UN Climate Talks Are Breaking Down Again

As the UN Climate talks enter their second week, it is apparent that all is not well. The sticking point: “Poor countries argue that richer countries are responsible for most of the carbon-dioxide already the atmosphere, so they should pay for the damage caused by global warming. The rich countries, for their part, point out that you also have to look at future emissions when divvying up blame — which puts the spotlight on fast-growing nations like China and India.”

The Washington Post summarizes the breakdown in five charts:

  1. The U.S. and Europe are responsible for nearly half of the man-made carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere — but that’s changing fast.
  2. Developing nations are now responsible for the majority of emissions each year.
  3. China now emits as much carbon dioxide per person as the European Union.
  4. Wealthy nations continue to “outsource” some of their carbon to poorer nations.
  5. And, by the way, the world is still nowhere close to meeting its climate goals.

A Redistribution of Wealth Under Obamacare

James Oliphant contends that Obamacare technical glitches have revealed deeper, more structural problems: “The curtain has been yanked back to expose the ungainly reality that lies at the very heart of the program: Very simply, under the Affordable Care Act, there are winners and there are losers. And there were always going to be. That fact, even more than the star-crossed rollout, may be the more enduring political threat to Obamacare.”

“In the traditional entitlements, just about every taxpayer eventually becomes a “winner,” but under the ACA that may never happen. In that way, the law is more of a direct wealth transfer.”

Politically, the Obama administration can’t admit that the only way for the program to be successful is “that there would need to be a transfer of wealth—from the young to the old, from men to women, from the healthy to the sick. That to raise the floor, you had to lower the ceiling.”

Oliphant warns: “The simple truth is that the Affordable Care Act is, from a certain point of view, either a finely tuned machine whose parts have to work in an almost orchestral fashion for it to produce the wellspring of results that have been promised, or an infernal, jury-rigged contraption that could collapse from the smallest series of stresses.”

Nuclear Option is 'Rockin' Good News

Andrew Cohen: “There is nothing ‘nuclear’ about permitting a majority of elected officials to do what the Constitution requires and demands that they do: vote on which judges ought to sit on the nation’s benches. What was ‘nuclear’ was the way in which Republican senators these past few months years have refused to vote up or down on judicial nominees who were patently smart, able, dedicated to public service, and ‘mainstream.'”

“The coming era means that Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for federal judges now will be consistently more intense, partisan, and revelatory than they have ever been before.

“This, folks, is rockin’ good news …. [because] judicial nominees should be evaluated more in public on the merits of their work and the arcs of their careers. They should have to reveal more about their judicial ideologies, to the extent they have any.”

A New Way to View Social Security

For years, Social Security has been an ‘entitlement reform’ punching bag for those intent on displaying fiscal responsibility.

Paul Krugman asserts there is an emerging shift taking place. Arguing that Social Security is, in fact, one part of the retirement system that is “working well”, Krugman makes the case for expansion by dispelling two “bad” arguments for cuts:

“One is that we should raise the retirement age … because people are living longer. This sounds plausible until you look at exactly who is living longer. The rise in life expectancy, it turns out, is overwhelmingly a story about affluent, well-educated Americans. Those with lower incomes and less education … have seen their life expectancy decline.”
“So this common argument amounts, in effect, to the notion that we can’t let janitors retire because lawyers are living longer. And lower-income Americans, in case you haven’t noticed, are the people who need Social Security most.”

Two “is that seniors are doing just fine. Hey, their poverty rate is only 9 percent. [However,] there are well-known flaws with the official poverty measure … [and] the elderly poverty rate is highly likely to rise sharply in the future, as the failure of America’s private pension system takes its toll.”

Krugman concludes: “We’re looking at a looming retirement crisis, with tens of millions of Americans facing a sharp decline in living standards at the end of their working lives. For many, the only thing protecting them from abject penury will be Social Security.”

JOLTS For September 2013

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the September Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showing little change from the previous month. This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the nonfarm sector by industry and by geographic region.

  • job openings: 3.9 million
  • hires: 4.6 million
  • hires rate: 3.4 percent
  • separations  (turnover): 4.4 million
  • separations rate: 3.2 percent
  • over the 12 months ending in September 2013, hires totaled 52.7 million and separations totaled 50.8 million, yielding a net employment gain of 1.9 million.


Two Contrasting Views of the Nuclear Option

The New York Times editorial board supports invoking the nuclear option: “For five years, Senate Republicans have refused to allow confirmation votes on dozens of perfectly qualified candidates nominated by President Obama for government positions. They tried to nullify entire federal agencies by denying them leaders. They abused Senate rules past the point of tolerance or responsibility. And so they were left enraged and threatening revenge on Thursday when a majority did the only logical thing and stripped away their power to block the president’s nominees.”

“Democrats made the filibuster change with a simple-majority vote, which Republicans insisted was a violation of the rules. There is ample precedent for this kind of change, though it should be used judiciously. Today’s vote was an appropriate use of that power, and it was necessary to turn the Senate back into a functioning legislative body.”

The Washington Post editorial board does not: “The rewriting of filibuster rules by Senate Democrats on Thursday changed the legislative body in fundamental ways, and for the worse. Republicans whose unjustified recalcitrance provoked the change should be ashamed. Democrats who are celebrating will soon enough regret their decision. The radical action, a product of poisonous partisanship, will also be an accelerant of poisonous partisanship.”

“The impact of changing the rules in this way may be even more far-reaching. The Democratic action sets a precedent that a future Republican majority will use to change procedures when it gets into a political jam, rather than negotiate with Democrats. The logical outcome is a Senate operating more like the House, with no rights for the minority, no reason for debate and no incentive to cooperate. For those who view that as an improvement, we offer today’s House as a counterargument.”

Nuclear Option Increased Odds of Government Shutdown

Stan Collender: “By changing it’s rules yesterday to prevent filibusters on executive branch and judicial nominees (other than the Supreme Court) — the so-called nuclear option — the Senate further complicated a federal budget debate that was already overly complicated and had little chance of success.”

“Although it’s still less likely than likely, the prospects for a government shutdown in January increased significantly. Based on yesterday’s action, I have increased the possibility that funding for the federal government will not be adopted by the time the current continuing resolution expires to 40 percent.”

“And the likelihood for sequestration to occur as scheduled in mid-January also jumped significantly.”

How the 'Nuclear Option' Impacts Obamacare

The Senate’s decision to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ has a number of healthcare related implications.

According to National Journal, “the Senate’s rules change will likely make it much easier for President Obama to fill the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB—a 15-member panel tasked with slowing the growth in Medicare spending.”

“GOP critics oppose the IPAB largely because it puts the power to set Medicare payments in the hands of unelected experts. Supporters say that’s exactly the point: Congress lacks the political will to actually make meaningful cuts …  Obama will likely be able to fill the board and move ahead with one of the most significant cost-control measures in his signature health care law—if he wants to.”

According to Ezra Klein, “one important effect of Thursday’s change in the Senate rules: … It makes it easier for the government to hire good people, and makes it easier for them to fire bad people.”

“That’s not to say any of them will be fired. But the constant use of the filibuster against political appointments made it extraordinarily difficult for the White House to fire anyone because they didn’t know whether they’d be able to appoint a replacement — or, if they could appoint a replacement, who Republicans would actually accept.”

Why Harry Reid Needed to Invoke the 'Nuclear Option'

Citing some surprising statistics, Juliet Lapidos explains why Harry Reid ultimately invoked the ‘nuclear option’:

  • Lapidos measures the increase in frequency of filibusters by comparing the number of cloture motions filed to break a filibuster: 68 motions during the 109th Congress, 139 motions in the 110th Congress, 111 motions in the 111th Congress and 115 motions in the 112th Congresss.
  • 3 in 10 of all cloture motions filed in the history of the Senate were filed under Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s tenure.
  • Republicans have filibustered a record number of executive branch nominees: 27 under President Obama.
  • For the first time ever, Republicans filibustered a nominee for Secretary of Defense.
  • The average waiting time for non-controversial judicial nominees has increased from 70 days during the Reagan administration, to almost 7 months for Obama.

Reactions to Invoking the Nuclear Option

Jonathan Chait:  “The main reason for this odd, partial clawback of the filibuster is that President Obama has no real legislative agenda that can pass Congress … The executive-branch filibuster [had] become a primary Republican weapon against Obama’s agenda … The D.C. Circuit is where Republicans had hoped to block those parts of Obama’s executive agenda they couldn’t gum up by denying the agencies a functioning director.”

David Kurtz: “It’s what Norm Ornstein is getting at when he told our Sahil Kapur that at some level Mitch McConnell wanted this to happen, and in this way, with Democrats going first so they can be blamed. ‘McConnell’s threat, it seems to me, makes clear the strategy: let Dems take the first step, and we will then bear no blame when we entirely blow up the Senate’s rules after we take all the reins of power.'”

Eugene Robinson:”The real reason is that the Republican political strategy for working with Obama is not to work with him at all … The Senate was designed by the Founders to move slowly, not to be paralyzed. Republican obstruction of presidential appointments makes the government less able to do the people’s work — and less reflective of the people’s will.”

Ezra Klein: Lists nine reasons why the filibuster change is a “huge deal”.

Senate Democrats Invoke Nuclear Option

Senate Democrats “succeeded Thursday in deploying the ‘nuclear option‘ to make the most fundamental change to floor operations in almost four decades Thursday, ending the minority’s ability to kill most presidential nominations by filibuster,” Roll Call reports.

“The Senate voted, 52-48, to effectively change the rules, by rejecting the opinion of the presiding officer that a super majority is required to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on executive branch nominees and those for seats on federal courts short of the Supreme Court.”

Politico: “The unprecedented rules change means that President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees no longer need to clear a 60-vote threshold to reach the Senate floor and get an up-or-down vote.”

Think Progress: Why Democrats had to invoke the nuclear option in one chart.

What Americans Now Think About Obamacare

Digging into the results from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll about Americans’ reactions to the Obamacare rollout, Scott Clement outlines his top six findings:

  1. Obamacare opposition is rising. It’s now at a record high of 57 percent.
  2. Americans hate the individual insurance mandate. Almost two-thirds oppose this requirement with 53% ‘strongly’ opposing.
  3. Even more say the mandate should be delayed due to Web site problems. 71% say the government should delay health insurance requirements.
  4. But people like the employer insurance mandate. The employer mandate garners 85% from Democrats; 56% from Independents; 29% from Republicans
  5. Obama’s a bad manager, but not a liar. In general, most (56%) say Obama is not a good manager, don’t detect intentional deception (52%).
  6. Can the law be salvaged? Americans are split down the middle at 49% on whether the government can recover from early problems or whether it’s doomed to fail.

Treasury Borrowing Authority Exhausted by March

Should the White House and Congress not reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling, “the federal government will exhaust its authority to borrow money as early as March according to projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, ” reports the Washington Post.

Suspension of the nation’s debt limit was extended through February 7 as part of an agreement among lawmakers to end the October government shutdown.

According to The Washington Post, “the Treasury can resort to what it describes as ‘extraordinary measures’ to continue borrowing after Feb. 7 if lawmakers do not extend the suspension or raise the debt limit by then [but] the CBO said those moves would ‘probably be exhausted in March.'”

NSA Memo Reveals US and UK Agreed to Spy on Citizens

The New York Times reports that “the National Security Agency is authorized to spy on the citizens of America’s closest allies, including Britain, even though those English-speaking countries have long had an official non-spying pact, according to a newly disclosed memorandum.

“The classified N.S.A. document, which appears to be a draft and is dated January 2005, states that under specific circumstances, the American intelligence agency may spy on citizens of Britain without that country’s consent or knowledge. The memo, provided by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, is labeled secret and “NOFORN,” indicating that it may not be shared with any foreign country.”

Although in draft form, “portions of the document appear to indicate that, whether by formal agreement or simply longstanding practice, both Britain and the United States believed that in extraordinary circumstances, one country might feel compelled to spy on citizens of the other.”