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House Passes Scaled-Back Jobs Bill

May 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After cutting COBRA health care benefits for the unemployed and Medicaid funds for states with budget problems, the House has finally passed their economic recovery bill, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010.

But they are a day late. The Senate adjourned this afternoon and won't be back to vote on the bill until Monday, June 7. The current unemployment benefits extension that was approved by Congress in April is set to expire on June 2. According to the Department of Labor, more than 300,000 unemployed people will exhaust their current tier of benefits and be left without a lifeline by the time the Senate gets back to take up the bill.

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During their markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 this afternoon, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment from Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT] to repeal the Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which is much more conservative than the Congress as a whole, is where advocates of the repeal feared their efforts would get hung up, so, for them, this is a huge victory.

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To most liberals and many economists, the first $787 billion economic stimulus bill (H.R.1) didn't do enough to promote job growth and general recovery given the depth of the recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis. The national unemployment rate, for example, is still at 9.5%, and in areas that were hit especially hard by the recession, the unemployment rate is still going up.

So, the Democrats have prepared a second, smaller stimulus bill of about $127 billion in new short-term spending called the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, and they are planning to hold a vote on it in the House on today. Late on Wednesday night, the bill was revised. Here's what's in the final bill.

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FinReg Conferees and Finance Industry Cash

May 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has selected their conferees to meet with the House on ironing out the differences between the two chambers' financial reform bills. It's a pretty standard list including members of the Banking and Agriculture Committees that had jurisdiction over the bill as it moved through the Senate. But, since the Senate's conferees have all been influential players on the issue, it means that they are bringing an unusually large amount of financial industry donations to the negotiating table.

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Despite Sens. John Kerry [D, MA] and Joe Lieberman [I, CT] recently proposing a new framework for comprehensive energy and climate change legislation designed to win bipartisan support, it's looking increasingly likely that there just isn't enough support in the Senate for passing such a bill this year. If that is in fact the case, the Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the Obama Administration's efforts to fight climate change, is planning to use a 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving them authority over greenhouse gasses to put new caps on emissions from automobiles and power plants.

That is unless Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] succeeds at blocking the EPA from taking action by passing her proposed resolution of disapproval S.J.Res.26. According to the New York Times, Murkowski and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] have struck a deal to allow the resolution to come up for a vote on June 10. The Times notes that under the agreement the resolution will not be susceptible to a filibuster, which means that it will only take 51 votes to pass. The resolution already has 41 co-sponsors, three of which are Democrats.

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The Senate has been done with the financial reform bill since last Thursday, but supporters of exempting car dealers that facilitate loans from oversight by the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau got one more chance today to promote their position, and they won big.

Sen. Sam Brownback [R, KS] is the main supporter of the exemption. He argues that, the way it's done now, dealer financing is fair and sound, and that regulating it would decrease financing access for consumers. Consumer protection groups, on the other hand, argue that auto loans -- the most common type of large loan held by Americans -- are often scammy and abusive.

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The Week Ahead

May 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

With financial reform off the floor and almost into conference committee, Congress is using this final week before their Memorial Day recess to wrap up some stuff they have been pushing aside for the past few months. As weeks in Congress go, this one is actually going to be quite substantial. Hot-button issues including "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," extended unemployment benefits, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will all be up for important votes.

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What's Next for Reforming Wall Street

May 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As you've no doubt heard by now, the Senate officially passed their financial reform bill, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act, last night by a vote of 59-39. Four Republicans joined most Democrats in supporting it, and two Democrats broke rank from the left to vote against it.

They turned it into a substitute amendment to the House's bill, so S.3217 is now H.R.4173 and we have two different versions of the same bill -- one as passed by the House and one as passed by the Senate. The next step in getting the bill into law is for House and Senate leaders to convene a "conference committee" to iron out the differences between the two versions.

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Wall Street's Majority Leader

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

If you think the Senate has a pro-Wall Street tilt right now, just wait until the current Majority Leader is defeated and the next in line takes over. The Washington Post is running a piece today on the many reasons why the Senate's current number-three Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY], is the most likely candidate for the position after/if current Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is defeated in the November mid-terms, not the progressive number-two, Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL].

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Dems Win Big Financial Reform Vote

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Having won over Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] and having Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA] back in the chamber to place his vote, the Democrats today found 60 votes and passed cloture on their financial reform bill. That means that a final vote on the bill requiring a simple majority of 51 votes must take place within the next 30 hours.

The bill, called the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010, attempts to fix regulations of derivatives, create new consumer protections for financial products, and set up an orderly liquidation process for winding down failing systemically risky financial institutions to avoid future bailouts, and much more. A summary of the bill as filed (without the dozens of floor amendments that were added) can be found here (pdf).

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Why Cantwell Voted No

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As I reported yesterday, Senate Democrats lost a big procedural vote to wrap up the financial reform debate and move to passage of the bill because two of their own -- Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] and Sen. Russ Feingold [D, WI] -- wanted to hold out and try to strengthen it. I said yesterday that the two were probably hoping to get a vote on an amendment they are co-sponsoring to reinstate the old Glass-Steagall Act firewall between commercial and investment banks. I was wrong. Cantwell's office today released a statement explaining why she voted no, and it's all about improving the bill's derivatives section:

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The DISCLOSE Act and Blogs

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend directly on political ads and in unlimited amounts, Democrats in Congress have proposed a legislative solution -- make the corporations paying for ads disclose their identities. It's call the DISCLOSE Act, or the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act," and it's been getting hearings in House and Senate committees in preparation for action on the floor.

An interesting issue was raised at one of the hearings recently by Attorney William McGinley. The bill, he warned, could lead to Federal Election Committee gaining new power to regulate political blogs.

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Dems Fail to Get Cloture on Financial Reform

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After calling off the 2 p.m. vote as originally scheduled and huddling in an emergency meeting, the Democrats came back this afternoon and tried to pass the cloture motion to wrap up the financial reform debate, but failed. The Senate Dem leadership held the vote open for over an hour to twist arms and try to flip some votes in their favor, but in the end the tally was 57-42. Sixty votes were needed to approve the motion.

Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] and Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] joined with most Democrats in favor of the motion. But Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] and Sen. Russ Feingold [D, WI] voted "no" because they weren't allowed a vote on their amendment to reinstate a Depression-era rule (Glass-Steagall) requiring commercial banks and investment banks to remain separate. Looks like the Dem leadership will have to let progressives vote on their amendments if they want to wrap up the financial reform debate and move towards a final vote on passage.

So the debate goes on. Amendments will continue to be voted on. Expect another cloture vote tomorrow and each day until it passes. It's probably going to take at least a vote on the Cantwell/Feingold/McCain Glass-Steagall amendmentfor the Dems to get there.

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Mini-Super Tuesday Wrap Up

May 18, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

It was a bad night to be an establishment politician and a good night to be a progressive Democrat. On Tuesday, four states -- Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Oregon and Arkansas -- held congressional primaries, and in all the big races pitting D.C.-insider candidates against grassroots-supported "outsiders," the insiders lost or did worse than anyone expected. Here's a quick rundown of what went down.

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Remember when everyone was expecting Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] to use her position as Chair of the Ag Committee to insert a weak, loophole-ridden derivatives section in the financial reform bill, but then she surprised everyone by proposing something that was tougher than anything Congress had even considered considering? Well there's  a rumor floating around that Lincoln only proposed such a tough derivatives section in order to boost her liberal/anti-Wall Street cred and help her in a tough primary, and that after the primary is over she'll agree to gut her proposal and give Wall Street many of the concessions they want.

Well, her primary is today, and, like clockwork, reports are out that Lincoln is in private talks to change her derivatives language.

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