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Ezra Klein: March 6, 2011 - March 12, 2011

Weekend question

Why don’t more pop songs include accordions? Okay, so that’s not actually my weekend question, though that song is stuck in my head. Here’s the real one: Can you imagine any realistic scenario under which union density in this country...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 7:14 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (14)
 
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What I’m going to tell the doctors

I’m giving a keynote address at the annual convention of the American Medical Student Association tomorrow morning. I think these will be my talking points:1) Your organizers should’ve gotten Atul Gawande instead of me. He’s better at this sort of...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 5:47 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (39)
Categories:  Health  
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What the Social Security trust fund is worth

There’s an interesting argument going on today between my colleague Charles Krauthammer and OMB Director Jack Lew. Krauthammer makes a case for both the ease and necessity of Social Security reform, and in particular a case against the Treasury securities that the Social Security program invests its surplus in. “They are worthless,” Krauthammer writes. “As the OMB explained, they are nothing more than ‘claims on the Treasury.’ ”

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 4:49 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (31)
 
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Lunch break

Deb Roy wired his house with video cameras so he could run a data-rich analysis of how his child went from not talking to talking. What he learned is fascinating:...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 1:03 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
 
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What matters for 2012 today

The most important political story of the day isn’t about politics at all. It’s Neil Irwin’s article arguing that “new worries about Europe’s debt crisis,” “continued turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East” and “a widening U.S. trade gap and slowing Chinese growth” leave us with “a world economic recovery that is menaced from all directions.”

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 12:59 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (15)
 
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Something borrowed

From Peter Suderman’s review of “Battle: Los Angeles”: Liebesman managed to appropriate a host of familiar scenes and situations from Hollywood’s war-and-invasion oeuvres, but forgot to steal a story or characters worth watching. There are a few clever action gags...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 10:26 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
 
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Where policy polls go awry

I think polls are quite good at telling you the public’s level of support for a particular party or politician, and even level of support for a particular bill or law. But polls tend to really confuse people by also...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 10:15 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Categories:  Polls  
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Small businesses and taxes

Donald Marron offers six observations on taxes and small businesses. I think the first will surprise a lot of people....

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 9:36 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (9)
 
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Why does Mike Huckabee want Medicare to waste money?

What is comparative-effectiveness review? There are two answers to this question. The right answer, and Mike Huckabee’s answer.The right answer is that comparative-effectiveness review is a fancy term for studies that test multiple drugs or treatments against one another to...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 9:07 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (20)
 
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Wonkbook: Republicans against entitlement reform (at least right now)

With John Boehner fighting the Democrats' offer to put entitlements and taxes on the table -- "that’s what the next budget process is for," he said -- it's worth stepping back to look at what this continuing resoution fight is...

By Ezra Klein  | March 11, 2011; 7:15 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (21)
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Unreconciled

Had some meetings run late, so no reconciliation today. But you’re welcome to leave some links. And yes, that last sentence is crowd-sourcing, and it’s the future....

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 6:25 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
 
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Blogs I disagree with

I think that rather than phrasing the question as “which conservatives do you read,” it’s better to ask, “Which writers whom you regularly disagree with do you read?” That gets you out of the increasingly esoteric discussion of who does...

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 3:46 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (20)
 
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How Grover Norquist makes the case for tax increases

In our interview yesterday, Grover Norquist argued that Republicans shouldn’t strike deficit deals with Democrats because the spending cuts never stick but the tax increases always do. I don’t really buy it, but looking at Naftali Bendavid’s description of the deal being developed in the Senate makes me a bit more sympathetic.

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 3:18 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (14)
Categories:  Congress, Democrats, Economy, Republicans  
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Nelson Lichtenstein: ‘A governor like Walker is completely correct that it’s in his self-interest to ignore public opinion.’

The labor historian explains why Scott Walker was right to ignore public opinion, what people miss when they emphasize the importance of bargaining for wages and benefits and why economic downturns have stopped helping unions and begun hurting them.

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 1:57 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
 
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Lunch break

This horse really loves this dog:...

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 12:30 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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Republicans oppose Democrats, not health-care reform

I think I’m pretty cynical about the way American politicians approach policy questions, and so there’s little I love more than an opportunity to argue against excessive cynicism. So thank you, Jonathan Bernstein:

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 11:14 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (25)
 
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Will Democrats overturn Walker if they get power back in Wisconsin?

I think there’s at least an outside chance that Josh Barro is right that the next time Democrats control both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature and hold the governorship, they won’t actually restore collective-bargaining rights to Wisconsin’s public employees. “There...

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 10:54 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (35)
 
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Common mistakes made by economists

A list of mistakes that I think economists and people who are heavily influenced by economists tend to make when they look at politics.

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 10:25 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (35)
Categories:  Economics  
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Was what Scott Walker did legal?

Assuming Scott Walker’s procedural maneuvering last night was legal -- and, as I’ll explain in a moment, there are some questions about that -- then it was also legitimate. Certainly as legitimate as the Democrats fleeing the state to deny the Republicans quorum.

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 8:54 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (107)
 
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Wonkbook: A rough Wednesday for Democrats

Democrats did not have a good Wednesday. In Washington, both the Republican-backed bill to cut $60+ billion from the government's funding for 2011 and the Democratic-backed bill to cut $6 billion from the government's funding for 2011 failed. That was...

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 6:46 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (69)
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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What happened in Wisconsin tonight

Here's what just happened in Wisconsin: The rules of the state's Senate require a quorum for any measures that spend money. That's how the absence of the Senate's Democrats could stymie Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget law -- it spent...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 8:22 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (366)
Categories:  Unions  
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Democrats need to change the deficit debate. Here’s how.

The Senate agreed not to agree on how to keep the government funded this afternoon. The Republican bill failed 44 to 56. The Democratic bill failed 42 to 58. Note that the Democratic bill got fewer votes in a chamber...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 7:12 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  Budget  
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Grover Norquist: ‘The goal is to reduce the size and scope of government spending, not to focus on the deficit’

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential conservative activists in the country. There has been a series of reports recently that he’s fighting to keep Republicans from striking a “grand bargain”...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 5:26 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (29)
Categories:  Budget, Interviews  
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David Broder has died

Every so often, a guest will come to town and want a tour of The Washington Post. The one part of the tour that never disappointed was David Broder’s office. His name on the door meant something to each and every person I brought by

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 3:42 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
 
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Where’s halfway on spending?

John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel e-mails to ask whether “the White House is meeting Republicans ‘halfway’ on spending cuts — as they said again in their Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 1 today — are they going to destroy between 100,000 and 350,000 jobs, depending on whose number you use?”

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 1:14 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (16)
Categories:  Budget  
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Love driving? Buy your neighbor a bike.

The question, for drivers, is one of survival: How do you persuade the maximum number of commuters not to drive? The answer seems obvious: You give them other options.

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 12:49 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (28)
 
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Lunch break

Salmon Khan makes the argument for “for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do ‘homework’ in the classroom with the teacher available to help.” He's got a good...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 12:15 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  Lunch Break  
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Will we kill the recovery?

There are economic risks we can’t easily control: an oil spike due to instability in the Middle East, say, or the bubble that is China’s real estate market bursting. There are policies we can put in place to mitigate these risks or respond to their aftermath, but we can’t totally eliminate them. The same can’t be said for the risk of prematurely slashing federal spending, which is playing a crucial role propping up economic demand, or keeping monetary policy too tight.

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 11:38 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (33)
Categories:  Economy  
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How do you define 'rural subsidies'?

Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs e-mails a good response to my conversation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 10:22 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (27)
 
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John Boehner has a plan

You can sum up John Boehner’s strategy right now in four words: One at a time. Or, as his spokesman, Michael Steel, said in response to Democrats who wanted to merge the funding bill for 2011 into a broader conversation...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 9:43 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (12)
 
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Wonkbook: Democrats want entitlements, taxes, and subsidies on the table

I was wondering when this would finally happen: "Senate Democratic leaders, seeking to break an impasse over Republican-backed spending cuts, on Tuesday proposed broadening the scope of budget negotiations into more politically volatile terrain that includes taxes, subsidies and entitlement...

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 7:22 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (52)
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Reconciliation

Recap: Tom Vilsack makes the case for rural subsidies (plus some further comments); Republicans need a health-care plan of their own (plus some further comments); and Senate Democrats prepare to make a huge mistake (plus some further comments from Harry...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 6:27 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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How much did Don Berwick get done?

It’s no surprise to see the administration formally admit that temporary appointee Don Berwick will not be confirmed as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but it’s still a bit of a bummer. Berwick is, for good...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 6:07 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
 
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Have we already survived the rise of the robots?

Brad DeLong has a good post suggesting that the rise of the robots won’t be as bad as some fear. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but you can get a good sense of the argument from the conclusion, in...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 5:47 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
 
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Reid supports using 1099 repeal to undermine health-care reform

Harry Reid says he “prefers” the House’s approach of paying for 1099 repeal through higher IRS penalties on working- and middle-class Americans to the Senate’s earlier effort to pay for it by rescinding unobligated funds. That’s bad news, for reasons...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 4:26 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
 
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What do values have to do with rural subsidies?

There are all sorts of subsidies in American life. There are subsidies for sprawl, for Wall Street, for ethanol, for weatherization. In each case, we have to decide whether the subsides are serving a meaningful purpose.

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 4:23 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (19)
 
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Economic forces behind everything: Middle East edition

Looking at the way Islam has — or perhaps has not — held back economic development in the Middle East.

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 3:11 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
 
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Lunch Break

Wael Gonim, the Google executive who helped kick off Egypt’s revolution, tells you how it felt on the inside:...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 1:01 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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No, Republicans don’t have a health-care plan. Yes, they do need one.

I think the Right is having a bit of trouble figuring out what it’s line on health-care reform is supposed to be right now.

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 12:37 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (15)
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Senate Democrats weigh making big mistake on health-care reform

I’m getting some worried e-mails from Hill staffers who think Senate Democrats might rubberstamp a policy House Republicans passed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. It’s the sort of policy decision that won’t get much attention but could have some very big, and very bad, effects, so let’s take a moment and go through it.

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 12:12 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (72)
 
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Cutting Medicare is hard

Paul Krugman on why cutting Medicare spending is more complicated than cutting Social Security spending:You can propose simply cutting retirement benefits by 25 percent, and that’s doable. But you can’t decide to do only three-quarters of every operation and test...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 10:57 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
 
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Vilsack: ‘I took it as a slam on rural America’

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a “usda.gov” address. “Secretary Vilsack read your blog post ‘Why we still need cities’ over the weekend, and he has some thoughts and reflections, particularly about the importance of rural America,” it said. A call was set for a little later in the day. I think it’s safe to say Vilsack didn’t like the post.

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 10:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (73)
 
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Column: Put-up-or-shut-up time on health-care reform

It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Republicans. They managed to make it through the health-care debate without offering serious solutions of their own, and — perhaps more impressive — through the election by promising to tell us their solutions after they’d won....

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 9:51 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (21)
 
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Wonkbook: Our last chance to stabilize the housing market

My colleagues Brady Dennis and Dina ElBoghdady got their hands on an early version of the settlement that the country's attorney generals and a few federal agencies are hammering out with the big banks. This is the endgame to...

By Ezra Klein  | March 8, 2011; 6:29 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (16)
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Reconciliation

Recap: What John Boehner needs to do to change the tone on entitlements; why conservatives should support campaign-finance reform; and remember when every single Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate a “tax”?Elsewhere:1) Paul Krugman says you should read...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 6:30 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
 
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When Republicans thought the individual mandate was a tax

As part of my research for tomorrow’s column, I looked back at the constitutional point of order that Sen. John Ensign offered against the individual mandate. You might remember this — it was the moment when every Senate Republican endorsed the idea that the mandate was unconstitutional, even though a good number had either sponsored bills including an individual mandate in the past, or were sponsoring one at that moment.

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 4:48 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (30)
 
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The three essential truths of public policy according to James Heckman

Nobel laureate James Heckman has spent years studying how we can invest in people so that the money actually make a measurable, positive difference in their lives. What he’s learned (pdf) can be summed up in two words: Start early.

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 3:27 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Education  
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What David Brooks thinks important

That’s from the introduction to David Brooks’s new blog. If I was going to write a similar paragraph, I’d say we spend too much time debating political events and the choices leaders make and not enough time debating the structure of political institutions and the impersonal economic and systemic forces that drive the choices leaders make. In Britain, it would be absurd for a political party to win two decisive elections in a row but be completely unable to deliver on a host of campaign promises, but in America, it’s utterly unremarkable. “It’s the institutions, stupid,” is the right way to understand most of what happens in American politics, but it’s not the way people want to understand American politics, so it’s often ignored.

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 1:15 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
 
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Lunch Break

Bill Gates argues that state budgets are destroying the American education system:...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 12:55 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
 
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The conservatives' case for campaign finance reform

I’ve been listening to the conservative arguments against public-employee unions for the last few weeks, and it’s left me with one big question: Why aren’t more conservatives ferocious supporters of serious campaign-finance reform?As David Brooks puts it, the problem with...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 10:42 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (20)
 
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Our depressing robot overlords

That’s the topic du jour. As Paul Krugman writes, “the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.” Increasingly, we’re learning that the...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 9:54 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (40)
Categories:  Tech  
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Can John Boehner change the tone on entitlements?

For months now, John Boehner’s line on entitlements has echoed Barack Obama’s line on the future: it’s all about education. “I think it’s incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 9:12 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (63)
 
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Wonkbook: Are we nearing the endgame in Wisconsin?

The Wall Street Journal has a report that quotes extensively from the state's Senate Democrats and suggests they're feeling the pressure to come home. "I think we have to realize that there's only so much we can do as a...

By Ezra Klein  | March 7, 2011; 5:06 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (65)
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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