If This is What it Means to be “Conservative” — I’m Proudly a Bleeding Heart Liberal

Clearly, members of the GOP in the House are all about looking for ways to handicap ANY organization tasked with performing regulatory actions that might impede their ideological plans for the future of the United States of Republica.  A case in point is this recent  press release from Representative Amodei’s office.  My comments are in blue italics at various points throughout his release.  Some original text has been highlight in RED for emphasis.

Amodei: Appropriations Financial Services bill reins in IRS, ACA and Dodd Frank

Wednesday June 18, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 Contact:    Brian Baluta, 202-225-6155

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee today passed its fiscal year 2015 bill, which would provide annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies.

The bill totals $21.3 billion in funding for these agencies, which is $566 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $2.3 billion below the president’s request for these programs.The legislation prioritizes programs critical to enforcing laws, maintaining an effective judiciary system and helping small businesses, while targeting lower-priority or poor-performing programs – such as the Internal Revenue Service – for reductions.

Well now, that makes just a ton of sense.  IRS is tasked with collecting revenue necessary for the operation of various government operations … so let’s under fund them so we can then make a scapegoat of them when they can no longer effectively perform their regulatory and tax-collecting functions.

“Every day, I am asked, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ This bill ‘does something’ by removing funding from executive agencies that have become political tools of the administration,” said Amodei.   

Bill highlights:

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)– Included in the bill is $10.95 billion for the IRS – a cut of $341 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $1.5 billion below the President’s budget request. This will bring the agency’s budget below the sequester level and below the level that was in place in fiscal year 2008. This funding level is sufficient for the IRS to perform its core duties, including taxpayer services and the proper collection of funds, but will require the agency to streamline and make better use of its budget.

Interesting! They continually carp about the IRS not providing for an EMAIL BACKUP strategy as part of their business plan. Server BACKUPs are NOT FREE!  How much more will they stop BACKING UP because they no longer have sufficient funding to do their tax collection duties, let alone ancillary functions like BACKUPS, SYSTEM UPDATES, SOFTWARE IMPROVEMENTS, etc.?

In addition, due to the inappropriate actions by the IRS in targeting groups that hold certain political beliefs, as well as its previous improper use of taxpayer funds, the bill includes the following provisions:

Here we go again, perpetuating the falsehood that ONLY right-wing political groups were scrutinized, when it was actually liberal groups that were denied with some that had already been given tax-exempt status seeing that status revoked (e.g., EmergeAmerica affiliated groups).  NO politically-focused groups should be receiving TAX-EXEMPT 501(c)(4) status, PERIOD!

A prohibition on a proposed regulation related to political activities and the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposed regulation could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of many non-profit organizations and inhibit citizens from exercising their right to freedom of speech, simply because they may be involved in political activity.

Sorry, but I don’t get to deduct my “freedom of speech” contributions to political endeavors.  Thus, NO politically-focused organizations should be able to have a free of tax right to free speech at the American Taxpayer’s expense!

A prohibition on funds for bonuses or awards unless employee conduct and tax compliance are given consideration.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.

Congress passed a law that clearly states that to be considered 501(c)(4) organization, your activities must be EXCLUSIVELY-FOCUSED on “Social Welfare” activities.  Politically-focused activities are NOT social-welfare activities and thus, it IS the IRS’s responsibility to scrutinize and deny tax-exempt status to ANY organization (conservative, liberal or otherwise) not meeting that exclusivity provision.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.

More BS related to the previous proviso — the IRS is NOT prohibiting ANYONE from exercising their free speech.  The IRS is merely and rightfully determining whether a group is a group exclusively devoted to providing SOCIAL-WELFARE opportunities/activities and thus, whether that group is entitled to TAX-EXEMPT status!

A prohibition on funding for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences.

Really?  Oh, please, pray tell, what “inappropriate videos” might it be that the IRS is producing?

A prohibition on funding for the White House to order the IRS to determine the tax-exempt status of an organization.

Again, if you want to allow any organization wanting to conduct EXCLUSIVELY politically focused activities to never have to pay taxes, well then, you need to REPEAL the law that PROHIBITS them from being tax exempt!  You cannot have a LAW on the books that says one thing and then prohibit the IRS, which is responsible for administering that section of the law, from enforcing it!

A requirement for extensive reporting on IRS spending.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) –The bill also includes provisions to stop the IRS from further implementing ObamaCare, including a prohibition on any transfers of funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to the IRS for ObamaCare uses, and a prohibition on funding for the IRS to implement an individual insurance mandate on the American people.

Well, let’s see.  We elected President Obama and a Democratic Congress to get health care reform. Then, the Republican propaganda machine bought a Republican House.  Despite their efforts to gerry-rig the system, we still re-elected President Obama. Health care reform is one of the hardest things we’ve ever worked on. But no matter, they just keep trying to either LIE ABOUT REPEAL or DEFUND access to healthcare for the American People despite its need or popularity.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)– Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $300 million below the President’s budget request. The increase in funds is targeted specifically toward critical information technology initiatives. The legislation also includes a prohibition on the SEC spending any money out of its “reserve fund” – essentially a slush fund for the SEC to use without any congressional oversight.

In addition, the legislation contains requirements for the Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act, and a prohibition on funding to require political donation information in SEC filings.

My my, lookie here — looks like an increase in funding.  But wait, isn’t this the organization that’s supposed to regulate Wall Street?  It’s a shame that the increase in funding is just for a bit of information technology so they can determine how their GOP-Donor base is affected by any sort of regulation.  It’s also despicable that they’ve included a proviso that PROHIBITS any reporting of information as to Corporate political donations.  If you and I donate, our freedom of speech is broadcast for all to see … but the Republican Donor-base has a special privileged secreted freedom of speech.  Apparently the Republicans believe their Donors are free to speak with their Dollars, but the general American public is underserving of being able to speak with their dollars in response.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)– The bill includes a provision to change the funding source for the CFPB from the Federal Reserve to the congressional appropriations process, starting in fiscal year 2016. Currently, funding for this agency is provided by mandatory spending and is not subject to annual congressional review. This change will allow for increased accountability and transparency of the agency’s activities and use of tax dollars. The legislation also requires extensive reporting on CFPB activities.

The Republicans have done EVERYTHING conceivably possible to handicap, repeal, defund and decapitate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is yet their latest attempt to defund and cripple any and all Consumer financial protection at the behest of their Donor-base.

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House GOP Gives Runaway CEO Pay Gets a Free Pass

The House Financial Services Committee has just moved to repeal the only statutory provision now on the books that puts real heat on overpaid top executives.

— by Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati

Only 10% of Americans now have confidence in Congress, Gallup informs us. No other major American institution has ever had an approval rating this low.

But public confidence in Congress would probably sink even lower if average Americans knew more about what our lawmakers are actually doing. The latest case in point: the steady progress of H.R. 1135, the “Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act.”

This particular piece of legislation speaks to an ongoing frustration in America’s body politic: CEO pay. Most Americans think corporate executives are grabbing far too much compensation.

Not the members of the House Financial Services Committee. By a 36-21 margin, they’ve just voted to repeal the only statutory provision now on the books that puts real heat on overpaid CEOs. The full House, observers expect, will shortly endorse this repeal.

The specific provision 31 Republicans and five Democrats voted to overturn — section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — imposes a new disclosure mandate on corporations.

Under Dodd-Frank, as enacted into law, major companies must annually reveal the ratio between what they pay their CEOs and what they pay their median — most typical — workers.

Pizzigati-Congress-arcticpenguinCorporate pay reformers consider this ratio to be crucial information for reining in executive excess. If Americans could see — and compare — the exact CEO-worker pay ratio from one corporation to another, the reformers believe, the resulting negative publicity on the corporations with the widest pay gaps might just discourage excessive future executive compensation.

And if corporations ignored this negative publicity, Dodd-Frank’s disclosure mandate could serve as a stepping stone to tougher reforms. Lawmakers could, for instance, set a specific CEO-worker pay multiple as the nation’s preferred corporate compensation standard and deny tax breaks — or government contracts — to corporations that pay execs above that standard.

Pay ratio disclosure clearly has the potential to help extinguish what one Forbes analyst calls “the out of control wildfire” that executive pay has become. But the mandate hasn’t so far extinguished anything.

Corporate lobbyists have seen to that. They’ve been pressuring the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that must issue regulations before any new mandate over corporate behavior can be enforced. The agency has so far issued no regulations on CEO-worker pay disclosure. And nearly three years have gone by since Dodd-Frank initially worked its way into law.

America’s corporate leaders, meanwhile, don’t want to have to rely solely on their ability to intimidate the SEC. They’ve also orchestrated a congressional drive to simply repeal the Dodd-Frank pay disclosure mandate outright.

How can lawmakers who carry Corporate America’s water possibly defend repealing a measure as common-sense as pay ratio disclosure? Easy. They simply paint corporations as the victims of overzealous government bureaucrats out to drown them in burdensome — and meaningless — paperwork.

These repealers are doing their best to trivialize Dodd-Frank’s pay ratio mandate. Today CEO-worker pay disclosure, joked House Financial Services chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) in one recent debate — tomorrow a mandate that companies calculate the ratio of healthy to unhealthy drinks in company soda machines.

“I assume,” Hensarling smirked, “there is an infinite number of ratios some investors would find helpful to their decisions.”

Serious business analysts see executive-worker pay ratios as anything but trivial. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management science, believed that any corporations that had executives making over 20 or 25 times worker pay are placing employee morale and productivity at risk.

A host of public interest groups, organized in Americans for Financial Reform, also make a similar case for pay gap disclosure.

To sum this all up, the Dodd-Frank law’s section 953(b) was duly enacted into law, then ignored and never enforced, and now stands in jeopardy of getting repealed into oblivion. What can we learn from the sad, still-unfolding tale?

Maybe this: In a democracy, elected leaders represent the people. In a plutocracy, like ours, elected leaders represent the people — and listen to the rich.


OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class.  OtherWords.org  Photo credit to arcticpenguin/Flickr

Too Big to Jail?

— an Op-Ed by Senator Bernie Sanders

We are supposed to be a country of laws. The laws should apply to Wall Street as well as everybody else. So I was stunned when our country’s top law enforcement official recently suggested it might be difficult to prosecute financial institutions that commit crimes because it may destabilize the financial system of our country and the world.

“I am concerned,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

The attorney general was talking about some of the same financial institutions that received billions, and in some cases trillions, of dollars in taxpayer bailouts after their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior plunged the country into a terrible recession. Over my opposition, Congress approved a $700 billion taxpayer bailout of financial institutions that were on the brink of collapse which some in Congress considered “too big to fail.”

In addition, the Federal Reserve provided over $16 trillion in total financial assistance to these same institutions during the financial crisis (which only became public after an amendment I inserted into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requiring the Fed to disclose this information).

The attorney general’s view seems to be that if you are just a regular person and you commit a crime, you go to jail. But if you are the head of a Wall Street company, your power is so great that a prosecution could have destabilizing consequences with national or even worldwide implications.

In other words, we have a situation now where Wall Street banks are not only too big to fail, they are too big to jail. That view is unacceptable.

The attorney general’s troubling acknowledgement has revived interest in an idea that is drawing more and more support. It is time to break up too big to fail financial institutions.

The 10 largest banks in the United States are bigger today than they were before a taxpayer bailout following the 2008 financial crisis.

U.S. banks have become so big that the six largest financial institutions in this country (J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) today have assets of nearly $9.6 trillion, a figure equal to about two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product. These six financial institutions issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards, over half of all mortgages, control 95 percent of all derivatives held in financial institutions and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States.

I will soon introduce legislation that would give the Treasury secretary 90 days to compile a list of commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies that the Treasury Department determines are too big to fail. The affected financial institutions would include “any entity that has grown so large that its failure would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either the financial system or the United States economy without substantial government assistance.” Within one year after the legislation becomes law, the Treasury Department would be required to break up those banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions identified by the secretary.

Breaking up the too big to fail financial institutions is a notion that has drawn support from some leading figures in the financial community. Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, wrote this: “The safer the individual banks, the safer the financial system. The ultimate destination — an economy relatively free from financial crises — won’t be reached until we have the fortitude to break up the giant banks.” James Bullard, the head of the St. Louis Fed, also weighed in. “I do kind of agree that ‘too big to fail’ is ‘too big to exist.'” Thomas Hoenig, the former Kansas City Fed president, was an early supporter of the idea of breaking up big U.S. banks. “I think [too big to fail banks] should be broken up. And in doing so, I think you’ll make the financial system itself more stable. I think you will make it more competitive, and I think you will have long-run benefits over our current system, which leads to bailouts when crises occur.”

In my view, no single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of American jobs or to our nation’s economic well-being. No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis. And, perhaps most importantly, no institution in America should be above the law. We need to break up these institutions because of the tremendous damage they have done to our economy.

If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.