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Posted at 6:40 AM ET, 11/19/2010

Wonkbook: Dems have plan on Bush tax cuts; Bernanke backs stimulus; Lew confirmed

By Ezra Klein


Reid and Pelosi have settled on a strategy for the Bush tax cuts: Split them up. The tax cuts for income under $250,000 will come up for a vote, the tax cuts for income over $250,000 won't -- or will possibly get their own vote. But this strategy isn't expected to work: Republicans in the Senate are expected to join with a few conservative Democrats to block any effort that allows the expiration of the tax cuts for the wealthy. And no one yet knows what Plan B is.

But there are some obvious options for Plan B -- or even Plan A. Unemployment insurance is expiring for two million Americans in the next couple of weeks. Congress needs to pass an extension, but as of yet, they've not been able to do so, and most observers expect benefits will lapse. The idea that Democrats would allow an extension of the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 without also demanding an extension of unemployment insurance for jobless workers boggles the mind.

Then there's the debt ceiling. Come February, Congress is going to have to raise it -- in part because of the Bush tax cuts. But Republicans aren't going to want to make that vote, as they ran against the debt. So they're already discussing the concessions they'll demand in return. Rep. Pete Sessions, for instance, is telling reporters that Boehner will present Obama with an "agreement that could include a debt limit hike packaged with a rollback of parts of Mr. Obama’s health plan." But that leverage only exists if the debt limit gets a vote on its own. If Democrats are going to agree to Republican demand to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy -- which means, of course, adding much more to the deficit -- then the debt limit should be raised at the same time.

Top Stories

Congress will only vote on extending middle-class tax cuts, report Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) both said they would put such a plan to a vote in their respective chambers immediately after the Thanksgiving break. But Democrats acknowledged that such a bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republicans - and at least half a dozen Democrats - are arguing that it makes no sense to raise anyone's taxes when the economy is so weak...Unless Congress acts, virtually every taxpayer will be hit with higher taxes in January that could leave monthly paychecks hundreds of dollars lighter."

Fed chair Ben Bernanke will express support for additional fiscal stimulus in a speech today, reports Neil Irwin: "The United States needs to do more, he argues, calling for Congress and the Obama administration to take action to encourage growth. Bernanke has privately supported fiscal measures, such as temporary tax cuts or spending increases, and has acknowledged in congressional testimony that such policies could be helpful. But he has not previously endorsed these steps in a speech. Addressing critics, including leaders of major exporters such as Germany and China that have accused the Fed of trying to unfairly boost U.S. trade, Bernanke argues that his policies seek to create a global economy where there is better balance between what countries produce and consume."

Read the speech:

Jack Lew has been confirmed as OMB director, reports Mary Clare Jalonick: "Obama nominated Lew last July after Peter Orszag resigned. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had held up his confirmation to protest the six-month moratorium on deep-water oil and gas drilling in the Gulf. Even though the administration lifted the moratorium Oct. 12, Landrieu said she remained displeased with new rules for drilling operations. On Thursday, Landrieu cited 'notable progress' in her talks with the Interior Department and said that some shallow water permits had been issued in recent weeks. She said she had a commitment from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to travel to Louisiana next week and provide some clarity to the rules."

Prince cover interlude: Robyn plays "When Doves Cry".

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

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Still to come: The House rejected a bill extending unemployment benefits; Olympia Snowe has joined a lawsuit targeting health care reform; Mitch McConnell will block a bill to keep the federal government funded through the fiscal year; China may adopt a cap and trade system; and Harry, Hermione, and Ron try to speak American.


The House failed to pass an unemployment benefit extension, report Janet Hook and Martin Vaughan: "Lawmakers in both parties expect a compromise eventually to be reached--but not until December, after the current program expires. Without an extension, 800,000 unemployed workers will lose their benefits by Nov. 30 and two million by the end of December. A similar lapse in benefits occurred last summer as Congress struggled to break another impasse...Members of both parties say they want to extend the benefits, and a majority backed the legislation in the 258-154 vote Thursday, which included 143 Republicans voting against it and 21 in favor. The bill failed after Democratic leaders had brought it to the floor under fast-track procedures that require a two-thirds majority for passage."

John Boehner will urge House Republicans to support raising the debt ceiling:

General Motors made a modest gain in its first stock offering, report Jia Lynn Yang and Brady Dennis: "After markets closed, Obama hailed the offering as vindication of his administration's rescue of GM. 'There were plenty of doubters and naysayers who said it couldn't be done,' he said, adding that the U.S. auto industry 'is once again on the rise.' Doubts remain about how much taxpayer money can be recovered. The Treasury nearly halved its 61 percent stake in GM on Wednesday, raising at least $11.8 billion. It now must wait six months before shedding any more stock. The government would have to sell the remainder of its stake for about $53 a share to break even."

Poverty is at its highest level in a half-century, reports Wil Haygood: "The Census Bureau recently reported that the poverty rate in the United States rose to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level in more than 50 years. Texas and Florida saw the most people fall below the line. In Florida alone, 323,000 people became newly poor last year, bringing the state's poverty total to 2.7 million. The numbers tell another tale as well: Nationwide, in black households such as Walker's, income plunged an average of 4.4 percent in 2009, almost three times the drop among whites. The number of blacks living below the official poverty line - $21,756 for a family of four - increased by 7 percent in just one year."

The fiscal commission again failed to agree on recommendations:

Foreign opponents of quantitative easing don't have a leg to stand on, writes Paul Krugman: "It’s no mystery why China and Germany are on the warpath against the Fed. Both nations are accustomed to running huge trade surpluses. But for some countries to run trade surpluses, others must run trade deficits -- and, for years, that has meant us. The Fed’s expansionary policies, however, have the side effect of somewhat weakening the dollar, making U.S. goods more competitive, and paving the way for a smaller U.S. deficit. And the Chinese and Germans don’t want to see that happen...But why are Republicans joining in this attack?"

Speaking American interlude: The cast of Harry Potter tries their hand at American accents.

Health Care

After voting for the Senate health care bill in committee, Olympia Snowe has joined a lawsuit designed to rule health care reform unconstitutional, reports Brian Beutler: "She and 30 other Republicans signed an amicus brief in the case...Snowe did in fact seek to weaken and eliminate the individual mandate during the health care reform fight. And during the floor debate on the Senate's legislation she voted for a Constitutional point of order challenging the constitutionality of that provision. So this isn't exactly a new position for her."

Many insurers are shuttering Medicare Advantage plans:

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is working to limit health care reform's effect, reports Kevin Sacks: "Mr. Walker and the new legislative leadership clearly intend to apply the brakes to the state’s design of its health insurance exchange, a virtual marketplace that the law requires in each state by 2014. States can either establish and operate their own exchanges, or abdicate the responsibility to the federal government...He said that he hoped to put as few restrictions as possible on the ability of insurers to join the exchange, and that he opposed linking their participation to premium reviews. He said he might request a waiver from federal authorities to allow Wisconsin to opt out of certain requirements, although he did not specify which ones."

The Senate has passed a one-month "doc fix":

Two House Republicans will reject government health care, reports Chris Good: "'I've done a contract with my district.' Schilling said. 'I have term-limited myself. I am not taking the pension. I am not taking pay raises, and my family and I are bringing our own health care to Washington, D.C. And my dad taught me as a kid to lead by example -- Congress should not have anything better than the American people.'...KELLY: There is no reason for anybody to get anything different than anybody else. I personally have always paid for my own health care."

Congress should fix Medicare's waiting period for disabled people, writes Harold Pollack:

Domestic Policy

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will not support a stop-gap spending bill covering the rest of the fiscal year, reports Corey Boles: "Congress will now have to craft a short-term spending measure to extend funding for the government until February or March, with roughly a $200 million price tag. At that stage, Republicans hope they can exert greater influence over spending. House Republicans have said they want to lower domestic discretionary spending back to fiscal-2008 levels, before President Barack Obama took power. That would cut roughly $100 billion in spending over a 10-year period. As recently as last week, Senate Republican leadership aides had indicated that the party could be open to passing a single large spending measure to clear the decks for fiscal 2011."

Tech industry priorities are likely to pass in the new Congress:

Anti-spending Republicans will soon face major appropriations votes, report Darren Samuelsohn and Jason Voorhees: "The major infrastructure bills are all due for major updates in the 112th Congress, forcing difficult decisions on measures that lawmakers in the past found easy to trumpet back home but could be more difficult to sell given the deficit-busting rhetoric that Republicans just rode to victory. Combined, the last iterations of the three giant omnibus proposals cost more than a half-trillion dollars, which would generate painful headlines for fiscal conservatives. But the bills would pay for everything from replacing decaying bridges to keeping farms in business. They are also alluring to lawmakers because they have something for virtually every state and every district."

Democrats owe Latinos the DREAM Act, writes Edward Schumacher-Matos:

House Republicans have passed their own earmark ban, reports Jake Sherman: "'Earmarks have become a symbol of a Congress that has broken faith with the people,' speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio said in an emailed statement. 'This earmark ban shows the American people we are listening and we are dead serious about ending business as usual in Washington.' Senate Republicans passed a similar ban, and Boehner and Majority-Leader in waiting Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called on President Barack Obama to veto bills with earmarks."

Adorable animal escape interlude: A puppy fights his way out of a giant pile of leaves -- twice.


China may implement a cap and trade system, report Wang Ying and John Duce: "The government may set emissions quotas for large enterprises and a certain portion of them may be traded, Zhang Junkuo, head of development strategy at the State Council’s development research center, told reporters in Beijing today. The world’s fastest-growing major economy has pledged to reduce its carbon-dioxide output per unit of gross domestic product by as much as 45 percent through 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The cap-and-trade study is still in the early stages and is being considered among other options including a carbon tax, Zhang said."

Britain's plan to double the use of biofuels could dramatically increase greenhouse emissions:

Republicans should accept climate science, writes former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert: "What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution and was proud of his role in helping to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. That was smart policy and smart politics. Most important, unlike many who profess to be his followers, Reagan didn't deny the existence of global environmental problems but instead found ways to address them. The National Academy reports concluded that 'scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming.' Party affiliation does not change that fact."

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: White House.

By Ezra Klein  | November 19, 2010; 6:40 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: The progressive case for Social Security reform


It's gonna get ugly here in the next couple of years.

Dems should be ashamed at their incompetence and lack of courage.

Nevertheless, lots of indie-minded idiots are going to soon regret voting for these nihilistic, self-serving Repubs.

I can't imagine this country will EVER pull out of the mess we are in now. We are in full decline, a race to the bottom and full-fledged third-world status. The US gvmt has become fully neutered except as a means to facilitate power and wealth transfers to the ultra wealthy.

I hope you all enjoy the plutocracy you all voted for.

Posted by: Lomillialor | November 19, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

For 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation said there will be a 13% decline in the number of Medicare Advantage plans.

So that promise of "you can keep your plan if you like it" wasn't true huh? Those crazy seniors who voted in droves were proven right? I guess we knew this would happen and its not necessarily a bad thing. The subsidization of MA was wrong (especially to the leve that it was subsidized at) but be honest about it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 19, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

>>Republicans in the Senate are expected to join with a few conservative Democrats to block any effort that allows the expiration of the tax cuts for the wealthy.>>

Then they will be voting to allow tax cuts to expire for everyone else. Not exactly a winning move

Posted by: fuse | November 19, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

When you are in a bind and have a monetary emergency a payday loan can be a real help in these situations, if you need fast cash best place I use is called "Nimble Payday"

Posted by: richardbeckley | November 19, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

"The Fed’s expansionary policies, however, have the side effect of somewhat weakening the dollar, making U.S. goods more competitive, and paving the way for a smaller U.S. deficit."

It will do a lot more than "somewhat" weakening the dollar. However Krugman, like most economists, uses core inflation rather than real inflation to measure such things, so the brakes will be off the train long past the point when it begins. However on the bright, side, if the Euro collapses, that's good for the dollar. LOL BTW Krurman is wrong about any serious increase in exports. The US only exports in two major ways, agriucltural products and heavy industrial producsts (planes, major mining and ag equipment etc.). You could add intellectual properties such as movies, but piracy cuts into that in a huge way. We make the market in these areas already so the chance to substantially increase exports is not dollar related. We have nothing else ready to go that a lower dollar would create a market for. Not suprising that Krugman is wrong again.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 19, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Democrats owe Latinos the DREAM Act, writes Edward Schumacher-Matos:"

If Obama wants to GUARANTEE a Republican Senate and possibly his own defeat in 2012 all he has to do is pass this legislation.

I'm in favor of some form of amnesty, but this is a bad bill.

As currently written, it would have very little effect. Approximately 2.75 Americans graudate high school every year, but only about 65,000 of them are illegal immigrants. Since the law as written requires a diploma it would affect very little change.

For Obama to risk his presidency on it, something like this will have to happen. Either implicitly or explicitly, it will be decided that an indivdual will only have to affirm or swear that he or she has graduated from high school, not prove it. Eliminating the need to actually graduate will open the flood gates to large numbers of illegals , who once they are citizens will legalize their relatives through kinship.

Again this would almost certainly result in a total government takeover by Republicans in 2012, but Democrats seem to have become experts at seppuku lately.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 19, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"Britain's plan to double the use of biofuels could dramatically increase greenhouse emissions"

Okay, if you've been listening to me about shorting Treasuries, going long the dollar and buying Goldman, you're up about 8-9% overall at a time when the market has dropped. (Yes, I know that no one is actually taking financial advice from me!)

The above headline is why you should begin to accumulate agricultural commodities, especially soy beans and corn on the dips. If you hadn't heard, China has instituted price controls on food stuffs, and it's actually not a currency problem. It's an ENERGY problem.

So much of the world's current and potential farmland has been taken out of food production and into biofuels production that shortages will only increase over the next five years.

Even in places that you would never dream such as Indonesia, biofuels have taken over. Indonesia is the world's largest producer of crude palm oil for biofuel export. As the world marches off a cliff in legally mandating alternative energy production food shortages will grow more acute and prices exceed the pace of inflation.

You can't stop it, but you can profit from it. Buy some of the AG ETF's as a hedge and profit machine. Right now they are still too high, even though they have come down. On any significant drop however slowly buy your way in. These increases are virtually built in because the agricultural cycle cannot be simply changed over in a month or two. Your talking about six months to a year before the problem even hits the public consciousness, let alone action being taken.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 19, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

"Republicans aren't going to want to make that vote, as they ran against the debt. So they're already discussing the concessions they'll demand in return."

I suppose when you typed those two sentences, they sounded logical to you. *sigh* Only Democrats would make concessions so that their opponents don't have to take a hard vote. And whatever the deal is, I can assure you Republicans won't live up to it.

Posted by: stonedone | November 21, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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