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Posted at 6:36 AM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Wonkbook: Remembering Elizabeth Edwards; tax deal fallout

By Ezra Klein


Back in 2008, Democratic voters were presented with a choice between a seasoned veteran of Washington who wasn't much beloved by the base and wasn't known for inspiring speeches, but who had the long experience in government and realistic view of the legislative process necessary to succeed at the inside game, and an inspiring newcomer who had little experience with -- or evident patience for -- Washington's ways, but seemed a once-in-a-generation communicator, and was beloved by the progressive base. They chose the guy they liked, figuring that what he didn't know about Washington he could make up by getting the country on his side.

But the presidency of Barack Obama has been more inside game than outside game. The tax cut deal is yet another example. On the face of it, it's not a bad deal. Republicans gets $130 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy, and Democrats get about $300 billion in more stimulative, more progressive breaks and unemployment benefits. That's more than anyone thought Obama likely to get from these negotiations. But it was a deal struck in a back room, without buy-in from the president's base, and then sold at a press conference were Obama lectured liberals about the compromises required to pass Social Security, Medicare, and the founding of this country, and the dangers of "sanctimony." As you might imagine, that didn't go over too well with liberals, and now we're in another of the occasional flare-ups between Obama and his base.

As of yet, Obama hasn't proven very effective at building support for liberal legislation. There are lots of reasons of this, only some of them relating to his sales job, but the fact of the matter is that neither stimulus nor health-care reform nor a more activist government are particularly popular right now. But Obama has proven extremely effective at passing liberal legislation: Though the bills are imperfect and filled with difficult compromises, Obama passed health-care reform, has gotten, at this point, well more than a trillion dollars in stimulus, and leads a more activist and engaged government than this country has seen in many years. I don't think anyone, looking at the Obama campaign in 2008, would expect his presidency to have shown both the strengths and the weaknesses that it has.

But Wonkbook leads today with sadder news: The passing of Elizabeth Edwards. I spent some time with Edwards over the years, and I've never known a policy wonk so capable of explaining to people why the country needed to make the choices it needed to make, nor a communicator so able and eager to grasp the specifics of the policies she was talking about. She will be terribly missed.

Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards has died at 61 following a long battle with cancer:

From her final message to supporters: "The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious."

The team at Think Progress outlines her policy legacy: "During the 2008 presidential campaign, Elizabeth — a regular contributor to the Wonk Room throughout the health care reform debate and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress — took to our blog and challenged conservatives for releasing a health care plan that would have excluded millions of Americans who suffered from pre-existing or chronic conditions. “Why are people like me left out of your health care proposal,” Elizabeth asked Republicans, pointing out that market-based proposals would leave millions of Americans “outside the clinic doors” and allow insurance companies free reign to continue excluding sicker beneficiaries."

Read an archive of Elizabeth Edwards writings at Wonk Room:

Jonathan Cohn remembers her policy acumen:

James Fallows remembers meeting her during Edwards' 2004 campaign: "The longer the evening went on, the more people kept deferring to and asking questions of Elizabeth Edwards. By the end, it was like a seminar that she was conducting for the rest. She was talking mainly not about her husband's campaign but about her assessment of the larger shape of the presidential race. Where Bush and Cheney would be most vulnerable in the general election; what Karl Rove had figured out; how the New Hampshire results would position the Democrats for 'mini-Tuesday' the next week and 'super-Tuesday' a month later; how Democrats could talk about economic justice without sounding like big-government spendthrifts; what to say and do about Iraq.There was nothing 'brave' or tragic about it, just someone who was intelligent, clear-eyed, and tough. I would like to remember that accomplished side of her."

Jonathan Alter remembers their friendship, and shared struggle with cancer:

Brit-pop interlude Kate Nash plays "Paris" live in Paris.


Congressional Democrats are resisting the administration's tax cut deal, report Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) was among those who emerged unconvinced. 'I'm just staggered by the enormity of this package,' she said. Others were in full revolt. Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) was one of three senators who interrupted Biden's presentation. Afterward, he vowed to 'do everything I can to defeat this proposal,' including staging a filibuster... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) ignored the deal in a statement that lambasted Republicans, saying they have 'held the middle class hostage for provisions that benefit only the wealthiest 3 percent.'"

Obama chastised liberals for resisting the deal:

House Democrats especially object to its estate tax provisions, reports Brian Beutler: "Incoming Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) needs to see some movement as well. 'I have very serious reservations about this package primarily because of the [estate tax] provision we're talking about,' he told reporters. Before the meeting, during a House vote, Pelosi ally Henry Waxman (D-CA) told reporters, 'They put out this compromise, and I notice Senator Reid says it needs some modifications.... if it's open to modifications, I'd certainly like to see some as well,' Waxman said. 'I particularly am not happy about the estate tax.' 'It's the biggest of the problems,' Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY)."

Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth oppose the deal:

Replacing Making Work Pay with a payroll tax cut harms the poor, reports David Kocieniewski: "The proposal does not include an extension of Mr. Obama’s signature tax cut, the Making Work Pay credit, which provided a credit of up to $400 for individuals and $800 for families of low and moderate income. Instead, the plan creates a one-year reduction in Social Security payroll taxes, which are generally levied on the first $106,800 of income. For an individual earning $110,000, that provision would reduce payroll taxes by $2,136. Although the $120 billion payroll tax reduction offers nearly twice the tax savings of the credit it replaces, it will nonetheless lead to higher tax bills for individuals with incomes below $20,000 and families that make less than $40,000. That is because their payroll tax savings are less than the $400 or $800 they will lose from the Making Work Pay credit."

The White House cut a pretty good deal -- but lost its base," writes Ezra Klein: "If you look at the numbers alone, the tax cut deal looks to have robbed Republicans blind. The GOP got around $95 billion in tax cuts for wealthy Americans and $30 billion in estate tax cuts. Democrats got $120 billion in payroll-tax cuts, $40 billion in refundable tax credits (Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and education tax credits), $56 billion in unemployment insurance, and, depending on how you count it, about $180 billion (two-year cost) or $30 billion (10-year cost) in new tax incentives for businesses to invest."

"[But] the White House disappeared into a closed room with the Republicans and cut a deal that they'd made no effort to sell to progressives. When the deal was cut, the president took an oblique shot at their preferences, saying 'the American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories.' And this came a mere week or two after the White House announced a federal pay freeze. The pattern, for progressives, seems clear: The White House uses them during elections, but doesn't listen to, or consult them, while governing. In fact, it insults them, and then tells them to quiet down, they got the best bargain possible, even if it wasn't the one they'd asked for, or been promised."

Obama's tax deal should be viewed as his second stimulus package, writes David Leonhardt: "Tellingly, economists and Democratic policy experts were largely pleased with the deal. Forecasting firms on Tuesday upgraded their estimates for growth and job gains over the next two years. Economists at Goldman Sachs, who have been more negative and more accurate than most Wall Street forecasters lately, called the deal 'significantly more positive' than they had anticipated. And left-leaning policy experts said the package did more to create jobs than they had thought possible after the Republicans’ midterm election victories. Robert Greenstein, Lawrence Mishel and John Podesta -- who run prominent Washington research groups that range from liberal to staunchly liberal -- all offered praise for the package."

Liberals should back the tax deal, writes Dean Baker:

The tax cut deal is weak economic policy, writes Steven Pearlstein: "Economists generally agree that extending unemployment insurance and providing tax breaks for business investment are fair and cost-effective ways to add juice to a lackluster economy. But I'm less convinced about the wisdom of additional payroll tax cuts to stimulate spending by American households that, after decades of over-consumption, are finally beginning to save again. Democrats rightfully complained that the tax cuts were the least-effective parts of the original stimulus package, and there is no reason to expect they will work any better this time...The bigger problem with the tax deal is that it represents a big step backward on the road to getting deficits under control."

The South Korea trade deal could face trouble in the Senate, reports Tom Barkley: "Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont), chairman of the Finance Committee that has jurisdiction over trade, has said he is 'deeply disappointed' with the deal and will reserve judgment until further progress is made on opening Korea's market to U.S. beef. The revised pact contains new protections for U.S. auto makers, but didn't change the original 2007 pact significantly when it came to beef. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), who will take over as the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee next year, also expressed reservations about some aspects of the deal, but said he would support its passage."

Adorable animals being festive interlude: 40 cats with Santa beards.

Still to come: Congressional Democrats are in revolt over the tax cut deal; health care reform is leading to cuts to children's hospitals; the FCC's net neutrality proposal could hurt online video; Rep. Fred Upton will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and cats with Santa beards.

Health Care

Children's hospitals are losing money for "orphan drugs", reports Robert Pear: "Over the last 18 years, Congress has required drug manufacturers to provide discounts to a variety of health care providers, including community health centers, AIDS clinics and hospitals that care for large numbers of low-income people. Several years ago, Congress broadened the program to include children’s hospitals. But this year Congress, in revising the drug discount program as part of the new health care law, blocked these hospitals from continuing to receive price cuts on orphan drugs intended for treatment of diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States...Children’s hospitals say the change is costing them hundreds of millions of dollars."

Republican support for anti-health care reform lawsuits is hypocritical, writes Michael Kinsley: "If there is one thing your typical Republican politician does not care for (I have always been given to understand), it is an 'activist judge.'...If there is one more thing your typical Republican politician does not care for, it is frivolous lawsuits that clog the courts and unfairly burden innocent doctors and small-business persons as they go about trying to create jobs...So it is puzzling to learn that 32 Republican senators have filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking a U.S. District Court judge to invalidate President Barack Obama’s health care reform."

Domestic Policy

The FCC's Internet rules could hamper online video, reports Cecilia Kang: "As details emerge about the Federal Communications Commission's controversial proposal for regulating Internet providers, a provision that would allow companies to bill customers for how much they surf the Web is drawing special scrutiny. Analysts say pay-as-you-go Internet access could put the brakes on the burgeoning online video industry, handing a victory to cable and satellite TV providers. The practice is legal, but had been discouraged by the FCC and by protests from consumers and public interest groups. But wireless companies are moving rapidly in that direction - all major cellphone providers offer subscribers tiered data plans for Internet service."

GAO has adjusted its report on for-profit schools:

Democrats may pair the DREAM Act with an agricultural jobs bill, report Jonathan Allen and Scott Wong: "In an attempt to round up more votes on the DREAM Act immigration bill, House leaders are looking at adding an agriculture jobs bill that would ease rules for farm laborers. Several senior Democratic aides said the two bills were discussed in conjunction with each other at a leadership meeting Tuesday afternoon, though no final decision had been made...The House is expected to vote on the DREAM Act Wednesday, with the Senate holding a test vote on the measure later in the day. The agriculture bill, known as AgJobs, is designed to lure the votes of more rural members of the House."

Harry Reid wants to use the tax cut package to legalize online poker:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions are teaming up to fight an Arizona immigration law, reports Jess Bravin: "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in an unusual alliance with liberal groups in Wednesday's Supreme Court case challenging an Arizona law that penalizes employers who hire illegal immigrants. The chamber has teamed up against the Legal Arizona Workers Act with allies including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Service Employees International Union and a Latino group that Justice Sonia Sotomayor once helped lead. The Obama administration is sending the government's top litigator to assist the chamber's lawyer. 'It's a rather compelling story to have all these groups that usually are on opposite sides come together,' said Robin Conrad, who heads the chamber's litigation arm."

Cocktail party prep interlude: Scientific party tricks.


Rep. Fred Upton will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reports Felicia Sonmez: "Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.) will be the next leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee...among the slate of new committee chairs elected by the 34-member steering committee, according to House GOP aides. The full House Republican Conference is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to ratify the panel's recommendations, a step that is largely a formality...Upton...won out over Reps. Joe L. Barton (Tex.), John Shimkus (Ill.) and Cliff Stearns (Fla.) for the Energy and Commerce chairmanship."

The White House is open to counting nuclear power as "clean energy", reports Patrick Reis: "The Obama administration may consider caving to GOP demands to include nuclear and some coal production in a 'clean energy standard,' Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday. A national 'clean' or 'renewable' energy standard would require utilities to purchase a percentage of their electricity from nonfossil fuel sources and is seen as one of the administration's few options for a broad energy policy after the death of the cap-and-trade bill...Senate coalition championed by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has pushed for a standard focused on renewable sources favored by environmental groups, including wind, solar and geothermal, and the Obama administration and House Democrats are on board as well."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller wants to strip the EPA's climate regulating power in the omnibus spending bill:

Ralph Hall, a climate skeptic, will chair the House Science Committee, reports Robin Bravender: "Ralph Hall is poised to become the next chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee after fending off a challenge from California Republican Dana Rohrabacher...Hall told POLITICO in a recent interview he’s not a climate skeptic. 'If they quote me correctly, I've never said it's outrageous to even think about global warming. I want some proof,' he said. 'If I get the chair and have the gavel, I'm going to subpoena people from both sides and try to put them under oath and try to find out what the real facts are.' But he said he does want to question all sides of the issue, including the scientists at the center of the so-called 'Climategate' controversy surrounding e-mails stolen from climate researchers last year in England.

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Susan Biddle / The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  | December 8, 2010; 6:36 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: Elizabeth Edwards's legacy


here is a youtube link, from 2008, of an excellent, personal interview of elizabeth edwards, moderated by ezra klein, at georgetown, discussing her views and passionate feelings about health care reform.
i think it was one of the best interviews that she ever gave.
the work that you both did on health care reform, and the intellectual kindredness, admiration and trust that you shared together, is felt in this youtube., and i think her continuing influence lives on in the work that you continue to do each day.

Posted by: jkaren | December 8, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

A health care bill of the sort Bob Dole pushed is now liberal? I know your job is to define liberal down, but this is a stretch even for you.

Posted by: stonedone | December 8, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

"So me and Patty and a bunch of other people were tryin' to get the car out of the ditch, and they were drinkin' slurpees"......"I don't know how it would be said in Austrian.." {communicator of a generation)

Posted by: truck1 | December 8, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Yes, stonedone, conservatives of the past were more open to liberal ideas than the current crop. That Bob Dole supported a bill does not a priori make it a conservative bill. Nixon would have signed a universal healthcare bill, therefore is universal healthcare a conservative position? Is getting rid of denials based on preexisting conditions and increasing coverage to include nearly all Americans not liberal? There's plenty to be disapointed with in the ACA (things it doesn't address, things that were cut, etc.), but saying it's not a victory for liberals and liberal values is pretty foolish. Likewise, comparing a real bill which is now the law of the land to a fantasy bill which was never even written on paper, let alone had any chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate is foolish.

re: Elizabeth Edwards, she always seemed like an incredibly smart and classy lady. We're all the poorer for her loss, even if it was inevitable.

Posted by: MosBen | December 8, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Your cautiously stated claim
"I don't think anyone, ...expect ... both the strengths and the weaknesses that it has." is probably true, but only because supporters over look weaknesses and opponents overlook strengths.

Krugman certainly predicted the weaknesses. His description in 2008 of Obama's proposals are just like his description of Obama's policies today.

I am not the only one who noted in 2008 that Obama is very very good at the inside game. He had already demonstrated this by convincing the Illinoise legislature and Blago to require videotaping of questioning of suspects in capital cases. He went up against the Governor and the police and scored a slam dunk plus the freethrow.

The argument that Clinton (best known for her triumphant effort to reform health care) was better at dealing with the Senate was based entirely on the theory of compensating virtues. She was clearly less impressive at the outside game, so she must be better at the inside game.

Many people pointed this out.

Your point is that the inside the beltway conventional wisdom was totally foolish. So far you are just stealing candy from a baby. But then you brought up "anyone" which means you foolishly slipped into trying to steal candy from the blogosphere.

Posted by: rjw88 | December 8, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse


I think your description can be paraphrased as Obama is capable of climbing out alive from the wells that his poor eyesight keeps causing him to fall down.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 8, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

One thing being left out of the tax cut compromise discussion is how Obama has totally stolen the spotlight on this issue. I've heard people on the blogosphere complaining that Obama should get out in front of this issue and propose his own set of tax cuts, etc. In effect, that is what he has done. Think about it, if/when this passes, it will be seen as "Obama's tax cut package". That's an important and significant achievement in and of itself. It also effectively ends any pretense of argument the GOP had over extending unemployment benefits, etc. Their only reasonable position now is to say that the tax cuts should be made permanent. But I think that's a pretty easy argument to refute. It also rightly places the burden on the GOP to pass this plan.

Posted by: willows1 | December 8, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"Republican support for anti-health care reform lawsuits is hypocritical, writes Michael Kinsley"

This is rich.

Republicans oppose activist judges who, as Kinsley notes, "ignore the Constitution and “legislate from the bench,” arrogating to themselves the power that rightly belongs to the American people."

If Republicans feel that lawmakers have trampled on the constitution with PPACA, should they have no recourse to the courts?

This is not hypocrisy, as in each case the issue they claim to be concerned about is "ignoring the constitution". The charges of hypocrisy are more properly leveled at Republicans for ignoring the constitution in areas like the war on terror.

Posted by: justin84 | December 8, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

justin84 - I agree with your point. The GWOT (pronounced GEE-wot) did way more to trample the constitution than PPACA ever dreamed of. I think the Republicans should have their day in court over PPACA, but I think many, many more days in court should be had over FISA, Patriot Act, etc.

The hypocrisy part comes in when you look at the make-up of the bench and the likely outcomes. I think we all know how Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas are going to vote on challenges to PPACA. I think we also know how Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas would vote on challenges to the Patriot Act or FISA. Let's just nominate Chuck Schumer and James Inhofe to the bench and have done with it.

Posted by: willows1 | December 8, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Of course it's hypocrisy.

The GOP loves to decry activist judges or frivolous lawsuits, but here they are doing the same thing they complain about.

And of course they have a right to take matters to court. But they should stop pretending they don't love their activist judges or their frivolous lawsuits.

Posted by: lauren2010 | December 8, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I think the hypocrisy is that Republicans don't really care about "activist" judges; they care about judges who make decisions with which they disagree.

Posted by: MosBen | December 8, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

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