Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Banking, taxes, and cybersecurity

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland checked in on how Iowa’s four U.S. House members have been voting. After no House roll calls for more than two weeks, the second half of April has been unusually busy.

Follow me after the jump to see how Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted on more than a dozen bills that reached the House floor this month, covering a range of economic, fiscal, and security issues.

Incidentally, I’m always intrigued by how rarely members of Congress comment on bills they vote for or against on the House floor. For instance, I didn’t see any press release from Blum, Loebsack, Young, or King about any of the legislation discussed below. Instead, members of Congress often play up bills they’ve introduced which have zero chance of becoming law. This month Blum has repeatedly publicized work on lost causes such as co-founding a caucus backing term limits for members of Congress, and introducing a lifetime ban on lobbying by members of Congress. Like Steve King’s attempted end-run around the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality, Blum’s posturing has more to do with image-making than legislating.  

Controversies to dominate news coverage of Congress, but even in today’s polarized environment, some legislation passes with near-total consensus. On April 13, House members approved three such bills. The Helping Expand Lending Practices in Rural Communities Act passed by 401 votes to 1. That bill is designed to help certain areas be reclassified as rural, in order to promote investments by community banks and credit unions.

House members passed the Bureau Advisory Commission Transparency Act by 401 votes to 2. That bill would amend “the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to declare the Federal Advisory Committee Act applicable to each advisory committee and subcommittee of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

Finally, House members approved the SAFE Act Confidentiality and Privilege Enhancement Act unanimously. That bill would “extend to state and federal regulatory officials having financial services oversight authority (currently only those having mortgage oversight authority) access to any information provided to the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (or any system established by the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) without the loss of privilege or confidentiality protections provided by federal and state laws.”

Although Loebsack was absent for the April 13 votes, it’s a safe bet he would have joined Blum, King, and Young in voting for all three bills.

Two Republican efforts to undermine the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law came to the floor on April 14. The White House has indicated President Barack Obama would veto both of them. Consumer groups have long criticized shady practices used to entice low- or moderate-income buyers of mobile homes. Dodd-Frank gave the “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) authority to regulate personal property loans-also known as chattel loans-that are used to finance most manufactured homes. For the first time, chattel loans were subject to existing federal mortgage regulations […].” The Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act would change those regulations so that more people could qualify for loans on mobile homes. But critics noted the bill would “allow abusive lenders to charge up to nearly 14 percent interest before consumer protections are triggered.” In any event, the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act passed by 263 votes to 162.  Although 22 Democrats did join the GOP to support this bill, the Iowans split along party lines, with Blum, Young, and King in favor and Loebsack opposed.

Next, House members approved the Mortgage Choice Act of 2015 by 286 votes to 140. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that this bill “would exclude the cost of title insurance from points and fees on loans. It would also establish that funds held in escrow for property insurance payments aren’t considered points and fees.” Proponents claim the measure would help “hardworking families” qualify for a mortgage using certain types of lenders. But commenting on an earlier version of the same legislation, Representative Maxine Waters and Senator Elizabeth Warren warned,

Deceptively entitled the “Consumer Mortgage Choice Act,” the bills seek to undermine Dodd-Frank’s ability-to repay provision. This provision, one of the most direct and important responses to the mortgage crisis, requires lenders to determine whether a borrower can afford a mortgage before they extend a loan. The rule was adopted to prohibit loans that were “designed to fail,” a practice that was central to the origination model that brought on the financial crisis. Under the new rule, if lenders offer loans that meet the qualified mortgagestandards provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , they are presumed to have proven the borrower’s ability to repay and are therefore protected from litigation.

One of these standards is a cap on points and fees, the up-front cost of getting a loan, at 3% of the loan amount.  H.R. 1077 and S. 949 would create significant exceptions to this, allowing many more high-cost loans to qualify as QM loans.

Specifically, these bills recreate incentives for lenders to steer families into high-risk, high-fee loans they do not understand and cannot afford.  In recent investigations, the U.S Department of Justice discovered that, in the lead up to the financial crisis, tens of thousands of borrowers, especially minorities, were sold unsustainable subprime loans even when they qualified for more affordable loans. The mark-up in the cost of those loans led to increased profits for the lenders and also became an indirect form of compensation and dangerous incentive for mortgage brokers.  The ability-to-repay rule regulates this indirect compensation by counting it toward the points and fees cap. The new bill, however, would remove indirect compensation from the cap and encourage the same predatory loan companies that dominated the subprime market back into our neighborhoods.

In addition, H.R.1077 and S. 949 would allow additional loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac deem as risky to be counted as QM, and it would remove the cap on fees charged by title companies that are owned by the lender making the loan.  The conflict of interest that exists when a title company is owned by the loan issuer can prevent consumers from getting the best prices on title insurance.

Loebsack was among the 45 Democrats who voted for the Mortgage Choice Act of 2015, as did all three Iowa Republicans.

For “tax day,” House leaders lined up votes on a package of tax-related bills (click through for brief summaries). Members approved several of the bills by voice vote. Among those that went to a roll call, only the Contracting and Tax Accountability Act of 2015 passed unanimously; it would “bar individuals, partnerships and corporations that are ‘seriously delinquent’ in paying their federal taxes from receiving contracts or grants and would be recommended for debarment proceedings.”

Then House leaders brought up the Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act of 2015, which would “prohibit anyone with tax delinquencies from working for the federal government.” Although members voted 266 to 160 in favor of this bill, it failed to pass, because leaders had brought it up under a suspension of normal House rules (meaning two-thirds of members must vote yes to pass the bill). Iowa Republicans Blum, Young, and King all voted for this bill; Loebsack voted against it, along with most House Democrats.

On a related note, Young picked the wrong year to be late paying the property tax on his Washington, DC home.

According to online tax records, Young owed $5,980 for the first half of 2015. Because he did not pay that bill by the March 31 due date, Young incurred $598 in penalties and $90 in interest.

In response to an inquiry by The World-Herald, a Young aide provided a statement from the congressman.

“As soon as I was made aware that this bill from the government of the District of Columbia was 23 days past due, I paid the bill and the late fee in full,” Young said in the statement.

“I was not aware of this bill until today [April 23]. I set a higher standard for myself and I take full responsibility that this payment due to the government of the District of Columbia was paid 23 days past due.”

The aide said Young has his mail sent to his Iowa home and never received the property tax bill.

Anyone could make that kind of mistake, but something tells me Young’s error will show up in attack mail or advertising during next year’s campaign in IA-03.

Two more Republican-backed tax bills came up for roll-call votes on April 16. The White House indicated President Obama would veto both of them.  The State and Local Sales Tax Deduction Fairness Act of 2015 “would reinstate and make permanent the expired tax deduction for state and local sales taxes, at a cost of $42.4 billion through fiscal 2025.” It passed by 272 votes to 152, with Loebsack among the 34 Democrats who joined Republicans in voting yes.

The so-called “Death Tax Repeal Act,” to permanently abolish the estate tax, was next up and passed by 240 votes to 179. Only seven House Democrats crossed party lines to support that bill, and only three Republicans voted against it. Iowa’s delegation split as expected.

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson’s shot down GOP spin about the “death tax” in this guest post for Bleeding Heartland, called  “The Phony Estate Tax Farm Confiscation Ploy.”

This past week, the House considered two bills related to cybersecurity. Both are designed to prevent large consumer data breaches. The Protecting Cyber Networks Act emerged from the House Intelligence Committee. Cory Bennett and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The goal is to increase the public-private flow of information about hacking attempts. Advocates say such an exchange is the biggest first step the country can take to thwart hackers.

Lawmakers, government officials and most industry groups argue more data will help both sides better understand their attackers and bolster network defenses that have been repeatedly compromised over the last year.

Privacy advocates and a group of mostly Democratic lawmakers worry the bill will simply shuttle more sensitive information to the National Security Agency (NSA), further empowering its surveillance authority. Many security experts agree, adding that they already have the data needed to study hackers’ tactics.

Before final passage, the House adopted an amendment from Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) by voice vote requiring the inspector general to report on how personal information is removed from data shared with federal agencies.

All four Iowans voted for the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, which passed by 307 votes to 116 on April 22. But both caucuses were divided: 202 Republicans and 105 Democrats voted yes, while 37 Republicans and 79 Democrats voted no.

The National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act, which came up for a vote on April 23, proved less controversial. The goal is similar to that of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, but the House Homeland Security Committee drafted this bill with language more “palatable” to privacy advocates. It passed with 355 yes votes, including all four Iowans, with only 63 House members opposed.  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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