Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 2, 2014

September 2, 2014

U.S. Fracking Surge Helps Ease Global Disruptions; Environmental Concerns Remain

National Journal: “Global oil markets would be more volatile without the fracking-enabled U.S. production surge of recent years, according to the Energy Department’s statistical arm.”

“Here’s an EIA chart that shows how U.S. production is counterbalancing oil production taken offline elsewhere:”

 U.S. Fracking Surge Helps Ease Global Disruptions; Environmental Concerns Remain

 

Environmental concerns continue to plague this method of extracting natural gas. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.”

In a related story, Fuel Fix reports that “the Obama administration is on track to impose new mandates governing hydraulic fracturing on public land by the end of the year.”

“The measure … will update rules governing drilling on federal and Indian land for the first time in three decades. It also is set to be the first major federal rule governing [fracking].”

“Written by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, the rule is focused on boosting the integrity of wells to ensure fluids are contained within them, ensuring recovered fluids are safely stored and forcing disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public lands.”

 

There’s no Such Thing as a ’40-Hour’ Workweek

Gallup: “Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails. In fact, half of all full-time workers indicate they typically work more than 40 hours, and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours.”

jaovdjajnkuj1crc5saija Theres no Such Thing as a 40 Hour Workweek

“The percentage of full-time workers in the U.S. has dwindled since the recession began in 2007, but the number of hours they say they work each week has held steady, at about 47. While four in 10 workers put in a standard 40-hour workweek, many others toil longer than that, including nearly one in five (18%) who work a grueling 60 hours or more. That translates into 12-hour days from Monday to Friday — or into shorter weekdays with lots of time spent working on the weekends.”

Posted at 11:39 a.m.
Economy

Bipartisan Agreement on Who’s to Blame for Economic Problems

On at least one topic, there is partisan unanimity: Republicans and Democrats blame Congress for the economy’s ills.

According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, “76% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats blame the inability of elected officials in Washington. Interestingly, while still a majority, ‘just’ 61% of Independents do so.  Of course, that lower number may be a sign that Independents have given up on the concept of D.C. helping to improve the economy.”

“There is no gender or income gap on this issue, but there is a modest generation gap, as seniors in particular are fed up with the inability of elected officials in Washington to get things done to help the economy.”

BN EG775 Poll3 G 20140826154030 Bipartisan Agreement on Whos to Blame for Economic Problems

This lack of faith in Washington’s ability to solve economic challenges may help explain why President Barack Obama, and others, are not getting any credit for the lower unemployment rate.  Even if the economy is seen as improving  (which it is by 50% of the voters surveyed), it is not helping the president politically.

Posted at 11:17 a.m.
Economy

A Medicare Cost Miracle

Paul Krugman writes that “something remarkable has been happening on the health-spending front, and it should (but probably won’t) transform a lot of our political debate.”

Krugman contends that the decrease in health spending, especially Medicare, “is a really big deal.”

“The slowdown in Medicare helps refute one common explanation of the health-cost slowdown: that it’s mainly the product of a depressed economy, and that spending will surge again once the economy recovers. That could explain low private spending, but Medicare is a government program, and shouldn’t be affected by the recession. In other words, the good news on health costs is for real.”

“But what accounts for this good news? The … big implication of the Medicare cost miracle is that everything the usual suspects have been saying about fiscal responsibility is wrong.”

“For years, pundits have … dismissed as worthless all the cost-control measures included in the Affordable Care Act. Inside the Beltway, cost control apparently isn’t considered real unless it involves slashing benefits.”

“Medicare is spending much less than expected, and those Obamacare cost-saving measures are at least part of the story. The conventional wisdom on what is and isn’t serious is completely wrong.”

Posted at 8:13 a.m.
Health

California Lawmakers Pass First Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

Huffington Post: “The California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags on Friday … a measure that if signed into law would become the first of its kind in America.”

“A number of cities and counties in California and other U.S. states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack purchases in plastic. But at the state level, opposition from plastic bag makers has usually prevailed.”

“The California Senate voted 22-15 for the bill, which must be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has not signaled a position on the measure.”

“The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, and provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could buy.”

Charles Moore, writing in The New York Times, explains how the proliferation of plastic is “choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware.”

 

August 28, 2014

Who’s Paying Corporate Taxes? Definitely Not Corporations

Harvard Business Review: “Who pays corporate income taxes? Just one thing’s for sure: it’s not corporations.”

“This is because, as Mitt Romney famously put it, ‘corporations are people, my friend.’ They also sell to people, buy from people, and are owned by people. Yes, sometimes you have to dig through layers of other corporations … and the like to get to these people. But they’re there somewhere, trying to avoid getting smacked by corporate taxes.”

“In econospeak, where the burden lands is called tax incidence … What [UC Berkeley economist Alan] Auerbach did write in 2005 was that ‘the cardinal rule of incidence analysis’ is ‘that only individuals can bear the burden of taxation and that all tax burdens should be traced back to individuals.’”

“In the case of the corporate income tax … that tax is going to be borne by shareholders, workers, or customers.”

“This makes intuitive sense. If a country allows free capital flows and free trade and has a corporate tax rate much higher than that of its neighbors … corporate management can choose to move operations abroad … By comparison, workers are pretty immobile. It’s hard for them to switch employers, let alone countries. So the tax lands on them.”

Posted at 11:55 a.m.
Economy

Medicare No Longer a Big Budget Buster

Margot Sanger-Katz claims that we’re “looking at the biggest story involving the federal budget and a crucial one for the future of the American economy. Every year for the last six years in a row, the Congressional Budget Office has reduced its estimate for how much the federal government will need to spend on Medicare in coming years. The latest reduction came in a report from the budget office on Wednesday morning.”

“The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare’s 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. The country still faces a projected deficit in future decades … but it is not likely to require the level of fiscal pain that many assumed several years ago.”

Screen Shot 2014 08 28 at 8.19.10 AM 430x335 Medicare No Longer a Big Budget Buster

“In all, technical changes have been responsible for a 12 percent reduction since 2010 in the estimates for Medicare spending over the decade ending in 2020. In dollar terms, that’s over $700 billion.”

Medicaid spending is also down, according to Kaiser Health News: “Medicaid spending is expected to drop by $40 billion — or about 1 percent — over the next decade.”

Posted at 8:21 a.m.
Health

Congress Loses Interest in Obamacare

Derek Willis notes that lawmakers are less obsessed with bickering over Obamacare.

“Last summer, lawmakers churned out news releases using the term Obamacare, 530 of them in June, July and August. This summer? 138.”

“This summer, not only are there fewer Obamacare-related news releases, but the tone is also different. Constituents are more likely to read statements on judicial decisions on the law, news about bills intended to trim around the law’s edges, or descriptions of lawmakers’ requests for information from the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Screen Shot 2014 08 28 at 8.02.53 AM 418x335 Congress Loses Interest in Obamacare

“Congressional opponents of Obamacare haven’t given up, of course. But the relative dearth of Obamacare-titled statements this August shows that they have found other issues to raise with constituents as the midterm elections approach, like investigations into the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Posted at 8:05 a.m.
Health

Cam Economic Growth be Sustained?

Robert Litan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, argues that although the Fed must decide how much slack is left in the labor market, “that’s only the short-term challenge confronting the nation’s monetary authorities.”

The challenge is “figuring out how fast the economy can grow on a sustained basis over the long-run. The higher that number, the more relaxed the Fed can be without igniting accelerating inflation.”

Litan points to a new study released by the Federal Reserve Band of Cleveland that tracks where new jobs have been coming from and shows a “declining share from the creation of new companies.”

“While it’s good news that more jobs are being created, the fact that they are increasingly coming from more established firms supports the finding of an earlier study Ian and I published showing that the firm structure of the U.S. economy is aging.”

“The data on where jobs are coming are thus consistent with official government forecasters’ current moderate pessimism about the long-run prospects for U.S. economic growth in the future.”

Posted at 7:54 a.m.
Economy

August 27, 2014

The Supreme Court Curtails the Ability to Hold Bad Cops Accountable

Erwin Chemerinsky, writing in The New York Times, notes that the Supreme Court has a history of “protecting bad cops.”

“In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.”

“Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise ‘immunity’ as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person.”

“When there is not absolute immunity, police officers are still protected by ‘qualified immunity’ when sued for monetary damages.”

“Taken together, these rulings have a powerful effect. They mean that the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court.”

Marital Marijuana?

Christopher Ingraham: “A new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo finds a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among married couples who smoke pot. ‘Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent IPV [intimate partner violence] perpetration,’ the study concludes.”

“The authors caution that while these findings are predictive–meaning couples who smoke are less likely to commit domestic violence–they don’t necessarily draw a causal line between the two behaviors. Among the connections they hypothesize, ‘marijuana may increase positive affect, which in turn could reduce the likelihood of conflict and aggression.’ Translation: stoned people are happy, and happy people don’t fight.”

“Perhaps most significantly, the Buffalo study was funded partially by a grant from the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Marijuana reformers have strongly criticized NIDA’s institutional biases against marijuana legalization in the past, including restrictions the agency has placed on the availability of marijuana for research purposes. But the fact that NIDA is funding studies like this one suggests that it, like much of the country, is beginning to change its tune.”

Posted at 10:46 a.m.
Social Issues

A Return in Worker Confidence?

Gallup: “Fewer than one in five U.S. full- and part-time workers currently worry that they will be laid off in the near future, down sharply from 29% last year. This marks a return of worker confidence to the upper end of the range Gallup saw in the years prior to the financial collapse in late 2008. Workers’ concerns about maintaining their current level of benefits and compensation have also eased, though they remain higher than pre-2008 levels.”

cnv1sxknhuydj01w yiy0g A Return in Worker Confidence?

“While workers still are more likely to say they worry on several questions now than before the financial crisis, these figures are down considerably. For the first time in a long time, fewer U.S. workers are worried in some way about their job, meaning the job market could finally be turning in favor of the employee.”

Posted at 8:06 a.m.
Economy

Democrats Test the Pro-Obamacare Waters

Sam Baker: “Democrats won’t be mounting a big political offensive around the Affordable Care Act any time soon, but they’re beginning to test the pro-Obamacare waters … There are signs that Democrats are slowly becoming more confident talking about the health care law, or at least parts of it.”

“Democrats’ emerging confidence comes as the law is taking a smaller role in Republicans’ attack ads. GOP candidates and allies in a handful of states—including North Carolina—have shifted from an all-Obamacare-all-the-time advertising strategy to one that incorporates Obamacare into a larger message about jobs and the economy.”

“All those trend lines are pointing in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean Democrats have suddenly won the upper hand on Obamacare.”

“But now that the law’s most popular provisions are finally in place, [strategist Chris Jennings] said, Democrats can start to follow the advice former President Clinton has been offering: Frame the debate around Republican attempts to take away real-life benefits.”

“‘Time is definitely on the side of the ACA. As time goes by, more people benefit.… It isn’t a theoretical discussion any longer,’ Jennings said.”

Posted at 7:55 a.m.
Health

August 26, 2014

Britain Would Rank 2nd Poorest as an American State

Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph that “if Britain were to somehow leave the European Union and become the 51st state of America, we would actually be one of those poor states. If you take our economic output, adjust for living costs and slot it into the US league table then the United Kingdom emerges as the second-poorest state in the union. We’re poorer than much-maligned Kansas and Alabama and well below Missouri, the scene of all the unrest in recent weeks. Only Mississippi has lower economic output per head than the UK; strip out the South East and Britain would rank bottom. We certainly have our problems; we’re just better at concealing them.”

The Washington Post pulled the data into a nice scrollable chart:

Posted at 4:40 p.m.
Economy

Latest U.N. Report Points to Runaway Growth in Carbon Emissions

New York Times: “Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts’ over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

“The report, intended to summarize and restate a string of earlier reports about climate change released over the past year, is to be unveiled in early November, after an intensive editing session in Copenhagen.”

“Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks likely to be intensified by continued [carbon] emissions.”

“From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, the report found, and the pace seems to be accelerating further in this decade.”

Obamacare Spurs an Increase in Employer-Based Coverage

Margot Sanger-Katz: “More people may be signing up for employer-based coverage than did before.”

Katz notes that there were “uninsured people who simply chose not to buy coverage before there was a law requiring them to do so. Now they may be changing their minds.”

“This increase, if it is permanent, is going to cost employers money. But it illustrates how the Affordable Care Act is set up to build on the country’s existing insurance system rather than tear it down. The law doesn’t just create new public insurance programs. It also includes incentives designed to get more people enrolled in employer health coverage.”

“The law’s best-known and least-liked provision — the “individual mandate” — is probably causing the trend.”

Some analysts of the law (and many of its critics) forecast widespread employer ‘dumping’ of workers into new health insurance marketplaces, but there’s little evidence so far that this is happening.”

“So far, at least, more people seem to be getting health insurance from their jobs than did last year.”

Screen Shot 2014 08 26 at 8.26.08 AM 391x335 Obamacare Spurs an Increase in Employer Based Coverage

Posted at 8:27 a.m.
Health

What is the Least Corrupt State in the Nation?

Reid Wilson: “In Oregon, strong oversight and audit rules ensure that state officials keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Data from the Justice Department, compiled by political scientists at Indiana University at Bloomington and the City University of Hong Kong, show that, over a period of 32 years, there were fewer corruption convictions in Oregon than in any other state, when controlling for the number of state workers.”

“Oregon registered 1.28 corruption convictions per 100,000 public employees between 1976 and 2008. Washington, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa also had fewer than two convictions per 100,000 employees.”

“Those states score well because of robust transparency laws, according to ethics watchdogs.”

“At the bottom of the list, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee all registered more than four times more convictions than the least-corrupt states.”

Distaste for Congress Leads Voters to the Polls

Gallup: “Americans’ disenchantment with Congress may lead to higher voter turnout on Election Day this year. In the last five midterm elections, voter turnout has exceeded 40% when Congress’ approval rating was low, but turnout was below 40% when Americans were more approving.”

xoo9ah7gakaetnnyo mypq Distaste for Congress Leads Voters to the Polls

“Congressional job approval, currently 13%, is on pace to be the lowest it has been in a midterm election year. Moreover, a near-record-low 19% of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election. This latter measure shows a similarly strong relationship to voter turnout as does job approval.”

“Since 1994, voters may have a greater belief that they can change the federal government and its policies by their choices of members of Congress in midterm elections. That belief in turn may help drive up turnout when voters feel a change is needed.”

August 25, 2014

Where’s the Middle Class ‘Recovery’?

The Guardian: “Most economists, including those of the Federal Reserve, tend to tout that we are in a time of economic recovery. In dense jargon they talk about ‘improving labor market conditions’ (a better job outlook) and use that as a reason to cut down on stimulus efforts.”

“Technically, that is true. The recession ended in 2009. Except, instead of being a healing period, this recovery is leaving a scar on the middle class.”

“The middle class hasn’t experienced the recovery that the mathematical equations of economics says it has. Evidence of that includes high debt, low borrowing, and low wages as well as still-high unemployment and people dropping out of the labor force.”

“Here’s the big secret: the economists really can’t do all that much. They can play with interest rates, or add stimulus measures, but their tools are very limited considering the scale of the US economy, with its moving gears and whistles of small businesses, big banks and giant corporations. Congress could be of some help – with infrastructure investment for instance – but has chosen not to be. CEOs, hoarding cash for their shareholders while cutting costs and jobs, have done close to nothing at all.”

Posted at 9:53 a.m.
Economy

Which States Permit Open Carry of Handguns?

Wall Street Journal: “As people on both sides of the debate regarding open carry—the practice of carrying firearms in plain view—have been turning up the heat, more companies are being forced to take a side.”

Carrying a firearm in a concealed manner is legal in all states, but open carry has more restrictions, especially for handguns. Though federal law doesn’t restrict the open carrying of handguns in public, several states—including California, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and Texas—ban the practice, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Thirteen states require a special permit or license to open carry. The remaining 31 states don’t require one. The laws are different for long guns, which are commonly associated with hunting.”

“Why is open carry causing so much of a stir when concealed carry is so widespread?”

OG AC384 openca G 20140822132909 Which States Permit Open Carry of Handguns?

Posted at 9:45 a.m.
Gun Control

Are Conservatives More Prone to Think Conspiratorially?

Washington Post, ask: “Are all Americans created equal when it comes to fearing collusion and conspiracies? Our recent research suggests that they are. As part of a 2012 national survey, we asked respondents about the likelihood of voter fraud as an explanation if their preferred presidential candidate did not win. Fifty percent of Republicans said it would be very or somewhat likely, compared to 44 percent of Democrats.”

I”n our survey, we also measured respondents’ underlying propensity to believe in conspiracy theories — that is, the general mindset that leads people to accept or reject conspiracy theories.”

“We combined [four conspiracy-related] questions into one summary measure. This graph shows the percentage of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that showed a strong or medium disposition towards thinking conspiratorially.”

 Are Conservatives More Prone to Think Conspiratorially?

“The upshot: near symmetry between left and right.”

Posted at 9:24 a.m.
Social Issues

Obamacare Buy-In: Is it Just About the Name?

E.J. Dionne notes that Obamacare’s popularity depends in large part on the labeling and branding of the law.

“Republicans would much prefer to run against the law’s name and brand than the law itself. They also really want to avoid being pressed for specifics as to what ‘repealing Obamacare’ would mean in practice.”

“As one Democratic pollster told me, his focus groups showed that when voters outside the Republican base are given details about what the law does and how it works, ‘people come around and say, ‘That’s not so bad, what’s everybody excited about?’ ”

“The Bluegrass State is particularly instructive on the importance of labeling and branding. A Public Policy Polling survey this month found that the Affordable Care Act had a net negative approval rating, 34 percent to 51 percent. But Kynect was rated positively, 34 percent to 27 percent.

“As Mark Pryor knows, the president’s unpopularity in certain parts of the country doesn’t mean that voters want to throw his greatest accomplishment overboard — even if they’d be happy to rename it.”

 

Posted at 8:23 a.m.
Health

August 22, 2014

How Much Will Obamacare Premiums Rise?

Vox: “Average Obamacare premiums will rise 8.2 percent next year, according to an analysis from PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That figure relies on the 29 states that have so far released premium data for 2015. It varies from state to state, as you can see in the map below.”

“An 8.2 percent increase in premiums would be slightly smaller than the hikes that happened before Obamacare.”

 

obamacare premiums.0 How Much Will Obamacare Premiums Rise?

Posted at 10:53 a.m.
Health

Structural Racism Lit Ferguson on Fire, Not Looters

Steven Thrasher of The Guardian: “The symptoms of structural racism stain America everywhere, but its execution is particularly perverse in places like Ferguson.”

“The real perversion of justice by way of modern American racism is that black people in Ferguson – like black people in the greater St Louis metropolitan area and nationally – are marginalized economically and physically from day one. That is the real looting of Ferguson.”

“Racism, looting Missouri since crackers owned slaves, lit Ferguson on fire – not some looter with a firecracker.”

“Too often, a call for non-violence becomes a blanket excuse to do nothing and maintain the status quo. The National Guard is coming in to maintain the status quo and that is unacceptable – because black Missourians, like most African Americans, were already drowning in the status quo when Mike Brown was still alive.”

Posted at 9:35 a.m.
Social Issues

America’s Local Police Stock Up on Grenade Launchers and Armored Vehicles

The New York Times: “State and local police departments obtain some of their military-style equipment through a free Defense Department program created in the early 1990s. While the portion of their gear that comes from the program is relatively small (most of it is paid for by the departments or through federal grants), detailed data from the Pentagon illustrates how ubiquitous such equipment has become.”

Screen Shot 2014 08 22 at 9.07.01 AM e1408712861346 Americas Local Police Stock Up on Grenade Launchers and Armored Vehicles

A few highlights from the map:

  • Oklahoma County: 8 Helicopters, 400 Night Vision Goggles, 227 Assault Rifles, 2 Mine-Resistant Vehicles, 1 Plane
  • San Bernadino, CA: 208 Night Vision Goggles, 114 Assault Rifles
  • Burleigh, ND: 353 Assault Rifles, 1 Plane
  • Pine, MN: 1 Mine-Resistant Vehicle, 1 Armored Vehicle
  • Deschutes, OR: 4 Grenade Launchers, 1 Armored Vehicle, 30 Night Vision Goggles, 40 Assault Rifles, 40 Body Armor Pieces
  • Converse, WY: 23 Assault Rifles, 4 Armored Vehicles
  • Lancaster, NE: 1 Mine-Resistant Vehicle, 3 Armored Vehicles
Posted at 9:08 a.m.
Military & Security

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