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Morning Action: Final Obamacare Sign-Up Deadline Has Arrived… Again

OBAMACARE.  After a special two-week period that pushed back the enrollment deadline for Obamacare applications, the new deadline hit Tuesday at midnight, and it’s not entirely sure whether this will be the last extension or how many new people enrolled in health care plans (sub. req’d):

Administration officials wouldn’t release any enrollment updates Tuesday, nor would they say when those numbers will be announced. And unlike the final days of the regular sign-up period in late March, they also declined to discuss the number of people visiting the federal website or contacting call centers for assistance.

Based on testimony Thursday by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, however, the extra time is likely to have significantly boosted the coverage count. Sebelius told a Senate committee that 400,000 more people had enrolled since the original March 31 deadline — pushing the total to 7.5 million Americans.

Ostensibly, the doors of the federal-run exchanges will not reopen until the 2015 enrollment season begins in November. The only exception will be for individuals who experience a job change, divorce or other qualifying life event that allows them to obtain new insurance outside of the regular sign-up frame.

But the administration has never clarified whether it will offer any additional leeway for people who still have difficulty enrolling by Tuesday. While HealthCare.gov lists scenarios that entitled people to special enrollment latitude — like a serious medical condition or natural disaster that prevented them from completing an application — it’s unclear whether the clock on those also stops on April 15.

IRS.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will take the lead in 2015 in carrying out Obamacare.  The IRS is already working to avoid the same glitches and veritable failures perpetrated by HHS in carrying out Obamacare (sub. req’d):

A major goal? Avoid the fate of the Health and Human Services website “train wreck,” as the GOP so fondly calls it, quoting the early worries of a Democratic senator. The website glitches became a huge headache for the Obama administration, though the system seems largely fixed.

 …

The IRS becomes Obamacare’s point guard during next filing season. It’s charged with penalizing people who refuse to get insured — a $95 fine or 1 percent tax on income, whichever is greater, in 2014 — and ensuring that all who received tax credits to purchase insurance actually take the correct amount of subsidy.

The IRS has been working for years to update its computer systems to prepare, and the agency opened its formal filing season planning group for 2015 a few weeks ago.

“People don’t realize it takes almost the entire year to prepare for the next filing season, and this one is going to be a major lift because we have to implement the Affordable Care Act … with very constrained funding,” said Koskinen, a turnaround specialist picked by the White House to take over the embattled agency.

INFRASTRUCTURE.  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) 10% and other Senate tax writers are pushing new bond financing options, such as the renewal of the Build America program, which was created by the 2009 stimulus, as possible add-ons to a surface transportation reauthorization (sub. req’d):

There’s clearly a market for bringing private sector funds off the sidelines, back into infrastructure,” Wyden said. “For the longer term, there are a variety of ideas that ought to be explored.”

The use of bonds also marks a recognition that new money for programs including infrastructure will be very hard to come by in the 113th Congress, and likely for the foreseeable future. With scarce federal funds for new initiatives, lawmakers are looking to advance proposals aimed at creating new bonds or loan funds to support renewable energy, schools, disaster relief and other projects. They are also weighing proposals to ease restrictions on existing loan and bond programs.

Wyden and other senior tax writers say they are focused on attracting more private investment in infrastructure, while delaying decisions on revenue-raising measures to deal with the projected $92 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund in fiscal 2022.

This would not be the conservative approach:

Conservatives argue the Build America program and other new bond proposals would divert funds from other priorities and dilute state and local authority.

“The problem with federal incentives is they will encourage private investment in potentially risky types of infrastructure,” said Emily Goff, a transportation policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. She and other conservative advocates argue for giving more authority to states and for focusing federal funds on roads and bridges, rather than on new incentives or projects such as bike routes and some mass transit projects.

DYNAMIC SCORING.  There is a debate on Capitol Hill about how often to use a type of analysis called ‘dynamic scoring’ when analyzing the effects of changes in fiscal or other policies on the economy (sub. req’d):

In the past, the debate has been over whether to use dynamic scoring at all; now, however, the debate has shifted to how often and to what ends dynamic scoring should be used, with Democrats and Republicans holding far different views.

Republicans generally favor dynamic analysis because it so far has been used to bolster their arguments that deficit reduction and cutting taxes help expand the economy. Democrats tend to be skeptical of the argument that tax cuts help the economy, but they see some value in assessing certain economic impacts, such as adding jobs.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the right-leaning American Action Forum, defends macroeconomic analysis as an important source of information about the likely effects of legislation and hopes it will be used more frequently.

IMMIGRATION.  House Democrats have begun to push their Republican colleagues to sign a discharge petition to bring a comprehensive immigration bill to the floor (sub. req’d):

Sponsors of the bill (HR 15) sent a memo Tuesday to 30 House Republicans who have expressed support for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. The memo urges them to defy their leadership and sign on the discharge petition.

The Democrats’ initiative will almost certainly not be successful. Even the three Republican co-sponsors of the bill — Rep. Jeffrey Denham (R-CA) 36% and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) 34%, both of California, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 33% — have refused to sign the petition. A Denham aide said Tuesday his position had not changed.

The bill has 200 co-sponsors. The discharge petition, meanwhile, has 191, 27 shy of the 218 needed.

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