Timothy Noah

Words I never thought I'd write: If you want to know what happened yesterday in the House of Representatives, skip the Washington Post's Page One news story and read the Wall Street Journal's lead editorial instead. It's more accurate. The Post story, by Rosalind S. Helderman and Paul Kane, portrays the impasse over extending the payroll-tax cut as a classic partisan conflict.

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Is Inequality Necessary?

My friend Charles Lane, former editor of the New Republic and now a Washington Post editorialist, didn't like President Obama's speech about income inequality ("Obama's Simplistic View of Income Inequality"). What Obama fails to grasp, Lane writes, is that there's a trade-off between economic growth and economic redistribution. He cites in support of this point the late Yale economist Arthur Okun's book Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, published in 1975, in which Okun argues that at some point economic redistribution undermines economic growth.

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Here is some very rare live footage of the species homo Republicanus voting to raise taxes. A team from Animal Planet travelled the globe five years in order to capture this moment. Okay, it isn't Animal Planet, it's C-span, according to whom (do I detect a thoroughly uncharacteristic and non-objective note of irritation with one party at the expense of the other?): "Members won't even vote on the Senate bill by itself.

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I haven't been able to get much inside dope about the negotiations that produced the bipartisan Senate deal to extend the payroll tax for two months. This is the deal that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refuses to pass, apparently because the Tea Party won't let it. It's their "Braveheart moment," according to Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Republican member of the Tea Party caucus, and John Boehner has an opportunity to be their William Wallace.

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The House "reform" of unemployment insurance, which is included in its payroll-tax extension bill, is actually a reduction in benefits. Right now you can collect unemployment insurance up to 99 weeks. Under the House bill, you can collect only up to 59 weeks. By this logic, if you have a loaf of bread and I slice off two-fifths of it then what you're left with is reformed bread. You're welcome! Or so I thought. But it turns out that this Republican measure actually does include, in addition to the 59-week limit, a few changes to how unemployment insurance is handed out.

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GOP Vs. GOP

Steven Pearlstein, the Washington Post's Pulitzer-prizewinning business columnist, is having an off day. Ordinarily Pearlstein's columns are well-reasoned, deeply researched, and a pleasure to read. I would say this even if he hadn't recently invited, and paid, me to speak about income inequality to his class at George Mason. But today Pearlstein's column expresses harrumphing condemnation of partisan bickering on both sides as the root of all evil in Washington, dressed up with a little game theory: "These days, Washington is stuck in a nasty Nash equilibrium.

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The Senate approved an extension of the payroll tax cut, but it's not the Obama victory I'd anticipated. It isn't a defeat either, exactly. But it isn't terribly satisfying. The extension is only for two months. You might argue that this gives Obama a political issue to clobber Republicans with around the time of the State of the Union address, but I would have thought right now was the moment of maximum leverage. It's reasonable to worry that the GOP will exact further concessions from Obama before renewing the payroll break, because they got a concession this time out that I didn't expect.

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I blog heads with National Review's Rich Lowry and talk way too much about my new Twitter account:

Hitch, 1949-2011

I could never bring myself to call him "Hitch." It felt presumptuous, and though I knew him a long time we were never more than friendly acquaintances. He was insanely good company, but you don't have to have met him to know that, and I knew it mainly as a reader.

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A new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that public dissatisfaction with Congress has reached record levels, with 67 percent saying they want to throw most of the bums out (up from 49 percent in 2006) and 33 percent saying they want to throw their own bum out (up from 28 percent in 2006). Fifty percent say the current Congress has achieved less than other recent Congresses. But the really interesting finding is that the public does not accept the "objective" message spoon-fed by the press that both sides are equally at fault.

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