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Klain, get me rewrite!

White House chief of staff RON KLAIN thinks the Cabinet has too many people. He believes tax hikes are “much needed” but talking about them can be “kryptonite” for Democrats. And he thinks voters should never, ever pick a candidate in a primary based on “electability.”

Before he became chief of staff to President JOE BIDEN, Klain dabbled in op-ed writing. He had a Bloomberg View column from 2011 to 2012 and wrote dozens of columns for The Washington Post during the Trump administration. Well before then, his byline was on a column called “The Saxa Syndrome” for Georgetown University’s student newspaper.

He apparently preferred working in the White House to a future in the Washington press corps. But, along the way to that discovery, he penned a few columns directly relevant to the job he holds now.

Klain lamented in Bloomberg View in 2011 that the White House Cabinet Room had grown so crowded that secretaries now had to “climb over a chair arm, or squeeze their rump past a colleague’s face, to reach their seat.”

“The awkward seating problem illustrates a bigger point: The modern Cabinet has grown too large to be an effective tool to help run the federal government,” Klain wrote.

President BARACK OBAMA’s Cabinet had 22 members. Can you, Klain asked, “name any U.S. corporate chief executive with that many direct reports?”

He suggested scrapping every Cabinet agency except State, Treasury, Defense, and Justice. The Justice Department would absorb the Department of Homeland Security. The rest would be folded into three uber-agencies: the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Economic Development. He admitted the idea “would cost money before it produced savings, and create chaos in the agencies before things settled down” but argued the long-term benefits would be substantial.

Fast forward a decade and Klain is now a member of the Cabinet — and it’s even bigger. President JOE BIDEN’s Cabinet has 25 members, the largest in history. They have not yet needed to cram into the Cabinet Room, but it’s only a matter of time.

A person familiar with Klain’s views said he no longer favors shrinking the Cabinet, but he wasn’t alone at the time. Obama pitched consolidating Cabinet departments in his 2011 State of the Union, and White House chief of staff BILL DALEY later proposed merging the Commerce Department, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and several smaller agencies. But the idea ran into opposition on the Hill and never went anywhere.

Klain’s columns from 2011 and 2012 are particularly notable given that Biden is now facing some of the same issues the Obama administration was then, including whether or not to raise taxes on the rich and how to sell infrastructure investment.

In one October 2011 column, he warned Democrats that proposing tax hikes could come with “severe” political consequences. Arguing that billionaires should pay a higher tax rate than their secretaries was not necessarily a winning argument, Klain wrote.

“Even if middle-class voters are stirred by the populist sentiment behind such rhetoric, they may be unnerved by its implicit zeal to raise taxes, and the tone of the debate leaves the administration vulnerable to the usual caricatures of Democrats as overenthusiastic tax hikers,” he said.

That’s about to become relevant, as Biden told ABC News this week, “Anybody making more than $400,000 will see a small to a significant tax increase,” under a forthcoming infrastructure spending plan. “You have now 90 of the Fortune 500 companies don't pay a single penny in federal tax. Not a penny. Making billions of dollars,” the president argued.

In another column, Klain wrote that Congress ought to invest in fixing the country’s bridges, roads, and dams but shouldn’t raise expectations that such projects would provide lots of new jobs. While marquee projects like the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority became symbols of the New Deal, Klain argued, “It’s important to understand how small a role giant construction projects played in ending the Great Depression.”

The White House said in a statement that Klain works “to implement the policy agenda and priorities of President Biden and Vice President Harris. Columns from decades ago as a college student or a private citizen have literally no impact on the Biden-Harris agenda today.”



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