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Weekend open thread: Cost of doing nothing edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Aug 24, 2014 at 12:31:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Sunday's Des Moines Register includes a good feature by Lauren Mills of IowaWatch.org and the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. She lays out how payday lenders are "burying Iowans" in debt. Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom pointed out that the payday lending business model depends on "locking people into this cycle of debt." Previous research has indicated that payday lenders cost Iowa consumers about $36 million per year. Mills reports that this industry spends heavily on campaign contributions and lobbying the Iowa legislature. Lobbyists talk a good game about jobs and helping people who need cash for emergency expenses. But think how many more jobs could be created if Iowans living paycheck to paycheck had $36 million more to spend on goods and services, rather than on outlandish "loan shark rates."

Mills reports that legislation to regulate interest rates charged by payday lenders has been stalled. Bolkcom said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal won't bring up the bill unless it can pass the Republican-controlled Iowa House. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer called that a "convenient excuse" for the Senate not to act. I haven't noticed her or any other House Republicans acknowledging this problem, though.

The best chance for Iowa lawmakers to address payday lending was during the period when Democrats controlled "the trifecta." In 2007, the Iowa House and Senate approved, and Governor Chet Culver signed, a bill capping interest rates on car title loans. (Such legislation had been stalled for years when Republicans controlled the Iowa House, although it attracted bipartisan support in both chambers in 2007.) Three years later, Bolkcom and then Iowa House Democrat Janet Petersen made a major push to pass a similar interest rate cap on payday lenders. However, industry lobbyists warned that such a law would put payday lenders out of business, as had happened with car title lenders. A wide range of organizations supported the payday lending reform, including the Iowa Attorney General's office, the Iowa Catholic Conference, the Child and Family Policy Center, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. But ultimately, the House version of that bill died when conservadem State Representative Mike Reasoner sided with two Republicans to kill it in subcommittee.

Some Iowa local governments, most recently in Waterloo, have passed zoning rules to try to prevent payday lenders from targeting low-income neighborhoods. But state regulations are the only realistic way to stop the cycle of debt perpetuated by lenders who keep borrowers coming back for more high-interest loans and cash advances. Iowans on the edge are paying the price for the legislature's failure to act years ago.

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IA-Sen: Braley learns painful lesson in 21st century campaigning (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 17:59:19 PM CDT

Every candidate for public office has to learn basic rules of campaigning, such as, "Every mic is a live mic." In other words, always assume you may be overheard when you stand next to a microphone, even if you think it's not turned on.

In the age of camera phones and YouTube, candidates may be speaking into a live mic even when there's no microphone to be seen. Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, learned that lesson the hard way today.  

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Report highlights growing land access problem for Iowa farmers

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 13:20:00 PM CDT

Since at least 2007, roughly half of Iowa's land in agricultural production has been rented or leased rather than farmed by its owner. Farmland values at historically high levels are making it even more difficult for Iowans to pursue a secure career in farming. Almost no one can afford a large parcel of farmland at more than $8,000 per acre (or $10,000 per acre of high-grade land). Banks are rarely willing to lend aspiring farmers the kind of money needed to buy a farm, or to buy out siblings or cousins who inherited parts of the family farm.

Some experts believe Iowa farmland values have peaked, but via Tom Philpott I came across evidence that pressure from large buyers may continue to drive up prices. The Oakland Institute analyzed the trend of Wall Street investors buying farmland in the U.S. As institutional investors pile into this market, Iowa farmland may become increasingly unaffordable.

After the jump I've posted a few excerpts from the Oakland Institute's report, but I recommend downloading the whole piece to see supporting charts and references.

The trend toward absentee landlords owning Iowa farms is one among many reasons we can't rely on purely voluntary efforts to protect soil and water quality. Tenant farmers have no incentive to spend money on conservation practices to improve land for the long-term. Landowners (whether they be Wall Street firms or individual investors) are often looking for the highest rent this year, not farming practices that preserve soil fertility and keep excess nutrients out of waterways.  

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Harkin yes, Grassley no as Senate confirms Yellen to chair the Fed

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 17:51:00 PM CST

Today the U.S. Senate confirmed Janet Yellen to be the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve. All of the Democrats present, including Iowa's Tom Harkin, voted for the cloture motion on Yellen's nomination in December. All of the Democrats present on January 6 voted to confirm her, joined by eleven Republicans. Incidentally, only 59 senators voted for cloture, which would have sunk Yellen under old Senate rules. Senate Democrats removed the 60-vote requirement for motions on presidential nominations in November.

Although a sizable group of Republicans voted to confirm Yellen, most of the Senate GOP caucus opposed her nomination, including Iowa's Chuck Grassley. In a floor statement I've posted after the jump, Grassley said he could not support her nomination because he is concerned the Federal Reserve's "easy money" policies are "misguided" and will lead to high inflation. Yellen is widely considered an "inflation dove" who is willing to balance the Fed's longstanding concern for keeping inflation down with a focus on reducing unemployment.

UPDATE: Corrected to clarify that the cloture vote on Yellen happened before the holiday recess. Grassley was among the 26 Republicans who voted no on Yellen's confirmation. Harkin was absent for the final vote on Yellen on January 6, as were many other senators because of the extreme winter weather.

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Iowa split as House votes to undo another Dodd-Frank provision

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 10:40:00 AM CST

For the third time since October, Iowa's representatives have split along party lines as the U.S. House approved a bill that would undermine the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Hill that the "Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act" would remove a requirement for private equity firms to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It passed the House yesterday by 254 votes to 159, as 36 Democrats joined almost the entire Republican caucus. Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted for the bill, while Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no, along with most of the House Democrats. Braley and Loebsack also opposed the two other recent Republican efforts to undermine Dodd-Frank.

I have not seen any public comment on this vote from the Iowans in Congress. The Obama administration opposes the bill.

The legislation effectively provides a blanket registration and reporting exemption for private equity funds, undermining advances in investor protection and regulatory oversight implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under Title IV of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Wall Street Reform).

The Administration is committed to building a safer, more stable financial system. H.R. 1105 represents a step backwards from the progress made to date, given that private equity fund advisers have been filing reports with the SEC for over a year. The bill's passage would deny investors access to important information intended to increase transparency and accountability and to minimize conflicts of interest. Moreover, H.R. 1105 would exempt private equity funds from the disclosure requirements that the Congress laid out in Wall Street Reform to allow regulators to assess potential systemic risks.

According to Kasperowicz, the Senate is unlikely to take up this bill because of the White House veto threat.

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Iowans split as House votes to reduce limits on derivatives trading

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 13:45:00 PM CST

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. House voted 292 to 122 to undermine part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Cheyenne Hopkins reported for Bloomberg that H.R. 922

would upend the 2010 law's pushout provision by allowing trades of almost all types of derivatives by lenders with access to deposit insurance and discount borrowing. [...]

Lawmakers included the original measure as a way to limit risk-taking by banks that got federal bailouts during the 2008 credit crisis. The pushout provision was faulted by banks and also by regulators including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who expressed concern that it could drive swaps trading to less-regulated entities.

All but three Republicans present voted for this bill, joined by 70 Democrats. Iowa's Tom Latham (IA-03) was a yes, while Steve King (IA-04) did not vote. Meanwhile, Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the bill, as did most of the Democratic caucus. I did not see any public comment on this bill from any of Iowa's four representatives. During the floor debate on October 30, Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota warned,

"This bill would effectively gut important financial reforms and put taxpayers potentially on the hook for big banks' risky behavior," Peterson said. "The provision is a modest measure designed to prevent the federal government for bailing out or subsidizing bank activity that is not related to the business of banking."

Peterson also noted that under current law, banks can still perform about 90 percent of the swaps hedges they were able to perform before Dodd-Frank.

Sounds like Braley and Loebsack made the right call. A White House statement argued against the bill as "premature" and possibly "disruptive," but did not threaten a presidential veto.

LATE UPDATE: Iowa's representatives also split on party lines when the House approved the so-called Retail Investor Protection Act on October 29.

The bill prevents the Department of Labor from issuing rules under the Dodd-Frank financial reform act that describes when financial advisors are considered a fiduciary, which means they must must work in their clients' best interest. Under the bill, Labor would have to wait until the Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) acts first in this area.

Alicia Munnell explained here why that Republican-backed bill was "fundamentally misconceived."

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Obama nominates Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 11:10:00 AM CDT

President Barack Obama finally settled on Janet Yellen to succeed Ben Bernanke as the next chair of the Federal Reserve. No woman has previously held that position, nor has any previous nominee for the job been as qualified as Yellen. Binyamin Appelbaum's profile of Yellen for the New York Times is excellent. Some other good links about her views are here. She is commonly described as an "inflation dove," meaning that in her opinion, reducing unemployment should be a higher priority than keeping inflation low (the traditional obsession of Fed chairs). A few years ago, Bleeding Heartland user PrairieBreezeCheeze discussed why it's time for a Fed chair willing to prioritize employment. Even now, long-term unemployment is still near historically high levels.

Nobody's perfect, and Zach Carter offers a more negative take on Yellen, focusing on her support for NAFTA, a chained Consumer Price Index, and repealing the Glass-Steagall Act during the 1990s. Nevertheless, Yellen is a much better person to run the Fed than Obama's first choice for the job, Larry Summers. Credit goes to the coalition that came out early against Summers, convincing five Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee to oppose him.

Despite today's news, President Obama's record on appointing women to cabinet-level positions remains worse than Bill Clinton's--and not for lack of qualified women to choose from.

UPDATE: After the jump I've added some remarks from President Obama and Yellen at today's press conference. SECOND UPDATE: Added Senator Tom Harkin's official comment.

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Larry Summers out of the running for Federal Reserve chair

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 09:59:04 AM CDT

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke's term ends early next year, and President Barack Obama's rumored top choice to replace him has been economic adviser Larry Summers. Why Obama would want to elevate someone who's failed at several important jobs is beyond me, particularly when a much more qualified candidate is available in Janet Yellen. She has more experience in the Fed, as well as more support in the U.S. Senate and from economists. Yellen also lacks the huge conflict of interest problems that would have dogged Summers because of his involvement with Citigroup.

Yesterday Summers saved Obama from making a big mistake by formally withdrawing from consideration for the top job at the Fed. I disagree with Jonathan Chait's claim that Summers "paid" for Obama's poor record on appointing women to high positions in his administrations. There were plenty of reasons to favor Yellen over Summers for this job. The fact that she would be the first woman to chair the Fed is just a bonus. Kudos to the three Democrats on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee who came out early against Summers, helping to avert what would have been a very bad choice by the president. UPDATE: Apparently five Senate Democrats were ready to vote against Summers in committee: Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jon Tester of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

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Harkin and Grassley on the latest Senate confirmations and filibuster deal

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 07:38:54 AM CDT

Democrats in the U.S. Senate came closer than ever this week to stopping Republicans from forcing a supermajority vote on executive branch nominees. An informal deal deterred Democrats from changing Senate rules by simple majority vote and cleared the path for a handful of President Barack Obama's nominees to go forward. However, more struggles over confirmations seem likely in the future.

Iowa's Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley could hardly be further apart on the process by which the Senate gives its "advice and consent."  

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IA-Sen: David Young and Matt Whitaker formally announce (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 16:54:00 PM CDT

Senator Chuck Grassley's former chief of staff David Young and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker have both officially entered the U.S. Senate race. Highlights from the candidates' announcements and recent interviews are after the jump.

Any comments about the IA-Sen campaign are welcome in this thread.

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Obama sends a message with Pritzker for Commerce secretary

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 03, 2013 at 08:16:00 AM CDT

Yesterday President Barack Obama nominated Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce and Mike Froman as U.S. trade representative. You can read the president's spin on Pritzker's "distinguished" business leadership here.

Although this nomination has been expected for months, it still sends an unfortunate message. Pritzker was one of the largest bundlers for Obama's re-election campaign and one of the largest donors to his inaugural festivities, so the president has overlooked union-busting by her family's Hyatt Hotel chain, as well as her union-busting as a member of the Chicago Board of Education, her aggressive use of legal means to avoid taxes on her massive wealth, and her role in managing a subprime lender (hat tip to Susie Madrak). Organized labor groups will be furious.

Pritzker will probably sail through the Senate confirmation process. Too bad the president didn't hold back this nomination until Senate votes on his other cabinet appointees. I would hate to see corporate interest groups tank Gina McCarthy, Obama's excellent choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Any comments about the administration are welcome in this thread.

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Harkin, Grassley split as Senate confirms Jack Lew at Treasury

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 27, 2013 at 19:30:00 PM CST

The U.S. Senate confirmed Jack Lew as secretary of the Treasury today by 71 votes to 26 (roll call). Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the 25 Republicans who opposed Lew's nomination, joined by independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats. Twenty Republicans joined the rest of the Democrats present, including Iowa's Tom Harkin, in voting to confirm Lew. Grassley announced his opposition to the Treasury nominee earlier this week. After the jump I've posted the floor statement he read today. While Grassley raised some troubling points, I think Sanders made a stronger case for opposing Lew, so I've enclosed his statement below as well. I will update this post if I see any further comment from Harkin.

Four years ago, both Grassley and Harkin voted against confirming Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary.  

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IA-03: Least inspiring campaign ever?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 06, 2012 at 08:15:00 AM CST

I planned to write several posts this fall about the third Congressional district race between Representatives Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell. Instead, every time I sat down to write about the campaign, I found myself turning to other topics. Central Iowa radio and television stations have been so over-saturated with cookie-cutter attack ads against both candidates. If a political junkie like me finds it off-putting, I can't imagine how disengaged other people feel when they hear the beginning of yet another negative commercial.

Neither Latham nor Boswell has offered a compelling case for re-election, but after the jump I review the main messages from both campaigns and from various outside groups that have been advertising in Des Moines and Omaha.

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Iowa Senate district 6: Mary Bruner vs Mark Segebart

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 05, 2012 at 17:10:13 PM CST

Democratic candidates for the state Senate haven't fared well in western Iowa lately, so the new Senate district 6 hasn't been on my radar, even though it's an open seat. However, campaign finance reports indicate that Democrats are not conceding this district, so I decided to post a profile of the race. Background on both candidates is below, along with a district map and some of the campaign rhetoric voters have been hearing.
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He couldn't wait until after the election?

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 20, 2012 at 10:00:00 AM CDT

I've never been a fan of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, but until this morning I didn't take him for someone who would kick a friend when he's down. Today's breaking news is Pawlenty resigning as national co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in order to become CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable.
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Signature Ron Paul bill unites Iowans in U.S. House

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 08:45:00 AM CDT

Iowa's five U.S. House members helped approve one of Representative Ron Paul's top legislative priorities yesterday.  
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New Obama ad: "We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer"

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 14, 2012 at 17:16:04 PM CDT

The word "devastating" is overused in political commentary, but I can't think of a better way to describe the television commercial President Barack Obama's re-election campaign rolled out today. The fifth commercial the president's team has run in Iowa since the beginning of April is in my opinion the most effective by far. (The previous ads claimed Republican Mitt Romney "stood with Big Oil," accused Romney of shipping jobs overseas and maintaining a Swiss bank account, put a positive spin on Obama's record, and highlighted the unpopular decision to bail out the auto industry.)

The new spot is two minutes long and features workers who lost their jobs after Bain Capital took over GST Steel in Kansas City. The video and transcript are after the jump. UPDATE: Added a new web video from the Romney campaign and two new anti-Obama commercials the American Future Fund is running on cable television in several swing states.

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Boswell votes with House GOP to loosen Dodd-Frank rules

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 12:02:25 PM CDT

The U.S. House voted yesterday to exempt small lenders from regulations adopted in the 2010 financial reform bill commonly known as Dodd-Frank. All Republicans present and 73 Democrats supported the Small Business Credit Availability Act. The roll call shows that Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was one of the yes votes, along with Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) voted against the bill, while Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was absent, attending President Barack Obama's event in Iowa City.

Proponents assert that this bill would help farmers, manufacturers, and small and rural businesses secure loans. I've posted the official bill summary after the jump. It sounds like a leap of faith to assume that loosening regulations on small banks, savings associations, and credit unions will free up credit for small businesses.

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Grassley yes, Harkin no as Senate approves JOBS Act

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 23, 2012 at 08:05:00 AM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. Senate approved an amended version of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which is supposed to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start small companies. All five Iowans in the U.S. House voted for this bill two weeks ago, but Iowa's senators split on party lines.  
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Ten views of the mortgage settlement

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 10, 2012 at 10:52:28 AM CST

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced yesterday "a landmark $25 billion national joint federal-state accord over mortgage foreclosure abuses and fraud, and unacceptable nationwide mortgage servicing practices." My gut says this deal lets lenders off too easily and will do virtually nothing for most foreclosure fraud victims. A $2,000 check isn't much for people who wrongfully lost their homes, and the amount earmarked for principal reductions would rescue only a tiny fraction of "underwater" borrowers.

I've posted five versions of the case for the agreement after the jump, along with five statements from critics of the deal. Miller's press release includes details on what borrowers in Iowa could receive. Please share your perspective in the comments.

There's More... :: (4 Comments, 4064 words in story)
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