Wonkbook: Austerity-crisis negotiations stall out

November 29, 2012

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 60 percent. That's the percentage of Americans who support higher taxes on higher incomes, according to a new Post-ABC poll. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents support an increase, whereas 59 percent of Republicans oppose increasing taxes on the well-off.

Today in Wonkbook: Austerity-crisis negotiations stall out; special coverage of financial regulation, the cabinet, Congressional committees, the filibuster, the Republican re-think, tax policy, and Gitmo; and our continuing coverage of the economy, health care, and energy.

Top story: Austerity-crisis negotiations stall out

The president begins his anti-austerity campaign. "President Obama surrounded himself with taxpayers on Wednesday to pitch his plan to preserve current rates for the middle class and raise them for the wealthy...[T]he high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending...Republicans and even some Democrats have expressed frustration that Mr. Obama has avoided a serious public discussion on spending with barely a month until deep automatic budget cuts and tax increases are scheduled to take effect. While the president’s aides said it was important to engage the public on taxes, others say he has not prepared the country for the sacrifice that would come with lower spending." Peter Baker in The New York Times.

Read: The transcript of President Obama’s remarks.

@Goldfarb: The most important 'fiscal cliff' decisions probably won't happen 'til the last moment.

Austerity-crisis talks bogged down by dispute over cost of retirement programs. "Negotiations to avert the year-end 'fiscal cliff' advanced at a glacial pace Wednesday, with a dispute over how to tackle the soaring cost of federal retirement programs emerging as the latest roadblock to progress...White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama has already offered a plan to slice $340 billion from federal health programs, in part by charging wealthy seniors more for Medicare, and that he is open to additional proposals for health-care savings." Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@pdacosta: Christmas deal? Wayward Santa spotted on sidelines of Obama meeting with CEOs on fiscal cliff. "Ho, ho, ho," he said.

Wonkbookmark: The Tax Policy Center's austerity-crisis tax liability calculator.

Dem leaders: Cuts to Medicare benefits off the table in deficit negotiations. "Democratic party leaders on Wednesday argued that they had already put Medicare cuts on the table in deficit talks, but they ruled out any reduction to benefits...Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who heads the House Democratic Caucus, echoed that message, claiming there's more than $700 billion in savings to be had by ironing out inefficiencies in the healthcare system that wouldn't affect direct benefits. He suggested fixing those problems shouldn't be a partisan issue." Mike Lillis in The Hill.

Your humble Wonkbooker explains: Policy by policy, examining the austerity crisis. First, the Bush tax cuts.

Obama: I'm flexible on top tax rate. "President Barack Obama signaled he wouldn't insist tax rates on upper-income Americans rise to Clinton-era peaks as part of a deficit-reduction deal, showing new flexibility as he tries to accelerate talks with congressional Republicans...Retreating from the Clinton-era levels opens up a number of new possibilities. Negotiators could pursue having tax rates rise on upper-income Americans to 37% or 38% instead of 39.6%. That could be coupled with new limits on the tax breaks for those households, something GOP leaders say they would oppose. Another option would be to leave rates unchanged but lower the income thresholds for when higher rates kick in, which Democrats would dislike." Damian Paletta and Carol E. Lee in The Wall Street Journal.

@sam_baker: kicking the can over the cliff is beyond the pale. insufferable political cliches, call your office!

Bowles himself is an austerity-crisis pessimist. "Bowles said his pessimism stems from the pace of negotiations so far, as well as the remaining gulf between the parties. Congress now has just 10 legislative working days left before the new year." Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

@mattyglesias: I’m baffled as to what the true preferences of Democratic leaders are as to the fiscal cliff outcome. Does anyone think they know?

House Republican Tom Cole urges GOP to take Obama deal. "Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Tuesday that Republicans in Congress should allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, arguing that it wouldn’t violate their pledge not to raise taxes Speaking at a private session, the former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman said his party should agree to tax cuts for income under $250,000 a year, avert the fiscal cliff and argue over tax cuts for the wealthy later." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@TheStalwart: Why do we need to get a long-term deficit reduction framework to avert the fiscal cliff?

...Does the Norquist pledge even apply to the austerity crisis? "Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) doesn’t think it does. And Norquist and his group -- Americans for Tax Reform -- aren’t saying that Cole is wrong. Cole’s basic premise is that, because the Bush tax cuts are expiring, Republicans can vote to renew the tax cuts on income below $250,000 and still not technically be voting for a tax increase on income above $250,000. Those tax cuts would merely be allowed to expire for the time being...And in fact, Cole’s theory has been espoused by Norquist himself." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@dmgross: New C.W.: the fiscal cliff is stimulative -- it's pushing companies to shovel cash off their balance sheets in the form of dividends

...Or is Norquist winning? "Amidst the liberal glee over the demise of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, it’s worth being clear about something: Norquist is winning. Big time. It’s this moment, the death of his pledge’s mostly unblemished record, that he’s been working toward all these years...For decades now, Norquist has asked lawmakers to pledge to oppose any and all taxes. That’s a ridiculous pledge...But that’s the point. The severity, even extremism, of the commitment demanded by the pledge has helped entrench a public impression that tax increases are a no-man’s land for conservatives...Norquist and his pledge changed more than the conversation. They changed American politics...The true test of Norquist’s pledge wasn’t whether a Republican ever voted for another tax increase. It was whether it held tax revenues below where they’d otherwise be. It’s whether it increased the political cost of raising taxes. And today, you can see how well his pledge has worked." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@sahilkapur: [Person of the other party] wants to throw the economy off the fiscal cliff b/c they don't like my plan to avoid it.

KLEIN: It's not a fiscal cliff. It's an austerity crisis. "Washington is not known for the stunning clarity with which it frames and addresses tough issues. But has there ever been a debate so mired in confusion as the one around the so-called fiscal cliff?...Although the problem may be too much austerity too quickly, most everyone in Washington is insisting that the solution should encompass much, much more. In theory, this crisis should be easily resolved: If you have too much austerity, lighten the load. The reason the austerity crisis has become so messy is that the connection between the problem and its solution has been severed." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

MILBANK: The 'austerity crisis' emperor wears no clothes. "[O]ur leaders are just plain naked. As the nation approaches the year-end “fiscal cliff,' nobody is up to much of anything. And there isn’t so much as a fig leaf to conceal the lack of progress...As of Thursday, Congress has only 10 legislative days left before the cliff plunge, yet President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) haven’t met in 13 days, and reportedly haven’t spoken on the phone all week. Staff-level talks have produced little progress. Instead, both sides have embarked on a campaign of photo ops with business leaders and middle-class taxpayers aimed less at persuasion than at avoiding blame once the cliff is reached." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

@TheStalwart: I mean this in a very narrow sense: Lloyd Blankfein calling Obama's Fiscal Cliff plan "credible" actually seems like kind of a big deal.

WILL: A cliff of their own choosing. "With a chip on his shoulder larger than his margin of victory, Barack Obama is approaching his second term by replicating the mistake of his first. Then his overreaching involved health care -- expanding the entitlement state at the expense of economic growth. Now he seeks another surge of statism, enlarging the portion of gross domestic product grasped by government and dispensed by politics. The occasion is the misnamed “fiscal cliff,” the proper name for which is: the Democratic Party’s agenda" George F. Will in The Washington Post.

YGLESIAS: Why the quest for a grand-bargain hurts us. "The problem is that the quest for the grand bargain is essentially a quest for the impossible. Whereas ginning up crises to force Congress to strike that impossible bargain is wreaking real tangible harm on the country. Whatever happens during the lame-duck session, the best thing for America would be for the great and the good in Washington and corporate America to drop their fixation with the grand bargain. The grand bargain is impossible because it’s not possible for today’s Congress to bind the hands of future congresses." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

Top op-eds

KILDOW AND SCORSE: End federal flood insurance. "It's no surprise that it can be very expensive to live near the ocean. But it may come as a surprise to American taxpayers that they are on the hook for at least $527 billion of vulnerable assets in the nation’s coastal flood plains. Those homes and businesses are insured by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program. You read that right: $527 billion, which is just a portion of the program’s overall liability of $1.25 trillion, second only to Social Security in the liabilities on the government’s ledgers last year, according to government data...Homeowners and businesses should be responsible for purchasing their own flood insurance on the private market, if they can find it. If they can’t, then the market is telling them that where they live is too dangerous. If they choose to live in harm’s way, they should bear the cost of that risk." Judith Kildow and Jason Scorse in The New York Times.

DALMIA: For immigration policy ideas, let's look to our neighborinos to the North. "U.S. immigration policy needs a fundamental rethinking. This isn’t as daunting as it appears. For inspiration, Americans need look no farther than Canada...Canada’s provincial-nominee program is the best model for the U.S. Under this system, 13 provincial entities sponsor a total of 75,000 worker-based permanent residencies a year, and the federal government in Ottawa offers 55,000. Each province can pick whomever it wants for whatever reason -- in effect, to use its quota, which is based on population, to write its own immigration policy." Shikha Dalmia in Bloomberg.

Ultimate time-wasting tools interlude: BoingBoing's new grid of videos to watch.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Music recommendations interlude: The Kingsmen, "Louie Louie," 1963 (original footage).

The Austerity Crisis

Is the mortgage-interest deduction on the table? "Of all the deductions woven into the sprawling U.S. tax code, few have been more fiercely guarded than the enormous tax break that lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. But as Congress and the White House negotiate the first major rewrite of tax laws in decades, changing the generations-old mortgage-interest deduction -- which costs the government roughly $100 billion a year -- has gone from far-off possibility to part of the conversation." Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

CBO: Extending unemployment benefits could save 300,000 jobs next year. "It would cost $30 billion to extend the program for another year. But doing so could save 300,000 jobs by the end of 2013, compared with what would happen under current law...The two programs that are soon set to shrink are the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides up to 47 weeks of additional benefits (depending on a state’s jobless rate) and the Extended Benefits program, which provides another 20 weeks to certain eligible workers." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Read: The CBO's report, "Unemployment Insurance in the Wake of the Recent Recession".

Increasing taxes on the rich is popular. "Raising taxes on income over $250,000 remains a broadly popular approach to dealing with the country’s budgetary woes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Sixty percent of all Americans back higher taxes on higher incomes in the new Post-ABC data. Earlier this month, an identical 60 percent of voters in the presidential election said income taxes should be raised on income over $250,000, according to the national exit poll. In the new poll, 73 percent of Democrats support such tax hikes, including a majority, 57 percent, who do so 'strongly.' Among political independents, 63 percent back an increase, while 59 percent of Republicans oppose such a move." Jon Cohen, Peyton M. Craighill and Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Moral values and the austerity crisis. "So what can our political leaders do to convince their supporters to accept a deal averting the fiscal cliff? First, they should negotiate—and describe their progress—only in terms of overall packages of options across spending and revenues. Taken alone, any single issue such as tax rates is likely to trigger diametrically opposed responses and invocations of moral duties. Yet taken together, each side can find specific moral victories. In this case, that could be reining in the growth of government, for Republicans, and making taxes more progressive, for Democrats. Second, they should jointly call for shared sacrifice." Jonathan Haidt and Hal Movius in The Washington Post.

Costliest jet ever, meet the enemy: budget cuts. "With a record price tag -- potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars -- the [F-35] jet is likely to become a target for budget cutters. Reining in military spending is on the table as President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress look for ways to avert a fiscal crisis. But no matter what kind of deal is reached in the next few weeks, military analysts expect the Pentagon budget to decline in the next decade as the war in Afghanistan ends and the military is required to do its part to reduce the federal debt." Christopher Drew in The New York Times.

No, the stock market isn’t freaking out (yet) over the austerity crisis. "[I]s the fiscal cliff really creating massive turbulence in the stock market? Not yet: Chicago’s VIX, which measures volatility, is actually fairly low right now, especially as compared to the spike during the debt-ceiling crisis and the massive increase during the financial crisis...That’s not to say that the markets are immune to the austerity crisis. The market has been sliding since the election, and investors say they’re more worried about the fiscal talks, which has left many companies on edge. And far more volatility and market peril could still be in store, depending on how the negotiations in Washington play out." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Fin Reg

Fed lays out tougher capital rules for foreign banks. "Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo on Wednesday outlined stricter capital and liquidity rules for foreign banks operating in the United States, a plan that would force them to adhere to the same standards as U.S. institutions...The new rules would apply to 23 foreign banks with at least $50 billion in assets in the United States, the threshold that Dodd-Frank established." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

So you think you can...run the SEC? "The field of candidates to run the Securities and Exchange Commission is shifting after a contender dropped out of the race. Mary J. Miller, a senior Treasury Department official, removed her name from consideration in recent days...With Ms. Miller withdrawing, Sallie L. Krawcheck, a longtime Wall Street executive, has emerged as a potential front-runner...The White House, which has been holding interviews for the position in recent weeks, is vetting a number of candidates with backgrounds in finance and government. Robert S. Khuzami, the S.E.C.’s enforcement director, is favored by some agency officials. Richard G. Ketchum, chairman and chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s internal policing organization, is also a long-shot contender." Ben Protess and Susan Craig in The New York Times.

Stocking the cabinet and federal agencies

FCC has a waiting list for leadership. "Rumors have been flying for many months over Julius Genachowski’s successor at the Federal Communications Commission. He hasn’t officially announced a departure, but industry experts are floating several contenders to replace him." Al Kamen in The Washington Post.

Chuck Hagel is being vetted for national security post. "Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is being vetted for a possible top national security post in the Obama administration, multiple sources told The Cable. Hagel, who co-chairs President Barack Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, which provides independent advice on the effectiveness of the intelligence community, could be in contention for either secretary of state or secretary of defense, people familiar with the vetting process say. Hagel, a moderate realist on foreign policy, would be a comfortable ideological fit for the president. He has publicly supported many of the administration's foreign-policy moves from his perch at Georgetown University." Josh Rogin in Foreign Policy.

Why Jamie Dimon probably wouldn’t make a great Treasury Secretary. "Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, thinks that J.P. Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon would be a bang-up Treasury secretary when Tim Geithner steps down in the near future...He may be the most successful banker of his age, but Dimon has advocated a lighter touch in regulation of mega-banks, which does not seem to be the direction President Obama is inclined to go...But if Dimon isn’t quite right for the job, who is? What are the qualities that make for a successful Treasury secretary, the things that Obama should be thinking about as he makes a selection? The answers aren’t as obvious as it might seem. Treasury Secretary is a strange job. It confers immense stature, yet the actual powers attached to the job are surprisingly limited." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Congress Beat

Rep. Jeb Hensarling to be next head of House Financial Services Committee. "The House panel that oversees financial issues is getting as its new leader a conservative who has been a vocal opponent of federal bailouts and government support for the financial sector. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, not only wants to abolish government-controlled mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but also opposes replacing them with any new system of federal support for home loans. He also voted against the 2008 financial rescue package...Still, Mr. Hensarling is likely to push for much of what the banking industry wants on numerous issues, including efforts to roll back pieces of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul." Alan Zibel and Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Filibusting

Obama backs Reid’s filibuster reform effort. "President Obama supports Senate Majority Harry Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster, a White House spokesman said Wednesday. 'The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action. They want to see progress, not partisan delay games,' White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement, first obtained by the Huffington Post. 'That hasn’t changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster process.'" Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post.

The Democrats who don't like the 'constitutional option.' "Senator Harry Reid of Nevada knew he would anger Republicans when he threatened to change the rules of the Senate to make it harder for the minority to gum up legislation. But he is also running into resistance from fellow Democrats about the way those rules would be changed -- essentially by ramming the changes through with 51 votes, rather than with the agreement of two-thirds of the Senate, which is how rule changes are meant to be made." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

Democratic senators say they'd be fine with proposed rule changes when in the minority. "Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said Wednesday that they’d be fine with the proposed changes to the filibuster rules made by Democrats if they become the minority party in the Senate...Earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked Democrats to consider if they would be OK with the changes they've proposed if they were no longer in the majority. Merkley and Udall assured him they would be fine with the changes." Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

How the conservative 'interwebs' is reacting. "The conservative blogosphere is leveling charges of 'bullying' at Sen. Harry Reid after the majority leader proposed filibuster reform...But some right-leaning writers saw an opportunity." Katie Glueck in Politico.

The Republican Re-Think

Romney to lunch with Obama on Thursday. "President Obama and his defeated Republican foe, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, will have lunch Thursday in the private dining room at the White House, a show of bipartisan comity three weeks after the conclusion of a tough and often nasty election campaign...There has been some speculation among pundits that Obama could offer Romney a role in his administration, perhaps at the Commerce Department, given Romney’s business background." David Nakamura and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Tax Policy

Our tax code is growing dependent on payroll tax revenue. "We’ve become reliant on payroll taxes, and a goal of a tax overhaul should be to reform and reduce them, permanently...The share of federal tax revenues coming from payroll taxes has doubled since the 1970s, to about two-fifths of revenue. The payroll tax, underwriting social insurance programs, nearly surpassed the individual income tax as the single largest source of federal tax revenue in 2009...Since payroll taxes finance Social Security and part of Medicare, cost growth in these programs pressures policy makers to raise those taxes. In particular, pressure from the Social Security disability insurance program and Medicare Part A has been intensifying...The primary argument for severing the link between these growing programs and the payroll taxes is that the tax is regressive." Owen Zidar in The New York Times.

Do millionaires move to avoid high taxes? "To see if high taxes are actually causing, rather than coinciding with, lower millionaire filings, you need to do some econometrics. Those who have reach much more equivocal conclusions than Baldwin. The best recent studies on the question have concerned millionaire taxes imposed by states in the United States. In those cases, it’s more likely you’d see millionaires fleeing...People are generally more willing to move within their country of residence than between countries. But even in those cases, researchers haven’t found much evidence that millionaires flee in the face of high taxes...These three studies are in line with the previous literature on millionaire flight, which has found either no effects or very small ones." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Guantanamo

Government Report Supports Closing Guantanamo. "The prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could be closed and the 166 detainees being held there could be absorbed safely by prisons in the United States, a government report says...The study shows that 373 prisoners convicted of terrorism are already held in 98 prisons across the country." The Associated Press.

Digital interlude: Organ made into 8-bit synthesizer -- think of old Nintendo music.

Health Care

Medicaid expansion would benefit Hispanics. "Hispanics -- one of Democrats' key voting blocs -- will be the biggest beneficiaries if President Obama's healthcare law is fully implemented, the law's supporters said Wednesday. Jennifer Ng’andu, director of the Health and Civil Rights Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza, said Hispanics would see the biggest gains in healthcare coverage if the law is fully implemented, meaning every state opts in to the optional Medicaid expansion." Sam Baker in The Hill.

AZ gov. says no to health exchange. "Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is the latest Republican to reject a state-based insurance exchange under President Obama's healthcare law. Brewer joins a slew of high-profile GOP governors who have said their states won't establish state-run exchanges, instead leaving the task up to the federal government." Sam Baker in The Hill.

GOP lawmaker calls for tougher fight against Medicare fraud. "Republican Rep. Joe Pitts (Pa.) called Wednesday for more sophisticated techniques to fight fraud in Medicare, a problem he said costs taxpayers $60 billion every year...Pitts leads the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, which held the hearing. He called on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to utilize predictive analytics technology and test the effectiveness of current fraud prevention efforts." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Study: Self-insured health plans on the rise for private-sector employers. "Private-sector employers are increasingly choosing self-insured health plans to cover their employees, according to a new study. The nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) found that about 6 in 10 private-sector workers were covered by self-insured plans in 2011, up from about 4 in 10 in the late 1990s. Researchers predicted the trend may continue as employers look for ways to save money on their healthcare coverage." Elise Viebeck in The Hill.

Economy

Monetary stimulus likely to continue into 2013, Fed says. "Three months after launching an aggressive push to restart the lumbering U.S. economy, Federal Reserve officials are nearing a decision to continue those efforts into 2013 as the U.S. faces threats from the fiscal cliff at home and fragile economies elsewhere in the world...Central bank officials face critical decisions at their next policy meeting Dec. 11-12. The most pressing is whether to move forward with bond-buying programs in which the Fed is accumulating immense stockpiles of long-term mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bonds." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

The Fed's 'Beige Book' survey showed continuing growth. " A pickup in consumer spending and steady home sales helped lift economic growth in October and early November in most parts of the United States, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday...Growth improved in nine of the Fed’s 12 regional banking districts, the survey said...Hiring increased in more than half of the districts. But manufacturing shrank or slowed in seven regions and was mixed in two others. The report, called the Beige Book, provides anecdotal information on economic conditions around the country from October through Nov. 14." The Associated Press.

Student debt owned by feds swells. "The federal lending program designed to make college education available to everyone is creating a pile of debt so large it is fanning worries that it has become too easy to borrow too much. U.S. student-loan debt rose by $42 billion, or 4.6%, to $956 billion in the third quarter, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday...Payments on 11% of student-loan balances were 90 or more days behind at the end of September, up from 8.9% at the end of June, a rate that now exceeds that for credit cards...Nearly all student loans—93% of them last year—are made directly by the government, which asks little or nothing about borrowers' ability to repay, or about what sort of education they intend to pursue." Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: Obama’s economic philosophy, in 8 charts.

Energy

Can carbon capture and storage ever work? "Carbon capture and storage could be a boon for the gas and power industry because — if plants could be built economically -- it offers a way to use fossil fuels like coal and gas to generate electricity for decades while also meeting greenhouse gas targets. But today, building a gas or coal-fired power station equipped with carbon capture apparatus roughly doubles the cost. That is a big problem now, especially in Europe, which is paring back its commitment to green energy...Carbon capture is touted by organizations like the International Energy Agency as a major component of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases. The I.E.A. calls for 100 carbon capture projects by 2020 and 3,400 by 2050." Stanley Reed in The New York Times.

EPA suspends BP from new federal contracts in wake of oil spill. "The Environmental Protection Agency has suspended BP from bidding on any new federal contracts, including drilling leases, as a result of the company’s conduct during the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010 that led to 11 deaths and the largest U.S. offshore spill...Although the EPA did not say how long the ban will last, regulations generally limit such suspensions to 18 months. However, it could last until the end of legal proceedings." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Understanding the Doha climate talks, in three easy charts.

Some say add fee to energy production. "More revenues for infrastructure could be wrung out of a linkage with energy in a number of ways, but the possibilities discussed the most include instituting a fee on oil production, or expanding oil and natural gas drilling availability." Kathryn A. Wolfe in Politico.

Smaller reactors, the future of nuclear? "The idea is to build a reactor that can be assembled at a factory and shipped nearly complete on a barge or a rail car, incorporating in one 83-foot-high package components that are usually separate and assembled in the field...The 600-ton package can be transported by rail car or ship. That could make it a good export product, for places where poor electric grids cannot handle big generating units...The Energy Department says it will pay up to half the development costs, and intends to sponsor two projects." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Senate passes amendment keeping biofuel investments in defense bill. "The Senate approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill Wednesday that would restore the military’s ability to invest in biofuels. Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) amendment, 2985, strikes Section 313 of the National Defense Authorization Act, S. 3254, which bars the military from purchasing biofuels that cost more than petroleum and from spending money to scale up biofuel refineries. Those supporting the amendment, which passed on a 62-37 vote, said it would save lives and money." Zack Colman and Ramsey Cox in The Hill.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Brad Plumer · November 28, 2012