A mostly political weblog.

Jan. 4 2010 7:05 PM

Is Larry Summers Being Greg Craiged?

Is Larry Summers being Greg Craiged ?**

**--Pushed out of his post by anonymous leaks to prominent journalists like Al Hunt . Here's Hunt:

Several administration insiders, prominent outside Democratic economic advisers and a few Congressional heavyweights, all worry this is symptomatic of a process that isn’t working well. Summers, they argue, is brilliant on policy and ill-suited for a high-level staff job, which is what the head of the National Economic Council is.

"If you came up with 10 words to describe Larry, coordination and collaboration would not be two," says one person requesting anonymity who has worked with Summers extensively and admires his intellectual force. ...

Still, others say Summers too often is dismissive of fellow economic advisers ...

a) Hunt loses me when he argues that Summers is not as "effective" at delivering the message in public as his administration colleague Austan Goolsbee. Goolsbee seems like a fine fellow. But he's a too-honest, academic, market-oriented type, no? I've never heard it said (because in my experience it isn't true) that he's a "more effective" public mouthpiece than Summers. b) The common denominator in at least one of the  anonymous Craig-slagging stories and Hunt's anonymous Summers-slagging story: White House aide Tom Donilon, "a well-regarded political operative ... seen as an extension of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel." Just sayin'. ...

Update: Bruce Bartlett doesn't see Summers getting pushed out . ... 3:57 P.M.


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Jan. 4 2010 3:06 PM

Wherein Lies the Greatness of Janet Napolitano?

She gave an awful public performance in the wake of the Flt. 253 terror incident--assuring air travelers that "the system worked" when the one obvious thing was that for whatever reason the system didn't work, as President Obama acknowledged a few days later. She then seems to have panicked and pressed the "Friends, Save Me" button.   David Broder produced an unreal Napolitano-for-President column .  Maureen Dowd conducted a rare, non-ironic positive interview , defending Napolitano on the grounds that "Robert Gibbs said the same." Neither gave any particular reason why we should care whether Napolitano stays or goes. Sunday-morning Senators from both parties rallied around. ... From out here in California, this rallying-around by virtually the entire city of Washington, D.C., looks bizarre. What is there that's so golden about a seemingly bland centrist governor from Arizona?  Is she provocative and surprisingly candid, like former Arizona governor Bruce Babbit? No, she's mind-numbingly cautious. She has a "good skill set," volunteers ex-Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. To what great end has it been employed? What difficult (or easy) reform has she accomplished? Aren't there a lot of people in the country with good skill sets? It's not like this was her first  public screw-up ....

Maybe a reader can help solve the mystery for those of us who are out of the loop. Does she give great parties? Is it that DHS has a highly effective, overactive P.R. person? Or does America's bureaucratic capital simply overvalue those whose first instinct is to defend their bureaucracy? ...  12:45 P.M.


Dec. 26 2009 4:53 PM

kf Spreads the Germs of Truth!

The Virtuous Social Egalitarian Circle: Whether or not it's accurate , Scott Gottlieb's op-ed on whether you'll be able to buy your way out of Obamacare ( answer: only if you're willing to pay 100% cash for treatment) made me feel better about our impending health regime . Why? 1) Gottlieb argues that the upper middle class will be stuck in the system. Assume he's right. The upper middle class has a lot of political power. It will not allow itself to be screwed by cost-saving federal bureaucrats! (Exhibit A: Mammmograms!) 2) Gottlieb charges the system will likely have the same sort of restrictions on buying private supplemental insurance that Medicare has. Is the upper middle class unhappy with Medicare? No. If Medicare started denying treatments right and left, would they be unhappy? Yes. And they would rebel on election day. Which is why Medicare doesn't deny payments right and left. When it comes to protecting my insurance, whom would I rather rely on--angry affluent aging boomers or Aetna adjusters? It's not even close .  3) The same political dynamic should serve as a check against  setting Medicare payments so low that all the good doctors leave the system and go private. Of course, that's already happening to some extent. (The top hip-replacement guy on L.A.'s West Side just stopped taking Medicare.) But I don't think voters will let it go much further, to the point where they are routinely denied access to the docs they want to see. (Exhibit B: The doctor's fee cut, which Congress  repeatedly refuses to OK).  4) The very egalitarian impulse that Gottlieb ridicules--the desire to prevent the system from becoming a "lower-end benefit" like Medicaid--will force the government to keep benefits generous enough that the second-to-top decile (and the third, and fourth) don't bolt. That serves both the anti-rationing cause (you think the top 40% will stand for 'death panels'?) and the social-egalitarian cause (rich and non-rich in the same waiting room). The enemies of this generous approach won't be the "egalitarians." They will be the cost-cutters. They will lose.
Doesn't that mean we'll spend more and more on health care, without reducing federal outlays by "bending the curve"? Did somebody say something about "bending the curve"?  Really? Social egalitarians should not want to bend the curve. (We should want to find a way to pay the bill. One idea here .)... 3:07 P.M.

Nobody Expects the Pong! Reader C. asks a good Question:  Many people--e.g., Paul Starr , Bill Galston , me--have urged the House to just pass the Senate bill intact, word-for-word, which would have the effect of sending it immediately to the President and avoiding a House/Senate compromise that would then require a second Senate vote. It doesn't look like the House is going to take this approach--there are going to be negotiations on a compromise, negotiations that may extend into February. But what if the negotiations bog down? Can the House just go back and pass the Senate bill? Or is the "pong" strategy somehow voided once House-Senate negotiations start? ... Specifically, what if it begins to look as if Obama won't get the necessary 60 votes the second time around? (Suppose, for example, that Sen. Nelson gets such an earful back in Nebraska that he says he won't vote for the bill a second time.) If the Senate looks like it's changing it's mind, can the House just pass the existing Senate bill and end the game anyway? ... Even better, if the Senate actually tries and fails to pass a new House-Senate compromise, can the House then go back and just pass the original Senate bill? ...I don't know the answer, but some parliamentary experts out there probably do. ... 2:22 P.M.


TNR Brings 'Da Noise! Jonathan Chait declares t hat the Fed-like "Medicare advisory commission holds the greatest potential to drive transformation of the system, but that "[i]n its official budget estimates, CBO credits these experiments with virtually no budget savings." [E.A.] The implication: CBO's projection of a deficit decline is conservative--there's likely to be even more savings once the unelected experts on the advisory commission start denying payments for "wasteful" treatments and medical devices.
But Chait is wrong, I'm pretty sure. The CBO credited the Medicare advisory commission with large savings. Indeed, the reason the final Reid bill (the "manager's amendment") was originally deemed to have greater savings than the first Reid bill was, according to the CBO, precisely because the "manager's amendment" seemed to fix the trigger that causes the less-than-democratic Medicare advisory commission to swing into action.  Then the CBO read the fine print and discovered that the trigger was only half-fixed--it comes unfixed in 2019--and as a consequence CBO corrected its original estimate from "a broad range around one-half percent of GDP" to "a broad range between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP."  In other words, it cut the lower bound of its already incredibly vague estimate by half.
Obviously, if the CBO revised its savings score from the Medicare commission downwards that means, contra Chait, there were savings there to begin with. Lots of savings-- a potential quarter percent of GDP. Half of all the savings in the bill
Where did Chait get his bogus assertion? 1) He was going off the CBO report of the old Reid bill; 2) He heard it on JournoList!
P.S.: Chait declares "totally false" the GOP argument that Congress' unwillingness to carry out cuts in doctors' salaries might presage unwillingness to make other scheduled Medicare cuts. He then cites a report from the Medicare actuary , Richard Foster, to show that--contra Republicans--if the Medicare cuts are approved, the "rate of growth" in health care spending will slow. But this same Medicare actuary, Richard Foster, worried in that same report that Congress' unwillingness to carry out cuts in doctors' salaries might presage unwillingness to make the scheduled Medicare cuts ( see page 9 ). Doesn't that suggest that the original GOP argument wasn't "totally false"? Maybe had a germ of truth!

That's the trouble with Chait. GOP claims are always "totally false" or "thoroughly debunked pseudo-factoids." Republicans always act in venal bad faith--they never have even a half-a point. It's why I don't trust him. ... 2:07 P.M..


Dec. 22 2009 11:48 PM

Health Care: The CBO's Alternate Universe

Suderman buries the lede: Does the CBO analysis of the Senate health bill --the one that shows a 10-year deficit reduction of $132 billion--really assume that the scheduled reduction in doctor's payments of 21 % will actually go into effect- even though everyone knows Congress plans a "doctors' fix" to sharply reduce the cut, if not eliminate it entirely, in separate legislation . That's what Reason 's Peter Suderman alleges , and it appears that he's right. (See pages 13 and 18 of the CBO's report .) 

I originally assumed this omission wasn't a major flaw, since the CBO was comparing a baseline in which doctor's fees were cut 21% with a health care reform in which they were also cut by 21%. A "doctors' fix" is going to happen, but the question was whether health care reform will make things better or worse apart from that "fix"--or from anything else, like an expensive new jet fighter, that could increase the federal budget. The "fix" could safely be ignored and treated as a separate issue.
But the more you think about it, the more the issues aren't separable. What if the docs get their "fix," their rates stay the same or rise, and this somehow affects the whole Medicare cost structure--indeed the whole medical cost structure--in ways that make the Senate bill relatively more expensive than the status quo (for example, by inflating the cost of all the free health care that would be provided under Medicaid, and the cost of all the extra health care that would be sought by newly insured Americans?) You'd want the CBO to at least think about that possibility, no?
As Suderman notes, taking the doctor's fix out of the bill was one of the key moves Democrats made to make health care reform appear more deficit-friendly. It seems less corrupting than back-loading the bill's spending (which they also did). But it may have been a more corrupting move than it at first seems. Is any CBO analysis that doesn't include the doctors' fix is really worth paying much attention to? It's an analysis of a fantasy world.

Tip for Timid Pundits: The prediction that Democratic health care bill will not reduce the deficit over the long run is about as safe a year-end prediction as you could make. Even with all the budget gimmickry, it wouldn't help cut the budget much--Jon Cohn has the unconvincing graphs to prove it! ... P.S.: I'm not saying that the reform (which I favor for non-deficit reasons) won't help set the stage for at least some cost-restraint in the future. As Hendrik Hertzberg and E.J. Dionne argue, it should be easier to take future action to control medical costs after everyone's covered--then we'll all be in the soup together, and it will be harder for distinct demographic groups (e.g. seniors on Medicare) to argue that they are being singled out for sacrifice unfairly or unnecessarily. But the administration's claim is that the bill as written will by itself cut costs so much that it will reduce the deficit--something that seems plausible only in the artificial alternate universe of the CBO. ...  9:36 P.M.


No recourse for libel posted online? Ben Sheffner argues that Congress would never have passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if it knew what it was doing. ... 10:00 P.M.


Dec. 21 2009 2:16 PM

Health Care: The Pig in the Road

Pong the Pig: Alert reader T, who makes his living in politics, offers a not-uninformed analysis of Congressional thinking on health care:

The arc of Obama's administration so far: They took on all the big issues that will affect people ... in 10-25 years! Issues affecting people today, not so much. For Obama and for House and Senate Members up in November, this and climate change became a big pig in the middle of the road to accomplishments, and now they are going to get this pig out of the road no matter what it takes, so they can go on to handle economic issues that will rally the base again.

I think this bodes well for Obama's reform, since the easiest way to get it out of the road at this point is to pass it--and the fastest, surest way to pass it is with  the "pong" gambit . ...  Update: Brian Faughnan suggests that a parliamentary move by Minority Leader McConnell may make the "pong" route easier for Dems to take. ... 11:26 A.M.


Dec. 21 2009 1:48 AM

Health Care: Will Kabuki Kill Pong?

What do we want? More Kabuki! Will the angry left's need for cathartic Kabuki kill the promising "Pong" gambit --and maybe kill health care reform entirely (by forcing a House-Senate conference and a conference bill that then never gets re-passed by the Senate)? ... Kausfiles awaits Ezra Klein's denunciation of Howard Dean, Keith Olbermann, Jane Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas for being "willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order" to satisfy an emotional need to 'fight' for a doomed plan. ...   10:02 P.M.


Jane Hamsher: 'I'm a tea-partier too!'  Hamsher, citing Ed Kilgore , spots a "transpartisan consensus":

[T]he "lazy progressive bloggers" and the tea party activists are saying almost the exact same thing about the Senate bill.

There's clearly something to this, as in the '60s (when unsuccessful left-wing critiques of liberals previewed successful conservative critiques of liberals). Today's left and right anti-Reid activists have a common enemy in corporatism, the easy alliance between Big Government and entrenched, favored too-big-to-fail businesses (Aetna, AIG .... ) that threatens to combine the inequality of capitalism with the dynamic innovation of socialism. But Hamsher should maybe pass on this insight to her friends in Big Labor--which has almost always pursued corporatism as a way to guarantee its power in the collective bargaining process. Most obviously, unions love it when government can require protected pet corporations to do favors for unions (as in the Detroit bailout), because unions tend to have disproprtionate influence over government.  Quite apart from government, unions tend to favor oligopolistic economic structures (like Detroit, before the Japanese imports) where you can organize a few, stable "competitors," establish a bargaining "pattern," and keep out upstart rivals who might want to rock the boat on work rules or save money on wages and benefits. ... The Wagner Act was written for an oligpolistic post-WWII economy, where layers of rigid work rules were seen as a positive triumph of benevolent bureaucratic precision. ... 

Update: Some tea-partiers are not being very welcoming ...  11:00 P.M.


Those Clinton holdovers at the IRS are still on the job: First, Sinbad undercuts Hillary Clinton's landing-in-Bosnia-under-fire story. Now the IRS is going after him for a mere $8.5 million in back taxes . Coincidence, I ask you? Tell it to Elizabeth Ward Gracen ! .... 10:59 P.M.


Dec. 20 2009 2:48 PM

Krugman vs. The Secret Centrists!

Name one: Who are the "self-described centrists, pundits and politicians," Paul Krugman is denouncing , who talk about reining in deficits but who supposedly "punted" at the "historic moment" by refusing to back the Senate health bill? The ones who won't "consider any government economy measures that don’t involve punishing people with lower incomes"? It would help focus our progressive anger on the proper targets if Krugman would dare to identify some of these shadowy figures. Even one. ... What's the point of being a bitter, ad hominem , propagandizing economist if we don't know which hominem you're ad ? ... P.S.: I actually don't know whom Krugman has in mind. It can't be his usual villains--"centrist" Dem Senators--since they're all voting for the bill. My best guess is idiosyncratic columnist Robert Samuelson , target of Henry Aaron's recent op-ed  (linked in the Yglesias post Krugman's riffing on).  But who are the other "pundits and politicians"? ... 

Update: Reader R. suggests NYT columnist David Brooks. Brooks' unconvincing seat-of-pants analysis hardly seems worthy of generating a macho, Nobel-level characterological assault. Unless there's a preexisting condition ! ...

Update 2:  Krugman originally wrote, regarding his unnamed targets, that "everyone I can think of here does happen to be male." In an update, he now agrees with  Stan Collender that Olympia Snowe should be included among the character-challenged "punters." So that's one name. But Krugman's update only re-raises the question of who the  men were whom Krugman was actually thinking of when he wrote his attack. By his own admission he wasn't thinking of Snowe. So who? Names would provide welcome reassurance that they exist outside Krugman's grudge-prone mind. ...

P.S.: Maybe deficit-hawkish WaPo editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, a previous Krugman target ? Nope. Hiatt's page is on board . ...

P.S.: Do Krugman and Aaron realize that the "trigger' for the allegedly crucial "Fed"-like independent cost-saving board, supposedly un-emasculated in the latest Reid bill, actually gets re-emasculated by that bill  in 2019 (when the big systemic cost-savings are supposed to start to happen)? See Tumulty . Maybe Krugman would concede that, if all you cared about was deficit-reduction , reasonable macho minds might differ over whether the Reid bill should pass? ...  12:42 P.M.


Good News II: Chrome window trim will save GM and the UAW! 12:40 P.M.


Good News I: Reminding voters of Bush will save the Democrats in 2010!  12:38 P.M.


Richard Rushfield's "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost" is shockingly funny and well done. [ Shocking?--ed It's a memoir of Hampshire College in the '80s. Who'd think that would be fun, as opposed to dreary? Also, "shocking" is a Joe Klein word--we stick it in for effect.] 

Dec. 17 2009 3:45 AM

Why the Health Care Polls Are Tanking, Part XVIII:

At least some of the rising discontent with the Democrats' health care reform comes from the left, or from not-necessarily-left voters disappointed that the left's favorite ideas--the public option, the Medicare buy-in--are dropping out of the legislation. At least that's the conclusion the Wall Street Journal reaches after the latest NBC/ WSJ poll, in which a 45% plurality of voters said it's "unacceptable" to drop the public option--and in which overall support for the bill fell by 10 points (since the previous poll, in October). I'm not sure just how impressive this evidence of pro-government discontent is--the "public option" always tests well, and only 13% of "Democratic liberals" now actually oppose the bill (up from 6%). 
Still, you have to wonder what this says about the left's overemphasis on the public option throughout 2009. I'd originally assumed the p.o. fixation would work to Obama's advantage, drawing conservative attacks that would then be defused if the option was dropped. (That's Jonathan Cohn's take .) But maybe it worked to Obama's disadvantage-- promising Medicare-like advantages from the wondrous public option only to have voters turn against the bill as a whole when this fabulous feature was snatched away from them . If so, the left has inadvertently done Obama a huge disservice--not pushing the bill "to the left" but rather helping kill it even after it's inevitably been pushed back to the right.  If the left had fixated on a policy idea that wasn't so sensible and appealing, it wouldn't have been such a problem!  (Then dropping it would have been a helpful pushing-off point for Obama.) Possible moral: Be crazier next time!
P.S.: Paul Krugman calls on the disappointed left to "[b]y all means denounce Obama for his failed bipartisan gestures," but to support the scaled-back health bill. But how did Obama's "failed bipartisan gestures" lead to the public option (and the Medicare buy-in) dying? What sort of non-bipartisan gesture would have preserved them? They didn't have the votes. They had all the votes on the left. That wasn't enough. No votes, no public option. The only hope of getting the necessary 60 was appealing to the center, which is where the votes were. ... But maybe Krugman is thinking about some other kind of "failed bipartisan gesture"--i.e. if only the stimulus had been bigger , then the economy would have recovered faster and Lieberman or Snowe would have been more amenable to government-run insurance. That last step seems implausible. [ Was this written by you or Herman?--ed Does it matter? I basted him with the triangulating juices , and he knows more about health care than Mickey does I do]

Update: A TPM reader tries to explain the left's beef:

I think people are pissed right now less at the fact that they didn't get what they wanted, and more at the fact that they feel like their people didn't really fight for it. Leaders don't always get what they want. But people recognize when true leaders at least give it a shot. And people judge that leadership by what they say in public and how hard they see them publicly pushing for it. ... [snip]

They wanted to see news stories about how "staffers close to the majority leader" say that chaimanships and other perks were on the line for any Democrat who talked about filibustering this crucial bill.

In other words, they wanted more Kabuki before the inevitable defeat. ... Do you think public  threats would have changed Lieberman or Nelson's mind (as opposed to feeding their adversarialism)? ... Some would say this is the essence of the left's Fight Club mindset! It's all about the drama, even if the results are the same (or, usually, worse). ... [ via Ezra Klein , who thinks "grueling negotiations" before giving up the public option would have helped. This hasn't been grueling? ] ...  P.S.: Nobody knows how to stage empty Kabuki outrage more than labor unions . ... P.P.S.: Maybe this rumor  will help. ... 1:02 A.M.


Dec. 15 2009 10:32 PM

Health care reform: Pong-mentum!

On the Bus with Pong Plus! American Prospect 's Paul Starr gets on the Pong bandwagon . ... P.S.: Can the Dems combine "ratification" and "reconciliation"? In other words, have the House just pass whatever the Senate passes, without change. Presto, Obama signs and health care reform is law. Then the Dems can use the "reconciliation" trick to improve the law--or maybe just change the parts they don't like--without having to jump the Senate's 60-vote hurdle. ... P.S.: Ambinder says  Dems are actually thinking along these lines . ...  Update: William Galston is on board. ... 7:35 P.M.


I think I understand the difference between the Phenomenal World and the Noumenal World. I understand the difference between Apollonian and Dionysian. I understand the difference between French laundry and Chinese laundry. I do not understand the difference between Facebook 's "News Feed" and "Live Feed." ...  7:36 P.M.

If, as Karen Tumulty suggests , Ron Brownstein's  ode to the Reid bill's cost-cutting power completely missed Reid's emasculation of the independent "Medicare Advisory Board" (the so called "Fed" for Medicare)--then so did Jonathan Gruber, the enthusiastic expert Brownstein cites, no? ... What else did Brownstein miss? ... 7:37 P.M.

Now even the Hair Club for Men has rejected me: Nicholas Lemann thinks someone should try to fit Washington Monthly esque "neoliberal" arguments " together into a larger whole." Good idea . ...  7:38 P.M.

The Monthly 's founder  Charlie Peters laments that on health care Obama has unnecessarily lost the support of seniors.  But Peters suggests the solution would have been for Obama to have introduced "his own bill" instead of letting Congress write the legislation. I'm not sure about that. If seniors are scared of cost-control talk about denying end of life treatments, etc--well, it's not Congressmen and Senators who have been talking like that. It's Obama and his Rasputin, OMB Director Orszag. They seem to really believe this stuff. If they'd written their own bill, it would have scared seniors even more. There are numbers lower than 33% . ... 7:44 P.M.


An Army of Andrews-- Andrew Sullivan's doppelbloggers : "Bylines would fracture the solitary voice of the blog." I guess they would! ... P.S.:  That's the Andrew Sullivan I remember working for. ... [ via Insta 12:46 P.M.


Dec. 14 2009 2:09 PM

Health Care: Fait Accompli Watch

Lots of talk on the Sunday chat shows about how the uncertainty over health care reform is discouraging businesses from hiring, since they don't know what sort of taxes, etc. they'll be facing. But if what business wants is certainty ... well, at this point the fastest way to get certainty is for the Dems to pass a bill quickly, no? ... 11:18 A.M.


Reihan Salam joins the anti-Orszagists , calling Obama's emphasis on curve-bending cost control in health care the "most glaring and consequential unforced error" of his presidency.  11:20 A.M.


Only 33% of *U.S. born* (second-generation) Latino immigrant kids identify themselves first by the term "American." Most prefer either their country of origin (41%) or the term "Latino" or "Hispanic." This is supposed to prove Lou Dobbs wrong? 11:21 A.M.


The Secret Weak Link in the Dems' 60-vote Scenario? If Joe Lieberman wants the Medicare buy-in taken out, and he's the 60th vote, then there's an obvious solution for Harry Reid: Take the Medicare buy-in out! Duh. ...The senator I worry about is Blagojevich appointee Roland Burris of Illinois.  He's already made noises about voting against any bill that doesn't have a public option , which the final Senate bill is unlikely to have. ... Think about it. He's not running for reelection. What hold do the Dems have on him? His record does not give you confidence that he's not susceptible to whatever ...er,   persuasion anti-reform lobbyists might come up with. He might like a bit of attention before he re-retires. And if he does vote against the bill it will at least appear to be from the left. It''s the perfect cover for doing the lobbyists' bidding, should he be so inclined. .... 12/15 Update:   Told you so! Burris threatens "no" vote again, after Reid/Lieberman deal. ...  11:28 A.M.


Dana Milbank suggests that Max Baucus is scandal-proof--in the matter of recommending his girlfriend for a job-- because he's a "dork"? I'm   not sure Milbank has it right. He's applying New York standards. Baucus is Sexy for Washington. He's not even fat. ...  11:32 A.M.