Posts tagged with 'Air America Radio'
by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger
While the bank lobby continues to hold significant clout in Congress, President Barack Obama entered the fray on behalf of consumers Thursday, demanding that lenders put an end to abusive fees and predatory interest rates.
Writing for Air America, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich highlights parallels between credit card problems, which are just now starting to take a serious toll on bank balance sheets, and the subprime mortgage meltdown that triggered today’s economic crisis. In both cases, Reich notes, banks used a vast array of traps to trick people into high-interest loans they couldn’t afford. Now that credit card loans are also going bad and eating up bank profits, lenders have deployed another set of fine-print gimmickry to gouge borrowers and make up for the losses.
Banks are currently jacking up interest rates on previously accumulated credit card debt and charging outrageous fees for simple mistakes, like exceeding the credit limit. There is no law that says credit card lenders have to charge such fees—when a borrower hits the credit limit, the company could simply deny the transaction.
Lawmakers have protected the unfair credit card playing field for years. In 2008, a House bill to ban retroactive interest rate hikes, limit abusive fees and rein in deceptive marketing techniques passed by an overwhelming margin, but the banking lobby successfully prevented a similar measure from coming to a vote in the Senate. Sadly, as Mike Lillis emphasizes in The Washington Independent, policy observers are experiencing déjà vu on the current round of credit card legislation.
Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve finalized new regulations that would ban many abuses by credit card lenders, but the rules don’t go into effect until July 2010. This absurd delay was the source of much of the initial support for the legislation in Congress: lawmakers had hoped to protect consumers in the middle of a dangerous recession. While versions of the bill have cleared key committees in both the House and Senate, Lillis notes that the bank lobby has already exacted its pound of flesh, convincing members of Congress to delay the effective date of the legislation until—you guessed it—the middle of 2010. Lawmakers insist that the battle isn’t over, but we won’t know the result until the bills actually go to the floor for a vote, if they get voted on at all. No vote on the legislation is currently scheduled in either chamber.
Amid this Congressional stalemate, Obama met with credit card executives last week to emphasize his administration’s support for stronger regulations. Ezra Klein argues that the meeting bodes well for consumers in The American Prospect. The banking lobby routinely fights tighter regulation by claiming that stricter rules will lower profits, which, in turn, will force them to raise interest rates on other loans. If you reign in these abusive practices, the lobbyists say, we’ll have to raise interest rates on other borrowers. No administration in recent memory has bothered to challenge banks on the issue. A reporter raised the question at a press conference following Obama’s meeing with executives, asking whether the president believes there is a trade-off between credit card industry profits and consumer protection. Klein notes that Obama’s answer in the affirmative (“We think that it’s been out of balance.”) is a statement that has enormous implications for the policy debate, especially in the context of the president’s other comments on ensuring the extension of economically productive credit.
“We are confident that we can arrive at something that is commonsensical, something that allows the industry to continue to provide loans and to run a stable business model that’s not dependent on bubbles, that’s not dependent on people getting over-extended or finding themselves in over their heads,” Obama said.
Credit card companies clearly make a lot of money from these tricks and traps, otherwise they wouldn’t deploy them. If lenders could easily replace what they currently rake in with income from responsible loans, then there would be no trade-off between consumer protection and bank profits. But for lenders to argue that they need money earned by conning their customers is to admit that their business is dependent on predatory, economically destructive lending. This is not something that a company dependent on taxpayer support wants to acknowledge.
Obama, who has been very lenient with the banking industry, is essentially saying that banks have to earn their profits by playing a useful role in the economy, acknowledging that they have real obligations not just to their shareholders, but to the general public.
Obama’s sheer popularity will make it harder for members of Congress to water down regulations, but his willingness to play legislative hardball has already score a major victory over another key bank lobby priority: student loan subsidies. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, the government has been giving money to private student loan companies for years in hopes that the funds are used to make responsible loans. In reality, the subsidies are squandered on executive compensation and shareholder dividends. As a solution, Obama proposed eliminating the bank handouts and replacing them with direct government loans to students.
The plan hit a temporary roadblock when Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., tried to scuttle the legislation to benefit lenders in his home state. As Benen explains, the student loan proposal wouldn’t have cleared the Senate without Nelson’s support. With 60 votes needed for any proposal to clear a filibuster, Obama usually needs every Democrat he can get. But instead of diluting the plan to win over Nelson, Obama just went around him by forging an agreement with negotiators in the House and Senate. The student lending changes will be pushed through the budget reconciliation process, allowing the measure can pass the Senate with just 51 votes, a situation which all but guarantees passage of any measure.
If Obama can win so easily on student loans, he can win on credit cards, but he has to move quickly. Unemployment call centers are being completely overwhelmed by the volume of laid-off workers seeking relief. As Marty Durlin notes for High Country News, The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is currently taking more than 10 times the call volume it received during the recession of the early 1990s. As job cuts continue to escalate, people are relying more and more on credit cards to fund necessities. The recession is happening right now. Reform can’t wait.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.
President-elect Barack Obama rolled out his highly anticipated priorities for an economic recovery package this weekend, but the current Congress remains focused on bailouts, with the fate of U.S. automobile manufacturers still hanging in the balance.
Mike Madden details the Detroit drama for Salon.com, reporting on how lawmakers who would ordinarily be receptive to a salvage plan have become skeptical in the wake of the Bush administration’s handling of the Wall Street bailout. After being promised that their votes would be used to help fend off foreclosures, members of Congress have responded with outrage as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has devoted all of his legislatively allocated funds to the purchase of preferred stock in financial companies.
Josh Marshall offers a compelling analysis of the public reaction to the Big Three’s predicament over at Talking Points Memo, noting that the widespread reluctance to reward bad behavior at the automakers could be tied to the fact that most people actually grasp how car companies work, whereas the average American has no idea what role Citigroup really plays in the economy.
“I do think a big, not very good, and really underappreciated reason for the disjuncture is that the auto makers are structured in a way, are economic entities in a way, that most of us can have some basic understanding on how they operate, what they do,” Marshall writes.
While the Big Three have undeniably been horribly mismanaged for decades, losing even one of them would have major economic aftershocks. General Motors alone employs well over one million workers.
The role of unions in the collapse of the Big Three has also been blown completely out of proportion. Not only have major newspapers grossly overstated union wages for Detroit by factoring in decades of built-up pension costs as labor expenses for current employees, they have recently featured editorials claiming that unions exercise too much power in the current economy. Ezra Klein of The American Prospect takes the Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby to task for simultaneously bashing unions and praising economic growth in countries like Sweden and Denmark, which both have union densities of about 80%, compared to 12% in the U.S.
Which is why it is nice to hear that union workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago– who received just three days’ notice that the plant would be shut down– have refused to leave the facility until they are granted severance pay. Check out Ron Ruby’s interview with factory worker Raul Flores live from the sit-in for Air America Radio.
Obama’s new New Deal also gives progressives something to celebrate after several recent centrist selections for cabinet positions. We finally have an economic policy that does not begin and end with the financial sector.
The next president’s proposals include a massive push to boost the energy efficiency of government buildings, repair public schools and provide them with new teaching technologies, and invest in new health care technologies. The plan also includes some of the most basic infrastructure layouts, with a 21st century twist: Obama pledged to rebuild roads and bridges across the country and expand the availability of broadband interenet access.
John Nichols writes for The Nation that Obama’s focus on infrastructure will be particularly helpful for construction workers, who have been hit hard by the recent housing market downturn.
But while the recovery package would be a step in the right direction (the term “recovery” appears to be roughly synonymous with the word “stimulus,” with added hints of AIG, Lehman Brothers and skyrocketing unemployment numbers), it is far from the final word on the nation’s economic troubles. For Obama to carry out his campaign promise to make health insurance available to everyone in the U.S. would not only be good for the nation’s physical well-being, it would also cushion the shock stemming from mounting job losses, as Sarah van Gelder notes for YES! Magazine. An extension of unemployment benefits would also help laid-off workers pay the bills while they search for new work.
Speaking of job cuts, the Labor Department delivered another devastating set of unemployment data last Friday, revealing that the U.S. economy lost 533,000 jobs in the month of November, the largest monthly decline in 34 years.
Carlo Basilone produced nice video spot for The Real News detailing the scope of current U.S. economic difficulties. Although 10.3 million people are now unemployed nationwide, a staggering 10% are living on food stamps, revealing that many of those who still have jobs are not being paid enough to make ends meet.
As Farron Cousins notes in a piece for GoLeft TV, monthly job losses could reach over one million next year and remain at that level for several months.
On the Wall Street front, David Moberg provides an excellent history of recent financial innovation and subsequent financial collapse in a piece for In These Times. Chelsea Green features Woody Tasch’s inquiries into alternative financial structures that are actually tied to communities and the environment rather than unsustainable risk and short-term executive compensation models.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on the economy. And for the best progressive reporting on critical immigration and healthcare issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.