Ezra Klein

COVERAGE OPTIONS.

I'm not sure why official Washington is insisting on releasing so much health care news today, but here's the Finance Committee's paper on policy options to expand coverage . This is, in theory, the guidebook that the Committee will use when building its bill. The whole thing is worth reading, but for those interested, the public plan options begin on the 13th page.

WHAT IS THIS "CAP AND TRADE" OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?

Via Dave Weigel and Matt Yglesias comes the depressing news that the vast majority of the public doesn't know what cap and trade" is . And I don't mean in the sense that they don't understand the auctions. They have no idea what problem the policy actually refers to. "Given a choice of three options, just 24 percent of voters can correctly identify the cap-and-trade proposal as something that deals with environmental issues. A slightly higher number (29 percent) believe the proposal has something to do with regulating Wall Street while 17 percent think the term applies to health care reform. A plurality (30 percent) have no idea." Matt made a graph: The struggle to define this policy, in other words, is ongoing. Republicans have been referring to it as the "energy tax." Al Gore's group has been trying out "the carbon pollution loophole." But the thing you can probably say is that it's not going to pass all that quickly. It's fairly hard for Congress to manage large action on issues...

YOUR WORLD IN CHARTS: FINANCIAL INNOVATION EDITION.

The Peterson Institute's Adam S. Posen and Marc Hinterschweiger have a couple neat graphs making the case against financial innovation. They did not begin as skeptics. They liked the idea of financial innovation. They believed the promises "that expansion in the use of newer derivatives and the like would lead to an expansion in the country’s capital stock, and that these financial products would be useful to nonfinancial companies, not just to banks." But that didn't happen. Their first graph plots the growth of derivatives against the growth of capital stock. It basically shows a massive rise in fake money that's unconnected to any similar increase in real money. The second graphic shows the counterparties for derivatives. Again, facts did not match theory: The theory was that financial innovation was making the economy stronger. The fact was that we were inflating the financial sector so it looked bigger . Posen and Hinterschweiger end with an appropriate note of caution. "We are...

DEPARTMENT OF SHOCK, HORROR.

This isn't really my beat, but Wanda Sykes' comedy routine at last weekend's White House Correspondent's Dinner was really shockingly offensive.

THE PROBLEM WITH CORPORATE TAX CODES.

The administration's proposals to close some corporate tax loopholes didn't get much attention last week. In part, that's because the actual issues being addressed are extremely complicated. But that doesn't mean they're not important. This sort of thing , for instance, is really galling, and insofar as we need to raise $60 billion from somewhere, stopping corporations from playing a game of international tax arbitrage is probably a good idea. But "this sort of thing" is endemic to a complicated tax code. The more intricate the statutes, the easier it will be for trained lawyers to find loopholes. But if the loopholes are very complicated, then the only people who know enough to argue over them will be the lobbyists dedicated to their preservation. It's hard to build a movement around the fact that a rule designed to simplify the classification of different kinds of subsidiaries has been misused by multinational companies who set up subsidiaries and then use high-interest loans to...

ARLEN SPECTER NOW OPEN TO A PUBLIC PLAN.

Lot of health reform posts on the blog today. That's because there's a lot of health reform policy news today. For instance, Arlen Specter, who recently gave a one word "no" when asked if he supported a public plan on Meet the Press, is now proclaiming himself open to a public plan: In a letter to the progressive group Health Care for America Now, Specter said he looks forward to ``discussing and considering'' the issue. He said a starting point could be a proposal by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that seeks to maintain a level playing field between the private and public sector. The mark of a great political mind, I guess, is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas within days of each other. Elsewhere, The Washington Post -- where I'll be starting next week -- just created a health care reform super site, including a blog from Ceci Connolly. Welcome to the 'sphere!

ANDY STERN: "EVERYONE HAS EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS."

I just got off the phone with Andy Stern, head of SEIU. For the past few years, Stern has been manically building coalitions. This, it seems, was the payoff: The ultimate health care coalition. Every major industry group. And SEIU was at the table with them. Stern acknowledged that the early release is light on specifics. But that, he argued, was a function of it being early. "We set a deadline of June 1st to try to provide real proposals that can be costed. It'll be complicated to decide what goes in the legislation. But we'll have competent people providing verifiable savings." That deadline is important. June is when the Finance Committee's first bill drops. So if these stakeholders want to see their proposals in that bill, then they need to move quickly. Asked about the possible flashpoints in the discussions, Stern said that "there was more of a recognition that we weren't going to agree on certain things. People came to the table with an admission that there were lines -- like...

OBAMA: NO ONE CAN DO THIS ON THEIR OWN.

Obama just left the meeting with the stakeholders and gave some quick remarks. The key bit: [N]one of these steps can be taken by our federal government or our health care community acting alone. They'll require all of us coming together, as we are today, around a common purpose -- workers, executives, hospitals, nurses, doctors, drug companies, insurance companies, members of Congress. It's the kind of broad coalition, everybody with a seat at the table that I talked about during the campaign, that is required to achieve meaningful health care reform and that is the kind of coalition which -- to which I am committed. So the steps that are being announced today are significant. But the only way these steps will have an enduring impact is if they are taken not in isolation, but as part of a broader effort to reform our entire health care system. We've already begun making a down payment on that kind of comprehensive reform. We're extending quality health care to millions of children of...

IS THIS ALL ABOUT CBO?

There's an emergent argument that the real import of today's letter is that it serves as a club against the Congressional Budget Office. As Igor Volsky writes : The signers — the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Medical Association (AMA) and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), among others — hope to contain costs by implementing “aggressive efforts to prevent obesity, coordinate care, manage chronic illnesses and curtail unnecessary tests and procedures; by standardizing insurance claim forms; and by increasing the use of information technology, like electronic medical records.” The industry is suggesting that these cost containment measures — which don’t score too well with the Congressional Budget Office — would in fact yield cost savings and help finance health reform. The letter blunts conservative critics who argue that health reform is unsustainable or...

DOCUMENT DUMP: THE BIG HEALTH CARE LETTER.

All this fuss over one little letter. I've got the full document for download here . And the early reports are true. It's signed by the presidents of Pharma, Advamed (device manufacturers), the American Medical Association (doctors), the American Hospital Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, and SEIU's Health Care project. It promises that "we will do our part to achieve your Administration’s goal of decreasing by 1.5 percentage points the annual health care spending growth rate—saving $2 trillion or more." It says that "we are developing consensus proposals to reduce the rate of increase in future health and insurance costs through changes made in all sectors of the health care system." And it gives some general areas of agreement: • Implementing proposals in all sectors of the health care system, focusing on administrative simplification, standardization, and transparency that supports effective markets; • Reducing over-use and under-use of health care by aligning quality...

EXTREMELY TRUE STOCK MARKET COMMENTARY.

Ryan Avent -- demonstrating once again that some enterprising publication should hire him immediately -- offers the smartest commentary you'll read on the stock market today: Today’s conventional wisdom seems to be that the recent market rally has hit an apex. My assessment is that it has either hit an apex or hasn’t, in which case it will go up or down. This is 100 percent true. By contrast, analyses of today's stock market drop that do not say this are not 100 percent true.

IT'S BAD TO NOT BE THE KING.

I've been thinking a lot about James Surowiecki's argument that the administration's critics have developed "a fetishization of boldness." I'd put this a little differently: I think the administration's critics assume timidity. Government is a constrained institution. Geithner has to deal with pressure from critics, yes, but also a bitterly divided Congress, a filibuster-prone Senate, pressure from Wall Street, and resistance from captured regulators. The objective facts of his situation suggest that boldness won't necessarily be rewarded. And so when observers see informed critics like Krugman and Johnson arguing for a bolder strategy and charging that Geithner's approach deviates from the economic ideal, there's an assumption of credibility there: They, after all, don't have incentives colored by interest group pressure or congressional intransigence. That said, they also don't have perspectives colored by, well, the intransigence of Congress and the limits of the federal agencies...

UNADULTERATED GOOD NEWS ON HEALTH REFORM.

To counterbalance the crankiness of the previous post, Peter Orszag's announcement that the administration is not only continuing to support is $635 billion health care fund, but actually adding pieces to it, is important news. The key issue in health care reform is, quite simply, financing. Right now, the policy exists. The money doesn't. In fact, when the Senate passed its version of the budget, the specific financing provisions in the administration's health care reserve fund were deleted entirely. Eventually, that money will have to come back. And so it's good to see the administration sticking behind its proposals, even the ones that got a little beat-up in the previous round. They've kept, for instance, the idea to limit the itemized deductions of the richest Americans, even though that took some flack when it was initially announced. This gets to the administration's larger theory on revenues: They have a habit of offering up financing ideas well in advance of the financing...

IS THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY ON OBAMA'S SIDE? IS OBAMA ON THE HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY'S SIDE?

Jon Cohn is enthused . Paul Krugman is excited . Maybe I'm just churlish. Maybe I'm getting cranky as I age. But I can't shake my skepticism about today's big health care announcement. First, the announcement : At about 12:30 today, representatives from the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, Advamed, the California Hospital Association, the Greater New York Hospital Association, and SEIU will present Barack Obama with a letter promising to aid his health care reform effort by cutting health care spending by 1.5 percentage points over the next 10 years. That sounds minimal. But it actually amounts to $2 trillion in savings. The politics of this should surely cheer supporters of reform. In essence, this is the entire medical industry stepping forward and declaring themselves partners in Obama's effort. It leaves Republicans isolated. It allows the administration to credibly claim that they are working...

SNL DOES THE STRESS TESTS.

Minutes two through five of this skit sort of read like an old Celebrity Jeopardy script that they dusted off and applied to Tim Geithner and Citibank. But minute one is very good.

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