Ezra Klein

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MY LAST POST AT TAP.

"It's not a goodbye post," a friend just said to me. "It's a 'see you later' post." And that's probably true. This will be my last real blog post at The American Prospect . This site will go dark for the rest of the week. On Monday, it will move to the Washington Post (the archives will remain at this address). The new URL will be http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/ . I'll see all of you then. It'll go by quick. Just you watch. But today does mark an end. I've been at TAP for almost four years. I moved to Washington, DC in September of 2005 to take the writing fellowship. The next year, I became a staff writer. The year after that, an associate editor. I've seen three editors, two offices, and four writing fellows. I've shared a cubicle with Matt Yglesias and a hotel room with Mark Schmitt. I've spent long nights at The Black Rooster. I have stolen candy from Richard Boriskin's candy bowl and I have stolen candy from Ann Friedman's candy bowl. I've written dozens of features...

IS THE ADMINISTRATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF?

This morning, some conservative groups expended a lot of energy hyping a document that seemed to show the Office of Management and Budget -- and hence the Obama administration -- opposes the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant. That was a bad idea, because it's just given the OMB a high-profile opportunity to restate its support for the EPA's finding. Peter Orszag, the director of the OMB, explains . And he also links to this April 17th post where he calls the EPA's decision "important" and writes that "the proposed finding is carefully rooted in both law and science." Either way, what actually happened today is that the OMB gave the EPA license to go forward with its reclassification of carbon. This would, in theory, give the EPA the ability to regulate carbon autonomously. If Congress fails to act on cap and trade, in other words, the EPA can do some of the job itself. And it may do it in ways that the energy industry finds less...

HAS THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY BOXED ITSELF INTO A CORNER ON LABOR LAW?

I've written often on the strategic mistake the unions made uniting behind the specific solution of card check rather than the general problem of unfair barriers to workers who want to organize. But I'm starting to wonder if the business community hasn't made the same mistake in reverse. They've done a damn good job burying card check. But they haven't convinced anyone that unfair elections aren't a problem. Last week, a massive coalition of business groups sent a "Dear Senator" letter that stated, "let us be clear and frank on this matter; there can be no acceptable 'compromise' on any issue of labor law reform due to the very real threat posed by EFCA." Huh. "That hardly sounds like bargaining in good faith," sighed the Washington Post . And the increasing perception of employer stubbornness is lending life to compromise proposals. One such idea is being floated by Arlen Specter, who desperately wants SEIU's help in his next election. He's backing a set of fixes that would speed...

THE OTHER INSOLVENCY PROBLEM.

The Annual Trustees Report is out today, telling us something akin to what we already knew: Medicare and Social Security are in bad shape, and getting worse. The headlines will emphasize the dates of insolvency. Medicare runs out of money in 2017, two years earlier than anticipated by last year's report. Social Security falls in 2037, four years earlier than predicted in last year's report. But as the WaPo graph to your right shows, these estimates change year-to-year. The exact year might make the headlines, but it's the least reliable piece of the report. But even so, both programs face challenges. What probably won't make it into many stories, however, is the relative severity of the problems. The crude fix for Social Security actually sounds quite manageable: "Social Security could be brought into actuarial balance over the next 75 years with changes equivalent to an immediate 16 percent increase in the payroll tax (from a rate of 12.4 percent to 14.4 percent) or an immediate...

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE $92,000?

The White House released some new numbers on the stimulus today. The one that's getting the most attention is $92,000. That's how much it will cost to create or preserve each stimulus-related job. Do I even need to relay the snarky rejoinder to this? But the number is more complicated than it seems. Building a bridge creates a certain number of jobs. But it also requires you to buy a lot of cement. Cutting taxes for small businesses helps preserve jobs. But it does that by helping them pay the rent. Pumping billions into Pell grants helps kids secure better jobs because they can graduate from college. But it really just replaces tuition that would otherwise be paid by richer families. The stimulus was primarily, but not only, a job creation package. It also spread broadband and strengthened universities and built trains and helped schools. Much of the fear in a recession is that investments important to tomorrow's economy stop happening. Fewer students go to college and fewer roads...

THE POWER OF POPULARITY.

One of the reasons I like reading Patrick Ruffini is he has a tendency to grapple with, rather than downplay, troublesome evidence. Here he is , for instance, on Obama's personal popularity: Obama's personal popularity stayed remarkably stable throughout the course of the campaign, and the average unfavorable rating barely ever cracked 35%. Obama the campaigner looks downright polarizing compared to Obama the President, who now sports a 65/25 fav/unfav in the Pollster.com average. Why is this important? Republicans right now haven't the slightest idea of how to reduce the President's appeal because they've never actually done it before. It would be one thing if Obama had become a controversial figure during the campaign, like Bill Clinton did in 1992, providing fodder for a comeback once he did get into office, but that possibility scarcely exists today. While personality may not be everything, and real-world policy outcomes provide opportunities for inflection points, it rarely ever...

THE CASE FOR BORROWING BIG, AND QUICK.

There's some evidence that demand for Treasury debt might be waning. That makes sense on a number of levels: Deficits look bad and so the risk of default -- though quite small -- inevitably inches upwards. There are signals that other markets are stabilizing and their products may once again be worth investing in -- and may even be extremely good deals. International investors aren't quite so terrified and so aren't essentially trying to hide their money beneath the United States' mattress. We're probably at the beginning of the period when it becomes more expensive for the government to borrow. Since the recession began, it's been uncommonly cheap. As the recession ends, it'll normalize. So if the government is planning to borrow a whole bunch of money in the near future, it might be a good idea to lock it in now, while 30-year rates are low, rather than later, when they rise again.

DO WE REALLY NEED TO DEFEND THE VERY CONCEPT OF "EVIDENCE?"

I don't really like writing defenses of "comparative effectiveness review." It makes me despair for our country. We're literally talking about the process of gathering evidence so we know how well various medical treatments work. It's worth saying, however, that there are two types of objections to gathering evidence, and they're being unfortunately conflated. The first is the ideological objection. Some conservatives worry that the "the type of information collected by CER could eventually be used inappropriately if a 'Federal Health Board' was created to decide which types of treatment would be available to whom and when." It's worth parsing this for a moment: The apparent fear here is that the evidence from comparative effectiveness will be, well, used to make treatment decisions. But that can't be quite right. We use evidence all the time. Your insurer won't pay for a leg amputation when your symptom is a headache. Medicare doesn't cover a wheelchair if you're diagnosed with acute...

FUN WITH STRESS TESTS.

The Wall Street Journal has a very cool interactive graphic today allowing you to compare the stress test results for different banks. I'm not sure what you actually gain from the exercise -- all these banks seem certain to survive the downturn, and Feds insure individual deposits anyway -- but it's a good way to waste a few minutes. The attached article sheds some more light on the negotiations between bank presidents and the government's stress testers. Particularly worrying is the government's decision to switch from measuring tangible common equity to Tier 1 common capital. Tangible common equity is the more traditional measurement, but if it had been used, the banks would have had to raise an additional $68 billion. Aside from that, there's not been an explanation offered for the change. The article also suggests that some banks are rather more persuasive than others. Citigroup managed to knock the government's final judgment from $35 billion in needed capital to a paltry $5.5...

JANET NAPOLITANO FOR SUPREME COURT?

I know that Janet Napolitano is floating around on the White House's short list. I don't really understand why: She's neither very liberal nor a great legal thinker nor armed with radically different life experiences than most members of the governmental elite. Rather, she was an effective moderate politician and, before that, an apparently skilled attorney general. But nevertheless, she'd be an enormously controversial nominee on the Court itself. Her early rise to prominence came as the attorney for...Anita Hill. So I guess what you can say about her is that there's probably no nominee in the country who would do more to piss off Clarence Thomas.

FINANCING HEALTH CARE REFORM.

I'm having an enjoyably wonky morning watching the Senate Finance Committee roundtable on options for funding health care reform. You can stream the meeting here . But for a clear and straightforward look at the ideas and issues involved, this bit of testimony from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities is as good an introduction as you'll find. I'm expecting the final compromise to look a lot like what they've offered. Note in particular their emphasis on "health-related excise taxes." Those discussions are happening in Congress and the administration, too. It's really looking like tobacco, alcohol, and sugared sodas are likely to get a bit more expensive after health reform. Polling around these policies is proving them more popular than most wonks expected, and they have the secondary benefit of being dual-purpose: They raise money and make Americans healthier.

A REAL LIFE CARBON TAX.

I've argued before that you can compare a perfect-world carbon tax to a perfect-world cap and trade proposal, or a realistic carbon tax to a realistic cap and trade proposal, but you can't compare a perfect-world carbon tax to a realistic cap and trade proposal. Today, Kevin Drum draws that argument out at length: Cap-and-trade is a real-world program for reducing pollutants. We used it successfully with sulfur emissions in the 90s. Europe is already doing it with carbon. The northeastern states are doing it with RGGI. The Waxman-Markey bill is a real piece of legislation that's hundreds of pages long and festooned with a hundred different compromises that will (we hope) allow it to survive the legislative sausage grinder. And all of these variations of cap-and-trade are complicated. When you read about them, you're immediately bombarded with jargon: auctions vs. allocations; caps, floors, offsets, and banking; upstream vs. downstream; how the exchange should be set up; how often...

THE OPPONENTS OF HEALTH CARE REFORM.

It's good to be lucky in your friends, but it's better to be lucky in your enemies. And as Rachel Maddow argues, Obama seems increasingly lucky in his enemies: Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News , World News , and News about the Economy The opponents of health reform are, at this juncture, entirely isolated. Industry is adopting an attitude of relentless positivity. Republicans are grudgingly attempting to appear cooperative. The only straight opposition is coming, as Maddow and Howard Dean say, from Rick Scott, a disgraced former hospital executive whose company was convicted of defrauding the federal government in the largest ever case of its kind. You can say, of course, that the traditional opponents of reform will rapidly find their voice when the bill emerges. But they're lagging. The difference between this year and 1994 is that in 1994, it was the opponents of reform who spent the preceding year massing their forces and organizing their grassroots. This year, it's Health Care...

IS CAP AND TRADE ENOUGH? (NO.)

This gets a bit wonky, but Dave Roberts has a good post explaining why cap and trade -- or a carbon tax -- may not be enough to really move us over to renewable energy. Simply slapping a price on carbon might be a sufficient answer if the only failure in the market was that carbon sat lonely and unpriced. But it's not. Roberts explains .

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