Friday, February 27, 2015

Which 12 Democrats Just Joined the GOP to Vote for Government-by-Crisis?

Earlier this evening, the House GOP's effort to pass a three-week funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security went down in flames.

The bill failed 203 to 224.

John Boehner suffered 52 defections from his caucus, the hardliners that refuse to vote for any bill that does not "defund" the President's executive orders on immigration.

However, here, rather than focusing on the 52 hardliners, let's focus on a different group of defectors: the 12 Democrats that voted with John Boehner.

The House Democratic leadership has continually insisted that they want a clean, yearlong DHS funding bill and do not want to override the President's executive orders or promote government-by-crisis.

Here is the advice Minority Whip Steny Hoyer gave to the caucus:
This measure is not a solution to the problem of funding DHS for the entire fiscal year and will only heighten the uncertainty faced by the Department.  Moreover, it would deprive DHS of the resources it needs to protect the nation’s borders, ports, and airways, a fact that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have stressed repeatedly during this manufactured crisis. Just last night, Secretary Johnson sent a letter to Congressional Leaders, stating that “…as I have noted many times, mere extension of a continuing resolution has many of the same negative impacts. A short-term continuing resolution exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now.”

This morning, the Senate is expected to pass a “clean” bill that funds DHS for the remainder of FY2015 – and includes no poison-pill amendments that target the President’s executive actions to address our broken immigration system.  That is what the House should be passing - not this short-term CR. Opposing the short-term CR makes clear that governing crisis-to-crisis, especially when it risks the our national security and the safety of Americans, is unacceptable.
If House Republicans are serious about protecting our borders and citizens, they will stop playing political games and allow for an up or down vote on the clean,
Senate-passed DHS funding bill. Members are urged to VOTE NO.
Here are those 12 Democrats: 

Nick Ashford (NE-02)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
David Scott (GA-13)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)

I was watching part of the vote on C-SPAN and noticed that just about all of these 12 Democrats voted for the bill when they were certain it was going to fail. In other words, they wanted their voting record to reflect that they are no different from a Republican. As if that ever turned out voters to the polls for them. If voters wanted a representative who voted like a Republican, they'd vote for a real one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Elizabeth Warren and Five Other Senators to Arne Duncan: Stop Gouging Student Loan Borrowers

Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with five colleagues--Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR)--wrote to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to urge him to stop gouging student loan borrowers.

They write, "The Department of Education has broad authority to compromise, modify, discharge, and cancel student debts. Instead, the Department continues to gouge borrowers who struggle to meet their payments, subjecting them to debt collection, wage and benefit withholding, and other harsh penalties even when it is clear that the debtors cannot pay." The letter highlights other options available to help students that the Department of Education is ignoring. Instead, the Department of Education plans to make a $110 billion in profits from its student loans over the next decade, money that will be used for government operations that have nothing to do with education.

Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Duncan:

Earlier this month, the President released a budget for the Department of Education indicating that the Department expects to generate several billion less in profits from federal student loans than it had previously estimated. While this progress is encouraging, the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent baseline indicates that the federal government is still expected to produce $110 billion in profits from its student loans over the next decade.
Congress did not create federal student loans to generate revenue for the federal government – to the contrary, it gave the Department of Education a host of tools to ensure that federal student loan borrowers are treated fairly and with dignity. For that reason, we write to ask the Department of Education to commit to reducing federal student loan profits by fulfilling its existing responsibilities under the law to help student loan borrowers manage their debts.
Student loan borrowers are buried in debt. Of the more than 40 million Americans with student loan debt, at least 25% are in deferment, forbearance, or default. With the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all sounding the alarm that student debt is threatening to drag down both our families and the economy itself, it is striking that the Department still intends to generate such significant revenue from federal loan programs designed to help young people get an affordable education. While some of these federal profits are the inevitable result of artificially high interest rates on federal student loans locked into place by Congress, much of this revenue will be collected as a direct consequence of the Department’s failure to implement congressional directives or utilize its discretionary authority to protect our most vulnerable borrowers.
We recognize that the President’s recent efforts to enroll more students in congressionally-authorized income-based repayment plans have had a positive impact on the ability of these students to repay their loans and, as a result, have contributed to the reduction in the Department’s projected profits on these programs. Income-based repayment, however, is only one of the tools Congress has given to the Department to relieve the burden of student debt. Congress has also created additional programs to help distressed borrowers across a host of additional areas, the Department of Education is failing to do what Congress has directed it to do.
The Higher Education Act, for example, directs the Department of Education to implement a plan to cancel student loan borrowers’ debts when their colleges act in ways that hurt the quality of their education or their finances. To date, however, the Department of Education has yet to give borrowers a clear idea of how to exercise this option. Similarly, the Department of Education has broad authority to compromise, modify, discharge, and cancel student debts. Instead, the Department continues to gouge borrowers who struggle to meet their payments, subjecting them to debt collection, wage and benefit withholding, and other harsh penalties even when it is clear that the debtors cannot pay. The Higher Education Act also requires the Department of Education to offer student loan discharges to students whose college close their funds to bail out their federal student loan debts. All the while, the government is overcharging these borrowers and pocketing the profits to spend on unrelated government activities.
It is not the job of the Department of Education to maximize profits for the government at the cost of squeezing students who are struggling to get an education. Federal student loan programs were created by Congress to provide an opportunity for every young person who works hard and plays by the rules to pursue higher education. Congress has also acted to grant more authority to the Department of Education to ensure that borrowers who need relief can, in appropriate circumstances, receive the assistance they need. And Congress has charged the Department of Education with executing these federal student loan programs. Instead of implementing more policies designed to maximize federal profits on the backs of our kids, the Department should take further steps to implement the directives it has been given by Congress to ensure that our most vulnerable young people struggling with the burden of federal student debt have meaningful opportunity to build a strong future for themselves and their families.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Obama Wants to Make Sure Your Broker Can't Take Advantage of You. Which Dems Disagree?

On Monday, at an AARP event, President Obama, with Senator Elizabeth Warren at his side, announced a new Department of Labor proposal to impose a fiduciary duty on financial advisers. In other words, your financial adviser would have to act in your best interest, not his or her own.

Here's what the White House said about the new proposed rule in its fact sheet:
A system where Wall Street firms benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments—with high costs and low returns—instead of recommending quality investments isn’t fair. These conflicts of interest are costing middle class families and individuals billions of dollars every year. On average, they result in annual losses of 1 percentage point for affected investors. To demonstrate how small differences can add up: A 1 percentage point lower return could reduce your savings by more than a quarter over 35 years. In other words, instead of a $10,000 retirement investment growing to more than $38,000 over that period after adjusting for inflation, it would be just over $27,500. ....
Because of outdated rules protecting retirement savings, we’re seeing similar types of bad incentives and bad advice lead to billions of dollars of losses for American families saving for retirement every year—with some families losing tens of thousands of dollars of their retirement savings. That’s why today, the President directed the Department of Labor to move forward with a proposed rulemaking to protect families from bad retirement advice by requiring retirement advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard—putting their clients’ best interest before their own profits.
That seems like common sense, right? Well, not to the industry lobbyists and members of Congress who have been fighting this pending rule for years because they think that financial advisers should be able to take advantage of you.

On October 29, 2013, the House passed the so-called Retail Investor Protection Act. This bill was designed to delay this Department of Labor rule until the SEC--more in the pocket of Wall Street--finalized its rule.

Here is some excellent background information by David Dayen that I included when I wrote about the bill then:
The Labor Department proposal, known as the “fiduciary rule,” would change the ethical standards by which employer-based retirement products like 401(k)’s and IRAs are marketed and sold. The rule has not been updated since 1975, before 401(k)’s and IRAs even existed. The Labor Department wants to broaden the definition of a “fiduciary” to cover all financial advisers who offer individual investment advice for a fee. Under the rule, they would be legally required to work in the best interest of their clients. For example, a fiduciary would not be able to push investment products on customers in which they have a financial stake. The agency defines the goal of the proposal as “to ensure that potential conflicts of interest among advisers are not allowed to compromise the quality of investment advice that millions of American workers rely on, so they can retire with the dignity that they have worked hard to achieve.” ...
Currently, it is depressingly common for financial advisers, more than 80 percent of whom are not fiduciaries, to self-deal when offering advice. First off, they obtain large fees from the retirement products they sell. According to the think tank Demos, a median-income, two-earner household will pay $155,000 during their lifetime to financial advisers on average. (The lifetime gains for two-earner households from retirement accounts are around $230,000, meaning that nearly two-thirds of the profits go to the industry.) Second, non-fiduciary financial advisers can enjoy kickbacks; right now there is no rule against an adviser from a mutual fund company encouraging clients to put their money in specific funds sold by that company. In fact, that’s the norm, and the adviser typically receives a commission for the sale.

Conflicts of interest like this cost retirement investors at least $1 billion a month, because the funds they get channeled into underperform the alternatives. Financial advisers also encourage rollovers into high-cost IRAs when an individual changes jobs. None of these schemes have to be disclosed to the customer, under the current standard. The National Bureau for Economic Research found in a recent study that “adviser self‐interest plays an important role in generating advice that is not in the best interest of the clients.”
So in the middle of a retirement crisis, when the majority of Americans already aren’t accumulating the savings they need to maintain their standard of living, sellers of retirement products are skimming close to $60 billion a year off the top through deceptive practices, making a bad situation even worse.
30 Democrats joined the GOP in voting for it. This was less than what supporters had expected, but was still far too high.

Which Democrats voted to allow your financial adviser to take advantage of you?

Of the 30 House Democrats who voted for it, seven are no longer in Congress:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Bradley Schneider (IL-10)

And an eighth has moved up to the Senate: Gary Peters (D-MI).

But 22 are still in the House:

John Carney (DE-AL)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Ron Kind (WI-03)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Ed Perlmuter (CO-07)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Brad Sherman (CA-30)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It Says a Lot About the Democratic Party That Only 23 Dems Signed This Letter

For the past few weeks, Keith Ellison (MN-05), Maxine Waters (CA-43), and Steve Cohen (TN-09) have been circulating a letter around House Democrats urging John Boehner to postpone his invitation to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress.

Here is the text of the letter:
We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March…

The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit.  Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the Presidency.

Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concerns that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.
A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and our consideration of the current round of Iran-related legislation has concluded. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.
There is nothing controversial about this letter. It doesn't even challenge the bipartisan consensus around Israel. 
 
And the public seems to agree with Ellison, Waters, and Cohen. A recent poll by CNN found that 63 percent of Americans and 81 percent of Democrats think Boehner was wrong to invite Netanyahu to address Congress without notifying Obama.

But how many of their colleagues were they able to get to sign on to their letter?

Only twenty.

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
André Carson (IN-07)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Betty McCollum (MN-04)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Beto O’Rourke (TX-16)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Chellie Pingree (ME-01)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12)
Pete Welch (VT-AL)
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Republicans are having a foreign leader speak before Congress to openly disparage the president and attempt to sabotage the president's foreign policy. One would think that it would be a no-brainer for Democrats to at the least sign this letter but also not attend. But, instead, most Democrats will just wring their hands a bit and then go, giving a Netanyahu a standing ovation for every single thing he says.

Friday, February 13, 2015

33 Dems Join GOP to Say Deficits Don't Matter When It Comes to Corporate Tax Cuts

Yesterday, the House GOP showed--yet again--that deficits only matter to them in discussions of helping the middle and working class. When it comes to extending tax credits that largely benefit upper incomes, increasing the deficit (by draining revenue) is great.

The House continued with their piecemeal and unfunded approach to tax extenders today, extending a set of tax credits for small businesses that would increase the deficit by $79.2 billion over ten years.
Democrats were urged to vote NO by the party leadership:
This bill is a combination of three bills permanently extending tax provisions affecting the tax treatment of small businesses and S Corporations, whose income are taxed at the individual shareholder level rather than the corporate level, as C Corporations are.  
The first bill would permanently extend an expired tax provision that increased the Section 179 maximum expensing of depreciable property for small businesses from $25,000 to $500,000, and increased the threshold over which such expensing is phased out from $200,000 to $2,000,000. It also extends the expired expansion of eligible property to include software.
The second bill would allow corporations converted from C Corps to S Corps to hold assets for only 5 years, rather than permanent law's 10 years, in order to avoid paying the full corporate tax rate on the "built-in gain" on income from the sale of that asset.
The third bill would allow a charitable contribution's adjusted basis, rather than its fair market value, to be used in calculating an S Corporation shareholder's individual tax benefit from the charitable contribution.
The JCT estimates that this package of permanent tax cuts will add $79.2 billion to the deficit over 10 years, and Republicans have chosen to bring the bill to the Floor without providing an offset.

The choice made by House Republicans to address these provisions one by one, while adding their cost to the deficit, represents an irresponsible approach that will only make reaching comprehensive tax reform and fixing our broken tax system harder.
This morning, DCCC chair Ben Lujan noted on Twitter that the unpaid-for tax cuts passed by the GOP yesterday and today could provide 10 years of universal Pre-K for American children and a year of NIH research. That the GOP chooses tax cuts instead is a statement of their values. 


33 Democrats, however, voted with the GOP:

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Elizabeth Esty (CT-05)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Annie Kuster (NH-02)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Grace Meng (NY-06)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Kathleen Rice (NY-04)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Dina Titus (NV-01)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Tim Walz (MN-01)

This vote was largely similar to the one yesterday.

12 Democrats who voted for yesterday's unpaid-for tax credits voted against today's:

Brendan Boyle (PA-13)
Lois Capps (CA-24)
Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)

And six Democrats did the opposite:

Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Robin Kelly (IL-02)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Grace Meng (NY-06)

Walter Jones (NC-03) remained the sole Republican NO vote.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The House Just Passed the Fighting Hunger Incentive Act. Spoiler: It's Not About Fighting Hunger.

Earlier today, the House voted to pass the Fighting Hunger Incentive Act 279 to 136.

Has the House GOP shown a new interest in fighting hunger? Hahaha, of course not.

The bill extends three tax credits:  the deductions for contributions of food inventory, allowing tax-free distributions from individual retirement accounts for charitable purposes, and the deduction for contributions of conservation easements to preserve land.

When discussing tax credits for charitable giving, it's important to remember that they are designed to primarily benefit the top 1%:




Most Democrats opposed the bill because it extends a tax credit to benefit the rich without offsetting the lost revenue. The GOP, of course, only cares about the deficit when it comes to policies aimed to benefit the middle and working classes.

One Republican--Walter Jones (NC-03)--joined Democrats in voting against it.

39 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for it:

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Brendan Boyle (PA-13)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Lois Capps (CA-24)
Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Elizabeth Esty (CT-05)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Annie Kuster (NH-02)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Kathleen Rice (NY-04)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Dina Titus (NV-01)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Tim Walz (MN-01)

And lest you thought Republicans suddenly started to care about the hunger crisis in the US, they're already planning to hack away at SNAP even more than they already have.

Comcast EVP/Republican Fundraiser to Serve as Senior Advisor to DNC 2016 Host Committee

Earlier today, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter announced that David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast, will serve as senior adviser to Philly's Host Committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

The same Comcast that is one of America's least favorite companies.

And the same David Cohen and same Comcast that lobbied against Obama's net neutrality proposal.

And the same Comcast that fought Philadelphia's paid sick leave legislation, getting the mayor to veto it two times before he finally accepted a watered-down version today:
The biggest opponent of the bill is Philadelphia-based telecommunications giant Comcast. Almost all of the $108,429.25 Comcast spent on lobbying in 2011 was in opposition to paid sick days. It also is a major contributor to Mayor Nutter, contributing $7,500 to his campaign in 2011 and an additional $8,500 in 2012.
Comcast is also heavily involved with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC," and has representatives on both the Communications and Information Technology Task Force and Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. As the Center for Media and Democracy reported, ALEC has had opposition to paid sick days on its agenda since 2011 -- specifically, state bills that would preempt local paid sick day efforts -- and ALEC members have consistently been vocal opponents to the common-sense legislation in almost every city and state it has emerged.
And the same David Cohen that raised money for former Republican governor Tom Corbett and current Republican senator Pat Toomey.
 
Here he is hosting fundraisers for Pennsylvania's Tea Party Republican governor Tom Corbett back in February 2013:
A major Pennsylvania Democratic donor has announced that he will back Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's bid for reelection in 2014, according to multiple state news outlets. As first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen hosted a January fundraiser for Corbett at his Philadelphia home that helped net the governor $200,000 for his reelection campaign.
"I expect to support Gov Corbett," Cohen told the Inquirer in an email message this week.
....
The Naked Philadelphian, a blog covering Pennsylvania politics, also reported on Cohen's decision to fund the incumbent governor's reelection. A source close to Comcast who attended the fundraiser told the blog, "Comcast is a business in the state of Pennsylvania. They need to be able to talk to both sides." Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia.
This is not Cohen's first time reaching a hand across the aisle. He has donated to powerful Republicans in Washington, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.); Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Nor is it Cohen's first time giving to Corbett, according to campaign finance data available through the National Institute of Money in State Politics. In his 2008 bid to be reelected state attorney general, Corbett received $1,500 from Cohen.
Here Cohen is hosting a fundraiser for PA's Tea Party Republican senator Pat Toomey back in June of 2013.
Democratic powerbroker David L. Cohen has already crossed party lines to raise money for Republican Gov. Corbett.
Now, the executive vice-president of Comcast is holding a fundraising reception at his home for Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
.....
“Pat Toomey is a smart and gutsy legislator, and exactly the kind of person we need in Washington,” David L. Cohen wrote in an email soliciting attendees and donors for the event. He said Toomey, elected in 2010, has made a “noticeable mark” in the Senate, and praised him for championing legislation that would have extended background checks to firearms purchases made at gun shows.
The same Pat Toomey that Democrats need to defeat if they plan to win back the Senate. 

With friends like David Cohen....