Wonkbook: Boehner's new rules; Dems' release filibuster reform proposal
I thought Speaker Boehner's speech was quite good. He did not promise too much, which ends up being a common problem for speakers. In fact, he hardly promised anything at all. Insofar as he had an agenda, it was a procedural one: To use the House's rules in an open, neutral way; to work through the "scar tissue" that had built up between Democrats and Republicans in recent years; to administer the House without gimmicks or shortcuts; "to disagree without being disagreeable.".
But so far as the Democrats are concerned, it didn't last very long. Soon after, House Republicans passed a slew of rules on a party-line vote that seem, well, full of shortcuts. Despite promises of an open and participatory process, the rules vest incredible power in the person of Rep. Paul Ryan to set budget decisions without consultation with other legislators. They also set up a new accounting system in which spending increases need to be paid for with spending cuts, and tax cuts don't need to be paid for at all. Both those rules are significant breaks with tradition, and they're breaks with tradition not in service of a more open House, but in service of the Republican agenda.
Moreover, the rules are already being broken so that Republicans don't have to find offsets for their legislation to repeal the health-care law -- legislation that, on the House Rules Committee website, is referred to as "H.R.2: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Again: Shortcut. And speaking of which, there's also "H.Res. 9: Instructing certain committees to report legislation replacing the job-killing health care law." Some Democrats, you'll be surprised to know, find such language to fall under the "disagreeing while be disagreeable" category.
We're still a mere day into Speaker Boehner's tenure, and so the jury is decidedly out. But this is the tension he'll face going forward: Disagreeing without being disagreeable, offering open rules and lots of consultation, working through the scar tissue of recent years -- all of it requires sacrifices. And if you're speaker, the sacrifices are, in general, your sacrifices, on your agenda, and on your rhetoric, which won't make your party very happy. Most speakers throw their commitment to comity and openness out the window when they're really faced with those choices. The question is whether Boehner wants to pay the costs of doing things differently.
The House GOP has passed new rules meant to facilitate spending and tax cuts, reports Lori Montgomery: "After four years out of power, Republicans seized control of the House with gusto on Wednesday, adopting a passel of new rules designed to make it easier to keep their campaign promises to cut taxes, repeal President Obama's health-care law and slash government spending. The rules rewrite, which sailed through the House on a strict party-line vote, will also make it easier to increase the national debt by exempting trillions of dollars in GOP priorities from pay-as-you-go rules put in place by Democrats. For example, House Republicans could extend Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy past their 2012 expiration or create a significant new tax break for businesses without regard for the holes those policies would blow in the nation's finances."
Read Sens. Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley, and Tom Harkin's filibuster reform proposal: http://wapo.st/hJZW6N (pdf).
Summary: "Motions to proceed can't be filibustered because to do so is filibustering the debate itself. Filibusters themselves have to feature continuous debate and discussion. After a filibuster against a nomination is broken, there will be only two hours of post-cloture debate, as opposed to 30 hours, because nominations don't have amendments that need to be debated. And there are changes to the Senate rules more broadly, too. Holds can no longer be secret, and the minority gets the right to offer at least three germane amendments on every bill (which addresses the Republican complaint that they are often denied the opportunity to offer amendments)."
Harry Reid appears serious about filibuster reform: http://wapo.st/i138I8
Obama and the Senate are moving to ramp up the rate of judicial and executive branch appointee confirmations, reports Abby Philip: "President Obama has resubmitted more than 80 nominations to the Senate, including 42 judicial nominations and the nomination of James Cole, who was named deputy attorney general in a recess appointment last week...And it comes just as Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell announced they would establish a bipartisan commission to address stalled executive nominations. The details of the commission haven’t been fully worked out, but the commission will be led by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)."
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.
Guitar heroics interlude: Fang Island's "Daisy".
Still to come: Fed policy is likely to stay the course next year; health care cost growth stagnated in 2009; economics has proven that economists are jerks; not all Dems are on board for filibuster reform; the president's Gulf spill commission blames every corporation involved; and a baby grizzly bear plays with a bucket.
The Fed will not likely change policy this year, reports Neil Irwin: "After a tumultuous 2010, what is on tap for Ben S. Bernanke and the Federal Reserve in 2011? A lot of watching, a good bit of waiting and some preemptive efforts to help steer the United States away from economic risks it could face in the coming years...'There is a lot of inertia in this policy,' said Peter Hooper, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. 'It would take a pretty big break in the data one way or the other for them to either end the program early or extend it beyond June.' With policy in a holding pattern, Chairman Bernanke and the Fed will be occupied in other ways: primarily monitoring the economy, trying to gauge whether it is recovering and determining what role the Fed's actions played in any improvement."
David Leonhardt presents Gene Sperling 101: http://nyti.ms/g0ZdhQ
Momentum is building for a corporate tax overhaul, report John McKinnon and Elizabeth Williamson: "The White House and congressional Republicans are moving from different directions toward a consensus that the U.S. corporate tax code needs a fundamental overhaul, a goal high on corporate leaders' agenda. Specific proposals for retooling the complex corporate-tax system aren't on the table and the debate over the issue is sure to be lengthy and difficult. But President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders are separately sounding the same broad theme that corporate tax rates should be lower...Obstacles to a deal to revamp corporate taxes include the likelihood corporations will fight to keep tax breaks that work to their benefit, and White House concerns that any tax overhaul not result in less revenue."
Bank of America is raising consumer fees, blaming regulation: http://wapo.st/f3aS2m
The IRS' enforcement tactics may actually be reducing revenue, reports David Hilzenrath: "The Internal Revenue Service's increasing use of 'hard-core' collection tactics 'is inflicting unnecessary harm on financially struggling taxpayers,' an in-house critic at the IRS said Wednesday. The IRS routinely imposes liens on delinquent taxpayers, thereby damaging their credit scores and potentially jeopardizing their access to jobs, insurance and even rental housing, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said in an annual report to Congress. By making it harder for taxpayers to get back on their feet, the IRS might actually reduce long-term tax collections, Olson wrote."
State revenue sank 30 percent in 2009: http://wapo.st/hBU6Mf
Reform of government support for homeownership should kill the 30-year mortgage, writes Bethany McLean: "For a homeowner, a mortgage with a 30-year fixed rate (especially one that he can pay off early without a penalty) is a wonderful thing. For lenders and investors, however, it is a financial Frankenstein’s monster, an unnatural product filled with the potential for losses. Absorbing some of the risk of those losses is a large part of what the government does in the housing market. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for instance, were created by the federal government to buy up mortgages from lenders, thereby enabling them to turn around and issue more mortgages...There’s something perverse about creating companies that would be saddled with exactly the same kind of risk -- credit risk -- that took down Fannie and Freddie in 2008."
Economists have discovered that economists are jerks, reports Annie Lowrey: "There is research, for example, demonstrating economists' occasional lack of what we might call consideration for their fellow man. (Put less gently: The literature describes a profession of amoral Scrooges.) In one paper, for instance, researchers set up simple zero-sum games between students of various disciplines, including economics: One player decides how to divvy up a $10 pool of cash; the other accepts or rejects his portion. When economists did the divvying, they proposed keeping $6.15, on average. Noneconomists proposed keeping $5.44. The verdict? Economists tend to be "self-interested." Another study found that economics professors give less than half what other professors give to charity, even though they make more. Another confirms the bias outside the classroom, describing how economics students are more likely to "free-ride in experiments that called for private contributions to public goods" than other students. In English: They put their own profit first, even when the game calls for the maximization of public value."
Dodd-Frank's "resolution authority", used right, could prevent banks from being "too big to fail", write Thomas Fitzpatrick and James Thomson: http://bit.ly/e68RAO
Adorable animals in small spaces interlude: A baby grizzly bear tries to get into a blue bucket.
US health spending didn't grow much in 2009, reports Amy Goldstein: "The nation's expenditures on health care in 2009 grew by 4 percent, the smallest increase in at least a half-century, according to new federal figures that suggest Americans stinted on medical services as they lost jobs and insurance in the recent recession. Although health insurance premiums rose slightly faster than they did a year earlier, overall spending on private health insurance decelerated as the number of people with such coverage fell by 6.3 million. And the out-of-pocket amount Americans spent on health care barely increased, the figures show."
Medicaid rolls are expanding: http://politi.co/gZjrtw
End-of-life care advocates are protesting HHS' rescinding of a regulation, reports Brett Coughlin: " federal regulation to pay for end-of-life counseling -- dubbed “death panels” by critics -- has been pulled by the White House, prompting charges that the administration is flip flopping on a good policy...The New York Times broke the news about regulation, and the reversal, quoting an unnamed HHS official as saying that doctors will still be able to talk with patients about their plans at the end of life. The problem is, say critics, physicians now won’t be paid for that discussion. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the original sponsor of the House bill’s end-of-life coverage, said he will reintroduce legislation to expand and protect the benefit."
Health care lobbyists made millions in 2009: http://politi.co/gUwME2
Some Democratic Senators are hesitant about filibuster reform, report Scott Wong and Manu Raju: "A push by Democrats to overhaul the filibuster and other Senate rules faces tough odds after Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson balked at his party’s approach to making the changes on the first day of the 112th Congress. Several other senior Democrats are wobbling on whether to support their party, as well...When asked about using the so-called 'constitutional option,' Nelson replied, 'I don’t want to do that.'...Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said he was also undecided on the issue. Meanwhile, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) seemed concerned about one party trying to 'jam their wishes down the other’s throat,' but said that he expected the issue to be worked out through a compromise."
House GOP members have introduced a bill to end birthright citizenship: http://politi.co/hdJ3Vg
Not all federal employees are affected by the pay freeze, writes Joe Davidson: "President Obama's pay freeze, which Congress approved last month, does not apply to raises negotiated through union contracts, according to guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management last week...Although union-covered pay raises can be comparatively substantial, a 4 percent or 5 percent increase for example, a compensation agreement doesn't automatically mean covered employees will enjoy the warmth of big increases while their federal colleagues stand cold for two years. In some cases, the wages of covered workers are tied to the pay of those who don't have the same union protection."
The amendments provision of filibuster reform could have unintended consequences, writes David Waldman: http://bit.ly/f2H4BT
Lisa Murkowski will continue chairing the Senate Energy Committee: http://politi.co/hCEocw
The White House has ruled out a binding international treaty on emissions, reports Darius Dixon: "The Obama administration remains committed to plowing ahead with international talks to address global warming, although it realizes that a broad, legally binding agreement similar to the Kyoto Protocol isn’t an option, a key State Department official said Wednesday. Jonathan Pershing, the deputy special envoy for climate change, defended the administration’s push for a deal for countries to make voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions with the idea that deeper cuts will develop over time...'Under Kyoto, which is the old model,' Pershing said, “emissions between 1990 and 2007, from [carbon dioxide], climbed on the order of 40 percent. So, if you think that that was a successful model, then you should think again. It didn’t work.'"
Sen. Jay Rockefeller is reintroducing his anti-EPA climate regulation bill: http://politi.co/h3HvLm
Sen. Barbara Boxer thinks a bill blocking the EPA's climate regulations could pass the Senate, reports Andrew Restuccia: "One of the Senate’s most liberal lawmakers signaled Wednesday that there may be enough support there to pass legislation delaying the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the strongest advocates in the upper chamber for reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, warned that such legislation, if passed, would likely be rejected by President Obama. She also said attempts to delay EPA’s climate change authority would be met with legal challenges. 'I don’t think they’ll vote to repeal the endangerment finding -- I think what they’ll probably do is say let’s delay the rule,' Boxer said. 'And that would probably become a court case.'"
Obama signed two environmental protection bills into law yesterday: http://bit.ly/huTVyS
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Bill O'Leary / The Washington Post.
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