Nel's New Day

June 28, 2017

Congress Churns Forward

Congress is getting ready for another vacation, gone for all next week for a week, before returning for a few days and disappearing for over a month. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has taken over for Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as head of the House Oversight Committee and announced that he won’t bother with any investigation into the involvement of people such as Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner with Russia. Gowdy also ruled out looking into whether Trump White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked. This is the same man who spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours examining Hillary Clinton’s email server and four deaths in Benghazi.

Chaffetz won’t be back to Washington after the break; he submitted his resignation in April. He did leave a legacy by calling on Congress to declare a monthly $2,500 housing stipend for each congressional member, equivalent to two annual minimum-wage salaries. Chaffetz is the same person who told people that they could pay for their health insurance if they didn’t buy an iPhone. People who asked why Chaffetz had quit a year and a half before the end of his two-year term now have their answer. He starts on Fox network Saturday—the day that he begins “retirement.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-AZ), each met with Andriy Parubiy, founder of the neo-fascist Social-National Party of Ukraine that used Nazi ideology and Third Reich imagery. The SNPU banned non-Ukrainians and established a violently racist paramilitary group called the Patriot of Ukraine. Ryan called on “closer political, economic, and security relations between our legislatures,” and McCain said that he and Parubiy had a “good meeting.”

While the media concentrated on the egregious health care plan in the Senate and the Russian investigation into Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his colleagues, the House passed a near-repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act. When the act was signed into law in 2010, it attempted to limit the riskiest types of securities to keep the United States out of another recession like the one a decade ago. Current Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin hates the Dodd-Frank Act because it keeps him from making more vast profits from disclosing on mortgages the way that he did before it went into effect.

Ironically the pro-Wall Street bill is called CHOICE Act. One part of it eliminates the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, requiring brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The legislation would also stop the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from overseeing plans for banks with more than $50 billion in holding assets if they need to declare bankruptcy. It would also greatly lower capital requirements, a method of making bank safer by keeping them from loading up on debt.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calls it the “Wrong Choice Act” because the anti-family, anti-consumer provisions block regulators from carrying out their jobs and allows big banks to ignore oversight. CHOICE allows banks to return to gambling in the market with federally guaranteed deposits and resume unlimited unfair banking practices to deceive customers. CHOICE permits unregulated payday and car-title loan sharks. If the bill passes, the president can fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and curb its oversight powers. The bill allows legislators to defund CFPB, the first step in doing away from it.

CFPB returned $11.8 billion to more than 29 million consumers defrauded by big banks, shady for-profit colleges, and debt collectors. Despite the banks’ record profits last year, they want to eliminate the rules that reduce foreclosures and protect borrowers.

The Dodd-Frank Act creates rules, processes, and organizations in the connected financial world of banks, hedge funds, mortgage originators, insurance companies, debt collectors, and payday lenders. Stripping away the pieces of Dodd-Frank is like mining by removing a mountain. With any luck, the CHOICE Act may not move through the Senate because eight Democrats would have to support it.

Before the Senate tackles CHOICE, it has to deal with the highly unpopular health care bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has found $188 billion, and he’s madly talking with reluctant GOP senators to bribe them with backroom “side deals.” Conservatives no longer want to use money to reduce the deficit. If he gets any kind of consensus, then he has to rush the revised bill to the Congressional Budget Office for another scoring in order to vote in the last two weeks of July. The bill has to be passed in coordination with the House by September 30 in order to need only 50 votes, and the Senate is in recess for all of August.

Compromise will be difficult: the far right wants no coverage mandates to lower premiums, and the right (called moderates) want more generous tax credits for the working class and less punitive Medicaid cuts. At least nine senators have said that they couldn’t vote for the present bill, and they’re split between those from states that expanded Medicaid and those who fought it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants permission for bare-bones plans that don’t offer much health care—back to life before the Affordable Care Act. McConnell continues to claim that Democrats won’t talk about the health care bill while Democrats are begging to be given a seat at the discussion table.

As could be expected, Democrats were upset about being left out of the process. In an odd twist, however, so were several Republicans. Those in the closed-door “listening sessions” reported that the leadership wouldn’t tell them what was and wasn’t on the table. They were just asked about what they could and couldn’t support. Some went so far as to say that the meetings were a box-checking exercise.  “I always believe legislation is best crafted through the normal order,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. “I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate.” She was joined by a number of “moderate” GOP senators in calling on involvement of Democrats in the governing process.

The Senate has not had this type of closed-door partisan process to major legislation since before World War I, over a century ago. Don Ritchie, the historian emeritus of the Senate, said that Democratic leaders tried the same MO during the Great Depression, but senator revolted. A small revolt may be starting now as most GOP senators are non-committal about the bill. A  result of Senate support, people hate their version of Trumpcare even more than they hated the House bill. A USA Today poll reported 12 percent approval, and that newspaper is owned by Fox’s Rupert Murdoch. The House bill had gone as high as 20 percent approval.

The last time that members of Congress headed home for a recess, most of the Republicans refused to have town halls with their constituents. They will be increasingly reluctant this summer because the health care bills are causing far more anger than earlier—and the public was furious then. Some GOP legislators are using the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as an excuse to avoid their voters. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has an idea. During the last recess, he suggested that Democrats “adopt a district” as he did when he fielded questions in a town hall from constituents in a neighboring district after Rep. John Faso (R-NY) avoided any meetings. Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-AZ) “adopted” a neighboring district belonging to Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) when she wouldn’t host an event in her district. Maybe the idea will catch on this summer. Only two GOP senators—Jerry Moran (KS) and Bill Cassidy (LA) have scheduled town halls for the upcoming break.

A miracle did happen in the U.S. House during the past month! Republicans stood up for the environment! DDT’s budget eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, halves the scientific research, and decimates environmental enforcement and grants—in all, slashing $2.6 billion, 31 percent of the EPA’s budget. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) wasn’t buying the agency’s secretary, Scott Pruitt, when he defended the cuts by saying they didn’t need the funding. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) defended the Great Lakes, calling them “a national treasure” and asking if Pruitt thought that it’s “fair to expect states and local communities to shoulder the burden of caring for them.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opposed the 30 percent cuts in the Superfund program, affecting over 100 hazardous waste sites in his state. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) objected to zeroing out several tribal environmental grants and programs. It’s a start!

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