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Posted at 7:25 AM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Wonkbook: The new rules; WH nears successor for Summers; John Roberts wants more judges confirmed

By Ezra Klein

PH2010121703243 (1).jpg

It's the end of the winter vacation in Washington, and the beginning of the 112th Congress. Which means there's plenty to watch out for this week. The early fights the GOP decides to pick will get a lot of attention in the next few days. Right now, it's looking like we're going to see a symbolic effort to repeal health-care reform, a bill to cut the House's administrative budget and a proposal "rescinding" expenditures that have already been approved. Neither health-care reform nor spending rescissions are likely to get very far, as the Senate won't pass them. Cuts in the House budget are possible, but they'll only save about $25 million.

What may not get as much attention are changes to the House and Senate rulebooks. But over the long term, they may be more consequential. In the House, the rules are being changed to make increasing the deficit through tax cuts easier, and decreasing the deficit through tax increases harder. According to the new regulations, tax increases can no longer offset new spending and tax cuts no longer have to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere. In the Senate, we look to be headed towards a very modest package of reforms to the filibuster. The changes themselves are likely to be very minimal, but the fact that changes are being considered is consequential: Historically, major filibuster reforms have been a multi-Congress effort, and we may look back in a few years and recognize this as the beginning of one.

Top Stories

Patrick O'Connor and Janet Hook preview the House GOP's agenda: "The incoming House majority will start by offering two measures this week that carry more symbolism than substance. One will be a motion to repeal the health bill that President Barack Obama signed last year, and the second will be a measure to trim the cost of running the House itself. The health-care repeal isn't expected to go anywhere in the Senate, where Democrats retain the majority, and the package of cuts to the House budget will only save about $25 million from a federal budget that exceeds $3 trillion. After that, however, Republicans in the House say they plan to move on to offer a far more sweeping package of "recissions," or elimination of spending previously approved, that will aim to bring domestic spending back to where it was before Mr. Obama became president."

Speaker Boehner isn't trying to emulate Democrats' '100 Hours' rush, reports Phil Rucker: "In a departure from earlier takeovers, Republicans are not planning a blitz of new legislation in the first few days. Rather, aides said, there will be a full reading aloud of the Constitution on Thursday, and likely a vote this week to cut congressional office spending by 5 percent - both symbolic gestures designed to set a tone for how Republicans plan to govern. 'The problems facing us aren't things that will be solved in the first 100 hours,' said Republican strategist David Winston, a close adviser to Boehner. He was referencing the Democrats' '100 Hours' agenda following Pelosi's 2007 swearing-in in which they raised the minimum wage, funded stem-cell research and passed a flurry of other bills.

They'll also pass new rules making it easier to increase the deficit, explain Bob Greenstein and Jim Horney: "The new rules announced December 22 would replace pay-as-you-go with a much weaker, one-sided 'cut-as-you-go' rule, under which increases in mandatory spending would still have to be paid for but tax cuts would not...he new rules would stand the reconciliation process on its head , by allowing the House to use reconciliation to push through bills that greatly increase deficits as long as the deficit increases result from tax cuts, while barring the use of reconciliation in the House for legislation that reduces the deficit if that legislation contains a net increase in spending (no matter how small) that is more than offset by revenue-raising provisions."

The mid-'70s filibuster reforms I championed did not go far enough, writes Walter Mondale: "It was around this time 36 years ago -- during a different recession -- that I was part of a bipartisan effort to reform Senate Rule 22, the cloture rule. At the time, 67 votes were needed to cut off debate and thus end a filibuster, and nothing was getting done. After long negotiations, a compromise lowered to 60 the cloture vote requirement on legislation and nominations. We hoped this moderate change would preserve debate and deliberation while avoiding paralysis, and for a while it did. But it’s now clear that our reform was insufficient for today’s more partisan, increasingly gridlocked Senate....Reducing the number of votes to end a filibuster, perhaps to 55, is one option. Requiring a filibustering senator to actually speak on the Senate floor for the duration of a filibuster would also help."

Obama's hunt for a National Economic Council director might be nearing its end, report Peter Wallsten and Perry Bacon: "President Obama is expected to name a new chief economic adviser as early as this week, but the months-long search process has proven difficult and politically touchy...One of the leading contenders is Gene Sperling, a longtime Democratic policy guru and veteran of the Bill Clinton White House who has spent two years advising Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. But some liberals say Sperling is too close to Wall Street after being paid $887,727 in 2008 by Goldman Sachs, one of several part-time jobs he held that year. Administration officials say Sperling was paid to develop a charity that has taught business skills to women in developing countries and did no commercial work. Another contender, Roger Altman, has strong business ties as a longtime investment banker who now runs his own firm - but liberals charge that he, too, is too close to Wall Street...A third leading candidate is Richard Levin, an economist and longtime president of Yale University who also serves on the board of directors of American Express."

My take on Sperling:

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts want more Senate action on judicial nominations, reports Adam Liptak: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called on President Obama and the Senate on Friday to solve what he called 'the persistent problem of judicial vacancies.' The plea, in the chief justice’s annual year-end report on the federal judiciary, was an echo of one from his predecessor, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who made front-page news on New Year’s Day in 1998 by criticizing the Senate for failing to move more quickly on President Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees. Both chief justices were appointed by Republican presidents, and both said that their interest was not in particular appointees but in a judiciary functioning at something like full strength."

The soundbite has been shrinking for a long, long time: "Quotations from politicians have been getting shorter for more than a century. According to a new article in the academic journal Journalism Studies by David M. Ryfe and Markus Kemmelmeier, both professors at the University of Nevada, newspaper quotations evolved in much the same way as TV sound bites. By 1916, they found, the average political quotation in a newspaper story had fallen to about half the length of the average quotation in 1892."

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'90s indie revival interlude: Superchunk play "Crossed Wires" live.

Still to come: Academic economists may be pressured to reveal their corporate ties; corporate America's profits are likely to slow and its spending is likely to rise; the top 10 energy lobbyists of 2010; Greg Mankiw's advice to Obama; and a cat plays with his reflection.


Profits are likely to slow for corporate America in 2011 -- and hiring is likely to increase, reports James Haggerty and Dana Mattioli: "Profit growth for corporate America likely will slow in 2011, partly because companies will be up against tougher year-earlier comparisons and partly because higher sales are prompting them to invest more in plants and equipment and, in some cases, hire more workers. Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital in New York, expects 2011 profit growth to slow to about 8% from the 26% surge seen in the third quarter."

Academic economists are considering an ethics code, reports Sewell Chan: "As a commentator on the economy, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who teaches in the business school at the University of California, Berkeley, does not usually say that she is a director of Morgan Stanley. And the faculty Web page of Richard H. Clarida, a Columbia professor who was a Treasury official under President George W. Bush, omits that he is an executive vice president at Pimco, the giant bond fund manager...Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago -- adopting a code of ethical standards."

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is leading the administration's export-promotion efforts, reports Michael Fletcher: "Since Locke took office in March 2009, he has earned a reputation as the type of manager eager to know details and wring out new efficiencies. He has pushed the Patent and Trademark Office to shorten the time it takes to get a patent, from 34 months to 20 months. He cajoled the Economic Development Administration, which makes business-development grants to distressed communities, to streamline its approval process. And he brought the 2010 Census in 25 percent under budget, saving taxpayers $1.9 billion. But those management feats pale next to the challenge he faces as one of the key figures in implementing President Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports within five years."

Some Republicans are pledging to oppose an increase in the debt ceiling come March, reports Jake Sherman: "Congress is probably months away from being required to vote on increasing the nation’s ability to borrow money, though officials in Washington are already positioning themselves for the upcoming fight - with some lawmakers signaling they’d oppose the measure, others saying they aren’t sure and the Obama administration predicting dire results if the ceiling is reached. The vote, which could come at the earliest in March, is a prime example of where rhetoric might meet reality for newly elected House Republicans. Refusing to increase the country’s borrowing capability was a major theme during the 2010 election season."

The government has to lose some weight and get fit, writes Ezra Klein: "What worries me, though, is that the 'get fit' part will get forgotten. The government can no more cut its way to a strong economy than a person can starve himself to health. Andy Stern, the former president of the SEIU and a member of the president's fiscal commission, nails the point in his dissent to the commission's final report. America, he says, has two deficits: The budget deficit we're all used to hearing about. And the investment deficit that often goes unmentioned. The two deficits are more alike than people realize."

We're not out of the woods economically, writes Paul Krugman: "Construction shows no sign of returning to bubble-era levels, nor are there any indications that debt-burdened families are going back to their old habits of spending all they earned. But all we needed for a modest economic rebound was for construction to stop falling and saving to stop rising -- and that seems to be happening. Forecasters have been marking up their predictions; growth as high as 4 percent this year now looks possible. Hooray! But then again, not so much. Jobs, not G.D.P. numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent, the arithmetic of job creation -- the amount of growth you need to get back to a tolerable jobs picture -- is daunting."

Long-term unemployment can lead to bankruptcy, foreclosure, and deteriorating health, writes Annie Lowrey:

Obama can find common ground with Republicans on equality of opportunity, writes Greg Mankiw: "Despite their rejection of spreading the wealth, Republicans recognize that times are hard for the less fortunate. Their solution is not to adjust the slices of the economic pie, as if they had been doled out by careless cutting, but to expand the pie by providing greater opportunity for all...Widening inequality is largely a symptom of the educational system’s failure to provide enough skilled workers to keep up with the ever increasing demand. Educational reform, therefore, should be a high priority. To be sure, this is easier said than done. But research suggests that one key is getting rid of bad teachers."

Adorable animals having doppelgangers interlude: A kitten plays with his own reflection.

Health Care

Republicans will seek an early vote on repealing health care reform, reports Philip Rucker: "Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), incoming chairman of one of the House committees that oversees health policy, said undoing the Democrats' health reform law would be a top priority for the new GOP-controlled Congress. Upton said on 'Fox News Sunday' that he believes there may be enough opposition in the new House to reach the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto. Short of that, he said House leaders will 'go after this bill piece by piece.'...But while Republicans may muscle through a repeal bill in the House, its prospects are slimmer in the Senate, where Democrats and independents will enjoy a 53-47 majority."

Obama has signed the 9/11 health bill into law:

Most Americans get more from Medicare than they pay in, reports Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar: "Consider an average-wage two-earner couple together earning $89,000 a year. Upon retiring in 2011, they would have paid $114,000 in Medicare payroll taxes during their careers. But they can expect to receive medical services - including prescriptions and hospital care - worth $355,000, or about three times what they put in. The estimates by economists Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane of the Urban Institute think tank illustrate the huge disconnect between widely held perceptions and the numbers behind Medicare's shaky financing. Although Americans are worried about Medicare's long-term solvency, few realize the size of the gap."

Major provisions of health care reform took effect January 1:

Domestic Policy

State legislators are introducing a slew of anti-immigration bills:

Bipartisan action on education is possible, writes Arne Duncan: "These issues are at the heart of the Obama administration's blueprint for reauthorizing ESEA: more flexibility and fairness in our accountability system, a bigger investment in teachers and principals, and a sharper focus on schools and students most at risk. This common-sense agenda also reflects the quiet bipartisan revolution underway at the state and local level. With the incentive of the Race to the Top program, governors, states and districts across America are implementing comprehensive plans to reform education systems and boost student achievement...In the past two years, I have spoken with hundreds of Republican and Democratic mayors, governors and members of Congress. While we don't agree on everything, our core goals are shared."

Great moments in snow management interlude: How Japanese plowers cut through 20-meter tall snow.


Republicans will seek to use the Congressional Review Act to block EPA climate regulations, reports Ben Geman: "The incoming chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee indicated Sunday that Republicans will seek to employ a rarely-used statute to block Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas rules. 'We are not going let this administration regulate what they have been unable to legislate,' Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said on 'Fox News Sunday.'Upton said the Congressional Review Act - a mid-1990s law that was part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) 'Contract with America' - provides an opening to kill emissions regulations...Resolutions under the Act have an easy path to the Senate floor and cannot be filibustered."

The top energy lobbyists of 2010:

Republican candidates in 2012 may have to run from their past environmentalism, reports Darren Samuelsohn: "'I support a reasonable cap-and-trade system,' [Pawlenty] said. 'I think it'd be good for the federal government to take that up rather than have states take it up as clusters of regions.' Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, appealed to a New Hampshire audience in October 2007 on moral grounds by saying he backed a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases and faulted the Senate for its unsuccessful efforts to pass legislation. Even Sarah Palin has a YouTube moment. Just days after McCain picked her as his running mate, Palin told ABC News she believes human activities 'certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change' and that 'we’ve got to do something about it, and we have to make sure that we’re doing all we can to cut down on pollution.'"

Texas has filed another lawsuit challenging the EPA's climate rules:

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

By Ezra Klein  | January 3, 2011; 7:25 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: Richard Ben Cramer appreciation day


really wish you would have touched on the perversion done by the pharmaceutical sector as reported by Andrew Pollack at the NY Times.

His only gaffe (and its a big one) is that he lists the title as "Coupons for Patients, Higher Bill for Insurers". he should have added then in turn higher premiums for Insureds.

The disconnect there (while Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar correctly explain it with Medicare) is somehow lost by many when the same exact comparison comes to private insurance.

Its really a shame that the administration was in "bed" with the pharma lobby during the whole HCR debate.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 3, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

"tax increases can no longer offset new spending and tax cuts no longer have to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere"

And that kind of thinking over the last few decades pretty much sums up why we are bankrupt. Thanks GOP for creating so much debt and screwing the economy. The only thing more shocking is that reasonably intelligent people still vote for these thugs. Perhaps that means we need a new measure of intelligence.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 3, 2011 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Congressman Darrel Issa is endangering American troops by attacking President Obama during a time of war.

And Majority Leader Boener is complicit.

Posted by: paul65 | January 3, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

another article i thoroughly enjoyed over the holiday weekend from the NY Times.

I'd love to get your take on this very grim look at how Southern Europe's social policies over the decades has pushed them to the brink.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 3, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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