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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

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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.

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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