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Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

Articles by Brian

Let me be the first to say that Republicans in Congress have perfectly good reasons for not wanting to return to "regular order" budgeting, just like Democrats had good reasons for not wanting to pass a budget the past four years and Republicans had good reason during that time to pressure Democrats to return to the "regular order" budgeting they now oppose.

But they're not reasons anyone's admitting to, and they're definitely not evidence one party has a greater commitment to the rules and norms of budgeting than the other. It really all comes down to the fact that Republicans can't negotiate budget policy without the threat of a debt default looming over the whole process.

They're not even doing a great job of hiding it.

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Health care spending growth has famously slowed over the past five years, significantly enough that the Congressional Budget Office recently revised its projections of Medicare and Medicaid spending over the coming decade downward by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Now, research papers suggests the recent slowdown doesn't just reflect temporary economic weakness, but also structural shifts in how health care is delivered and financed -- possibly attributable to the Affordable Care Act -- and thus might be a harbinger of a longer-term trend.

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As we've been reporting for a few weeks, now that Senate Dems have passed a budget, Republicans have suddenly lost their enthusiasm for hallowed official processes and are resisting Democratic efforts to return to "regular order" and debate the differences between the House and Senate budgets in an at least somewhat transparent way. Even by Capitol Hill standards it's rare for parties to reveal this kind of procedural hypocrisy so abruptly.

There are a few reasons for that. Part of it is just that the GOP budget is a political loser and Republicans don't want to give Dems the opportunity to relitigate damaging election year debates over how much the rich should pay in taxes, what should happen to Medicare and so on. Republicans are also seemingly trying to slow walk the budget process so that it lines up with the much harder deadline of increasing the debt limit.

Which brings us to the Senate floor Monday.

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I'm not sure if the folks at the conservative Heritage Foundation realized their propagandistic new study on the budgetary effects of immigration reform would invite so much derision from experts on the right, but that's what it's getting.

This is why they call wedge issues wedge issues, but for me the real fun part is the revealed opportunism on both sides of the wedge.

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There have been so many hasty and opportunistic reactions to the famed Oregon Medicaid study that containing the spread of misinformation is a bit like standing athwart a tsunami yelling "stop!" Moreover, people like Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt are much more qualified to comment on it and have been doing an excellent job, so I'd really recommend you read their recent posts on the subject.

But to draw attention to one of Medicaid critics' most effective sleights of hand, performed most recently and deftly by Ross Douthat, consider the following thought experiment.

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The U.S. economy added 165,000 jobs in April, according to an initial Bureau of Labor Statistics report, slightly above analyst expectations and suggesting the economic recovery, with the support of the Federal Reserve, is enduring despite the contractionary effects of sequestration and higher taxes that took effect at the beginning of the year.

But the biggest news from the Labor Department isn't the topline payroll figure, or the unemployment rate, which dropped from 7.6 to 7.5 percent. It's the revisions to reports from previous months, which are more certain statistically and indicate much stronger job growth this winter than initially believed.

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When legislation that would have extended criminal background check requirements for gun buyers failed in the Senate two weeks ago, opinion makers began considering the possibility that President Obama's second term -- just three months old -- was already on the cusp of failure.

Mere days had passed since he'd introduced a budget designed successfully to impress upon political elites that congressional Republicans represent the main obstacle to steady governing in Washington, and already those same elites were regressing to the reflexive view that legislative gridlock is an automatic byproduct of partisan polarization and weak leadership in the White House.

Obama attempted in two separate public appearances this past week -- a comedy routine at the White House Correspondent's Association Dinner last Saturday evening, and a daytime press conference at the White House on Tuesday -- to disabuse the press of the idea that Congress' inability to pass even modest and popular legislation is a consequence of his failure to engage in the mythical armtwisting of LBJ or Lincoln.

"I cannot force Republicans to embrace ... common-sense solutions," Obama said at the press conference, referring specifically to budget gridlock. "I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can rally the American people around those common-sense solutions. But ultimately, they, themselves, are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing. And I think there are members certainly in the Senate right now, and I suspect members in the House as well, who understand that deep down. But they're worried about their politics. It's tough. Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They're worried about primaries. And I understand all that. And we're going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what's going to be best for the country. But it's going to take some time."

Considering the incentives of the minority party in a polarized political system with a divided legislature, Obama's remarks rang true. And in that context, his mysterious claim to be creating a "permission structure" for the GOP sounded almost like an allusion to a Rube Goldberg device that could transform Republicans from tireless obstructionists into reluctant partners -- an unlikely contraption, but perhaps the only thing short of total lawlessness that might yield Republican support for a budget deal or any other major bipartisan enterprise.

The intentional vagueness made it the most interesting moment in his press conference. Unfortunately it failed to persuade the very elites who had raised the question of his effectiveness in the first place.

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The least surprising news of the week is that getting dressed down at the White House correspondents dinner did nothing to persuade Maureen Dowd and other opinion makers that their fantastical depictions of presidential power are actually puerile and lazy. Less than a month after Republicans rejected Obama's budget -- Chained CPI and all -- gauzy platitudes about leadership are back in vogue.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Jake Sherman reports that the very people Obama's supposed to "lead" to a budget deal (or a deal on anything) are perhaps more dysfunctional and reactionary than at any point since they came to power.

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