Tim Fernholz

Tim Fernholz is a former staff writer for the Prospect. His work has been published by Newsweek, The New Republic, The Nation, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast. He is also a Research Fellow at the New America Foundation.

Recent Articles

The Importance of Good Paperwork.

Felix Salmon does yeoman's work figuring out what the hell his bank is trying to tell him: So in a fit of masochistic perversity, I decided to do what I was told, and call Customer Service to ask them what on earth this notice meant. It took a while to get a human, of course: I had to type in my social security number, and then my PIN, and then my ATM card number, and then another PIN, which was apparently wrong, and then my mother’s maiden name, and then the last four digits of the social security number I typed in at the beginning. At which point I was told that “at this time we are experiencing heavy call volume” (it was 11pm), before Ricky answered the phone and asked for my ATM card number (again), and my date of birth, and the last four digits of my social security number (for the third time), and for the date of letter. Then, finally, he put me on hold. Eventually, Ricky came back to tell me that he was talking to his colleague but that he’d worked out that “you have a change...

Four Ways To Make The Tax Deal Better.

Tax deal apologist that I am, it behooves me to offer some constructive criticism, too, along with a reminder that this deal isn't final until the legislative process makes it so: Congressional Democrats, unable to unify around an original proposal, may try and adapt this framework. Here are a few changes they want: Rep. Jan Schakowsky , a member of the president's fiscal commission who produced her own left-leaning budget plan, told the Prospect she wants to see $200 payments to Social Security benificiaries who didn't receive a cost-of-living adjustment this year thanks to our problematically slow-growing -- veering deflationary -- inflation rate. Payments like these were included in the 2009 stimulus act and proved to be effective stimulus . Senator Ron Wyden , an ardent proponent of comprehensive tax reform, says he would prefer a deal including "one year extension to trigger tax reform. ... [an] extension that would trigger congress being required to do tax reform in 2011, and to...

Who Got What in the Tax Deal.

David Leonhardt offers a good analysis : Of its estimated $900 billion-plus cost over two years, roughly $120 billion covers the high-end tax cuts and the estate tax cut, $450 billion covers Mr. Obama’s wish list and $360 billion covers the tax cut extensions both parties favored. Was anyone else expecting a $450 billion stimulus this year? Me neither, and I think that's the main frame to look at this deal -- that, and Senate Democrats weren't unified enough to stop a filibuster effort that prevented the passage of middle-class tax cuts only. Ezra documents the unhappiness of progressives, who weren't included in the discussions, but their concerns seem to focus more on lack of symbolic attention than any plan they had to force a dramatically better deal. Don't forget that congressional leadership has had numerous chances to sort out this portfolio -- including immediately before the election -- and failed each time. Obama's attention-getting comments on his critics in Congress need...

Challenging the Filibuster Old Guard

A new group of Democratic senators is poised to challenge the filibuster in the next term.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (AP Photo/Chris Ryan)
"By a vote of 53 to 36, the Senate defeated a proposal to extend tax cuts first on those earning up to $250,000 in income," Capitol Hill's Roll Call explained over the weekend. It was a typical Senate defeat, where a majority supported the losing measure and a minority achieved a filibustered veto. It's been well observed in Washington that it doesn't cost much to filibuster: Senators don't have to speak or stay on the floor of the Senate. They only need to say a few words to their leaders, and the whole institution grinds to a halt. The public, of course, doesn't see that level of detail, which makes things difficult for those interested in reform -- but that could change. "The public believes the filibuster is an opportunity to enhance debate by allowing people to take a stand before the American people and personally invest time and energy in slowing down the Senate to make their point heard," Sen. Jeff Merkley says. "We should make it so." Merkley has floated a proposal to reform...

How Things Change.

One galling aspect of the tax deal framework proposed by the White House and Senate Republicans is that emergency unemployment insurance became a policy option that had to be bargained for, rather than a given during tough times : In October 1983, with Republicans controlling the White House and the Senate and the national unemployment rate at 8.8 percent, extended benefits were reauthorized for 17 months. The benefits provided up to 24 weeks of help for workers who exhausted state aid. ... Those programs lapsed last week because Republicans and conservative Democrats have demanded that the roughly $60 billion cost of a reauthorization not be added to the deficit. Democratic leaders have insisted that extended unemployment not be "paid for" mainly because it usually isn't. That was certainly the case in 1983. That's the sort of thing people cite when they talk about the " economic sabotage " theory of Republican politicking. Yet for all the history, it's not clear to me that there's...

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