Financial reform deal clears House, Iowans split on party lines

The House of Representatives approved what’s likely to be the final version of financial reform yesterday, on a mostly party-line vote of 237 to 192 (roll call). Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted for the compromise that emerged from a House-Senate conference committee. They had also voted for the original House version last December. Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted against the new regulations on the financial sector. The Senate will take up this bill after senators return from the July 4 recess on July 12.

I haven’t blogged much about financial reform because so many important provisions didn’t make it into the original House bill and/or were ditched during the Senate amendment process. Yesterday Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin blasted the “unholy alliance between Washington and Wall Street”:

I cosponsored a number of critical amendments during Senate consideration of the bill including a Cantwell-McCain amendment to restore Glass-Steagall safeguards, Senator Dorgan’s amendment that addressed the problem of “too big to fail” financial institutions, and another “too big to fail” reform offered by Senators Brown and Kaufman that proposed strict limits on the size of those institutions. Each of those amendments would have improved the bill significantly, and each of them either failed or was blocked from even getting a vote.

After that, it wasn’t a close call for me. It would be a huge mistake to pass a bill that purports to re-regulate the financial industry but is simply too weak to protect people from the recklessness of Wall Street. […]

Since the Senate bill passed, I have had a number of conversations with key members of the administration, Senate leadership and the conference committee that drafted the final bill. Unfortunately, not once has anyone suggested in those conversations the possibility of strengthening the bill to address my concerns and win my support. People want my vote, but they want it for a bill that, while including some positive provisions, has Wall Street’s fingerprints all over it.

In fact, reports indicate that the administration and conference leaders have gone to significant lengths to avoid making the bill stronger. Rather than discussing with me ways to strengthen the bill, for example, they chose to eliminate a levy that was to be imposed on the largest banks and hedge funds in order to obtain the vote of members who prefer a weaker bill. Nothing could be more revealing of the true position of those who are crafting this legislation. They had a choice between pursuing a weaker bill or a stronger one.

While we’re on the subject of those conference talks, which catered to a handful of New England Republicans, here’s a textbook case of Republicans negotiating in bad faith:

This week, Democrats sought to confirm the support of Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, who threatened to vote against the bill if it contained $19 billion in new fees on large banks and hedge funds. House and Senate conferees reconvened to remove that provision, but on Wednesday Senator Brown didn’t commit his vote. He said he plans to evaluate the bill over Congress’s week-long July 4 recess.

During the past few weeks David Waldman wrote an excellent series of posts on the conference process and mechanics. Political junkies should take a look, because this won’t be the last important bill hammered out by a conference committee.

As with health insurance reform, the Wall Street reform bill contains a bunch of good provisions. Chris Bowers lists many of them here. Representatives Braley, Loebsack and Boswell also highlighted steps forward in statements I have posted after the jump. On balance, it’s better for this bill to pass than for nothing to pass. But like health insurance reform, the Wall Street reform bill isn’t going to solve the big systemic problems it was supposed to solve. It’s disappointing that large Democratic majorities in Congress couldn’t produce a better bill than this one, and it’s yet another sign we need filibuster reform in the Senate.

Another parallel between health insurance reform and financial reform is that Republican talking points against it are dishonest.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Health reform bill clears 60-vote hurdle in Senate

Last night the U.S. Senate voted 60 to 40 to move forward with debate on the health insurance reform bill. All senators who caucus with Democrats voted for cloture, and all Republicans voted against. The breakthrough came on Saturday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid secured Senator Ben Nelson’s support with extra money for Medicaid in Nebraska and new language on abortion.

At Daily Kos mcjoan published a good summary of what’s in the latest version of the bill.

Reid reportedly promised Nelson a “limited conference” on this bill, meaning that very few changes will be made to the Senate version. However, it’s far from clear that the House of Representatives will approve the Senate’s compromise. About two dozen House Democrats plan to vote against health care reform no matter what, meaning that it will only take 15-20 more no votes to prevent supporters from reaching 218 in the House.

Bart Stupak, lead sponsor of the amendment restricting abortion coverage in the House bill, has been working with Republicans against the Senate’s abortion language. Meanwhile, the leaders of the House pro-choice caucus have suggested the Senate language may be unconstitutional.

Even before Reid struck the final deal with Nelson, Representative Bruce Braley told the Des Moines Register, “I think the real test is going to be at the conference committee and if it doesn’t improve significantly, I think health care reform is very remote based on what I’m hearing in the House.”

Senator Tom Harkin has done several media appearances in recent days defending the Senate compromise. He seems especially pleased with the Medicaid deal for Nebraska:

The federal government is paying for the entire Medicaid expansion through 2017 for every state.

“In 2017, as you know, when we have to start phasing back from 100 percent, and going down to 98 percent, they are going to say, ‘Wait, there is one state that stays at 100?’ And every governor in the country is going to say, ‘Why doesn’t our state stay there?’” Harkin said. “When you look at it, I thought well, god, good, it is going to be the impetus for all the states to stay at 100 percent. So he might have done all of us a favor.”

Ezra Klein has posted some amazing spin this morning about how the Senate bill is “not very close to the health-care bill most liberals want. But it is very close to the health-care bill that Barack Obama promised.” Sorry, no. Obama campaigned on a health care plan that would control costs and include a public insurance option, drug re-importation, and letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. Obama campaigned against an individual mandate to purchase insurance and an excise tax on insurance benefits.

Those of you still making excuses for Obama should listen to what Senator Russ Feingold said yesterday:

“I’ve been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and bring health care spending down,” Feingold said Sunday in a statement. “Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle.”

Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was about as unprincipled and two-faced during this process as White House officials were. She voted for the Senate Finance Committee’s bill in October and had suggested her main objection to Reid’s compromise was the inclusion of a public health insurance option. Yet Snowe remained opposed to the bill even after the public option was removed last week. Because of her stance, Reid cut the deal with Nelson. The supposedly pro-choice Snowe could have prevented the restrictions on abortion coverage from getting into the bill if she had signed on instead.

Speaking of Republicans, the Iowa Republican posted this rant by TEApublican: “Nebraska And Huckabee Respond To Ben ‘Benedict’ Nelson’s Christmas Senate Sellout.” If you click over, be prepared to encounter mixed metaphors and misunderstandings about what this “reform” does. Still, the rant is a good reminder of how Republicans will still scream about government takeovers even though corporate interests got everything they wanted out of the bill.

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MoveOn.org has lost credibility with me

I’m likely to ignore future e-mails from MoveOn.org Political Action after reading the last two appeals they’ve sent me. They are raising money off the health care reform battle while absolving President Obama from blame for the pitiful state of the Senate bill.

Excerpts from the MoveOn.Org appeals and some commentary are after the jump.

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Open thread on Obama's plans for Iraq

Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers know that I’ve always worried Barack Obama would leave too many U.S. troops in Iraq for too long. When he decided to stick with George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, some analysts argued that Robert Gates would give Obama cover to withdraw from Iraq, but I felt it was more likely that Gates would give Obama cover not to withdraw from Iraq, at least not fully.

This week President Obama announced his plans for Iraq. Supposedly “combat operations” will end by August 2010, meaning that the withdrawal will take 18 months rather than 16 months, as Obama promised during the campaign. My concern is not the extra two months, but Obama’s decision to leave a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 in Iraq after August 2010. That sounds like too large a contingent to me and to many Congressional Democrats.

I suppose I should be grateful that Obama isn’t following the advice of Colin Kahl, who headed his Iraq working group during the campaign. Kahl has advocated leaving 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq for years (see also here).

Seeing the glass half full, Chris Bowers is pleased that Obama says all U.S. military will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011:

In September of 2007, President Obama refused to promise to remove all troops from Iraq by January 20th, 2013. Now, he has promised to remove them all by December 31st, 2011. That is a positive shift.

This is huge for no residual forces proponents. Now that President Obama has made this pledge, in public, it will be difficult for him to go back on it. This is especially the case since turning back on a promise with a deadline of December 31st, 2011, means violating a pledge during 2012–the year President Obama will be running for re-election. Anti-war proponents need to be prepared to raise holy hell during 2012 if this promise is not kept.

It is frustrating that it took the Iraqi government, rather than internal anti-war pressure, to finally secure a no residual troop promise from the American government (and they actually succeeded in wringing it out of the Bush administration, something Democrats were entirely unable to achieve). Still, as someone who has opposed the Iraq war for more than six years, and who been has writing about the need for no residual American military forces in Iraq for more than two years, any promise of no residual forces from the American government, backed up by a binding, public document like the Status of Forces Agreement, it an extremely welcome development no matter how it was secured.

The Iraq war is going to end. No residual troops after 2011.

I am concerned that some excuse will be found by then to push back the deadline. (Seeing John McCain and other Republicans praise Obama’s plans for Iraq does not reassure me.) I have little confidence that the anti-war movement would raise “holy hell” during a presidential election year if Obama backs off on this promise.

But I am biased on this point, because I’ve never believed in Obama as a great anti-war hero.

So, I’m opening up the floor to the Bleeding Heartland community. Are you ecstatic, optimistic, skeptical, or disappointed with Obama’s Iraq policy? Do you believe he will stick to the deadlines he outlined this week for the end of combat operations and the withdrawal of all residual troops?

Feel free to discuss our Afghanistan policy in this thread too. Obama plans to increase the number of U.S. troops there, but Senator Russ Feingold and some others are wondering whether more troops will help us achieve our stated mission.

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Let voters fill vacant Senate seats

When a member of the U.S. House of Representatives dies, retires or takes another job, a special election is held in the district. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin plans to introduce a constitutional amendment requiring special elections to fill vacant U.S. Senate seats as well:

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.  In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators.  They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.  I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute.  As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.”

Feingold explained the rationale for his “new effort to empower the people” in this Daily Kos diary.

Since the November election, four Democratic governors have appointed new U.S. senators. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is in particular disgrace for allegedly trying to profit personally from the appointment to fill Barack Obama’s seat. After a convoluted chain of events, Blagojevich was eventually able to get his choice, Roland Burris, seated in the U.S. Senate. (Jane Hamsher wrote the best piece I’ve seen on the farce: I want to play poker with Harry Reid.)

New York Governor David Paterson didn’t cover himself with glory either during the past two months. I agree with Chris Cillizza:

Is it possible that this process could have played out any more publicly or messily? It’s hard to imagine how. Paterson’s final pick — [Kirsten] Gillibrand — is entirely defensible but the way he handled everything that happened between when Clinton was nominated and today cloud that picture. Will Paterson ultimately be a winner for picking an Upstate woman to share the ticket with him in 2010? Maybe. But, today it’s hard to see him as anything other than a loser.

The other two Senate vacancies filled by governors stirred up less controversy nationwide, but are also problematic in some respects. Governor Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware replaced Joe Biden with picked a longtime Biden staffer who has no plans to run in 2010. I love competitive primaries, but in this case Minner was mainly trying to clear the path for Biden’s son Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware who could not be appointed to the Senate now because of a deployment in Iraq.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter passed up various elected officials with extensive campaign experience and a clear position on the issues to appoint Michael Bennet, who had very little political experience and virtually no public record on any national issues. (Colorado pols were stunned by the choice.)

Discussing Feingold’s proposed amendment, John Deeth seems concerned mainly with the prospect of a governor appointing someone from the other political party to replace a retiring senator.

For me, the fact that all four Democratic governors appointed Democrats to the vacant U.S. Senate seats is immaterial.

I can’t tell you whether Burris, Gillibrand, Kaufman or Bennet will do a good job in the Senate for the next two years, but I can assure you that none of them would have earned the right to represent their states in a competitive Democratic primary. That alone is reason to support Feingold’s constitutional amendment.

The power of incumbency is immense and will create obstacles for other Democrats who may want to challenge Gillibrand or Bennet in 2010. (Burris may be out sooner than that if Blagojevich is removed from office, but whoever his successor appoints would have the same unjustified advantage in a potential 2010 primary in Illinois.)

Special elections can be held within a few months. Let voters decide who should represent them in the Senate.

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