# Oversight



In Retrospect: Who is Really Un-American??

(Charles Lemos is also worth reading on this subject: It's Time for a Special Prosecutor. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

You know, one thing I get so sick of hearing from all the right-wing loons is how Progressives like myself and many of you are un-American. We have our patriotism questioned on a daily basis. Right-Wing idiots on the radio rail about how we do not believe in the Constitution and the values this country was founded on. Well, details that have emerged in the last couple of days show that the Bush Administration and their shameless enablers in the Republican Party and the former Republican Congress are the ones who really do not believe in the Constitution, or the freedoms granted by it.

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Braley urges House leaders to improve oversight of bailout

Last week I wrote about some of the problems related to the Wall Street bailout. Among other things, no one knows what the Treasury Department has been doing with the money.

On November 18 Representative Bruce Braley sent a letter to leaders of the U.S. House “urging them to finish naming members of a congressional oversight panel charged with overseeing the implementation of the $700 billion bailout package.” His office released the text of the letter:

Dear Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Steny] Hoyer, and Minority Leader [John] Boehner,

Thank you for your leadership throughout the 110th Congress.  As you know, we are facing an economic crisis as serious as any our nation has faced during my lifetime.  While this crisis started on Wall Street, it now affects Iowans and Americans from all walks of life.  We are all hopeful that the recently enacted Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) will have a significant impact on the recovery of financial markets.

Just last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced a change in course on how taxpayer funds from the EESA will be used to stabilize the economy. He stated that instead of buying troubled assets, Treasury would use the funds to invest in nonbank financial companies, and to promote consumer borrowing through credit cards, car loans, and student loans. As reported in the Washington Post on November 13, 2008, the Bush Administration has already committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package.

With all that is going on, I am concerned that all of the members have not yet been nominated to the five-member Congressional Oversight panel, as designated by Section 125 of the EESA. As you know, the EESA included language that required the release of a detailed report from the congressional panel 30 days after the bailout program began.  This deadline for this initial report has since passed. Additionally, the congressional oversight panel is supposed to issue a report on January 20, 2009, giving an update on the financial regulatory process. Since a congressional panel is not yet finalized, it is unclear as to whether this deadline can be met.

I strongly believe that the American people have a right to know how their taxpayer funds are being used by the Treasury, especially in light of the recent change in course on how to revitalize the economy.  It is essential that Congress conduct vigorous oversight during this process. That is why I urge you to make it a top priority to complete the assembly of a Congressional Oversight Panel as soon as possible.

Thank you again for your leadership, and thank you for your attention to this issue.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Bruce Braley

Braley voted against the first proposed bailout but supported the revised version for reasons described here. Although I didn’t agree with his second vote, I appreciate his effort to improve Congressional oversight so that Treasury can be held accountable for how funds are being used.

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How's that bailout working for us?

I wouldn’t mind Democrats passing an incredibly unpopular bill a few weeks before an election, if the bill solved a big problem.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street bailout Congressional leaders rushed to pass this fall doesn’t seem to have accomplished much, besides hand some Republican incumbents a great campaign issue.

We were told that the Bush administration needed this plan passed immediately, or else credit would dry up and the stock market would go into a tailspin.

But as it turns out, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had no idea what to do:

The Bush administration dropped the centerpiece of its $700-billion financial rescue plan Wednesday, reflecting the remarkable extent to which senior government officials have been flying by the seat of their pants in dealing with the deepening economic crisis.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson said the administration would scrub plans to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities but continue to devote bailout funds to restore liquidity to credit markets.

[…]

“You’ve had a tremendous amount of improvisation here,” said Douglas W. Elmendorf, a former Federal Reserve economist and an informal advisor to Obama’s transition team. “Even smart people get things wrong when they have no models to follow and are acting quickly, so it’s natural that there’d be some reworking.”

Or as Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) put it: “When you see so many changes, you wonder if they really know what they’re doing.”

Paulson, who originally dismissed emergency government investments in financial institutions as a recipe for failure, said most of the first half of the $700 billion had already gone to making emergency investments in banks and other companies aimed at reviving the routine borrowing and lending that are crucial to the economy.

Although Paulson said those actions had helped thaw credit markets and prevent “a broad systemic event” in the global economy, he acknowledged that most financial firms are still deeply reluctant to lend.

So, Paulson has been winging it, doing what he originally opposed, but credit remains very tight.

But no problem, because Congress imposed strict accountability measures in that revised version of the bailout, right?

Not according to the Washington Post: Bailout Lacks Oversight Despite Billions Pledged

In the six weeks since lawmakers approved the Treasury’s massive bailout of financial firms, the government has poured money into the country’s largest banks, recruited smaller banks into the program and repeatedly widened its scope to cover yet other types of businesses, from insurers to consumer lenders.

Along the way, the Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package.

Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.

“It’s a mess,” said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department’s inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. “I don’t think anyone understands right now how we’re going to do proper oversight of this thing.”

To put that $290 billion in context, the U.S. spent about $170 billion on the war in Iraq during all of 2007. Yet the stock market is still swinging wildly and financial institutions are “still deeply reluctant to lend.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got suckered into backing bad policy that was also bad politics. Barack Obama was eager to go along as well.

Next time leading Democrats want to pass something that expensive, could they at least make it something useful, like universal health care or high-speed rail connecting major cities?

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Window onto a conference call with Steve King

When I suggested yesterday that Steve King is not an effective representative of his constituents in the fifth district, I failed to consider that from time to time he holds telephone town-hall meetings.

SW Iowa Guy suffered through one of those on Tuesday and provides a humorous account of the experience. Callers were screened so that King was able to field only friendly questions during an hour or so on the line.

One passage in Iowa Guy’s post jumped out at me:

Health Care: King stated that he opposes universal access to health care. He advocates Health Savings Accounts and said that families can deposit over $5,000.00 per year to such an account and by the time they are ready to retire they will have over one million dollars. This is all well and good, but most working families can ill afford the necessities, let alone save for health care. This also fails to address the unemployed and under-employed and uninsured.

Do Republicans expect Americans to buy into this Health Savings Account concept? If my husband and I had donated the maximum amount to those accounts for several years, we would still be in the hole without our health insurance (and we are reasonably healthy people).

A typical, complication-free pregnancy with no medical interventions in the hospital cost us around $3,500 each time for prenatal care and delivery, plus about $5,000 each time for the normal hospital stay of less than 48 hours. If I had given birth to either of my children by cesarean section, the hospital bills would have been in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, even without any complications such as baby spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

I had a flukey infection this winter that sent me to the hospital for a week and ended up costing somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 (considering not just the hospital stay, but also the various tests and procedures). That would wipe out years of deposits in a Health Savings Account if we had to rely on one of those instead of health insurance.

If anyone in our family ever got a really expensive illness to treat, such as cancer, you can forget about any private savings account covering the cost.

It’s not realistic to think that families will be able to build up Health Savings Accounts worth a million dollars by the time they retire. Only a small fraction of Americans could afford to do that, and even then they’d have to be lucky and stay healthy in the meantime.

As Iowa Guy notes, a single-payer system modeled on Medicare makes a lot more sense.

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Steve King doesn't get that "oversight" concept

If Congressman Steve King hadn’t already won the “jackass award,” someone would need to give it to him for the way he behaved at a House Judiciary Committee hearing this week.

It’s no secret that King isn’t interested in the Congress serving as a check or balance on executive power. As we saw just a few weeks ago, King believes former White House spokesman Scott McClellan could have “done this country a favor” by keeping his mouth shut about alleged lawbreaking and lying in the Bush administration.

Apparently not satisfied with his efforts to sidetrack the McClellan hearings, King used one parliamentary trick after another on Tuesday to prevent Democrats on the Judiciary Committee from effectively questioning Douglas Feith, the former number three Pentagon official.

You really have to click over to Dana Milbank’s story for the Washington Post and read the whole thing to fully grasp how disgracefully King behaved. He and Congressman Darrell Issa (the wallet behind the recall of California Governor Gray Davis a few years back) were so disruptive that, according to Milbank, “Three and a half hours later, Feith had become but an asterisk at what was supposed to be his hanging.”

Not that it’s any big deal–Feith was only a key architect of the Bush administration’s policy on torture and false claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As usual, King appears to be proud of his outrageous behavior. I learned from this piece by Douglas Burns that King’s campaign has prominently featured Milbank’s article on the incumbent’s website.

Incidentally, as far as I can tell, King’s campaign site ripped off Milbank’s whole article, rather than posting a link to the Washington Post site with an short excerpt. Are members of Congress subject to copyright law?

Anyway, King is proud to stand in the way of meaningful Congressional oversight of the executive branch. But don’t get the wrong idea. He doesn’t believe Congress should be powerless. Iowa Guy 2.0 recently reminded me that King went on record three years ago saying Congress could abolish federal courts, cut their funding or instruct the Department of Justice not to enforce court rulings if judges didn’t behave.

Separation of powers seems to be too difficult a concept for King to grasp.

Getting rid of King would not only benefit the residents of Iowa’s fifth district, but would also further the cause of proper Congressional oversight. Please kick in some cash to Rob Hubler, the Democratic nominee to represent Iowa’s fifth district.

It’s a Republican-leaning district (R+8), but we just won Mississippi’s first Congressional district, which tilts even more strongly to the GOP.

King has a money advantage, but his cash on hand of $251,000 is not a dominating war chest compared to what other incumbents have at their disposal.

Also, the Iowa wingnuts may be crazy, but they aren’t crazy about John McCain. The GOP presidential candidate will have a much weaker turnout operation in Iowa than Barack Obama, and the editor of the Storm Lake Times thinks King may be vulnerable given the atmosphere of “Republican despondence.”

If I haven’t convinced you with this post or my previous work highlighting King’s more embarrassing moments, take it from Texas Nate, who declared King to be “the worst Congressman of them all” in this MyDD diary. That’s quite a statement coming from Nate. They’ve got some really bad ones representing parts of Texas.

UPDATE: Ted Mallory, who lives in King’s district, has drawn a cartoon about King’s behavior in the Feith hearing:

http://tedstoons.blogspot.com/…

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