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The WonkLine: March 18, 2009

Welcome to The WonkLine, a daily 10 a.m. roundup of the latest news about health care, the economy, national security and climate policy. This is what we’re reading. Tell us what you found in the comments section below.

Climate

The World Water Forum said that “nations should throw themselves into building defenses against floods and drought, which may already be multiplying due to climate change.”

Hendrik Hertzberg advocates “scrapping the payroll tax” and replacing it by taxing “things like pollution, carbon emissions, oil imports, inefficient use of energy and natural resources, and excessive consumption.”

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Google unveiled new, free software that that “allows consumers to track their home electricity use and improve energy efficiency.”

Economy

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “has asked for records on the $3.62 billion of year-end bonuses at Merrill Lynch, to see if the panel was misled about the payments.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the battle over the Employee Free Choice Act “is zeroing in on lawmakers in three states — Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Colorado.”

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis said that BoA “could pay back its $45 billion in government capital by late this year or early next year depending on the economy.” Lewis “expects his bank to be profitable this year ‘absent some unexpected meltdown.’”

National Security

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

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Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, the head of Northern Command, told the Senate yesterday that the U.S. government is working on an integrated plan to address Mexico’s escalating war with drug traffickers and could complete work on the initiative as early as this week.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Tuesday to press ahead with an ambitious overhaul of Russia’s armed forces, despite the nation’s economic problems and vocal opposition from within the military.

Health Care

Glenn Hackbarth, chairman of MedPac, testified that while private Medicare Advantage plans offer patients enhanced benefits, “those benefits aren’t being paid for by the efficiencies of the private market.” “Every dollar of extra benefits in private fee-for-service plans costs the Medicare program more than $3, he said.”

Budget director Peter Orszag made clear on Tuesday that the administration still won’t rule out the use of reconciliation to pass legislation, should Republicans in the Senate try to filibuster health care reform or any other major initiatives.

According to a report by researchers at George Washington University, more basic health screenings and preventive care in Florida “would reduce costly emergency department visits and greater access to primary care could generate $700 million in savings annually for the state.”