Wonkbook: Filibuster reform dead
So why did Senate Democrats agree, in principle, that simple majorities can't change the Senate's rules, and even exceedingly modest changes to the filibuster are out-of-bounds? Easy: They're a simple majority now, but someday soon, they'll be a simple minority. When that happens, they want to be able to mount constant filibusters as well.
To borrow David Brooks's schtick for a minute, there's an easy behavioral explanation for this preference: Loss aversion. Study after study shows that human beings fear the consequences of loss much more than they value the benefits of gains. And so too in the Senate, where the two parties think about the rules in terms of "what happens when I lose" rather than "what happens when I win?"
But if you really think you've got a great agenda and that the voters would agree, that would imply a fantastic upside to rules that allow you to make good on your campaign promises: Either the American people would get to judge you on all the great stuff you want to do, as opposed to all the great stuff you got stopped from doing, or they'd get to judge the other party on all the awful stuff they did, and which you could then reverse with a simple majority vote. That's a coherent theory of the way accountability encourages good ideas and wise governance in American politics. A world in which you can't enact your ideas or govern effectively and so the voters end up thinking you as feckless as the folks across the aisle isn't. That's a world in which the rules of the Senate, and not the policies of the parties, drive outcomes, and thus drive elections. That's a world where voters never know whose ideas are best because neither side can ever enact their agendas. But that's the world the Senate apparently prefers to inhabit.
The Senate leadership has agreed to keep the filibuster intact, reports Paul Kane: "Senate leaders announced a bipartisan deal Thursday to speed up the chamber's work by limiting the use of the filibuster and dropping the confirmation process for about 400 federal agency nominees. The broad agreement is the most significant change in the chamber's rules in 35 years. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), appearing together on the chamber floor at noon, left intact the minority's right to block some legislation by requiring a 60-vote threshold through a threatened filibuster. But the leaders agreed to repeal the decades-old stalling tactics of secret holds - in which an anonymous senator could slow action on a bill - and the ability to force amendments to be read in their entirety on the floor."
More than that, they've agreed to forgo rule changes by majority vote: "'As part of this compromise,' Reid said, 'we've agreed that I won't force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate -- that is the so-called ‘constitutional option’ -- and he [McConnell] won't in the future.' In other words, Reid and McConnell have agreed that the Senate's rules cannot -- or at least should not -- be decided by a simple majority. That was what the constitutional option was about, and that's what Reid explicitly rejected in his speech. Why? 'Both McConnell and Reid feared what would happen if they were in the minority,' explains a Reid aide."
The IMF is warning the US that it must cut the deficit, reports Howard Schneider: "U.S. officials must act quickly to control government deficits or face slower growth and even more difficult choices in the future, the International Monetary Fund said Thursday in a report criticizing the tepid U.S. response to its rising public debt. The IMF warning comes as federal officials grapple with a congressional projection this week that the annual deficit will reach a historic $1.5 trillion this year. This was the latest report to raise concerns about how massive government debts in developed countries could undermine the global economic recovery. 'The U.S. has a lot of credibility. This does not imply their credibility can last forever,' IMF fiscal affairs director Carlo Cottarelli said as he released the IMF study."
The final version of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report has been released, report Zachary Goldfarb and Brady Dennis: "The official U.S. government report on what caused the financial crisis casts blame on Goldman Sachs for fueling the subprime mortgage bubble, Merrill Lynch for not telling investors about the true state of its financial condition and the Federal Reserve for failing to stop dangerous lending practices...Released to the public online and in the form of a 633-page paperback, the report does not contain any major revelation that would fundamentally alter popular perceptions of the crisis. But it weaves together many different strains of information, garnered with subpoena powers that allowed the commission to collect testimony from dozens of insiders and review the internal documents of federal regulators and banks."
You can download the report -- and the dissents, supporting documents, summaries, etc -- here: http://www.fcic.gov/report
Obama is overhauling his White House staff, reports Jake Tapper: "President Obama has selected Jay Carney, current communications director for the Vice President, as Robert Gibbs' replacement as White House press secretary, sources tell ABC News. The announcement, expected to be made public later this afternoon, will also include the appointment of two new deputy chiefs of staff: current head of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle and current White House director of Scheduling and Advance Alyssa Mastromonaco. Other staffing changes include a role for Assistant to the President for Special Projects Stephanie Cutter as deputy to senior adviser David Plouffe and a senior staff role for David Lane, a longtime aide to chief of staff Bill Daley, on Daley's team. Rob Nabors, currently a senior adviser to the White House chief of staff, will become director of legislative affairs."
'70s rock interlude: The Pretenders play "Mystery Achievement" live.
Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.
Still to come: The Senate budget committee may vote on a deficit reduction plan; House Republicans are considering pushing to privatize Medicare; reorganizing the federal government could be more difficult than Obama expects; lawyers for oil spill victims are backing away from lawsuits; and a chinchilla playing in a bowl of dust.
The Senate budget committee may take up a deficit reduction plan, reports David Rogers: "Alarmed by new deficit estimates, the Senate Budget Committee signaled Thursday that it may go beyond its typical five-year spending resolution this spring and instead pick up where a presidential commission left off last month, forcing votes on a longer-range scheme for deficit reduction. Leading members of both parties on the committee expressed an openness to that approach, and if the initiative were to gain steam in the Senate, it could become a vehicle to bring President Barack Obama and the new House Republican majority to the table. 'I’m not certain that it’s not going to fall to us to put a plan out there for our colleagues on the floor,' said committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)."
Bank of America's move to cash bonuses is aggravating competitors: http://on.wsj.com/f6J2pi
GM is withdrawing a request for more federal support, reports Peter Whoriskey: "General Motors withdrew its application for $14.4 billion in federal loans to upgrade its manufacturing operations, a move that reflects the bailed-out company's new financial strength, executives said. The automaker says it has enough cash available to cover the efficiency and modernization projects it had wanted to complete with low-interest federal loans from the Department of Energy. The decision was a marked contrast to 2008, when the company was facing collapse and went hat in hand to the government to ask for help. 'This decision is based on our confidence in GM's overall progress and strong global business performance,' Chris Liddell, GM vice chairman and chief financial officer, said in a statement."
Obama has renominated a controversial pick for the National Labor Relations Board: http://on.wsj.com/eP59NA
State legislators are pushing proposals to add gold-backed currency to their states, writes Annie Lowrey: "Imagine it's April 15 a few years from now. You need to pay your state taxes, and fast. So, you check out the latest official state exchange rate, and then reweigh your bars. You're over—thank goodness—so you hope the tax office has some ingots to change out. It's such a pain when they run out of ingots. After you pay your taxes, you need to pick up a few groceries. Luckily, you have some spare silver ore on hand and decide to use the home mint in the basement to pop out a few coins. Voilà—restocked pantry! It sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But in the past few months, a few state legislators have considered letting you do something like that: Trade in gold and silver in addition to dollars."
Which industries win and which industries lose in the corporate tax code as it's written now: http://nyti.ms/hkeCnI
Obama's call for more innovation follows years of slowdown, reports Brian Vastag: "Google and the iPhone are American inventions. But the first mass-produced gas-electric hybrid car was made in Japan. And although the United States now fosters a nascent commercial space industry, if you want to speed from city to city on a smooth, fast train, you have to head to Europe. As for the world's largest solar energy generator, you won't find it in the American Southwest. It's planned for Morocco. Over the past decade or longer, U.S. innovation stalled in almost every sector except information technology and agriculture, say scholars who study innovation. Federal figures and industry surveys support their assessment."
Rand Paul identifies $500 billion in spending cuts: http://bit.ly/ehbiNt
Europe's experience doesn't support Republican policies, writes Paul Krugman: "What about Britain? Well, contrary to what Mr. Ryan seemed to imply, Britain has not, in fact, suffered a debt crisis. True, David Cameron, who became prime minister last May, has made a sharp turn toward fiscal austerity. But that was a choice, not a response to market pressure. And underlying that choice was the new British government’s adherence to the same theory offered by Republicans to justify their demand for immediate spending cuts here -- the claim that slashing government spending in the face of a depressed economy will actually help growth rather than hurt it. So how’s that theory looking? Not good. The British economy, which seemed to be recovering earlier in 2010, turned down again in the fourth quarter."
Gradually reducing spending won't increase unemployment, writes John Taylor: http://on.wsj.com/hW1IUz
Economies are designed by governments, writes Brad DeLong: "Whenever push has come to economic shove, America’s government has even deliberately devalued the dollar in the interest of economic prosperity. Franklin Roosevelt did it during the Great Depression, and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did it, too. This history is worth reviewing because America is poised for another debate over whether its economy evolves or is designed, with President Barack Obama’s opponents claiming that whatever is good in America’s economy has always evolved with no guidance, and that whatever is bad has been designed by government. This claim is, of course, ludicrous. American governments will continue to plan and design the development of the economy, as they always have in the past. The question is how, and whether the design will be in any sense wise."
Everything's better with LEGO interlude: The year's Best Picture nominees, in LEGO format.
House Republicans are considering a push to privatize Medicare, reports Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar: "Months after they hammered Democrats for cutting Medicare, House Republicans are debating whether to relaunch their quest to privatize the health program for seniors. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is testing support for his idea to replace Medicare with a fixed payment to buy a private medical plan from a menu of coverage options. Party leaders will determine if the so-called voucher plan will be part of the budget Republicans put forward in the spring. 'No decisions have been made on the details of our House GOP budget,' Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday."
Hospice care has become one of the country's biggest employers: http://politi.co/ibtwF3
Many states are seeing child-only health plans flee, report Sarah Kliff and Lester Feder: "Health insurers in 34 states have stopped selling child-only insurance policies as a result of the health reform law, and the market continues to destablize. According to a survey of state insurance departments by Republican Senate committee staff and obtained by POLITICO, states that have seen carriers exit the market include those that have been ardent supporters of the health reform law, like California and Oregon. Twenty states now have no insurers offering child-only policies. Since September, the health reform law has barred insurers from withholding policies to children under 19 who have a pre-existing condition. Rather than take on the burdensome cost of writing policies for potentially-pricey medical conditions, many carriers decided to leave the market altogether."
Obama could face an uphill battle on reorganizing the government, report Karen Tumulty and Ed O'Keefe: "If you want to know what President Obama is up against with his pledge to reorganize the federal government, consider what happened to the last such endeavor. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, nearly two dozen agencies were melded into the new Department of Homeland Security, to better coordinate the government's resources for handling terrorism and other national emergencies. But the members of Congress overseeing those agencies were loath to give up any authority...Jacob J. Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that Obama is well aware of how difficult the job will be and that the White House intends to proceed cautiously, focusing on changes that could improve national competitiveness.""
House Speaker John Boehner is backing off a call to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70: http://bit.ly/ibPgyf
Rep. Patrick McHenry is planning hearings on letting states declare bankruptcy, reports Jonathan Allen: "Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) says he plans to hold a series of hearings next month into the question of whether states should be allowed, for the first time, to file for bankruptcy protection. It’s an issue that 'needs to be addressed,' McHenry, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs, told POLITICO in a brief interview Wednesday... The idea has gained traction among some conservatives who want to ensure that taxpayers don’t bear the burden of bailing out state governments."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is still defending earmarks against Obama's criticism: http://politi.co/fFw78m
Adorable animals being adorable interlude: A chinchilla hangs out in a bowl full of dust.
Obama has rhetorically given up on "climate change", reports Joseph White: "President Barack Obama’s calls this week for more spending on research for clean energy have omitted a certain, politically charged seven-letter word: Climate. In his remarks at a solar energy technology plant in Wisconsin Wednesday, and in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Mr. Obama called for federal funding to develop more cost competitive, low-emissions energy technology - without using the word 'climate' or the phrase 'climate change' once. (In Manitowoc, Wis., he did suggest creating jobs through low-emissions energy technology could make 'the planet safer.' But he never said the word 'climate.') Mr. Obama has long been a strong advocate of technology to cut the use of coal and oil, and that hasn’t changed."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski will chair the Energy and Natural Resources committee: http://politi.co/hoX44s
Obama's goal of using 80 percent clean energy is fanciful, writes Keith Schneider: "Let's quickly evaluate the 80 percent electrical generation goal. To achieve 80 percent clean energy generation essentially means replacing at least 500 gigawatts of conventional coal-fired generation with cleaner alternatives. In essence, the U.S. would have to nearly completely rebuild its electrical generating infrastructure, which last year had about 940 gigawatts of electricial generating capacity. By 2035, according to Department of Energy projections, electrical generating demand in the U.S. could grow to 1,200 gigawatts. Today, less than a quarter of electrical generating capacity is supplied by nuclear power, hydro, wind, and geothermal in the U.S -- roughly 225 gigawatts."
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Alex Wong Photo.
| January 28, 2011; 6:45 AM ET
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