Posts tagged with 'lobbyists'
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Congress returns from its April recess this week with financial reform at the top of its to-do list. With millions of Americans still bearing the brunt of the worst recession in 80 years, Congress needs to start protecting our economy from Wall Street excess, and repair the shredded social safety net that has allowed the Great Recession to exact a devastating human cost.
Big banks are an economic parasite
In an excellent multi-part interview with Paul Jay of The Real News, former bank regulator William Black explains how the financial industry has transformed itself into an economic parasite. Black explains that banks are supposed to serve as a sort of economic catalyst—financing productive businesses and fueling economic growth. This was largely how banks operated for several decades after the Great Depression, because regulations had ensured that banks had incentives to do useful things, and barred them from taking crazy risks.
The deregulatory movement of the past thirty years destroyed those incentives, allowing banks to book big profits by essentially devouring other parts of the economy. Instead of fueling productive growth, banks were actively assaulting the broader economy for profit. None of that subprime lending served any economic purpose. Neither do the absurd credit card fees banks charge, or the deceptive overdraft fees they continue to implement.
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
Climate change legislation is off the table for now, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still working to regulate greenhouse gasses. The organization is up against strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is heading the charge, with the assistance of Bush-era EPA officials, now lobbyists with clients in the energy industry.
The EPA and the Clean Air Act
In April 2009, the EPA found that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gasses pose a hazard to public health. This finding obligated the EPA to regulate these pollutants under the Clean Air Act, a responsibility the Bush administration fought to avoid. The power the agency now has to limit carbon emissions extends far beyond its usual scope, and the EPA’s decisions will have a lasting impact on environmental regulation in this country. As the agency moves to act, everyone from Sen. Murkowski to the state of California is protesting the changes. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones reports:
“The California Energy Commission last month sent a letter to the EPA asking it to slow down on implementation of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions….The CEC argues that phasing them in too fast could hurt efforts in the state to expand use of low-carbon energy.”
Opponents in Congress are taking action to shut down the EPA’s attempts to curb greenhouse gasses, Sheppard writes. Both Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) have filed bills that would delay or stop the EPA’s regulatory process.
Attempting to ‘gut the Clean Air Act’
Grist’s Miles Grant is also keeping a close watch on opponents of the regulation.
“At first it seemed like simply one bad idea from Sen. Lisa Murkowski,” he writes. “But now we know the real story—a tangled web of public officials, polluter lobbyists, and efforts to gut the Clean Air Act.”
It emerged this week that Murkowski had help in drafting her bill from EPA administrators from the Bush administration, as first reported by the Washington Post. These former officials now work in Washington as lobbyists and represent clients like Duke Energy and the Alliance of Food Associations on climate change matters.
“Every day it seems we’re learning more,” says Miles. “More about the revolving door between the Bush administration and polluter lobbyists; more about their influence with senators and their staffers; and more about who’s really pulling the strings on efforts to block climate action—Big Oil’s MVP, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).”
Even the American Farm Bureau Federation…
Another opponent, as Care2 notes, is the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the country’s largest farm group. The organization approved a special resolution during its four-day convention on Sunday. The resolution supports legislation like Murkowski’s or Pomeroy’s that would “suspend the EPA’s authority to regulator greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.”
During a speech, AFBF president Bob Stallman said that American farmers and ranchers “must aggressively respond to extremists” and “misguided, activist-driven regulation.”
“The days of their elitist power grabs are over,” he said.
More opportunities to improve climate policy
The EPA’s new power is not the only opportunity that the Obama administration has to improve U.S. climate policy. David Roberts, also reporting for Grist, writes about $2.3 billion in new tax credits for clean energy manufacturing companies, announced last Friday.
“There were 183 projects selected out of some 500 applications; one-third were from small businesses; around 30% are expected to be completed this year. The winners are spread across 43 states,” Roberts reports.
Roberts calls it “better than usual industrial policy.” The credits are meant to give a boost to the new green energy economy.
But Roberts warns, “It’s also absurd that clean energy industries still depend on capricious, short-term extensions of tax credits. … Obama has called on Congress to cough up $5 billion a year for these credits, but how enduring will yearly appropriations be the next time Congress changes hands?”
Iowa and the biodiesel tax credit
The answer likely depends on how much support these projects get from the representatives of states that will benefit from the tax credits. In Iowa, for instance, the state’s three Democratic Representatives have asked the House leadership to prioritized a 2010 renewal of the biodiesel tax credit, as Lynda Waddington reports for the Iowa Independent.
“If members of the U.S. Senate do not act on last year’s program extension, however, it might be a moot point,” Waddington writes. The renewal has gotten stalled in the Senate, where both Iowa Senators are blaming the opposite party for delays.
From policy to people
When politicians jockey over regulations and renewals, climate change work in Washington can seem very abstract. But people like John Henrikson, a forester who’s committed to farming 150 acres of trees in sustainable ways, help ground lofty policy ideas down in reality.
“Henrikson’s approach embodies a new way of thinking about our relationship with forests. For years he has been processing his own trees into trim and molding, sold through a broad network of local businesses,” reports Ian Hanna for Yes! Magazine. “Five years ago he got his forest certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, a global system for eco-labeling sustainably managed forests and the products derived from them. And, most recently, he’s developed a project to sell rights to the carbon sequestered on his property.”
Without strong policy coming out Washington, it’s harder for entrepreneurs like Henrikson to make green business a reality. If legislators like Sen. Murkowski and groups like the AFBF don’t block them, the EPA’s new rules are going to begin coming out in March. There’s a major action to combat global warming that the U.S. can take before then, though—for example, we could officially commit to our promise to reduce emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. The deadline for registering climate pledges under the new Copenhagen Accord is the end of this month.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger
The man who admitted to gunning down Dr. George Tiller in church last May went on trial in Kansas on Friday. Tiller was one of a small number of doctors performing late term abortions in the U.S.
Scott Roeder admitted to shooting the Tiller, but he is pleading not guilty to murder, as Robin Marty reports in RH Reality Check. Yesterday, Judge Warren Wilbert shocked observers by allowing Roeder’s lawyers to argue that their client is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder.
Kansas law allows the accused to plead “imperfect self-defense” if he had an “honest but unreasonable belief” that deadly force was necessary to protect innocent third parties. Roeder says he killed to protect the unborn. Pro-choice activists are alarmed that the judge allowed Roeder to use this defense. If he beats the murder rap, Roder could face just five years in prison. In the unlikely event that his legal gambit is successful, the precedent could be tantamount to declaring open season on abortion providers.
No doubt Nidal Hasan sincerely believed that he was protecting innocent lives when he murdered 12 soldiers at Fort Hood last November. Somehow, I doubt the Army will be as deferential to Hasan’s crazy religious ideas as Judge Warren Wilbert has been to Roeder’s.
In other health care news, Robert Reich of TAPPED asks whether the rich or the middle class will pay for health reform:
There’s only one big remaining issue on health care reform: How to pay for it. The House wants a 5.4 percent surtax on couples earning at least $1 million in annual income. The Senate wants a 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided “Cadillac plans.” The Senate will win on this unless the public discovers that a large portion of the so-called Cadillacs are really middle-class Chevys—expensive not because they deliver more benefits but because they have higher costs.
Reich cites a shocking statistic: Less than 4% of the variation in the cost of insurance coverage is based on differences in benefits provided. Most of the difference in price is based on the perceived riskiness of the beneficiaries. So, if you’re in a high risk pool comprised of, say, retired autoworkers, you’re going to pay a lot more for the same benefits than someone in a younger, healthier risk pool. When you look at it that way, it seems unfair to pay for reform on the backs of people who are already paying more for the same thing due to circumstances beyond their control.
President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are meeting with top labor leaders on the “Cadillac tax,” as Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports. Obama and Sebelius are trying to hash out a compromise that would be acceptable to the unions, who so far, have been implacably opposed to taxing expensive health care plans. The unions are reluctant to give any ground on this issue because so many of their members have accepted expanded health care benefits in lieu of wage increases over the years. Taxing those benefits now would effectively erase some hard-won gains by workers. Obama and the unions are reportedly discussing some kind of grandfather clause proposal that would exempt existing plans and only tax new plans.
Elsewhere in our high-deductible democracy, it turns out that health insurers secretly steered more than $20 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health reform while publicly professing to support the effort, according to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones. The bagman was America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). While AHIP was soliciting donations to run attack ads, AHIP’s top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni penned an op/ed in the Washington Post assuring the public that AHIP supported reform.
Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly hopes that the scandal will give ammunition to Democrats in the last big push to pass health care reform: “Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: Don’t let AHIP’s duplicitous campaign win.”
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger
By proposing financial reforms that won’t curb Wall Street excess, U.S. policymakers have offered an unacceptably weak response to our enormous financial crisis. If voters don’t demand that their elected representatives help workers and consumers instead of simply boosting corporate profits, the economic downturn will last for several more years and leave the economy vulnerable to another bank-induced meltdown. (more…)
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger
Republicans are continuing their attempts to derail health care reform. This week, GOP senators tried unsuccessfully to write further delay into the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, Alex Koppelman reports in Salon:
Working on reform legislation Wednesday, the panel spent most of the morning debating an amendment by Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky that would have delayed votes on any other amendments until they were written up in official legislative text. The Congressional Budget Office would then have had to post the language for three days before votes—which would, effectively, have stalled any progress on the bill for a week or two, at least. There are, after all, more than 500 amendments waiting to be debated and voted on.
It sounds like a bid for transparency. In practice, there would be a 72-hour window for lobbyists to read the bill and tell legislators how to vote, as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan) more or less admitted. Roberts said that the amendment would give time for “the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation that we pass around here.” The hired guns Roberts mentions are health care industry lobbyists.
At this point, the GOP’s only hope is to run out the clock. Bad faith bipartisanship is a great time waster: Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is proposing yet another bipartisan group to negotiate the Senate’s health care bill. Grassley and Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont) already wasted the entire summer searching for a bipartisan bill that didn’t attract a single GOP vote, not even Grassley’s.
It’s not like the Republicans have a viable counter-proposal. James Ridgeway notes in Mother Jones that GOP is gearing up to run against health care in the midterm elections. Even the Republican Study Committee, supposedly the party’s legislative idea factory, couldn’t come up with anything besides tinkering with Medicare.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on health care affordability, health care laws, and health care controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.
by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger
On Thursday, lawmakers bowed to pressure from the bank lobby and killed a crucial piece of anti-foreclosure legislation, poisoning the economy in an effort to keep money flowing to Wall Street. Meanwhile, jobs continue to disappear, retirement accounts are evaporating and families are struggling to cope with economic hardship.
Last week’s turn of events proved that the U.S. Senate remains utterly beholden to the financial predators that created the current mess. You might think that after destroying the economy, bankrupting itself and then going on corporate welfare, the banking industry’s clout on Capitol Hill would have diminished. But you’d be wrong.
The American News Project’s Lagan Sebert recorded a lobbying strategy session at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the lobbying team that torpedoed the anti-foreclosure legislation, which would have given judges the power to revise the terms of unaffordable mortgages in court—a process the bankers refer to as a “cram-down”—and level the playing field for homeowners. As it stands, when borrowers fall behind, banks can use the threat of foreclosure to deny a sustainable long-term loan modification and continue to squeeze them for high monthly payments.
Snippets from the bank lobby meeting seem like some absurd surrealist parody of the U.S. political system, with lobbyists urging other bankers to give money to politicians and claiming credit for holding the economy hostage. “The cram-down vote may come tomorrow, and wouldn’t it be beautiful for it to go down to defeat while we’re up on the Hill,” says an animated David Kittle, Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Such bad behavior on Wall Street, of course, has lead to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate currently stands at 8.5% and is likely to go much higher when the Department of Labor makes its monthly report on the job market this Friday. As Emily Steinmetz explains for High Country News, high unemployment levels are much more than a statistic: They mean real hardships for ordinary people. In Arizona, food banks and churches have been overwhelmed by those seeking basic necessities like food and diapers. Steinmetz profiles St. Mary’s Food Bank, which distributed upwards of 19,000 emergency food boxes across the state in September alone. The boxes contain bare-bones items like canned vegetables, jars of peanut butter and bags of rice for families that cannot afford to eat.
In the below video, GRITtv’a Laura Flanders interviews Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about how the unemployment crisis is impacting families based on gender. Typically women are much more likely than men to dropout of the labor force when they lose their jobs, but in the current recession, record numbers of men are being laid off.
That’s creating not just a loss of income, since women still face a significant pay gap, but serious schisms when men find themselves unable to perform the role in the family they’re accustomed to playing. It’s also sowing seeds for political unrest: when people find themselves out of a job thanks to structural economic forces beyond their control and facing problems at home as a result of being laid off, it generates a lot of anger.
As University of Texas Economist James Galbraith writes for the Texas Observer, evaluating the economy means examining the links between the lives of ordinary workers and the operation of major institutions like the banking industry and government. When we pretend that there is no public interest in overseeing economically critical firms, when bank regulators hold press conferences in which they literally attack stacks of regulations with a chainsaw, Galbraith says, a resulting calamity for workers and families is predictable.
If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that what Galbraith refers to as “the ritual confidence of public officials and the dry numerical optimism of business economists” simply cannot be trusted without a deeper analysis of the plight of everyday citizens. Powerful people on both Capitol Hill and Wall Street spent the last decade insisting that everything was just fine, when in fact the entire financial system was falling off a cliff.
Writing for Mother Jones, James Ridgeway sketches a brief history of the retirement industry, revealing the steady migration from employer-provided pensions to 401(k) plans outsourced to Wall Street professionals. Ridgeway makes it hard to view the 401(k) industry as anything but a decades-long scam that has been shielded from serious scrutiny by the stock market growth from the early 1980s to 2007. Even the name “401(k)” comes from a covert loophole that was originally designed to help big banks avoid paying taxes.
In 401(k) accounts, workers have their money invested in stocks and bonds picked by a Wall Street fund manager, rather than receive guaranteed benefits from their employer. In return for this precious investment advice, the fund manager takes a bite out of any profits the worker’s 401(k) fund reaps, in some cases as much as 50% of the actual gains. This might not be so egregious if the fund manager made amazing stock picks that garnered huge returns for the worker, but most of these funds underperform index funds. Even high-performing funds are subject to the often arbitrary movement of financial markets. So when, say, stocks take a beating thanks to years of excessive risk-taking on Wall Street, worker accounts are devastated.
This continued influence of the banking establishment in Washington imperils not only our economy but our political legitimacy. When an industry transforms itself into a vehicle for economic destruction, the appropriate response is to crack down on abuse with new rules and regulations. Instead, lawmakers have ignored public cries for accountability and capitulated to the culpable elite, making it increasingly difficult to view Congress as a group of representatives acting for the public good.
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.