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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

More signs that Congress is owned by corporations

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Igor Volsky has a post at ThinkProgress titled “Congress Poised To Eliminate Key Tax Breaks For Middle Class, Provide Permanent Tax Breaks For Corporations.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reached a compromise with House Republicans on a package of tax breaks that would permanently extend relief for big multinational corporations without providing breaks for middle or lower-income families, individuals with knowledge of the deal tell ThinkProgress.

Under the terms of the $444 billion agreement, lawmakers would phase out all tax breaks for clean energy and wind energy but would maintain fossil fuel subsidies. Expanded eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would also end in 2017, even though the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that allowing the provisions to expire would push “16 million people in low-income working families, including 8 million children into — or deeper into — poverty.” The proposal would help students pay for college by making permanent the American Permanent Opportunity Tax Credit, a Democratic priority.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the package would make permanent tax provisions that are intended to help businesses, including a research and development credit, small business expensing, and a reduction in the S-Corp recognition period for built-in gains tax.

The costs of the package will not be offset.

“This Congress seems willing to give huge tax cuts to big businesses—who are already doing better than ever—but somehow can’t prevent tax increases on 50 million working Americans that will occur when expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit expire,” Harry Stein, the Associate Director for Fiscal Policy at American Progress Action Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This is a great deal for CEOs and a terrible deal for struggling families.”

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also blasted the emerging agreement as “fiscally irresponsible” and doing “very little for working families.” He said, “Any deal on tax extenders must ensure that the economic benefits are broadly shared. We are committed to working with Congress to address the issue in a manner that is fiscally responsible and extends critical tax benefits for working families.”

In April, the Senate Finance Committee extended most of the 56 expiring tax provisions through 2015, while the House voted to make permanent breaks that primarily benefit businesses.

Congress is expected to vote on the package next week.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2014 at 1:03 pm

Public shaming is not going to work: they must fire the guy

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And fire him they should: note the emphasized passage below. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Last Friday, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, chaired by Sherrod Brown, effectively put William Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in stocks in the village square and engaged in a rather brilliant style of public shaming. With each well-formed question posed by the panel, Dudley’s jaded leadership of a hubristic regulator came into ever sharper focus.

There were a number of elephants in the room during the lengthy session that were only briefly touched upon but deserve greater scrutiny by the press. First, Congress knew that the New York Fed was a failed, crony regulator during the lead up to the financial collapse in 2008, but it granted it an even greater supervisory role under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation in 2010. This Congress has also failed to engage in public shaming of President Obama for brazenly ignoring the Dodd-Frank’s statutory mandate that calls for him to appoint, subject to Senate confirmation, a Vice Chairman for Supervision at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who could have shaped and monitored a more credible policing role for the New York Fed.

Senator Sherrod Brown Questions the New York Fed President During Senate Hearing , Novemer 21, 2014

Section 1108 of Dodd-Frank requires: “The Vice Chairman for Supervision shall develop policy recommendations for the Board regarding supervision and regulation of depository institution holding companies and other financial firms supervised by the Board, and shall oversee the supervision and regulation of such firms.” President Obama was required to nominate this individual once the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act became effective; that was July 21, 2010 – more than four years ago. The President has simply ignored this provision of the law – no doubt to the extreme satisfaction of Wall Street.

The final elephant is that as a result of giving a failed regulator enhanced power and failing to appoint a person to a leadership role in supervision, the U.S. Senate has effectively become Wall Street’s cop on the beat, doing the job the New York Fed’s cronyism prevents it from doing.

The last point was buttressed by the fact that simultaneous with this hearing, Senator Carl Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was holding its second day of hearings on how Wall Street, under the nose of the New York Fed, has massively and secretly gobbled up a huge swath of the nation’s physical commodities, like oil and aluminum, creating cost spikes for the consumer and industrial users while also placing huge trading bets on commodity prices.

Levin’s subcommittee, in place of the New York Fed, has also had to conduct exhaustive investigations into JPMorgan’s London Whale trading scandal, where the bank lost over $6.2 billion of depositors funds; HSBC’s money laundering; Credit Suisse’s tax evasion scam; and various other Wall Street abuses.

Senator Jeff Merkley touched on this aspect after Dudley had the audacity to imply in his opening remarks that the concept of “too big to jail” had been consigned to history “when Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas pleaded guilty to criminal charges.”

Senator Merkley asked Dudley how many names of the individuals who engaged in the tax evasion scam deployed by Credit Suisse were turned over to authorities. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley asked how many Americans who created those secret tax evasion accounts with Credit Suisse were prosecuted. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley asked how many of the hundreds of Credit Suisse employees that set up these sham accounts were indicted. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley said the answer to all of these questions was “none.”

Merkley went on to say that the Credit Suisse guilty plea to criminal charges came about not because of any advance information provided by the New York Fed or any investigation undertaken by the New York Fed, but because of the work of Senator Levin’s subcommittee.

Showing deep frustration, Senator Merkley said: “You’re the regulator; why did it take the U.S. Senate committee to find out those facts.” Dudley responded: “I don’t know the answer to that.” [The sonofabitch doesn’t know much, does he? Certainly nothing about his job. – LG]

Senator Elizabeth Warren drilled down to just how Dudley sees his role as a regulator. In an enlightening exchange, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2014 at 2:54 pm

Very interesting post on how major national policy can be decided by the whim of one person

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Kevin Drum’s right: there’s something wrong with this picture.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2014 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Congress, Government

The question is: Will Sen. Udall (D-CO) step up and read the report of the Senate investigation into the record

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We have a lot of craven politicians, but I suspect no more a higher percentage than in the general population—except that craven politicians can think up more excuses for not acting. But time is running out for Sen. Udall: will he step up to the task, or turn tail and head home?

Read this for context: the argument between the White House and the Senators on whether the American public should be informed about what their government is doing. (The White House thinks not, and is doing everything in its power to hide the facts.)

Obama really is a piece of work. It’s too bad he’ll probably never realize the extent to which he has let the country down.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 6:02 pm

Comparing GOP priorities with the priority of the people of the US

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The NBC/WSJ poll found that the American public had these priorities for the new Congress (in order):

  1.   Access to lower cost student loans–80% support.
  2.   Increase spending on infrastructure–75%
  3.   Raising the minimum wage–65%
  4.   Emergency funding for fighting Ebola in Africa–60%
  5.   Addressing climate change/reducing carbon emissions–59%
  6.   Building Keystone Pipeline–54%

The GOP, which will control both houses of Congress, has listed its own priorities:

  1.   Authorize Keystone Pipeline.
  2.   Repeal ACA (“Obamacare”)
  3.   Pass the “Hire More Heroes” (veterans) Act.
  4.   Pass Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Asia.
  5.   Lower corporate taxes.
  6.   Thwarting Obama on Immigration Executive Action.
  7.   Reign in the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.

Elections have consequences, and not voting is a dumb choice.

More information in this Daily Kos post.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 4:18 pm

Norms are easier to break than rules, and doing so does more damage

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What happens when the old norm is destroyed, a new norm is created. Reckless alteration generally is not an improvement. For example, Fox News broke the norm that a news channel is mostly non-partisan and instead became fiercely partisan, to the extent of broadcasting outright fabrications (without subsequent correction). The news channel had become a propaganda channel: not a breaking of rules, but of norms.

Thus we left the ideal of nonpartisan, accurate, reliable, fact- and evidence-based news. News became overtly a matter of agendas—at least more overtly than previously.

Now we see that the Congressional Budget Office, which has been the source of reliable, non-partisan information on budgets and budget projections (including estimating cost of legislation) is going to become a politicized, partisan—much like the change in the Supreme Court, come to think of it. The conservative majority hasn’t hesitated to ignore precedence (and experience and evidence) in arriving at partisan decisions—e.g., gutting the Voting Rights Act.

Elias Isquith writes in Salon:

As a rule, I try not to write about hypocrisy in politics. It’s such a constant, such a fact of life, that it can feel a bit like complaining about traffic or the weather.

But just as there’s a difference between waiting an extra 20 minutes during rush hour and being stranded in your car for five days — or between a typical snowstorm and what’s  happening currently in Buffalo — there’s a difference between the routine hypocrisy of politics and the kind we saw this week from Republicans in the House. One kind is an annoyance to be quickly forgotten; the other leaves a mark.

Before getting into why they’re so egregious, however, let’s pause to recap the Congressional GOP’s recent machinations.

Aware no doubt of how President Obama’s announcement this week on immigration reform would dominate both the media and the public’s attention, Republicans in the House, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, have been working to make sure the next head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — which acts as Congress’s honest broker when it comes to scoring fiscal policy — is not a nonpartisan technocrat, as has usually been the case, but rather a loyal member of the conservative movement. And, as former CBO chief Peter Orszag recently explained, because the CBO has no institutional protections from partisan hackery, and maintains its integrity mostly through tradition, there’s precious little anyone can do to stop them.

While there are no doubt many changes ideologues like Ryan would like to see the CBO make, reports indicate that the main reason GOPers want to install a right-wing hack as its chief is in order to make the agency integrate “dynamic scoring” more fully into its estimations. “Dynamic scoring,” for those who don’t know, is a phrase conservatives like to use to give a tenet of their anti-tax religion — lower taxes lead to more revenue! — an intellectual gloss. More importantly, dynamic scoring is generally the special sauce right-wing “wonks” put into their projections in order to claim that massively cutting taxes on the rich won’t lead to fiscal ruin. Remember the absurd claim that Bush’s tax cuts wouldn’t explode deficits? Thank dynamic scoring for that.

So that’s what’s happening under the radar with the CBO. And if that were the whole story, it’d probably fall under into the “routine traffic and weather” category of hypocrisy I mentioned earlier. What makes this more of a Buffalo snowstorm-level problem is the context — specifically, the fact that Republicans are destroying yet another norm of American politics, the nonpartisan CBO, at the very same time that they’re waging a relentless and disingenuous campaign to persuade the media (and thus the American people) that the way the Affordable Care Act was written was a breach of democratic norms without precedent.

Yes, this is where “Grubergate,” the most recent of the GOP’s seemingly endless supply of manufactured outrages, comes in. . .

Continue reading.

Basically, the GOP is going to wreck one of the navigation instruments by which we chart the course of government.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

The GOP has at least completed its Benghazi investigation: Nothing there

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As Kevin Drum notes, the GOP Congressional committee that investigated Benghazi for two years released its report late on a Friday afternoon—the traditional time for releasing bad news—because, apparently, in their view the report was bad news: no wrong-doing of any sort; no conspiracy; no hiding of terrible secrets. I wonder if Lara Logan will note this.

Kevin Drum:

For two years, ever since Mitt Romney screwed up his response to the Benghazi attacks in order to score campaign points, Republicans have been on an endless search for a grand conspiracy theory that explains how it all happened. Intelligence was ignored because it would have been inconvenient to the White House to acknowledge it. Hillary Clinton’s State Department bungled the response to the initial protests in Cairo. Both State and CIA bungled the military response to the attacks themselves. Even so, rescue was still possible, but it was derailed by a stand down order—possibly from President Obama himself. The talking points after the attack were deliberately twisted for political reasons. Dissenters who tried to tell us what really happened were harshly punished.

Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, they issued their findings. Their exoneration of the White House was sweeping and nearly absolute. So sweeping that I want to quote directly from the report’s summary, rather than paraphrasing it. Here it is:

  • The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi….Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support….
  • Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
  • Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa’ida, participated in the attacks….
  • Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration’s initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate….There was no protest.The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)….
  • Fifth, . . .

Continue reading.

And William Douglas of McClatchy has a report as well:

The Obama administration didn’t issue ‘stand down’ orders to security forces at the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya or knowingly give erroneous details about the incident to the public, a quietly-released report by the House Intelligence Committee concluded Friday.

The two-year investigation by the bipartisan panel shoots down a series of conspiracy theories and cover-up claims. It’s the fourth congressional committee to reach similar conclusions.

‘The report has endeavored to make the facts and conclusions within this report widely and publicly available so that the American public can separate the actual facts from the swirl of rumors and unsupported allegations,’ the report stated in its findings.

It debunks talk that the administration ordered CIA and security forces at the compound to ‘stand down’ during that attacks that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: And ThinkProgress has a good report on the findings of the committee:

Two years ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives commissioned a House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi. While failures of security were acknowledged by the administration, the investigation was one of many formed with the intent to prove some conspiracy theories about the incident, including a supposed high-ranking order for the CIA tostand down in the midst of the attack.

But the latest report, released Friday, does little to back up Republicans’ suspicion of negligence, and it finds no intelligence failure on the part of the CIA.

The investigative report is authored on the right by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and the left by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD). Rogers previewed the report during a Fox News this September when he smacked down one of the leading right-wing theories, that the State Department issued a stand-down order before the attack. “It was the commander on the ground making the decision,” Rogers explained at the time. “I think it took 23 minutes before they all, including that commander, by the way, got in a car and went over and rescued those individuals.”

The report also disproves other conspiracy theories about that tragic night, including . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 10:10 am

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