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Posted at 6:46 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Wonkbook: Democrats divided on filibuster reform; Obama's CoS shortlist; Fed staying the course

By Ezra Klein


It's no surprise that Senate Democrats are divided on what an acceptable package of filibuster reforms would actually look like. But they're soon to face a problem best described by The Wire's Omar Little: "If you come at the king, you best not miss."

If a divided Democratic Caucus ends up settling on filibuster reform that doesn't solve any of the actual problems with the filibuster -- that is to say, it neither reduces the time wasted in constant cloture votes (and their associated three-to-four days of waiting around) nor revises the 60-vote threshold that now applies to everything in the Senate -- they will have fought a bitter and brutal battle over the Senate rules for, well, nothing. Unlike the changes that Sen. Bill Frist sought, they will not get more judges out of the bargain, or find it easier to pass legislation. In reality, they will have done little beyond registering a symbolic complaint over Republican use of Rule 22.

And that complaint will have costs: Many of them, having gone on record against the filibuster, will find it difficult to argue against a future Republican effort to revise the filibuster rules in a more significant way (though the reverse is arguably true for Republicans). Democrats will have suffered for questioning the sanctity of procedure, but they might leave it to the Republicans to enjoy the first fruits of that effort.

Some Senate Democrats are taking this as a reason to back off of filibuster reform. It isn't. It's a reason to double down: The Senate's dysfunctions are sufficiently clear that filibuster reform will happen sooner than later. It would be wise for Democrats to make sure they have a strong voice in that reform process, which means committing to it -- or to some mechanism for it -- now. The best path forward has always been a bipartisan effort to craft rules that both parties agree will go into effect in six years, when no one knows who will be in control. That would allow the two sides to think of themselves as both potential minority members and potential majority members. If that sort of cooperation is too difficult for either party to imagine, however, the second best might option might be a real package of reforms that address real problems with the filibuster now. The fact that you can't miss doesn't mean you don't have to come at the king.

Top Stories

As of yesterday, Democrats were still debating how to proceed with filibuster reform today, reports Manu Raju: "Democrats who have been complaining for two years about Republican obstruction are struggling to unite behind a single filibuster reform plan – and several are expressing reservations that they could set a dangerous precedent if Republicans return to the Senate majority after the 2012 elections. Republican leaders — who have been largely quiet in the debate so far — are planning to step up their attacks and portray any proposed changes in Senate rules as a power grab by Democrats."

Read Sen. Lamar Alexander's speech at the Heritage Foundation defending the filibuster:

Obama has a four-person shortlist for Chief of Staff, reports Howard Fineman: "President Barack Obama is in what appears to be the final stages of choosing a new White House Chief of Staff from among the following candidates, in approximate descending order of likelihood, according to a very highly placed administration source: Acting Chief of Staff Pete Rouse, former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle and -- a dark horse candidate -- Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Each has strengths and weaknesses, the source said, and it is possible that all four will be offered -- or will accept -- some role other than chief of staff."

The Fed is staying the course on bond purchases, reports Neil Irwin: "Federal Reserve officials appear unlikely to stop their controversial strategy of buying vast sums of Treasury bonds before the program is scheduled to end in June, based on minutes of the central bank's last policy meeting, released Tuesday. Fed officials viewed the economic outlook as slightly improved at their Dec. 14 meeting, the minutes say. But it is clear that a moderately improved economy will not be enough to lead them to reconsider their Nov. 3 decision to buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds in an attempt to pump up economic growth...Some members of the Fed's policy committee 'indicated that they had a fairly high threshhold' for changing the program."

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100 percent natural good time family band interlude: A father and his toddler daughter sing Edward Sharpe's "Home".

Still to come: The Fed is voiding new predatory lending regulations; the House GOP's health care reform proposal will add to the deficit; House Democrats are reviving old measures with bipartisan appeal; Republicans might attack high speed rail funding; and a 10 year old discovers a supernova.


The Fed is trying to gut predatory lending regulations, reports Zach Carter: "The Federal Reserve is pushing a new mortgage regulation that would effectively eliminate the most powerful federal remedy for predatory lending. The regulation would severely limit a practice called 'rescission,' used to strike down demonstrably-illegal or fraudulent loan contracts and void a bank's ill-gotten gains from such predatory lending practices. When a mortgage borrower wins a rescission case in court, the bank loses the right to foreclose, and has to give up all profits from interest and fees on the loan. The borrower still has to repay the principal -- the original amount of money extended by the bank -- but can't be kicked out of the house."

Republicans are blasting Obama for being slow in replacing economic staffers, reports Tom Braithwaite: Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate banking committee, said: 'The president’s failure to nominate qualified individuals to lead these agencies has created even more economic uncertainty at a time when we can least afford it.'...Officials do blame Republicans such as Mr Shelby and Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate finance committee, for blocking or delaying the confirmation of candidates to several senior jobs. 'It’s like the arsonist complaining that the building sprinklers weren’t working properly,' said one senior administration official of Republican criticism."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is serious about deficit reduction, writes David Leonhardt: "I recently sat down with him in his office to talk about what small government might actually look like. To be clear, it would be very different from the Tea Party dream, in which taxes could be cut; Medicare, Social Security and the military could be left untouched; and the deficit would somehow vanish. Mr. Daniels is willing to acknowledge as much. He says he avoids using the phrase 'waste, fraud and abuse' because 'it’s too glib -- there’s no wand you can wave.' He says military spending should be cut. He called the Republicans’ recent attacks on Democratic efforts to slow Medicare’s cost growth 'not a proud moment for our party.' He had kind words for the Tea Party but pointed out that it did not have a solution."

Facebook's private share selling shows finance isn't "democratizing", writes Steven Pearlstein: "Any company that takes on 500 investors is supposed to make full public disclosures about all of its activities, just like a publicly traded company. But those clever Wall Street lawyers have figured out that if dozens or even scores of rich investors pool their money and buy their shares through a special-purpose vehicle or a private-equity fund, then each group can be considered a single investor. The Securities and Exchange Commission is not so sure, but if recent rulings are any indication, the courts are likely to buy into this fiction...The rest of us should understand that the world of finance and investment continues to be rigged in favor of insiders and those rich enough to have access to the best investment opportunities."

Adorable animals with birthday wishes interlude: Four corgis sing "Happy Birthday".

Health Care

The GOP won't require health care reform repeal to pay for itself, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "House Republicans plan to use a special exception in their budget rules to repeal the Democrats’ health care overhaul without paying for it - technically, at least. The Congressional Budget Office said last year that the health care reform law and its accompanying reconciliation law would reduce the deficit by $143 billion through 2019. That figure is widely disputed and Republicans argue the law would actually increase the deficit. Still, since Republicans’ new rules to govern the House require that nearly all proposed legislation is fully paid for, the new House leaders have exempted repeal of the health care overhaul from such requirements."

HHS is dropping the new end-of-life regulation in Medicare, reports Robert Pear: "The Obama administration, reversing course, will revise a Medicare regulation to delete references to end-of-life planning as part of the annual physical examinations covered under the new health care law, administration officials said Tuesday."

Grassroots organizations are mobilizing to push and fight health care reform repeal, reports Krissah Thompson: "The strategies that are emerging could set up a grass-roots battle that rivals the shouting town halls and Capitol Hill marches that made headlines before the law was passed. 'We are holding events all across the country at district offices and elsewhere to hold the repeal mongers accountable for their votes,' said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, which spent $53 million last year campaigning for health-care reform. Rome's coalition, which represents more than 1,000 groups, will begin making calls this week to both Republicans and Democrats urging them to reject repeal."

Domestic Policy

Democrats are putting a priority on delayed bills whose support crosses party lines, reports Shailagh Murray: "The Democratic wish list for the 112th Congress looks nothing like the bold liberal agenda the party pushed over the past two years. Democratic leaders say they could take up the cause of deficit reduction, urge a free trade agreement with South Korea and advocate for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. All of these issues have something in common: They will require support of lawmakers in both parties to have any hope of passing. Each of the measures stalled during the previous Congress, as Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to advance health-care reform, Wall Street accountability and other priorities over the objections of Republicans."

House Republicans are cutting appropriators' staff budgets:

The Census is experimenting with different poverty measures, reports Carol Morello: "The Census Bureau took a baby step toward redefining what is considered poor in America on Tuesday when it released several alternative measurements of poverty, fundamentally revising a one-size-fits-all formula developed in the 1960s by a civil servant. Under a complex series of eight alternative measurements, the Census Bureau calculated that in 2009, the number of Americans living in poverty could have been as few as 39 million or as many as almost 53 million...In September, the census estimated the nation's poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent. Under the alternatives, it could have been as low as 12.8 percent or as high as 17.1 percent."

Filibuster reform is a power grab, writes Mitch McConnell: "What these critics routinely fail to mention (and too many reporters fail to report) is the precipitating action: the Democratic majority's repeated use of a once-rare procedural gimmick that has kept Republicans from amending bills that are brought to the floor. This practice, known as 'filling the amendment tree,' leads to a question that answers itself: Why would Republicans vote for action on a bill that, we've been promised, we'll be blocked from contributing to in any way? If the majority wants more cooperation, it could start by allowing differing views to be heard. Over the past four years, Democrats have used such gimmicks to pursue their most prized legislative goals while attempting to minimize the number of uncomfortable votes they've had to take."

Kids being awesome interlude: A 10-year-old girl discovers a supernova.


Republicans won't shelter high-speed rail from budget cuts, reports Josh Mitchell: "House Republican leaders said Tuesday highway and mass-transit programs should no longer be shielded from budget cuts, and immediately drew fire from states, the construction industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce...Groups that back more highway spending aren't waiting to see specific cuts to register their opposition. Congress is expected to take up a new multi-year highway and transportation funding bill this year, and a diverse array of groups ranging from the Chamber to big labor unions are calling for more funds to rebuild the nation's infrastructure."

The House may tackle EPA climate regulations soon:

Auto sales are growing, and growing fastest among SUVs, reports Peter Whoriskey: "The nation's auto showrooms bustled with sales activity through the end of the year, data released Tuesday show, another sign that U.S. consumers have regained some of their appetite for spending big and a portent that the economy in 2011 will be better. A rise in auto sales and production often precedes the economy in recovery after a recession, economists said, and comes after positive signs in recent weeks on holiday spending and manufacturing. Auto sales in the United States jumped 11 percent over the year, with the strongest single gain coming with midsize sport-utility vehicles such as the Jeep Cherokee and the Honda Pilot."

The all-electric Nissan Leaf is a Prius-killer, writes Farhad Manjoo: "You might fear driving a car that could leave you stranded when you stray too far from electricity, but after a few hours in the Leaf, I stopped worrying. That's partly because of the Leaf's extremely informative display, which lets you know how many more miles you've got in the can and how you can change your driving style and other comforts (say, turn off the climate system) in order to get more. But I also stopped worrying because of the how the Leaf feels--like a regular car, something that doesn't ride like it's trying to save the polar bears. According to the EPA, the Leaf gets the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon--106 MPG in the city and 92 MPG on the highway, with an estimated annual electricity cost of $561. That would make the Leaf about twice as efficient as the Prius. More important for its long-term viability, though, is that it's twice as fun."

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

By Ezra Klein  | January 5, 2011; 6:46 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: Repealing health-care reform would cost hundreds of billions of dollars -- and Eric Cantor knows it


The leaf is most certainy NOT a prius killer.

The volt may be.

The volt can be taken on long road trips, can be refueled at any gas station so its internal generator can keep the car moving across any distance you like.

The leaf has no such generator or any other kind of gas engine to extend its range. You will not be seeing any leafs on interstate highways going from state to state, unless their originating & destination points are very near the same border.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 5, 2011 8:07 AM | Report abuse

maybe you should look into Christie's Pepsi problem part 4 . . .

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 5, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Is there some law that requires all electric or hybrids to look like crap? Aerodynamics aren't limited to teardrops lying on their sides or cracker boxes with an airfoil roof.

Posted by: ostrogoth | January 5, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

"If you come at the king..." was not "best said" by some guy on the internet. It was first, and famously said by Machiavelli. Also, the Constitution is more than 100 years old. We need to give public school education reform high priority.

Posted by: truck1 | January 5, 2011 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Given the amount of experience out there, what are the odds that all the candidates for CoS are male? For such a powerful post, I am disappointed there are no females being considered.

Posted by: LoriWisconsin | January 5, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

If Dems desire for filibuster reform is power grabbing, then so is abuse of filibuster by the GOP.

I favor the approach Ezra outlined: serious reform 6 years or so down the road.

This idea where they only make them talk on the floor is not serious reform.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 5, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

""If you come at the king..." was not "best said" by some guy on the internet. It was first, and famously said by Machiavelli. Also, the Constitution is more than 100 years old. We need to give public school education reform high priority."

actually, no, machiavelli said nothing like that.

Omar is closely paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, but so what?

Secondly, where did anyone say the Constitution was less than 100 years old?

Posted by: eggnogfool | January 5, 2011 8:54 AM | Report abuse

ADP report says private sector jobs surged by 297,000 - the most since they started keeping track a decade ago - in December. Go to ADP and chart out the job growth over the past two years: the sudden jump last month is striking.

Of course, fiscal stimulus turned into fiscal drag in the middle of 2010, so we can probably attribute this (in part) to monetary policy, specifically QE2.

We'll see if the BLS confirms this surge on Friday, and if it continues. If so, it will be strong evidence that monetary policy is far more effective than fiscal policy (which was the orthodox view of most macroeconomists until many caught the Keynesian virus back in 2008).

Posted by: justin84 | January 5, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Ezra doesn't advocate reform only 6 years from now, and neither do I. Obama's nominees need votes now.

And PS: Hey Obama, it's high time to nominate 50 or 60 additional judges BEYOND the nominees that were sent back to you in December because of Senate Republican obstruction.

Posted by: paul65 | January 5, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse


Commodities hiccuped yesterday, but I'm still long based on QE2. I took some off the table in December though, because I'm not George Soros!

I'm weighing when to stop being long the dollar right now. I'd be long gone if it wasn't for Europe but they're maddeningly slow to address their issues over there.

Being long the financials should continue to work very well, as it has done for the last three months. There are already some brave souls jumping back into BAC, braver than I.

When you hear talk about possible inflation and then the defense that "core inflation is still well under control", the you know what has hit the you know what. I'll be long gone the dollar by then!

Posted by: 54465446 | January 5, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Did Truck1 just dis Omar?!!!? He is not 'some guy on the internet'. Omar is the best character ever written for TV! Get yourself on EBay and buy all five seasons of the Wire. And don't drink the Protestant whiskey!

Posted by: cminmd1 | January 5, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"Commodities hiccuped yesterday, but I'm still long based on QE2. I took some off the table in December though, because I'm not George Soros!"


You're probably right to be long commodities, given that the Fed can't control where all of the QE2 dollars go.

I'm concerned in some cases (Gold in particular) that prices are way out of line on the high side compared with goods and services, relative to the historical norms, though we've never had QE in this country before so who knows. If headline inflation fails to take off in a few years, I can see gold eventually crashing much as it did in the early 1980s.

"When you hear talk about possible inflation and then the defense that "core inflation is still well under control", the you know what has hit the you know what. I'll be long gone the dollar by then!"

We've been at 1.1% YoY inflation - including food/energy - for half a year now, so far so good. Most of the new money has gone into things other than goods and services, such as stocks and commodities. While I'm still quite certain hyperinflation is not around the corner, I do wonder how quick we'll be back at 3%+ (back in 2002/2003 we went from 1.1% YoY to 3.0% YoY in 8 months). Could be quick, if things are really starting to take off.

Posted by: justin84 | January 5, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse


So far we've only seen energy inflation because the food companies have eaten the dramatic increase in ag prices, or in the bigger suppliers they hedged ahead of time. That will all change this year. Some analysts are downgrading their earnings forecast for companies like Kellogg for this reason.

I'm expecting 3.40-3.50 gas by summer, and 4.00 by the end of the year in a bad case. scenarios.

Gold is a very unique case, and I would be working for the Post Office for a living if I tried predicting that. Uncertainty is the kingdom of the gold bug, so to the extent that anything dicey happens this year it will resume it's rise.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 5, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I second cminmd1. Do not **** with Omar.

Posted by: dpurp | January 5, 2011 8:05 PM | Report abuse

"So far we've only seen energy inflation because the food companies have eaten the dramatic increase in ag prices, or in the bigger suppliers they hedged ahead of time. That will all change this year. Some analysts are downgrading their earnings forecast for companies like Kellogg for this reason."

Good color.

"I'm expecting 3.40-3.50 gas by summer, and 4.00 by the end of the year in a bad case. scenarios."

Me as well. There is usually a large seasonal spike in the summer (more pronounced in recent years), and the last time we were in the dead of winter sitting at $3/gallon was 2007/2008. We all know how that summer went.

"Gold is a very unique case, and I would be working for the Post Office for a living if I tried predicting that. Uncertainty is the kingdom of the gold bug, so to the extent that anything dicey happens this year it will resume it's rise."

Agree here also. It trades like a currency with an excellent central bank.

Using CPI data and estimates of it going back several centuries, gold has tended to remain between $200 and $600 (in 2010 dollars), and in most cases was in the $400-$600. The only two periods where this wasn't true going back to 1791 are 1978-1990 and 2006-present. That said, gold did peak at over $2,200 in 2010 dollars back in 1980, so even a quick 60% gain from here is not without historical precedent, and there is nothing stopping gold from making a new inflation-adjusted high other than the sentiment of traders.

Posted by: justin84 | January 5, 2011 9:31 PM | Report abuse

"A man gotta have a code"

What kind of moran thinks Omar is just "some guy on the internet"?

Posted by: vintagejulie | January 5, 2011 11:09 PM | Report abuse

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