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Wonkbook: BP replacing cap; Kagan against the left; White House pushes jobs tax credit

Ezra Klein
Monday, July 12, 2010; 7:13 AM

BP has started to replace the cap on the leaking Gulf oil well with one it hopes will stop the gushing oil entirely; the White House wants to extend a limited payroll tax holiday intended to push employers to start hiring; a closer look at Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings reveals her discomfort with a few major liberal theories of the law; and there's not much evidence that anything except paychecks will decide November's election. Oh, and viva Espana!

It is definitely Monday. Welcome to Wonkbook.

Top Stories

BP has started replacing its cap on the oil spill, reports Lyndsey Layton: "Federal officials say the well is releasing as much as 2.5 million gallons of oil a day. The old cap collected about 1 million gallons, according to the government. BP officials say that once the new cap and a new containment vessel are in place, the system will be capable of capturing 2.5 million to 3.4 million gallons daily. Still, it would be a temporary fix; BP hopes to plug the leak permanently by mid-August."

The White House is pushing for an extension of a payroll tax credit, reports Deborah Solomon: "The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment, or HIRE, exempts wages paid to qualifying workers from the employer's 6.2% share of Social Security payroll taxes for the remainder of this year, and gives an additional $1,000 tax credit to employers for every worker they retain for 52 weeks."

Elena Kagan denounced legal transnationalism, Critical Legal Studies, and legal realism, three influential liberal legal schools, in her confirmation hearings, reports Jess Bravin: "Mr. Coburn asked if she 'ascribed' to Legal Realism, an antecedent of critical studies developed in the 1920s by such figures as Jerome Frank, a federal appeals judge and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman. Legal Realism rejected the 19th century view that law was akin to a science with unchanging principles that were discovered over time, and instead contended that law was a human creation that reflected human biases and imperfections. 'No,' Ms. Kagan replied."

The economy, not candidates or polls, tends to decide elections, writes Ezra Klein: "For decades now, political scientists have been building election models that attempt to predict who will win in November without making any reference to candidates or campaigns. They can generally get within two percentage points of the final vote, and they don't need to know anything about the ads, the gaffes or the ground games to do it. All they really need to know about is the economy."

Live indie interlude: Frightened Rabbit plays "The Modern Leper".

Still to come: The fiscal commission will focus on spending cuts; lobbyists are disappearing; environmentalists are losing; cats are using sorcery; and who-oh-who is Jacob Lew?

Economy/ FinReg

Deficit commission chair Erskine Bowles says we can't grow or tax our way out of the deficit, reports Dan Balz: "Bowles pointed to steps taken recently by the new coalition government in Britain, which also faces an acute budgetary problem, as a guide to what the commission might use in its recommendations. That would mean about three-quarters of the deficit reduction would be accomplished through spending cuts, and the remainder with additional revenue."

700,000 census workers will have lost their jobs by September: http://nyti.ms/d5G80V

The timing of the Senate FinReg vote is still up in the air, reports David Herszenhorn: "Final passage of sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system is now a question of when -- not if -- according to Senate Democrats. Yet, there still seem to be a lot of questions about when...For now, it seems that the earliest the bill could win final approval is Thursday. But Mr. Reid has contingency plans to work on other legislation, including an extension of unemployment benefits and a bill to bolster lending to small businesses."

Job losses are hitting the US far harder than other developed countries: http://bit.ly/bCPZen China's currency policy is more rational than we give it credit for, writes Greg Mankiw: "Economists should be cautious when recommending exchange-rate policy, because it is far from obvious what is best. In fact, Americans' embrace of floating exchange rates is relatively recent. From World War II to the early 1970s, the United States participated in the Bretton Woods system, which fixed exchange rates among the major currencies. Moreover, in 1998, as much of Asia was engulfed in a financial crisis, Robert E. Rubin, then the Treasury secretary, praised China's exchange-rate policy as an "island of stability" in a turbulent world."

The Obama administration is working with the Business Roundtable to cut regulation: http://bit.ly/9PrIIg

Jonathan Cohn profiles Jacob Lew, who's a leading contender for his old job as director of OMB: "Who's Jack Lew? He's a top adviser to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, where he's deputy secretary for management and resources. Before that, he was chief of operations at New York University and then chief operating officer at Citi Alternative Investments. He also served in the Clinton Administration, as director of OMB. Yes, that's the same job for which he's now under consideration"

Governors of both parties are pushing for more aid from Washington: http://bit.ly/aRO1fp

Energy

Unlike past disasters, the BP spill hasn't brought political dividends for environmentalists, report David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin: "Traditionally, American environmentalism wins its biggest victories after some important piece of American environment is poisoned, exterminated or set on fire. An oil spill and a burning river in 1969 led to new anti-pollution laws in the 1970s. The Exxon Valdez disaster helped create an Earth Day revival in 1990 and sparked a landmark clean-air law...The story of 2010 is not that nothing happened after the BP spill, or after the coal-mine explosion that killed 29 in West Virginia on April 5. It's that much of the reaction has focused on preventing accidents -- on tighter scrutiny of rigs and mines -- rather than broader changes in the use of oil and coal."

Juliet Eilperin talks to Yvo de Boer, the former UN climate head: "It's unclear whether the United States will be able to enact climate legislation by the end of the year in time for the Cancun meeting. What does that mean for the outcome? If the United States says to China, 'We need to be sure you're pulling your weight,' it's pretty logical for China to say, 'Fair enough, how are you pulling your weight?'"

California's public pension system is using its shares to push for changes in BP's management: http://bit.ly/9sDQv7

The oil spill commission is the first of its kind to start during an ongoing disaster, reports Mary Pat Flaherty: "Unlike the commissions that investigated space-shuttle accidents and the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, the Deepwater panel must analyze what went wrong while things still are going wrong. That real-time analysis of a catastrophe 'makes this commission pretty unusual,' said Amy Zegart, an associate professor at UCLA's School of Public Affairs who has studied the more than 600 presidential commissions convened in the past two decades."

Adorable animal using magic interlude: Feline sorcery.

Domestic Policy

The National Governor's Association meeting revealed gubernatorial frustration with immigration policy, reports Abby Goodenough: "At the Democrats' meeting on Saturday, some governors bemoaned the timing of the Justice Department lawsuit, according to two governors who spoke anonymously because the discussion was private...'I might have chosen both a different tack and a different time,' said Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, a Democrat who was facing a tough fight for re-election and pulled out of the race earlier this year. 'This is an issue that divides us politically, and I'm hopeful that their strategy doesn't do that in a way that makes it more difficult for candidates to get elected, particularly in the West.'"

Attorney General Eric Holder may expand the lawsuit against Arizona to target racial profiling: http://bit.ly/cKrboe

Reforms have led to a reduction in registered lobbyists, reports Amanda Becker: "The latest figures from the Center for Responsive Politics show that 3,627 lobbyists terminated their registrations in 2008, 1,467 in 2009 and 447 so far this year -- leaving 11,116 to patrol the halls of power as of April 25. The number of registered lobbyists has fallen by nearly 25 percent since 2007. "

The Obama administration is pushing back against the British health care system in defending Donald Berwick: http://bit.ly/cVHOqH

Michael Lind argues that "comprehensive reform", regardless of subject, is overrated: "The second reason comprehensive reform is problematic is that it assumes an ability to foresee problems and fix them in advance -- a skill not necessarily found among mere mortals. The longer the time horizon, the greater the hubris of those who claim to be solving problems not just for today but for generations to come...This overconfidence spans the political spectrum. For example, both liberal environmentalists and conservative deficit hawks rely on sophisticated models to predict dire threats decades away, whether a catastrophic rise in the Earth's temperature or unsustainable entitlement spending."

Graphic design interlude: The best intra-office email exchange ever.

Closing credits: Wonkbook compiled with the help of Dylan Matthews.

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