Obama’s choice to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the latest member of his uber-green team.
In a statement announcing his selection, Ron Sims, the county executive of King County, Washington says his work “highlights the connection between urban development and curbing global warming.” Greenwire (subs. req’d) has full story:
I have no idea what Prof Luttmer said or even what his talk was about. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences in living standards within the developed world and the phrase “what good is wealth without health” encapsulates something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When you look at the non-rich world, one of the best things about being a richer country rather than a poorer one is that your citizens can get healthier. And when you look within a country, one of the best things about being a richer person rather than a poorer one is that you can be healthier. But when you look among the rich countries, this doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
Spain is a rich country in the scheme of things, but it’s definitely poor compared to the United States on all measures. And yet it has a higher life expectancy. And nobody ever cites Spain as a social policy model so it’s not that they have a particularly exemplary health care system. Nor do they particularly invest many resources in health care—they spend a much smaller share of their smaller GDP on it. Spanish people are just healthier than Americans for lifestyle reasons. Spanish people, like Americans, are just past the threshold where society’s increasing wealth automatically leads to a healthier population. Indeed, in the U.S. we spend a lot of our wealth on health care interventions to remedy health problems associated with our unusually unhealthy lifestyles.
I don’t have a clear policy point to make about this. Nor would I say that greater wealth is worthless if it doesn’t produce greater health—I like my HDTV a lot. But the health-wealth linkage has a lot of intuitive power, and it’s true in a great many circumstances, but health is very important so the apparent breakdown of the health-wealth linkage ought, I think, to cause us to rethink some priorities.
Today, an amendment to the economic stimulus package that would have added $25 billion in extra infrastructure spending failed to pass the Senate. As we noted earlier, the amendment contained an unfortunate amount of highway funding, which dwarfed mass transit investments. However, there was funding in the amendment worth salvaging: a $7 billion boost for water infrastructure projects. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) took to the Senate floor today to explain:
This amendment also increases investments in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. We are so far behind on those programs…A recent EPA study, Mr. president, you’ll be interested in this, found that failure to increase investment in water and wastewater infrastructure could result in a $500 billion water infrastructure gap in the next 20 years…So let’s invest in water infrastructure.
In a report released last week, the American Society for Civil Engineers noted that “leaky pipes lose an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water every day, while aging sewage systems send billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into waterways each year.” This seems like a worthy problem to address with stimulus dollars, instead of spending them on highways, facilitating greenhouse gas emissions and urban sprawl.
Currently, local governments contribute 98 percent of the total investment in wastewater infrastructure and 95 percent in water infrastructure. Lessening this burden with the stimulus will quicken the pace at which these critical systems are repaired, while at the same time creating jobs. The Senate should definitely up the number of these investments, and dump highway funding by the wayside.
Over the last two weeks on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and their regular guests have repeated a number of significant falsehoods about the economic recovery package. The cumulative result has been to turn MSNBC’s morning talk block into an echo chamber for false and misleading right-wing talking points about the stimulus bill currently before the Senate.
This morning, for example, Brzezinski said that she spent last weekend doing “research” trying to find a good reason to support the recovery bill. “There isn’t one,” she concluded. “There’s a lot of welfare in there. There’s a lot of spending. It’s not stimulus,” she said. When asked about his and Mika’s critiques of the bill, Scarborough said simply, “We’re on the side of good Americans. … We want a stimulus bill.”
Scarborough, Brzezinski, and other regular Morning Joe contributors have made similarly flawed arguments in recent days:
Brzezinski: “I’m confused as to why we’re being tricked into thinking this is a stimulus bill, when it’s packed with welfare programs.”
Pat Buchanan: “This is just a big Democratic bill with all this pork and slop.”
Jim Cramer: “I have it maybe that there’s 142 people who really will get a job.”
Dylan Ratigan: “[T]he Democrats would do themselves a tremendous favor to not put spending programs in when we’re dealing with a stimulus bill.”
Scarborough: “This is a streaming pile of garbage.”
In place of “welfare” and “spending,” Morning Joe’s cast of commentators propose what they falsely argue is a more effective form of economic stimulus: tax cuts. Watch a compilation of the Morning Joe’s economic stimulus coverage:
Brzezinski’s “research” notwithstanding, Morning Joe’s cast of commentators couldn’t be more mistaken when it comes to what constitutes “stimulus.” Government spending is not “welfare;” it’s good stimulative policy — in fact, it’s the best stimulative policy. As Nobel laureate Paul Krugman quipped, “[W]rite off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending.”
Further, in arguing that tax cuts for businesses and high-earners are a more effective means of economic stimulus than government spending, Scarborough and company are exactly wrong. Indeed, as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo explains, “For each dollar spent on a capital gains tax cut, there is only a 37 cent boost to GDP, while for each dollar spent on a corporate tax cut, the return is an even more paltry 30 cents. Compared to the $1.64 return on a dollar invested in extending unemployment benefits or the $1.73 return from a temporary increase in food stamps, this is chump change.”
Finally, the bill and a detailed summary of its contents is available for anyone to read online. If Mika Brzezinski feels she’s being “tricked” about its contents, perhaps she just needs to pay closer attention.
In October 2006, Leslie Hagen, who was working as the liaison between the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys’ committee on Native American issues, was informed that despite her “outstanding” job performance reviews, her contract would not be renewed. In April 2008, NPR reported that the Justice Department was investigating whether Hagen was fired after a rumor reached former Justice Department official Monica Goodling that she was a lesbian.
When the DoJ Inspector General report on Goodling was released in July 2008, it concluded that Goodling was motivated by Hagen’s perceived sexual orientation and “that Goodling’s actions violated Department policy and federal law, and constituted misconduct.”
Last year, the Justice Department posted Hagen’s old job again. The department conducted a national search. Applications came in from around the country. After several rounds of interviews, Hagen eventually won the job.
The paperwork makes it official as of Monday, Feb. 2. Hagen now has her old position back, but this time it’s a little different. Her contract no longer comes up for renewal every year. Now, the job is permanent.
NPR’s Ari Shapiro notes that “it is not a perfectly happy ending for Hagen” because “nobody official from the department ever apologized to her for what happened” and she still owes thousands of dollars in attorney fees that the Bush Justice Department refused to pay.
Tom Daschle’s deep political connections and interest in health care wonkery made him a prime candidate for the health care job. He really wanted to reform the system and he had the political ability and connections to make it happen. Nobody questioned Daschle’s commitment to reform, but some commentators and lawmakers were still surprised about his decision to step aside. Here is a sampling of the live cable coverage:
SUSAN PAGE: I think not inevitable. I think Tom Daschle probably could have gotten confirmed….In fact, I think you saw support from a fair number of Republican senators. [MSNBC, 2/3/2008]
CHRIS CILLIZZA:If we had been doing this interview at 9:00 this morning or 8:30 this morning, I would have said he’s probably going to make it. He’s going to come out a little bruised but he’ll make it. [MSNBC, 2/3/2008]
TOMMY THOMPSON: Oh I think he would have [been confirmed] – I think there is no question that whoever Obama nominates they are going to get confirmed because of the overwhelming superiority of numbers that the democrats have. [Fox News, 2/3/2008]
ED HENRY: I can tell you, just in the last couple of hours, I’ve spoken to some of Tom Daschle’s confidants, and they were insisting he was going to make this…This is a big shocker at the White House. [CNN, 2/3/2008]
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) also expressed disappointment. “I wish Tom Daschle had not decided to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services,” Kerry said in an issued statement. “This was no ordinary appointment and today is not a good day for the cause of health care reform.”
Daschle seemed to believe that his tax controversy distracted from health reform, but critical media coverage may have also influenced his decision. As Andrea Mitchell points out, “Daschle specifically cited the New York Times–which I take to mean this morning’s editorial calling for his nomination to be withdrawn. Surely it wasn’t the only factor, but it was probably a non-trivial one.”
Moreover, a source close to Daschle says “he didn’t have the stomach for the fight.” “The double-barreled combination of a blistering New York Times editorial and a front-page story raising questions about President Obama’s commitment to ethics reform in Washington convinced Daschle he had to go.”
Daschle’s choice to step down certainly places more pressure on Obama to use the presidential bully pulpit and convince the American people that the economy demands health reform.
Still, the need for health reform may eclipse this set back. With the right team, we can still make it happen.
The Politico: “Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) just told reporters that Tom Daschle had enough votes to be confirmed, calling his withdrawal ‘tragic.’”
,Possible replacements for Daschle: Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Tennessee Gov. Ted Bredesen, Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Former NIH Director Howard Varmus.
At this time of national crisis, I think it’s safe to say that most of us are constantly thinking to ourselves, what would Michael Dukakis do? Happily, the Infrastructurist’s Jebediah Reed took the time to track down everyone’s favourite Greek hero and ask him. The results are interesting. On stimulus money for Amtrak:
In the current House version of the stimulus package Amtrak and intercity rail got knocked down from $5 billion proposed by the transportation committee to $1.1 billion. You served on the board at Amtrak for many years. Does this bode ill for the funding of passenger rail under Obama?
Well, does Amtrak have a billion dollars worth of shovel-ready projects? No, they really don’t. They’ve got $300-400 million. Could they get up to speed? Yeah, but they’ve got to get up to speed. Part of the problem is that we’ve so under invested in infrastructure for so long that our capacity to do this stuff has been weakened. That’s my concern generally with the infrastructure piece of the stimulus package. Read more
Via Satyam, comes this bit of ancient history–in 1995 our new Commerce Secretary designate voted to abolish the Department of Commerce. That’s too bad for me. Earlier this morning I started looking up old Gregg bills that demonstrate his lack of fitness for the job. After all, this sort of thing isn’t unprecedented. Just about a year before he became George W. Bush’s first Energy Secretary, Senator Spencer Abraham sponsored a bill to abolish that agency. So, this is old sport for Republicans.
But even though the CQ beat me to the punch, it’s not as if Gregg has an otherwise distinguished record on the score. The Commerce Department’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce”, and Gregg hasn’t really been a champion on that score.
Maybe this is a very wise move, and I’ll come to my senses once I see the “pro quo”. In the meantime, though, I’m just left with this thought: We’re finally in an era where decent government is a real possibility. Whereas Bush appointed Abraham to run the DOE, Obama chose Nobel Prize winning physicist, and experienced administrator Steven Chu. Our new Treasury Secretary, for all his flaws, is a renowned economist, and our Attorney General is a well respected attorney, and by and large that pattern holds… except for the fact that Obama wants to put this one agency in the hands of Judd Gregg, who doesn’t think the agency ought to exist.
Over recent weeks, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has emerged as a vocal critic of President Obama’s recovery package, claiming it is too big and filled with “pork.” McCain now says he will not vote for the bill in its current form in part because the legislation, in his view, does not sufficiently reduce business taxes:
McCAIN: We should have cuts for business and business taxes and small business taxes should be cut. [CBS, 2/2]
McCAIN: We need to make tax cuts permanent, and we need to make a commitment that there’ll be no new taxes. We need to cut payroll taxes. We need to cut business taxes. [FNS, 1/25]
And of course, McCain campaigned for president promising $45 billion in tax breaks for the 200 largest corporations. Yet it seems McCain has had a quick change of heart. This morning, McCain sent out an e-mail blast to his campaign mailing list complaining that “the proposal on the table is big on the giveaways for the special interests and corporate high rollers, yet short on help for ordinary working Americans”:
It’s unclear why McCain is upset that stimulus doesn’t help “ordinary Americans.” The very point of Obama’s $819 billion recovery package is to revive middle and lower-income America, which have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis. The bill, for example, includes a $500-per-worker tax break, part of the middle-class tax cut that Obama promised during his campaign.
But it is McCain himself and his conservative colleagues who have been calling for doling out handouts to the “special interests” and “corporate high rollers.” Sen. Jim DeMint’s plan (R-SC) includes permanent tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans. In fact, Obama included billions in tax cuts for businesses in order to reach out to conservative members of Congress.
So who is McCain criticizing with this e-mail? His own policies? His colleagues’ policies?
I’ve heard a few names bandied about by clever people. Ron Wyden, Max Baucus, Kathleen Sebelius. But here’s an idea. That guy who’s gonna replace Judd Gregg? Give it to him. Only this time without agreeing to allow a Republican to fill the vacancy.