A Gas Tax Hike Is Not Political Death

The Hill: “Almost all state lawmakers who have voted to raise gas taxes in states that increased their own fuel levies in recent years have been re-elected, according to an analysis that was released Tuesday by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).”

“Ninety-five percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats who voted to raise gas taxes in their states in 2013 and 2014 were re-elected in last fall’s election, according to the analysis.”

“The road builders group said the results show lawmakers in Congress could vote to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax without facing any political repercussions.”

“The states were part of a series that have moved to increase their local gas tax in recent years as federal transportation funding has dried up.”

The Debate About the Keystone Pipeline? It’s Not About Climate Change

Washington Post: “Why do people support or oppose the pipeline? Among Americans who are familiar with the pipeline and oppose it, the most common reason wasn’t climate change. In fact, climate change ranked sixth. Just 6 percent of opponents listed climate change as their main concern with the pipeline. Even among Democrats, for whom climate change is usually a higher priority, that figure rises to just 7 percent.”

“In contrast, some 34 percent cited environmental degradation as their main concern, followed by water contamination (16 percent), hazardous chemicals (10 percent), “benefits Canadian consumers at the expense of US consumers” (10 percent) and “propagates dependence on fossil fuels” (7 percent).”

“Why do opponents in the general public diverge with environmental activists? It’s not immediately clear from these findings. But in general, opinion polls have found that climate change isn’t all that high on Americans’ priority lists. Other environment and energy issues, such as local pollution and energy prices, tend to get higher priority among Americans.”

“Maybe that’s because those issues tend to have consequences that are more immediate, direct and tangible … Meanwhile, many people may view climate change as more distant and feel that most benefits of tackling it wouldn’t arrive for many years.”

GOP Defends Obamacare Against a Fellow Senator’s Attack

Politico: “One fellow senator calls David Vitter’s years-long crusade to scrap health care subsidies for lawmakers and their staffers ‘disingenuous.’ Another says it’s obviously being done ‘for political purposes.”

“Within the chummy confines of the U.S. Senate, Vitter has emerged as one of the most disliked members. The second-term senator’s effort to kill the federal health care contribution, worth several thousand dollars to lawmakers and their staffers, is a big part of it.”

“The most recent repudiation of Vitter … came a month ago in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which he chairs. He tried to subpoena documents to investigate how members of Congress and their aides became eligible for health care under Obamacare’s D.C. exchange.”

How Obamacare Would Unravel if Supreme Court Rules Against Subsidies

The Hill: “The CEO of HealthCare.gov on Monday said states would not be able to immediately set up their own insurance marketplaces if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare this summer.”

“Kevin Counihan, the director of HealthCare.gov, told an audience at the National Health Insurance Exchange Summit that creating an exchange is a ‘very, very complex activity’ that could not be achieved in just a few months … ‘It would not be something that folks could do for this next open enrollment period.'”

“The federal marketplace director’s comments serve as a warning for Republicans who are working to draft a King v. Burwell response, which could give power to the states.”

“Many court watchers have said that states could be forced to set up their own exchanges if the justices decide that subsidies were not intended for people using HealthCare.gov. That is even more likely if Republicans in Congress and President Obama can’t agree on a legislative fix to prevent 7.5 million people from losing their subsidies.”

Wall Street Strikes Back

Paul Krugman: “Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress … Let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.”

“And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.”

“For one thing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren — is, by all accounts, having a major chilling effect on abusive lending practices. And early indications are that enhanced regulation of financial derivatives — which played a major role in the 2008 crisis — is having similar effects, increasing transparency and reducing the profits of middlemen.”

“What about the problem of financial industry structure, sometimes oversimplified with the phrase ‘too big to fail?’ There, too, Dodd-Frank seems to be yielding real results, in fact, more than many supporters expected.”

“Republicans would love to undo Dodd-Frank, but they are, rightly, afraid of the glare of publicity that defenders of reform like Senator Warren — who inspires a remarkable amount of fear in the unrighteous — would shine on their efforts.”

White House Gives Green Light to Arctic Drilling

The Hill: “The Obama administration gave its stamp of approval Monday to Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill for oil and natural gas as soon as this summer in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.”

“The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the drilling plan, drawing intense criticism from environmental groups that say the risk of a spill or other disaster is too high.”

“The decision is a major win for the oil and natural gas industry, and it comes as the Obama administration works to demonstrate a balanced approach to energy production that takes into account both environmental and economic factors.”

“Other drillers are keeping a close eye on Shell’s lease as they weigh whether they should propose to drill in the United States’ portion of the Arctic, which has not seen drilling in decades. “

Millennials Take Over as Largest Group in Workforce

Wall Street Journal: “Millennials, generally described as 18-to-34-year-olds, have moved past Generation X to become the largest generation in the American workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.”

“Using Census Bureau data, Pew found there are 53.5 million millennials in the workforce, or about one-third of all workers, as of the first quarter of the year. By comparison, there are 52.7 million Gen Xers, 44.6 million baby boomers and 3.7 million from the Silent Generation.”

The Employment Mirage

The Wall Street Journal reports on cities, such as Decatur, Ill., that appear on the road to recovery but one that “resembles many communities across the industrial Midwest, where the unemployment rate is falling fast in part because workers are disappearing: moving away, retiring or no longer looking for a job.”

“In cases like that, the unemployment rate makes things look better than they really are … In terms of overall economic growth … a decline in population and workforce is devastating.”

A falling unemployment rate “doesn’t tell the full story of a recovery that remains uneven nearly six years after the recession ended. Among the 20 metropolitan areas where unemployment fell by at least 2.7 percentage points in the past year, 16 also saw their workforces shrink over the same period, according to Labor Department data. Half of those were in Michigan or Illinois, including Detroit, Decatur, Flint, Mich., and Rockford, Ill.”

“The fitful recovery in Decatur has laid bare challenges building for decades in many places in the Midwest and Northeast. Populations are shrinking, and the workforce is getting older. A historical reliance on manufacturing has hurt aging industrial cities as the U.S. economy continues its shift to service jobs.”

Democrats Chastise Republicans on Blocking Obamacare Improvements

“Democrats are chiding Republican leaders in Congress as standing in the way of improvements to ObamaCare that enjoy bipartisan support,” The Hill reports.

“More than a half-dozen proposed changes to the law boast approval from at least some Democrats, including legislation to repeal a controversial cost-cutting board for Medicare, which gained its 218th cosponsor this week. None of the ObamaCare proposals have been taken up by Republican leaders, angering Democrats who say important fixes are being bottled up by the GOP’s fixation on full repeal.”

“Democrats are looking to take advantage of a deepening divide within the Republican Party about what to do with President Obama’s healthcare law during his final two years in office, particularly as they await a key ObamaCare decision from the Supreme Court.”

Americans Doubt Court Will Rule Fairly on Obamacare

“Many people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Obama’s health care law,” the Associated Press reports.

“An Associated Press-GfK poll found only one person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions. Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.”

“In a twist, the poll found that opponents of the law, who tend to be politically conservative, have less confidence in the objectivity of a court with a conservative majority. Among foes, 60 percent are not confident, compared with 44 percent of the law’s supporters.”

“Regardless of how the public feels about the court’s internal deliberations, a majority wants the justices to allow subsidies to continue flowing in all 50 states… Fifty-six percent said the court should keep the subsidies without restriction, while 39 percent said the financial aid should be limited to residents of states that set up their own health insurance markets.”