Nightmare on Wall Street

The Wall Street reform bill is taking that rarest of paths through the Senate — actually gaining tougher provisions against the industry as it proceeds, not being watered down to win votes as health care reform was.

And that’s put Republicans in a difficult spot. They like the bill less with each passing day but know they risk looking like they’re siding with Wall Street if they vote no.

Even top Republicans such as Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predict the bill will pass as early as this week, but it’s not clear yet how many Republicans will be willing to sign on to legislation they say falls short in key areas.

“I’m very concerned about the direction of the bill,” Gregg said Sunday on C-SPAN, citing Democratic votes against a proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “How can you take a bill up in the Senate and totally ignore that issue?”

Democrats know public opinion is on their side and keep pressing their advantage. The latest example came Thursday, when the Senate voted, 64-33, to pass an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would allow the government to oversee debit card transaction fees.

Consumer advocates loved it. The industry hated it, because the small fees on millions of card swipes add up to big revenue for ailing banks.

“It’s getting worse,” one Wall Street official said. “And it was made much worse by the Durbin vote.”


Introduced Bill to Speed Haiti’s Earthquake Recovery

April 28, 2010

Contact: Scott Mulhauser/Erin Shields (Baucus) (202) 224-4515 Matthew Beck (W&M) (202) 225-8933 Jill Gerber (Grassley) (202) 224-4515 Lauren Phillips (Camp) (202) 225-3561 Emile Milne (Rangel) (202) 225-4365

Baucus, Levin, Grassley, Camp, Rangel Introduce Bill to Speed Haiti’s Earthquake Recovery

“The devastating earthquake in Haiti took the lives – and livelihoods – of hundreds of thousands of our neighbors in Haiti, and they need our help to begin rebuilding their country,” Baucus said. “By improving access to the U.S. market for Haitian textile and apparel products, our bill will provide the long-term assistance Haiti needs to get back on its feet. This bill is a common-sense approach with support from both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate, and I urge my colleagues to work with us to quickly pass this legislation.” “Today’s legislation responds to the clear call to action Americans heard in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti,” said Levin. “This legislation provides important incentives to expand trade and investment in Haiti and it does so in a manner respectful of the complementarities of the industries in our two countries. It reflects careful consideration and collaboration with stakeholders here in the United States as well as Haitian industry representatives and provides a way forward that works to the benefit of workers and businesses in both countries.” “This bill reflects a bipartisan, bicameral compromise that balances the concerns of domestic producers with providing meaningful trade benefits for Haiti’s apparel sector,” Grassley said. “The legislation will help to spur investment and create jobs in Haiti and so assist that country in its long-term economic recovery from the devastating earthquake. At the same time, the legislation addresses the concerns that have been expressed by the U.S. textile industry with respect to both domestic and regional production of textiles and apparel. I hope to see the bill enacted into law as soon as possible.” “I am proud that we have been able to craft a bipartisan, bicameral agreement that provides meaningful assistance to Haiti and addresses the concerns of our U.S. industry,” said Camp. “These benefits will encourage the long term investment Haiti desperately needs for its economic recovery and future stability. This legislation builds on the short term assistance that Congress provided earlier this year to accelerate the tax benefits for charitable donations to the Haitian relief effort. I am pleased to have participated in both these efforts. These are excellent examples of how Congress can work in a bipartisan fashion to promote trade and investment in the region and to create strong hemispheric partnerships.” “On January 12, Haiti met with an unthinkable crisis, one that no nation ever hopes to bear,” said Rangel. “We were presented with a challenge too — how to help our sister nation through such a crisis. This legislation is one critical part of the answer. The Haitian garment sector, Haiti’s flagship industry, was making important strides prior to the earthquake and helping the country’s economy establish a stable foothold. With this legislation, we will help to get the garment sector and Haiti’s economy back on that critical trajectory.” Building on the existing Haitian Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) program, The HELP Act will help create sustainable, good-paying jobs in Haiti’s apparel industry by expanding tariff benefits for certain Haitian textile and apparel exports to the United States. Senate Finance and House Ways and Means leaders worked closely with the U.S. retail and textile industries to craft the HELP Act and both industries have expressed their support for the bill. In February, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced the Plus One for Haiti program, which calls on the U.S. apparel industry to source one percent of its apparel imports from Haiti. The HELP Act supports that goal by making it more cost effective for U.S. companies to import Haitian textiles and apparel. Baucus and Grassley also introduced two bills earlier this year, one allowing American taxpayers to deduct qualifying donations for Haiti relief on their 2009 tax returns and another to aid American citizens returning home after the earthquake. Both bills were unanimously approved by Congress and have been signed into law. A summary of the HELP Act follows below. Full text of the legislation is available here. Summary of the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act of 2010 * Extends CBTPA and HOPE – The bill extends the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE) through September 30, 2020. * Expands the Wholly Assembled List – The bill provides duty-free treatment for additional textile and apparel products that are wholly assembled or knit-to-shape in Haiti regardless of the origin of the inputs. * Increases the Tariff Preference Levels – The bill increases from 70 million square meter equivalents (SMEs) to 200 million SMEs the respective tariff preference levels (TPLs) under which certain Haitian knit and woven apparel products may receive duty-free treatment regardless of the origin of the inputs. The increase will be triggered in any given year if 52 million SMEs of Haitian apparel enter the United States under the existing knit or woven TPL. Once the increase is triggered, certain knit apparel products entering duty-free under the knit TPL will be subject to an 85 million SME sublimit, and certain woven apparel products entering duty-free under the woven TPL will be subject to a 70 million SME sublimit. * Safeguards against Transshipment – The bill requires U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to verify that apparel articles imported under the TPLs are not being unlawfully transshipped into the United States. The bill also authorizes the President to reduce the TPLs to account for unlawful apparel transshipment. * Liberalizes the Earned Import Allowance Rule – The bill permits the duty-free importation into the United States of one SME of apparel wholly assembled or knit-to-shape in Haiti regardless of the origin of the inputs for every two SMEs of qualifying fabric purchased from the United States. * Extends the Value-Added Rule – The bill extends until December 20, 2015, the rule that provides duty-free treatment for apparel wholly assembled or knit-to-shape in Haiti with at least 50 percent value from Haiti, the United States, a U.S. free trade agreement partner or preference program beneficiary, or a combination thereof. The bill similarly extends until December 20, 2017, duty-free treatment for Haitian apparel with at least 55 percent of value from qualifying countries, and until December 20, 2018, duty-free treatment for Haitian apparel with at least 60 percent of value from qualifying countries. * Extends Duty-Free Treatment for Wire Harnesses – The bill extends until December 20, 2016, the rule that provides duty-free treatment for wire harness automotive components imported from Haiti. * Customs Support Services – The bill requires CBP to assess Haiti’s customs-related needs and provide assistance to reestablish Haiti’s port operations. The bill also requires CBP to provide to the Congress a report that describes Haiti’s customs infrastructure needs, sets forth a plan for providing technical assistance, and describes any funds expended to assist Haiti in rebuilding its customs infrastructure. And the bill authorizes funds to help Haiti meet its immediate customs infrastructure needs, and to maintain a U.S. customs team in Haiti. * Sense of Congress – The bill expresses the sense of Congress that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative should consult with U.S. trading partners to encourage the establishment of unilateral preference programs with Haiti, and that CBP should consult with U.S. trading partners to prevent unlawful transshipment of textile and apparel products through Haiti into the United States.

Fast Facts on California’s Economy

Since July 2007 (before the recession began), more than one million jobs have been lost.  From July 2007 to December, 2009, total nonfarm employment (seasonally adjusted) in California dropped from 15.2 million to 14.1 million, a loss of 1.05 million jobs.1

Since July 2007, unemployment in California has more than doubled.  The civilian unemployment rate (seasonally adjusted) went from 5.3% to 12.4%.  In December, 2009, there were 2.25 unemployed Californians (seasonally adjusted) compared to 964,000 unemployed Californians in July 2007. In July 2007, California’s unemployment rate of 5.3% was only 0.6% above the national average of 4.7%.  In December 2009, the gap was four times as great, with California’s rate at 12.4% compared with a national rate of 10.0%.2

In December 2009, California had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country when compared to the other states and the District of Columbia.3

The underemployment rate in California – a broader measure which captures, in addition to the jobless, both people who could get only part-time work as well as those who want jobs but were too discouraged to look for employment – hit 21.1% in December 2009.4

Manufacturing employment in California has dropped by more than 190,000 jobs – or 1/8 of the total manufacturing jobs that existed in July 2007.  Total manufacturing employment fell from 1.47 million in July 2007 to 1.27 million in December, 2009.5

California exports have fallen by nearly $25 billion.  In 2008, cumulative exports through September were $111.3 billion.  In 2009, cumulative exports through September were only been $86.5 billion.6

Home prices in California have been cut in half.  The median home price went from $560,300 in 2007 to a projected $271,000 in 2009.7

Residential housing permits in California have plummeted from an annual rate of 150,000 residential units in January 2007 to only 39,000 in December, 2009.8 As a result, construction employment has dropped by about a third, from 913,600 in January 2007 to 606,500 in December, 2009.9

In 2008 and 2009, California faced its largest budget gap in history, requiring the adoption of $60 billion in new taxes, fees, deferrals, and spending cuts.10 The final budget actions raised taxes by $12.5 billion, and raised another $8 billion through higher fees, borrowing, and accounting tricks.

In February 2009, California upped its base sales tax rate temporarily to 8.25%, the highest in the nation.11 Including local rates, the total sales tax now is as high as 10.25% in some California cities.

In February 2009, California also temporarily created the fourth highest personal income tax rate in the country with across-the-board increases to personal income tax rates.12 California’s highest rate of 10.55% is now only exceeded by recently-adopted increases in New Jersey (10.75%), Hawaii (11%), and Oregon (11%).

The Vehicle License Fee was nearly doubled, from 0.65% to 1.15%.  As a result of this temporary action, California motorists will be paying an additional $2 billion each year through 2011.

In July 2009, California began paying its bills in IOUs, only the second time it has done so since the Great Depression. The State Controller has threatened a reprise of this for 2010, unless the Legislature makes certain, immediate spending cuts or revenue increases.13

According to the Department of Finance, “Without corrective action, California is projected to face a budget gap of $19.9 billion in fiscal year 2010‑11. This figure is comprised of a current year shortfall of $6.6 billion, a budget year shortfall of $12.3 billion, and a modest reserve of $1 billion.” The deficit increased from its previous projected level because, according to DOF, “revenue estimates are $3.4 billion lower, federal and state court decisions have reduced or eliminated budget solutions adopted in previous years and imposed costs totaling $4.9 billion, erosions of previous solutions result in $2.3 billion of the budget gap, and population and caseload growth adds $1.4 billion in costs.”14

Total state debt has grown to more than $200 billion, including $100 billion in unfunded retirement obligations to state employees.15 This $200 billion is likely to grow another $80-90 billion as a result of borrowing in the current budget revisions, another $30 billion estimated by the LAO that will be needed to cover state employee pension investment losses, and another $53 billion in general obligation bonds that have been authorized and are waiting to be sold by the State Treasurer.

CalChamber 2010

Arizona Illegal-Immigrant Law Draws Strong Opposition

The toughest anti-illegal-immigrant measure in a generation passed the Arizona legislature this week. If signed, as expected, by Republican governor Jan Brewer, the law will give local police sweeping new powers in regard to undocumented workers. Currently, immigration offenses are violations of federal, not state, law, and local police officers only can inquire about a person’s immigration status if that person is suspected of another crime. Under SB1070, however, Arizona police will have the right to stop anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be an illegal immigrant and can arrest them if they are not carrying a valid driver’s license or identity papers. Passions about illegal immigration run high in Arizona, a point of entry for thousands of undocumented workers going to the U.S. from Mexico, and tensions were heightened by the recent murder of a rancher in a remote border area where illegal crossings are rampant. With 6.6 million residents, Arizona’s illegal-immigrant population is estimated to be half a million people. (See the great wall of America on the Mexico border.) Both proponents and opponents of the law are vociferous. “This criminalizes undocumented status and turns dishwashers, janitors, landscapers and our neighbors into criminals,” says Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The bill constitutes a complete disregard for the rights of nonwhites in Arizona. It effectively mandates racial profiling.” But state senator Russell Pearce, a Republican, says his bill “will not change a thing for lawful citizens. It simply takes the handcuffs off law enforcement and allows them to do their job. Our legal citizens have a constitutional right to expect protection of federal law against noncitizens. When those laws are not enforced, our citizens are denied equal protection.” (Will a biometric Social Security card help the immigration crisis?) All 35 Republicans in the lower Arizona house voted for the bill, while 21 Democrats voted against it. The bill passed the state senate earlier. Law enforcement in the state is split over the legislation, with rank and file supporting the measure and the Association of Chiefs of Police in opposition, saying it could hinder investigations by making the immigrant community hesitant to speak with police.

Further reading: Yahoo news

Obama praises energy vote

HOME STAR BOUND: The White House released this statement from President Obama after the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation to encourage more energy efficient homes:

“Today’s bipartisan Committee vote is an important step forward in our effort to create jobs, save consumers money, and increase energy efficiency. In my State of the Union Address and in the months since, I have called on Congress to pass a program of incentives to homeowners who make their homes more energy efficient. The Home Star legislation approved today would do just that – providing consumers with up-front rebates on investments in things like insulation, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and windows that have been proven to save energy. This proposal is not a Democratic or Republican idea: it’s a common sense strategy to help put Americans back to work while giving American consumers a break. I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties that have worked to support this legislation, as well as their colleagues in the Senate who are working to promote Home Star legislation. I look forward to working with Congress to get this bill to my desk without delay.”


Visitation rights expanded

President Obama called on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Thursday to expand hospital visitation rights to non-family members, a step that would aid same-sex couples who are often barred from their partners’ bedsides.

In a presidential memorandum, Obama requested that Sebelius use her rulemaking authority to require all hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid to respect the rights of patients to designate visitors.

He wrote that failing to respect patients’ wishes about who may visit them or make medical decisions of their behalf has “real consequences.”

“It means that doctors and nurses do not always have the best information about patients’ medications and medical histories and that friends and certain family members are unable to serve as intermediaries to help communicate patients’ needs,” he wrote. “It means that a stressful and at times terrifying experience for patients is senselessly compounded by indignity and unfairness. And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall.”

Obama said “uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives” but are “unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

In addition, widowers are sometimes being denied the support of friends, and members of religious orders sometimes can’t let other members of their order make medical decisions on their behalf.

POLITICO 44: New hospital rules.

Senators act to stop airline carryon charges

ATLANTA – Six Democratic senators want to hit U.S. airlines with a tax if they charge passengers for their carryon bags.

The senators said Wednesday that this would keep more airlines from following Spirit Airlines’ lead. The small Florida airline said last week that starting Aug. 1 it will charge its customers as much as $45 to bring a bag aboard its aircraft and put it in an overhead bin.

Air travelers have been forced to pay a barrage of fees for once-free amenities since 2008, for everything from checked bags to pillows to food. That has not stopped them from flying, but critics say charging for carryon bags is stepping over the line.

The senators — Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Charles Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey — want a law that would designate carryon baggage as a necessity for air travelers.

Airlines currently pay a 7.5-cent tax to the federal government for every dollar they collect in fares, but no tax is imposed on fees collected for nonessential services, the senators said. They said the Treasury Department last January ruled that carryon bags are not essential for air travel.

“As a result, airlines can impose fees on these bags without paying any tax to the federal government on the revenues they collect,” the senators said. “This creates a tax incentive for airlines to try to bilk consumers in the form of fees rather than by increasing the fares.”

Separately, Cardin and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Tuesday they had introduced a bill that would effectively prohibit airlines from charging fees for carryon luggage and require advanced disclosure of special, often higher fees for specialty checked items. The bill is based on an amendment the two senators proposed last month to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill.

Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the airline is reaching out to all the senators’ offices to clarify information that Spirit believes has been misrepresented in the media.Â

“We are confident that once they see the complete story that they will agree that this is for the benefit of all customers,” Pinson said of the carryon bag fees.

Further Reading Yahoo news

Partisan Feuds resume after finance meeting

Congressional leaders emerging from a White House meeting on financial reform showed few signs that President Obama would be able to lure Republicans to vote for a bill that aims to tighten Wall Street regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Democrats’ legislation a “massive bill that we believe in its current form provides an endless taxpayer bailout of Wall Street firms.” He called for Obama to “get back to the table” and “get this job done,” but he claimed that signing the legislation into law would be “institutionalizing” the bailout that Congress passed in the fall of 2008.

“If you look at it carefully, it will lead to endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks,” McConnell told reporters outside the White House. “That is clearly not the direction the American people would like for us to go, and also not the direction Senate Republicans would like to go.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner said the bill, authored by Sen. Chris Dodd, is “going to protect the biggest banks in America and harm the smallest banks.”

“The big banks will get bigger and the small banks will be gone,” he said. “At a time where small businesses are looking for loans, I think the bill that came through the House, at a minimum, would make it more difficult.”

Even Democratic leaders weren’t optimistic of bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans have objected to “everything so far.”

“This is no change,” he said. “The American people must recognize it’s difficult to work with the party of no.”

Responding to McConnell’s accusation that Democrats had pulled back from negotiating, killing bipartisan talks, Reid said, “This is a figment of his imagination.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called McConnell’s claim that the bill would institutionalize bailouts “sad.”

“It’s such a diversion from the facts that it’s almost laughable,” she said, then reminding reporters that President Bush “took us to the brink of financial crisis.”

Further Reading Politico news

Mississippi school district ordered to end racial segregation

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a Mississippi school district to halt local policies that had allowed some of the district’s schools and classes to become racially segregated.

US District Judge Tom Lee gave the Walthall County School District 30 days to amend its student transfer policy and ordered an immediate halt to the alleged “clustering” of white students into certain classes in Tylertown, Miss., elementary schools.

“The district shall cease using race in the assignment of students to classrooms in a manner that results in the racial segregation of students,” Judge Lee said in his eight-page order.

“The district shall randomly assign students to classrooms at the Tylertown Elementary Schools through the use of a student management software program,” the judge said.

The action stems from a federal desegregation order issued in August 1970 – nearly 40 years ago. The case was closed for lack of activity in 2001.

In 2007, lawyers with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division contacted the Mississippi school district to monitor its compliance with the 1970 desegregation order. The action revealed two alleged violations.

The district was allowing more than 300 students – most of them white – to transfer from their assigned schools to a predominately white school, the Salem Attendance Center, outside their residential zone, according to court documents.

The second alleged violation involved grouping white students into a few designated classes at three other schools in Tylertown. The action created a significant number of all-black classrooms at each elementary grade level, documents say.

“It is unacceptable for school districts to act in a way that encourages or tolerates the resegregation of public schools,” said Thomas Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division.

Further Reading Yahoo news

Huckabee likens gay marriage to incest, polygamy

[This is unacceptable!! Same sex marriage cannot be compared to incest by a possible presidential candidate!!!]

WASHINGTON – Mike Huckabee, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, says the effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry is comparable to legalizing incest, polygamy and drug use. Huckabee also told college journalists last week that gay couples should not be permitted to adopt. “Children are not puppies,” he said. Huckabee visited The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J., last Wednesday to speak to the Student Government Association. He also was interviewed by a campus news magazine, The Perspective, which published an article on Friday. Huckabee told the interviewer that not every group’s interests deserve to be accommodated, if their lifestyle is outside of what he called “the ideal.” “That would be like saying, well there’s there are a lot of people who like to use drugs so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them. There are people who believe in polygamy, should we accommodate them?” he said, according to a transcript of the interview. The 2008 presidential hopeful and former Arkansas governor also said that deciding which lifestyles should be accommodated and which ones should not creates a slippery slope. “Why do you get to choose that two men are OK but one man and three women aren’t OK?” he asked. Huckabee added that his goal isn’t to tell others how to live, but that the burden of proving that a gay marriage can be successful rests with the activists in favor of changing the law. “I don’t have to prove that marriage is a man and a woman in a relationship for life,” he said. “They have to prove that two men can have an equally definable relationship called marriage, and somehow that that can mean the same thing.”

[Further reading]

« Older entries