are pushing states to adopt a new set of science standards that reflect the scientific consensus on global warming, rather than the popular controversy. The academic framework, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the American Meteorological Society.”

“But the standards have faced intense pushback from conservatives and tea-party groups in a number of states. Earlier this year, Wyoming legislators blocked the standards due to the climate-change requirement. South Carolina’s Legislature also passed a bill that would prohibit the standards from being adopted.”

“The Lone Star State adopted its own set of science guidelines in 2009—so for now there’s no room for debate. But a fight over how climate change should be taught in schools continues to rage in Texas. The focus has just shifted from standards to textbooks.”

Uninsured Rate Plummets

CNN: “The ranks of the uninsured plummeted in early 2014, as millions gained health insurance coverage through Obamacare, new government data released Tuesday found.”

“There were 41 million Americans lacking coverage in early 2014, down from 44.8 million last year, according to the National Health Interview Survey, the first official government look at the uninsured after Obamacare policies kicked in on January 1. The uninsured rate fell to 13.1%, from 14.4%.”

New York Times: Larry Levitt, a director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the first-quarter findings “’dramatically understate the effect’ of the law, as almost half of the people who signed up for insurance during the open enrollment period did so in March and did not get their insurance cards until later. Private surveys have shown that there were eight million to 10 million fewer uninsured by the second quarter, he said.”

140915101939 chart uninsured 620xa Uninsured Rate Plummets

Posted at 11:03 a.m.

A Peculiar Prosperity

Robert Samuelson: “We have a peculiar prosperity. The economy is escaping the confines of the Great Recession; auto sales now exceed 16 million annually, the highest since 2006. But people don’t feel reassured. They’ve lost confidence in the future. Americans feel roughed up by the economy, and their fears aren’t fading quickly.”

“People not only remember the economic cataclysm. They’re still suffering the aftershocks in lower incomes and wealth, as the tables below show. The figures come from the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.”

“The first table provides annual pretax income from wages, interest and the like.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 16 at 9.30.54 AM A Peculiar Prosperity

The message: “The Great Recession hurled incomes all the way back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Median family income in 2013 was almost the same as in 1989.”

The second table shows these groups’ net worth: “People’s expectations about their living standards were set in the early 2000s, while their incomes and assets are stuck at levels 15 to 20 years earlier. The huge gap isn’t rapidly erased, even by a revived economy.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 16 at 9.31.05 AM A Peculiar Prosperity

“The financial crisis and Great Recession have powerfully affected the national psyche — for the worse. We will be living with that legacy for a long time.”

Posted at 9:35 a.m.

Encouraging News About Insurance Premiums

New York Times Editorial Board: “The rate of growth on premiums for employer-based health coverage in the first five months of this year was one of the lowest in 16 years. Despite longstanding concerns that employer-sponsored coverage might become too costly to sustain, that market seems to have stabilized for now.”

“That was one of several encouraging points in the latest survey of … employers conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation … While the political debate about health care reform has focused on premiums in the new exchanges where people who buy their own policies can shop for private plans, the Kaiser survey focuses on the far larger market where some 150 million Americans are covered through their employers.”

A separate survey by Kaiser found that “premiums for so-called benchmark silver plans on the exchanges will actually decline, on average, in 16 major cities across the country next year. If those trends hold when data from all states are available, the federal government will benefit by paying less in tax credit subsidies.”

Posted at 6:52 a.m.

Earth’s Ozone Layer is Recovering

Associated Press: “Earth’s protective but fragile ozone layer is beginning to recover, largely because of the phase-out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, a U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday in a rare piece of good news about the health of the planet.”

“Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world comes together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis.”

“For the first time in 35 years, scientists were able to confirm a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone, which shields us from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.”

“The ozone layer is still far from healed. The long-lasting, ozone-eating chemicals still lingering in the atmosphere create a yearly fall ozone hole above the extreme Southern Hemisphere, and the hole hasn’t closed up. Also, the ozone layer is still about 6 percent thinner than in 1980, by Newman’s calculations.”

Capitalism and The Climate: The ‘Greenwashing’ of Big Business

Naomi Klein, writing in The Guardian, asks why humanity is incapable of taking collective, substantive action on climate change.

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

“It is our collective misfortune that governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of ‘globalization.'”

“What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Posted at 6:02 a.m.
Energy & Environment

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

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...