Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Morning Potpouri

This is an extraordinary quote from an extraordinary op-ed by the David Broder.  Or, at least, the by-line says David Broder, but this is very much out of character.
via DemFromCT's abbreviated Pundit Roundup:
David Broder:
There were no historic breakthroughs but, as far as we know, also no gaffes -- at least in part because of his ability to find the right words to make his points without offending others.
Official Washington is starting to realize that in addition to his personal skills, Obama has assembled a highly professional and effective national security team that serves him and the nation very well.
What happened to "Dems are always in disarray"?
Another question is what happened to David Broder? I haven't said this for along long time, but click thru and read the whole thing.

We rarely see or hear about the White House's aggressive lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill to secure support for health care reform, which makes this behind-the-scenes NYT report pretty interesting. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported, "After months of cutting deals and stroking drug makers, hospitals and doctors, the president's aides are laying the groundwork for a final round of Congressional arm-twisting, with Mr. Obama increasingly in a hands-on role."
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House deputy communications director, told her, "We are at the concern-addressing stage.... This is a political and policy challenge of epic proportions, and it takes a lot of effort and attention to achieve it."
Whether the operation the West Wing has put in place is effective remains to be seen, but it's nevertheless impressive. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel oversees two working groups: Nancy-Ann DeParle's policy group and Jim Messina's political group. Both spend their time "trying to learn who has problems with the legislation, what those problems are and what it will take to win each member's vote."
Everyone in the White House -- and the cabinet -- is levering every possible contact. When a lawmaker raises a concern about reform in a media interview, he or she gets a prompt response. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed concerns about the effects of Medicaid expansion on her state's budget, DeParle showed up at the senator's home, charts in hand, for a three-hour chat.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who's been personally lobbied by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, told the Times that President Obama "is leaving no stone unturned."
That's largely true, though some stones are apparently being ignored.
Republicans who have been most outspoken about their opposition to the White House say they have been left out of the outreach effort, and some are irked. "The strategy seems to be like a shooting gallery at the state fair; if you hit one target, you win the prize," said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Republican conference.
Alexander was referring to Maine's Olympia Snowe, though it's worth noting that Maine's other senator, Susan Collins, has also received considerable attention from the White House.
But these details aside, it seems awfully foolish for conservative GOP lawmakers to complain that the White House isn't reaching out to them. Why would Obama's team bother? Or more to the point, when has the White House's outreach to the Republican caucus ever produced positive results?
Congressional Republicans have spent months trashing reform through an often-vile misinformation campaign. Their goal is to defeat this effort by any means necessary.
That the president's team has decided not to bother talking to them reflects an encouraging level of common sense.
This NYT piece is ostensibly about Democratic divisions over the details of health care reform -- headline: "For Democrats, Cracks in a United Front" -- which isn't especially interesting. The article, however, actually raises some interesting angles.
Most notable is the new-found optimism on the left about the prospects for a more ambitious reform bill. It's largely a foregone conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee will wrap up this upcoming week, approving a bill that generates no (or almost no) GOP support, but fails to meet liberals' expectations. But as the legislation moves to the floor, progressive lawmakers and their allies "expect to be able to shape the final product more than they had hoped just weeks ago."
What's changed? Having the caucus return to 60 members doesn't hurt, but the NYT's Jackie Calmes point to two other angles.
One is the failure of Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a more conservative Democrat who heads the Finance Committee, to get any Republicans to support his draft legislation, after months of trying. That doomed President Obama's goal of bipartisan backing for a health care overhaul, and now leaves party liberals arguing for a distinctly Democratic health plan.
"One of the strongest arguments against a public option has been that the Republicans will never go for it," [Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)] said. "Well, the Baucus bill doesn't have a public option, and they're still not for it in any way, with the possible exception of Olympia Snowe," a moderate Republican senator from Maine, who has not ruled out supporting the overhaul that Mr. Obama is seeking.
The second development that has encouraged liberals is recent polling, including some done for The New York Times and CBS News in the last week, that gives Democrats a clear edge over Republicans as the party favored to deal with health care issues. The same polls show significant support for a public option despite months of criticism from Republicans, who describe it as a government takeover of health insurance.
Congressional Democrats of all stripes have become more upbeat since returning to work after the August recess.... The sense that something will become law has only strengthened the resolve of liberals, inside the Congress and out, to fight with intensity as Democrats write the legislation this fall.
Like Greg Sargent, I found that Schumer quote of particular interest. Max Baucus bent over backwards to offer Republicans an insurance-industry-friendly bill, filled with concessions and ideas that Republicans had already embraced. Every single GOP senator balked anyway. I'd hoped it was obvious beforehand, but this apparently sent quite a signal to the Democratic caucus -- there's no point in watering down the bill to get bipartisan support if the minority is going to slap their hand away anyway.
I'm also glad to see the polls are having an effect, as they should. We're talking about a provision that would save taxpayers money, lower the costs of reform, and enjoys strong support from the public -- including Republicans. After months of constant whining about the perils of a "government takeover," the public option enjoys broad approval across the country.
That's not to say this is going to be easy going forward; just the opposite is true. But the landscape looks more favorable than it did as recently as a few weeks ago.
C&L: CBO: A Good Public Option Saves Even More Money Than We Thought 

Via Ezra Klein, this heartening news. As Howard Dean said, there's simply no point without a good public option:
According to Congress Daily, the CBO says attaching the public plan to Medicare rates will save even more money than originally thought:
In a bid to wrangle concessions from the Blue Dog Coalition on healthcare reform, House leaders Thursday released CBO estimates for liberals' preferred version of the public option that show $85 billion more in savings than for the version the Blue Dogs prefer.
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a Blue Dog co-chair, said any possible new momentum toward a public option tethered to Medicare rates is, in part, "because of the cost issue" and the updated CBO score.
The original House bill required the public plan to pay providers 5 percent more than Medicare reimbursement rates. But as part of a package of concessions to Blue Dogs, the House Energy and Commerce Committee accepted an amendment that requires the HHS Secretary to negotiate rates with providers. That version of the plan will save only $25 billion.
In total, a public plan based on Medicare rates would save $110 billion over 10 years. That is $20 billion more than earlier estimates, a spokesman for House Speaker Pelosi said.
In other words, the conservatives want to spend $85 billion more than the liberals do. Moreover, the CBO is estimating savings to the government. That is to say, the $85 billion reflects reduced federal spending on subsidies because premiums in the public plan will be lower. Savings to individuals and businesses paying lower premiums will be much larger than $85 billion, and politically, much more important.

Think Progress: Poised For Progress At The U.N. Climate Summit In Copenhagen
While Mother Jones’ David Corn is an excellent reporter, he is a lousy tealeaf reader. Mr. Corn misread a recent article by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and myself in advance of the G20 summit, incorrectly concluding our purpose was to downplay expectations on behalf of the Administration. Mr. Corn’s interpretation of our piece is inaccurate. Dr. Pachauri, one of the world’s foremost advocates for strong global action on climate change, and I both recognize that significant challenges remain in advance of the U.N. summit in December. But we are confident that the international community is poised to make substantial progress on climate change in Copenhagen, and that the U.S. is now in a position to exercise renewed leadership in pursuit of a best-case climate scenario.
The purpose of our September 23 piece was to emphasize the importance of climate change in advance of the G20 meetings and encourage the world’s top emitters to seize an important opportunity to take concrete steps to move forward in advance of December’s summit. It is not news that the divide between the unwieldy groups of developed and developing countries have stalled climate talks in the past and that they are drifting again. It is, however, noteworthy that major emitters have recently utilized new channels — the Administration’s Major Economies Forum, for example, as well as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue — to lay the groundwork for a new climate agreement in Copenhagen. We think this is an important development and should be pursued whenever opportunities, like this week’s summit, arise. Our piece urged leaders at the G20 to pursue concrete actions prior to Copenhagen on issues such as financing arrangements, technology cooperation, and deforestation prevention to increase the chances of success in December.
Even in the midst of global economic crisis, climate change has remained at the top of the agenda both in the United States and in key countries around the world. There is broad consensus that the effects of climate change are not only real, but will be devastating to developed and developing countries alike if the international community fails to agree on a global emissions reduction strategy soon. The road ahead is not without obstacles, which our piece pointed out. But the fate of Copenhagen is far from sealed — and it is my strong belief that the Obama Administration is committed to doing all it can to lead the world into a low-carbon, clean energy future.
Krugman: The textbook economics of cap-and-trade 
I realized, after the last post, that it might be useful to write down just what the Econ 101 version of cap and trade looks like; as it happens, this also helps explain the intellectual sins of Glenn Beck and Martin Feldstein.
So here we go. Bear in mind that something like what follows can be found in just about every intro textbook.
Think of the benefits to the private sector from pollution. Yes, benefits — in the sense that it’s cheaper to pollute that not to, or that it’s easier to produce goods if you don’t worry about whatever emissions result as a byproduct. So we can think of drawing a curve representing the private marginal benefit of emissions, as in this figure:

In the absence of government action, the private sector will increase emissions up to the point where there is no further marginal benefit. That is, emissions will rise to whatever level is implied by profit-maximization, paying no attention to the effects on the environment.
A cap-and-trade system puts a limit on overall emissions, so that emitters have to pay a price for emitting. This price will, as shown in the figure above, equal the marginal benefit of the last unit of emissions allowed.
Now, the cost to the economy of this limit is the benefit the private sector would have gotten by emitting more than is allowed under the cap. It’s shown in the figure as the red triangle labeled “deadweight loss”. CBO puts these losses under Waxman-Markey at 0.2-0.7 percent of GDP in 2020, 1.1 to 3.4 percent in 2050. These costs have to be set against the environmental benefits.
In addition to this overall economic cost, there’s a distributional effect. The creation of cap and trade means that emission permits command a market price, and the value of these permits — the blue rectangle — goes to someone. Under Waxman-Markey, some of it (a growing fraction over time) would be captured by the government through auctions, and used to cut or avoid increases in other taxes — in effect, recycled to consumers. The rest would be passed on to industry — but because the biggest recipients would be regulated utilities, much of this would also be passed on to consumers.
OK, now let’s send in Beck and Feldstein.
Beck got his number from someone who learned about a guesstimate of what the auction value of permits might be (way higher than current estimates, by the way), divided by the number of households, and proclaimed this the cost of the bill. In effect, he looked at a guess about the size of the blue rectangle, which does not represent an economic cost, and called that the cost to the economy.
In a way, though, what Martin Feldstein did was worse. He took the CBO’s estimate of “compliance costs”, which was $1600 per household in an early report (it’s now down to $900, but who’s counting?), and implied that this was the economic cost of the legislation. But “compliance costs” are basically the sum of the blue rectangle and the red triangle; the true economic costs are just the triangle, and are much smaller.
Another way to say this is that under the Feldstein method, any time you try to correct an externality, which necessarily means changing relative prices, all of the negative effects of the price change will be counted as a cost — but none of the positive effects will be counted as a benefit.
Bad stuff. And what you should bear in mind is that all I’m doing here is conventional neoclassical economics, quite literally basic textbook material. What does it say when the people who claim to believe in this stuff throw it out the window as soon as it leads to policy conclusions they don’t like?

Sully: Last Words 
Author Clair Cameron compiled a list of quotations from death-row inmates. A portion:
I love you, Irene.
Let my son know I love him.
Tell everyone I got full on chicken and pork chops.
I appreciate the hospitality that you guys have shown me and the respect, and the last meal was really good.
The reason it took them so long is because they couldn’t find a vein. You know how I hate needles. ... Tell the guys on Death Row that I’m not wearing a diaper.

Lord, I lift your name on high.
From Allah we came and to Allah we shall return.
For everybody incarcerated, keep your heads up.
Death row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds.
Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible.
I am responsible for them losing their mother, their father and their grandmother. I never meant for them to be taken. I am sorry for what I did.
I can’t take it back.

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