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White House Opposes Audit the Fed Amendment

April 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate is getting ready to kick its financial reform debate into high gear next week when they start voting on amendments on all kinds of issues form both parties. So far, the Obama Administration has remained quiet on their support or opposition for specific amendments, but with one exception -- they are opposing a bipartisan amendment to open up the Federal Reserve to a full Government Accountability Office Audit.

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House Passes the Puerto Rico Democracy Act

April 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

For the first time ever, the residents of Puerto Rico and people born in Puerto Rico but living in the U.S., would be given the opportunity to vote on changing their relationship to the U.S. in a plebiscite authorized by the U.S. Congress under a bill approved by the House last night.

The bill, called the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, sets up a two-step voting process for Puerto Rico. The first vote would ask whether to change Puerto Rico's current relationship to the U.S. or keep things as they are. If a majority votes for change, a second vote would take place asking people to choose among four options -- U.S. statehood, independence, a continuation of the commonwealth status, or sovereignty in association with the U.S. The vote would be non-binding -- the U.S. Congress would have to vote to approve the results of the plebiscite under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution -- but by passing this bill and authorizing the plebiscite, the House is making an implicit promise that they will go along with whatever a majority of Puerto Ricans choose.

Click through to see how your Rep. voted.

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Congress Links

April 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The financial reform debate has officially begun in the Senate, though votes on amendments won't begin until next week. Meanwhile, the House has passed legislation authorizing Puerto Rico to take a series of votes on whether to become a U.S. state, become an independednt nation, or keep its current status as a commonwealth. Get the latest on this and more in today's roundup of links on Congress.

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Big Banks Use Revolving Door to Fight FinReg

April 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

One of the best ways for a corporation to affect government policy is to hire lobbyists with personal connections to the people they will be lobbying. Not surprisingly, this is one of the technique the big financial companies have been using to fight financial reform legislation. Last year, 71% of the lobbyists hired by the six biggest bank-holding companies were former government officials, the Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal reports.

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Third Time's a Charm

April 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After being forced by Democrats to go down on record against debating financial reform three times in three days, the Republicans are ready to relent and let the debate begin. The Hill reports:

Senate Republicans say that Democrats have made important concessions on a Wall Street reform bill, paving the way for debate to finally begin in the upper chamber.

McConnell said that Democrats have agreed to close “loopholes” in a provision setting up the fund that would have allowed federal officials to draw on taxpayer dollars to wind down a troubled institution.

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Roll Out the Cots

April 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: The Republicans have finally relented. They are going to let a unaimous consent agreement go through and proceed to an up or down vote on whether or not to begin debate.

Senate Democrats are planning an all-night debate on debating financial reform legislation -- the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010.

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If the pre-funded "orderly liquidation fund" is dropped, the financial reform bill will increase the deficit, not reduce it. According to This morning's Congress Daily ($), Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd [D, CT] and Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] are close to an agreement on dropping the fund, which Republicans have been attacking as a "sluch fund" that "guarantees" future bailouts. In reality, the fund would be used to pay for liquidating (a.k.a. killing) failing mega-banks, not bailing them out.

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The House voted today to block an automatic pay raise for themselves that is scheduled to happen next year. Each year, Congress is automatically given a pay raise (a.k.a. a "cost of living adjustment") of about $1,500, but they blocked this year's pay raise last year and with both chambers of Congress now having now passed legislation for 2011, they are set to block next year's raise as well. Senators and representatives currently make $174,000 a year.

The final vote count was 402-15, with 13 members not voting. Here's a list of the 15 "no" votes (all Democrats):

 

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GOP Again Sustains Filibuster of Financial Reform

April 27, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Expect to see this headline over and over. In lieu of a breakthrough bipartisan deal, the Democrats are planning to hold procedural votes every day on ending a Republican filibuster of debating the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. They're not planning on stopping until the Republicans give up or a deal is struck.

For the second night in a row, the Senate voted 57-41 against beginning debate. Sixty votes were needed for passage. Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] broke ranks and voted with the GOP again (apparently he still hasn't had time to read the bill) and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] voted against the motion again in order to preserve his right to bring it up for another vote under Senate rules.

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Why Ben Nelson Voted No

April 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] surprised just about everyone when he voted "no" Monday evening on beginning debate of the Democrats' financial reform bill. Immediately, speculation began circulating that he voted against the bill to curry favor with legendary investor Warren Buffet, a constituent, who had a regulatory exemption he supported for existing derivative contracts removed from the bill just one day prior.

The jury's still out on that. Nelson hasn't admitted to protecting Warren Buffet's interests. Instead, he issued a confounding statement on his vote that begins like this:

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As expected, Senate Republicans have successfully sustained their filibuster of debating of the Democrats' financial reform bill, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. They stuck together and even one over one Democrat tonight on a motion "to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed" -- or ending debate on whether or not to begin debate the bill itself -- which required 60 votes for approval. It was rejected 57-41. Moderate Dem Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] sided with the Republicans, and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] voted against the bill in order to preserve his right to bring the bill back to the floor again for another vote in the future.

But the Democrats aren't giving up. Here's what happens next.

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Just weeks after the House voted 416-0 and the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to ban groups from sending out deceptive mailing that exploit the census, the Republican National Committee is doing a fundraiser using deceptive mailing labeled "Census Document." TPM reports:

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A vote on voting on statehood for Puerto Rico

April 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The House of Representatives has something on their docket this week called the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009. People on Twitter are referring to it as a vote on making Puerto Rico the 51st state. That's not quite accurate, though the bill would make Puerto Rican statehood a stronger possibility than it has ever been.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898. Currently, all Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, they have a non-voting "resident commissioner" in the U.S. House of Representatives (Pedro Pierluisi [D, PR-0]), they have some governing autonomy in their internal affairs, but on their most contentious and most important political issue, their political status and relationship to the U.S., governance decisions are held by the U.S. Congress and the President under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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Bills on the Floor this Week

April 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Republicans' record use of the filibuster is about to keep a major Democratic priority -- an overhaul of financial regulations -- from even getting a debate.

Later this afternoon, the Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote on overcoming a Republican filibuster of beginning debate of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. All 41 senators came out publicly against the bill last week, and with no breakthrough bipartisan deal over the weekend the Democrats only have their own 59 votes, not the 60 they would need under the Senate rules to break the filibuster. According to multiple reports, today's vote is expected to fail.

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The Republicans' claims that the $50 billion "orderly liquidation fund" in the Restoring American Financial Security Act would "guarantee bailouts" have been pretty thoroughly debunked at this point, but I'm reading through the comments on the OpenCongress bill page and there still seems to be some confusion. For example, the highest rated comment right now is an attempt to fight back against the Republican bailout claim, but it still gets it a little wrong. "My understanding is there is a fund, funded by the banks themselves to bailout the large banks. So it doesn't impact taxes and it just means they have to bail themselves out not the government," the commenter writes.

That's not quite right. There is a fund in the bill (the "orderly liquidation fund") that would be funded by the big banks in order to keep taxpayers from being on the hook if they fail, but the fund would be used to put failing banks to death, not to bail them out. With bailouts, banks get rescued by the government and survive. Under this bill, failing banks would be executed by the government. The orderly liquidation fund would provide the working capitol the F.D.I.C. would need to carry out the complicated process of winding down big, failing banks.

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