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Senate to Vote on Auditing the Fed Today

May 6, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

With most of the non-controversial financial reform amendments out of the way, the Senate today is moving on to one that will divide both parties and is strongly opposed by the White House. The amendment, from Sen. Bernard Sanders [I, VT], would open up the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions to a full Government Accountability Office audit for the first time ever.

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Financial Reform Amendment Voting Begins

May 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Remember last week when Senate Republicans filibustered beginning debate of the financial reform bill three times in three days over objections to a liquidation fund that they said would be used in the future for bailouts? Well, the fund was officially removed on Wednesday by a an overwhelming vote of 93-5. That makes everyone happy -- the Republicans who called it a bailout, the banks who didn't want to pay into it, and the Democrats who didn't really care much about it and would rather have Republican cooperation.

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Under the financial reform bill that the Senate is currently debating (the Restoring Financial Stability Act of 2010), payday lenders would be subject to new regulations promulgated by the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ensure that their services are "fair, transparent, and competitive." Depending on how aggressive the Bureau ends up being, the rules could severely limit the terms under which payday lends could do business.

But while the underlying bill isn't good for the payday loan industry, an amendment being proposed to it from Sen. Kay Hagan [D, NC] could be more damaging. It would ban payday lenders from giving out new loans to customers who have already taken out six payday loans or have been under loan obligations for more than 90 days in the past year. 

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The first amendment the Senate will vote on tomorrow when they start voting on amendments to the financial reform bill will be one from Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] that seeks to ensure that the government will liquidate failing financial firms rather than bailing them out with taxpayer money. If any amendment is going to get wide bipartisan support, it will be this one.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

May 3, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

It's amendment time this week for the Restoring American Financial Stability Act. Banking Committee Chairman and financial reform floor manager Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] has set as an end date of May 14 for the bill, meaning that the next two weeks will largely determine how effective Congress's efforts to address the regulatory lapses that lead to the crisis of 2008 and end "to big to fail" will be. Amendments to be voted on will include things like making the big banks smaller, opening the Federal Reserve up to a full audit, and restricting the authority of a new consumer financial protection bureau. We'll be covering it all closely on this blog. For now, let's take a look at what's going to be happening this week over on the other side of the Capitol.

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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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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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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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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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