Ezra Klein

OBAMA UNDERMINES NELSON.

ben_nelson_skeptical.jpgBen Nelson has been carving out an interesting career niche for himself lately. What Joe Lieberman was to foreign policy, he's decided to become to domestic policy.

INTRODUCING YOUR UNITED STATES BUDGET CONFEREES!

By now, you've all heard of conference committee: that magical land were a couple powerbrokers from the House and a couple poobahs from the Senate meet to decide what the final budget will look like. Yesterday, the representatives from both chambers were named. They are:

Senate: Kent Conrad, Judd Gregg, and Patty Murray.

House: John Spratt, Allen Boyd, Paul Ryan, Rosa DeLauro, and Jeb Hensarling.

In both cases, you have the chairman and ranking member of the relevant budget committee. That means Conrad and Gregg in the Senate and Spratt and Ryan in the House. The others are appointed to the process.

WAS SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM PART OF THE DEAL FOR RECONCILIATION?

We know a deal was struck on reconciliation. And we know what that looks like on the reconciliation side. But what did it take to get that? Cohn suggests Obama made a firmer commitment to paygo rules. Which is strange, as his commitment to them was pretty firm already. Congressional Quarterly has a more worrying suggestion: That Kent Conrad extracted promises that the administration would let him start tinkering with Social Security:

One outstanding question is what Conrad may get in exchange for not standing in the way of reconciliation provisions.

“Would I want things? Yeah,” Conrad said.

PASS HEALTH REFORM BY OCTOBER 15TH, OR ELSE.

First, a bit of background: Awhile ago, we talked about the three types of reconciliation possible on health care. The first type was a simple reconciliation process. The second type was a timed process where reconciliation would begin if the Congress didn't pass a bill by "X" date. And the third type was a threat to pass another budget at a later date that would include reconciliation.

THE GREAT AMENDMENT HUNT: END OF THE WELFARE WARS.

Most of the amendments I've put up here today have been a bit galling. This one, however, is a pleasant surprise. David Vitter offered an amendment "to require States to implement drug testing programs for applicants for and recipients of assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which would encourage healthy, drug-free families instead of encouraging dependent behavior or on-going drug abuse." In other words, welfare would require a drug test. If you're a poor child, and your mother can't pass the test, or is afraid to try, no welfare.

THE GREAT AMENDMENT HUNT: NO RECONCILIATION FOR CLIMATE CHANGE.

Everything I'm hearing suggests that amendment 735, Mike Johanns effort "to prohibit the use of reconciliation in the Senate for climate change legislation involving a cap and trade system," will remain in the final legislation. It passed with 67 votes. More on reconciliation soon.

THE GREAT AMENDMENT HUNT: LEAVE COW FARTS ALOOOOOONE!

3494099-Walking_among_cows-Netherlands.jpgReader Myrtle finds a gem from Wyoming's John Barasso. Amendment 765 demands that "climate change legislation decrease greenhouse gas emissions without regulating carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions from biological processes associated with livestock production.

GREAT AMENDMENT HUNT CLARIFICATION.

I elided this earlier, but what the Senate passed last night were not binding amendments. They were, in general, instructions to conferees. Put simply, the Senate is building its budget. The House is building its budget. Eventually, representatives from both bodies will have to go to conference and make the two budgets the same. When that happens, a lot of extraneous elements from both budgets will be thrown out. For that reason, amendments passed during this phase act as suggestions to those conferees. Which doesn't mean they're not worth ferreting out: Every passed amendment is saying that this is what the budget should look like. It may be the case that Henry Waxman refuses to play along. Or it may be the case that their instructions are heeded by the conferees.

SHOULD EMPLOYER-BASED HEALTH CARE BE TAX DEDUCTIBLE?

They say that an important fact needs a striking number. So here's a striking number: $1.7 trillion. That's what people on the Hill are telling me they think health care reform will cost over 10 years. It's a tremendous sum. Larger by far than anything the candidates admitted during the campaign. Larger by far than anything anyone has explained how to pay for. The public plan gets all the attention, and it's important. But if we can't pay for the underlying reform, there's nowhere to even put a public plan.

THE GREAT AMENDMENT HUNT OF 09.

Over Twitter, Ewstephe unearths a very weird amendment from last night. Roger Wicker submitted a change to the section of the budget that funds Amtrak. "None of amounts made available in the reserve fund authorized under this section may be used to provide financial assistance for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) unless Amtrak passengers are allowed to securely transport firearms in their checked baggage."

In other words, if I can't pack a rifle, Amtrak doesn't get funding. This was passed by the Senate in a voice vote.

QUOTE OF THE DAY.

BenjaminGraham.jpgStock Market guru Benjamin Graham:

Mathematics is ordinarily considered as producing precise and dependable results; but in the stock market the more elaborate and abstruse the mathematics the more uncertain and speculative are the conclusions we draw there from.

AMATEUR CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT!

A lot of weird stuff happens when the Senate opens for amendments to the budget. Take health care.

GOT TO LEARN TO SHARE (LEGISLATIVE EDITION.)

wyden_art_257_20080812151619.jpgThe Lewin Group "Staff Working Paper" examining the feasibility of combining the Baucus health care proposal with Ron Wyden Healthy Americans Act is, on first glance, a bit puzzling. For those interested, the paper concludes that harmonization is, indeed, feasible. But that's not a particularly interesting result.

THE BASICS OF SECURITIZATION.

I try, when possible, to link to useful explanatory documents in the financial crisis. And this IMF two-pager on the basics of securitization is pretty clear. It doesn't do a very good job getting into the problems with the practice, but it's a very clear explanation of the mechanisms beneath it. In particular, watch how each step in the securitization process takes the holder of the security farther and farther from any actual knowledge about the underlying assets.

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