Seattle: So, the big question from the SOTU address is the same as always: did it change any votes in the House or increase the likelihood of a substantive vote in the Senate?
Ezra Klein: It's hard to say. Some of that will depend on the administration's follow-up. Obama did a nice job creating the political space for Democrats to say that this is just too important to give up on, but he didn't specifically give them a deadline, a target, or a preferred process.
Indeed, one of the most notable things about the speech was the paragraph that wasn't in there: Obama did not make an argument against paring back the bill. You could easily have imagined a section that went: "Now, I know some are saying this bill is too big. It is too complex. We should do less. We should just do the popular stuff. I reject that because ... " The health-care section sounded very good, but it did not say very much.
Rhode Island: Just a thought on HCR: There has been talk of having a budget commission, similar to the base closure commission, that would propose a politically difficult package of tax increases/budget cuts to get us on the right fiscal track. Like the base closure proposals, Congress would have to vote yes or no, no amendments, and a simple majority is all that's required.
You see where I'm going with this. Why can't Obama appoint a blue ribbon, bipartisan (hello Olympia and Susan) commission that keeps the best of the reform bill and strips out the bribes promised to Landrieu and Nelson? And then presents it to Congress for an up or down, majority rules vote?
Ezra Klein: He'd need the House and Senate (60 votes, natch) to agree to that commission and the rules for that commission, and I doubt they would. Though I've always vaguely wondered why no president has just done that from the beginning. Maybe the sense is that no bipartisan commission under that kind of pressure to actually perform could possibly come to consensus?
New York, N.Y.: What is the current feeling from your sources on the time-frame for the senate to move forward on their sidecar reconciliation piece so that the house can finally vote to pass the senate bill?
Ezra Klein: I don't think there is one, or consensus on whether or not they will.
Dallas, Tex.: What are the political (and other) consequences of letting the Republicans filibuster?
Ezra Klein: It depends on what, and what you're trying to achieve. The basic consequence of a real filibuster is that nothing gets done. No nominations are considered. No jobs bill is passed. No financial regulation moves. No debt ceiling. No budget. No nothing. Government comes to a halt.
Then, what are you trying to achieve? If you want to show the absurdity of the filibuster, you have to pick something very popular to do it on. Health care wouldn't work. But having done that, now you're stuck on this small issue from now till forever, as it's unlikely that the Republicans will give up. You've really got to be willing to shut down the government, and you have to be confident that your side can hold out longer than their side -- which will be tough, as Democrats are more afraid of the upcoming elections than Republicans, and they'll face more pressure to get the government moving again.
Silver Spring, Md.: Your Q&A is entitled Economy Department. Yet, your questions posted here almost exclusively deal with Healthcare.
Is that because no one ever asks you general economics questions? Is there another reason?
I'll admit I can't read your Q&A every week so perhaps I'm wrong. Thanks.
Ezra Klein: The Q&A got named when banks were still collapsing and hasn't been renamed now that we've moved on to health care. But I answer what I get questions on. If you want more economic content, ask me more economy questions!
Chicago: One of the more disturbing things about the Scott Brown victory was his unapologetic support for water boarding suspects in police custody. The most disturbing this was that it seemed to be a non-issue in the election.
Are we doomed as a country to have a political party accept torture and lack of Constitutional rights as one of its positions? The pro-torture aspects of the Republican party seem to get louder and louder while the anti-torture position doesn't even seem to be showing up to the debate.
Ezra Klein: Did he really support that? Wow.
Somerville, Mass.: I know you're not Nate Silver and don't specialize in probabilities. But if you could humor me, what are the chances do you think that we'll see some kind of health care reform legislation taking place right now? Clearly there are a number of ways that this can go right now, and one of those ways is a devastating nowhere. What would you estimate the chances are that the legislation goes somewhere? Like passing?
Ezra Klein: Sigh. Haven't you heard the old saying? Probabilities make a prob out of me and an abilities out of you. Or something.
Arlington, Va.: What are the prospects of passing cap-and-trade through reconciliation? Selling emissions permits raises revenue, so it definitely deals with the budget.
Ezra Klein: It could be done fairly easily (though some of the things that are in the bill but not related to the auctions -- the so-called complementary regulations -- would be more difficult), but a bunch of Democratic senators from states with big fossil fuel industries have said clearly that they won't allow it to be done.
Columbus, Ohio: How can Democrats in Congress possibly fail to understand that if health care doesn't pass, and soon, they are electoral hamburger? I am unspeakably angry that not only will the status quo continue, but that years of effort at trying to get Democrats elected have apparently been a complete waste of time.
Ezra Klein: I have no idea. Pretty much everyone I talk to says something like, "We all understand that the worst outcome is no bill." But they're not acting that way.
Alexandria, Va.: Ezra,
I don't know if you know the answer to this, but I'm having trouble figuring it out. In the recent history, the filibuster has been altered so that rather than require the minority to hold the floor (leading to readings of the phonebook, Oliver Twist, etc) the minority has to simply tell the majority leader that they are filibustering the issue. However, it is my understanding that this practice is done at the Majority Leaders discretion. Why would the democrats not want to return to the endurance-filibuster, make the republicans eat time. This would end up with a vote (eventually the republicans would run out of things to say) and legislation can move along.
Am I missing something in this? Why allow the republicans to simply filibuster by invoking the magic word?
Ezra Klein: What you're missing, I think, is that the Republicans would not run out of things to say. The government, which wouldn't be getting funded during this period, would run out of money long before Republicans ran out of talking points and Bible readings.
Dallas, Tex.: On HCR, Clyburn says it's in the Senate's court, Bayh says it's in the House's court. As I see it, Clyburn's statements are much more politically important; Bayh's vote doesn't matter under reconciliation. Now if someone like McCaskill or Bill Nelson were squawking, I'd be concerned. My question: is this logic correct. Is the onus really on the Senate? Thanks.
Ezra Klein: The onus is on both. The two chambers need to work out a compromise that the House feels comfortable trusting the Senate to pass. If the deal isn't enough to get through the House, then it dies. If it's not enough to get through reconciliation in the Senate, it dies. No one has full responsibility here.
Woburn, Mass.: Obama has the right approach to encouraging job growth, getting banks to lend more to small and med businesses. But how will he actually accomplish this?
Since the Banks just pulled $1 Billion out of the lending market at the end of 2009 I'm not sure why the Banks would put it back in. What can be done to press them on this?
Ezra Klein: Not much, I fear. The Federal Reserve could do some things. And the administration could shovel money at midsize banks. But I don't think they can jawbone banks into changing their behavior. Banks are more afraid of the market than the White House, and right or wrong, they think they're making the right decisions from the perspective of the market.
re: Chicago: Sorry, Chicago, but Brown doesn't support "water boarding people in police custody."
He said that Abdulmutallab should be treated as an enemy combatant. He also said that while he was opposed to the use of torture, he didn't believe that waterboarding constituted torture. He also did not say that Abdulmutallab should be subjected to waterboarding.
You can debate whether or not you feel waterboarding is torture (I believe it is), but to say Brown condones waterboarding people in police custody is a misrepresentation of his statements.
Ezra Klein: That's good.
D.C.: Ezra, why are you listed under the Business section on the Post's website? I looked for your blog the other day in the "Politics Blogs" section and couldn't find it. (Ended up finding you on a search, which is what I should have done from the get go).
Ezra Klein: I'm part of the business and economy section. They're the folks who hired me, with the idea being that I write a lot about economic policy: health care, taxes, cap and trade, financial regulation, etc.
Chicago, Ill.: You've been pretty down about the state of the government these days. If health care reform actually falls through, how does that affect your work? How do you and other progressive bloggers keep writing about the details of these big issues if the likelihood of anything happening to address them is slim to none? It would seem almost futile work at that point.
Ezra Klein: It's an interesting question, and I think about it a lot. My work has been moving toward a more thorough analysis of the structural problems, impediments and realities of the system, and it'll probably settle there more firmly. If the reality is that we can't make important changes until we fix a corroded system, then fixing that system becomes the top priority, and explaining what's broken about it becomes my top priority.
Arlington, Va.: Ezra, I doubt you will take this challenge (or even post this), but considering your dislike of the filibuster, will you pledge now that if the left loses control of the senate in the next 2-6 years, you will not post-suggest for its use? Both sides seem to flip on this depending on who is in office.
Ezra Klein: Not at all. What I will pledge is that I will support an effort to rid the Senate of the filibuster six years into the future, when Republicans are very likely to be in charge. But it's absurd to suggest that one side should continue using the filibuster while the other should disarm. The point is that I want democratic governance, not just conservative or liberal governance. And you get that by making it so neither side can obstruct, not by getting one side to stop obstructing.
Washington, D.C.: Ezra, Do you feel it’s misleading to post you as business writer when many of your post are about how liberals can stay in office. For better or worse, you obviously have strong "progressive" opinions that align with one specific party.
Ezra Klein: I'm on the opinion side of the newsroom. But I think your question sort of answers itself, no? I make no bones about my premises or preferences. The one thing no one has to wonder is where I'm coming from, or what, beneath the careful language, I really believe.
Rhode Island again: Hi Ezra,
I asked the earlier question about a base closure-type commission for health care. You said Obama would need 60 votes to set it up. But I'm pretty sure I read (in the Post?) that he could create one by executive order.
Ezra Klein: Nah. He can create a commission by executive order. But that's just to say, he can ask people to hold meetings by executive order. He can't give it fast-track authority or exempt it from the filibuster.
Miami, Fla.: Obama said in his speech that our national debt is one of the biggest problems we cannot have a debt for future generations. Yet, the debt ceiling was just raised minutes ago. When are they going to stop raising the limit?
Ezra Klein: You can't stop raising the limit as the bond market would freak out. What you need to do is stop needing to raise the limit, which means changing the policies which are leading us to borrow more. But defaulting on the debt is a very bad idea.
Portland, Ore.: So ... down the road, we will have to pay to read your blog?
Ezra Klein: I very much hope not. It's hard for me to imagine remaining anywhere where people would need to pay for my blog if other options existed. On the other hand, I recognize that that doesn't suggest much of a long-run business model. But this is why it's such a collective action problem: If all news orgs go pay, and everyone is getting subscriptions, then sure, I might lock the blog. But if only my org went pay, I'd leave, as few would buy subscriptions and my audience and influence would plummet.
Lakewood, Ohio: Obama mentioned increasing the Pell Grant despite the freeze. Can you elaborate on this or do you have any details?
Ezra Klein: Sure. Let's say I decide to cap my personal spending at, I don't know, $20,000 next year. That doesn't mean my spending within that $20,000 stays the same. I may decide that I should be spending more on eating at home, and in order to do that, I will cut from the money I spend on restaurants. I may decide to spend more on books, and I may cut from my concertgoing. So too with, say, Pell grants on the one hand and agricultural subsidies on the other.
That said, the specific case of Pell grants might be different, as I seem to remember hearing that they'll be treated as an entitlement and thus not subject to the freeze.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Ezra,
Why does everybody keep asking you why you're listed as a business writer today? Seems kind of random, since it's always been like that and I can't recall anyone asking you about it before.
Ezra Klein: No idea.
Roswell, Ga.: Ezra: Why oh why do broadcast "journalists" continue to allow one of the recalcitrant Republicans' most distorted and used talking points to go unchallenged. It happened constantly last evening, from Boehner to Palin to McConnell and McDonnell; i.e, "allowing the government takeover of healthcare." There's no such thing, and since it's a TP that an uninformed/misinformed public has seemingly embraced to explain their opposition, why does it go unchallenged?!
Ezra Klein: Because many journalists see it as their responsibility to ensure their readers get a sense of the conversation in Washington, not that their readers get a sense of what is true and what is false within that conversation.
Washington, D.C.: Can you suggest a good, not-too-fancy, not overly adventurous restaurant to bring my parents to tomorrow evening? Preferably near U St, Logan, DuPont, or Adams Morgan. Thanks.
Ezra Klein: My first instinct is Central, on 11th and Pennsylvania (or maybe 9th and Pennsylvania?). Second option: Palena Cafe, up in Cleveland Park (right off the red line), but they don't take reservations. Dino, which is a few doors down, does.
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