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News from the Votemaster            

Democrats Fail to Invoke Cloture on Wall Street Reform Bill     Permalink

In a move cheered by both parties, all 41 Republicans stuck together and blocked an attempt by majority leader Harry Reid to start debate on a bill that would rein in Wall Street Banks in an attempt to prevent a repeat performance of the 2008 meltdown and subsequent bailout. The Republicans are cheering because they handed the Democrats a defeat and also because they hope this will force the Democrats to cave to their demands and substantially weaken the final bill. They have no illusions about killing the bill, as they did with health insurance. It would be political suicide to kill it. The Democrats are cheering because this vote will be fodder for a hundred campaign ads saying: "So-and-so (R) voted in favor of the Wall Street banks and doesn't give a hoot about your job, your house, or your life. All he cares about is protecting Wall Street profits."

Given that about two-thirds of all Americans want much tougher rules for the banks, this bill is not going away. Sooner or later, pressure on a few wavering Republicans is going to be too great and one or more will vote to at least start the debate. Potential candidates for switching are Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Olympida Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), but Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who is retiring this year, is a potential wild card since he has nothing to lose by bucking his party and Ohio is hurting badly.

What comes next? There is a lot going on behind the scenes. The main act is probably negotiations between Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the committee's ranking member. Shelby, who was initially elected to the Senate as a Democrat, is clearly in favor of a bill passing (to avoid the Republicans being labeled as obstructionists) but would like the bill to be as weak as possible. One of the things he surely wants Dodd to agree to is a procedure prohibiting amendments to the bill once it hits the floor. The reason for this position is clear: many Democrats want to strengthen, rather than weaken the bill. Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) plan to introduce an amendment that would limit the size of a bank to no more than 10% of the total deposits, forcing some of the larger banks to shrink. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) supports an amendment that would open the Federal Reserve Bank to an outside audit for the first time. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) wants an independent consumer protection agency, not one housed inside the Fed. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wants to implement the "Volcker Rule," which would prohibit banks from making trades for their own benefit rather than on instructions of a client. This would be a baby step towards reinstating Glass-Steagall. Shelby is afraid that if these amendments came to a vote, they might pass or at the very least, the Republicans would get bad publicity voting no on all of them.

In addition to the Dodd-Shelby discussions, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is holding hearings today in which top Goldman Sachs executives are going to have to testify in public. If Levin really grills them, it could ratchet up public anger with the big banks, putting more pressure on some Republicans to vote for cloture on the next vote. Furthermore, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is now openly talking about a tax on the banks. Baucus in a very conservative Democrat who held up the health bill for 6 months while (unsuccessfully) trying to get Olympia Snowe on board. If he is in favor of taxing the banks, this has to be taken very seriously. All in all, it's a three-ring circus in the Senate right now, with everyone looking at how each move will play out in the midterm elections.

Details of Bill to Limit Citizens United Ruling Leaked     Permalink

Congressional Democrats are moving to limit the impact of the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations and unions can spend unlimited money supporting or opposing candidates for public office. The Democrats' bill would do seven major things:

  1. Make the CEO appear in each ad approving the ad.
  2. Make corporations disclose their campaign expenditures to the FEC in real time.
  3. Prevent foreign entities from interfering with U.S. elections.
  4. Mandate disclosure of campaign expenditures to the stockholders/members.
  5. Prevent government contractors from spending money on campaigns.
  6. Require media outlets to give opponents to the corporate ads the same rate.
  7. Tighten rules preventing candidates and third parties to cooperate on strategy.

Brewer Signs Law Making Being in Arizona Illegally a State Crime     Permalink

In a move that may put immigration reform on the agenda this year, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), signed a bill that would make being in Arizona illegally a state crime and instructing Arizona police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The bill does not specify how police officers are to make this determination. Latino groups have condemned the measure saying that the police are now authorized to stop any person whose skin is a bit darker than the average Arizonan's and say: "Papers, please?" Historically, police in the U.S. have never had the authority to stop people at random and ask for identification. They can only stop someone if they have some evidence that the person has committed a crime.

Law professors who have looked at the bill say it is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, such as immigration policy and enforcement being a federal matter not a state one. A challenge up to the Supreme Court is inevitable, but could take time. In the meantime, the bill has enraged Latino and civil liberties groups in the U.S. and may force immigration reform onto the congressional agenda before the midterm elections. It would be very divisive but the debate would probably hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats because their party is hopelessly divided on the issue. The Tancredo wing of the party wants to send all the illegals home whereas the Walmart wing likes the idea of having illegals around to keep wages low. Having a public brawl between these two factions just before the elections is likely to be very messy. If the Democrats try to pass an immigration bill before the elections and fail, it will motivate many Latinos who would otherwise have skipped the election to go vote--and not for the Republicans.

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Recent Headlines (clickable)

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