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Not to beat a dead horse, but …

In further follow-up to my post of yesterday (I already appended the original post yesterday) called, “Stories That Will Continue to Get Far Too Little Attention As Long As Obama Allows Them To.”: Reader coberly and I exchanged the following further comments in the Comments thread:


just to ease your heart, i agree that the overdraft fees are gouging.
and i even understand that some people can’t do arithmetic.

so i am all for the reforms.

nevertheless, it is better to know what you have in the bank before you write that check or whatever it is you do with ATM’s. And certainly better not to run too close to the edge.


Yes, Dale. It’s definitely better to do things that way. But, trying to get serious here, because it’s actually a serious matter, the ubiquitous use of debit/credit cards because they’ve effectively replaced cash and checks, and the fact that many millions of people do live on tight budgets, allowed the banks to be grossly abusive in their handling of small, very-short-term overdrafts.

My point is that the new law has been a big deal to a lot of people, some of whom tell pollsters, when asked, that they want “small government” and who vote Republican because of “freedom!” “liberty!” So maybe someone should tell them what the Republicans actually stand for. Freedom! Liberty! And what the Dems’ idea of “big government” actually is.

The intended point of my original post was that if Obama and the congressional Dems and want to leave a meaningful legacy on economics and finance-related matters–if they want to finally end the Repubs’ success at defeating or undermining that legacy–and if they want to regain control of the House in 2014 and tru ly put an end to the profoundly destructive three-decade “conservative-movement” juggernaut that in its current iteration continues to control the mainstream-media conversation and so much of actual policy despite their congressional legislative defeats in 2009 and 2010, and despite their significant popular-vote losses in the presidential, Senate, and House elections last November, the Dems have to engage in a concerted national effort to inform the public about what, in past news-media and political eras, the public would know from observation. 

Whew.  That was a long sentence.  I’m out of breath.

But I’m actually not beating a dead horse.  The horse isn’t dead.

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Stories That Will Continue to Get Far Too Little Attention As Long As Obama Allows Them To. [Appended]

* Don’t forget about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Paul Krugman has the goods on a story that’s getting far too little attention: In filibustering Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head the consumer protection bureau, and demanding major changes to the agency, Republicans are trying to transform it into something that’s essentially unable to carry out its mission.
How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. […] Just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Krugman notes that Cordray has drawn praise even from the bankers, which I’ve seen elsewhere, too. So: Do the financial institutions even favor what the GOP is up to here?

Worth some more reporting, I’d say.

— Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

One of the most dismaying and frustrating of Obama’s first-term communication failures was, for me, his utter absence of any real attempt to apprise the public of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what its mandate is, and that (and how) the congressional Republicans have concertedly tried to undermine it, via Senate filibuster of any nominee–not just, first Elizabeth Warren, and then Richard Cordray, but, by their own admission, any nominee–to head this bureau, and by attempts to fail to appropriate operating funds for it.

Eight days from now, in his State of the Union address, Obama will have a terrific opportunity to educate the public about all this.  All this.  By which I mean: Not just a clause or a sentence near the end of the speech, alluding to it in listing this, that, and the other thing, but instead an actual explanation of it and of the undermining of it by the Repubs. Near the opening of the speech, before viewers click to whatever because they, like me, want to avoid gagging at the extremely tired James Baker’s great-idea-for-staging-at-Reagan’s-State-of-the-Union-addresses-and-used-by-every-president-sinnce-then real-Americans-as-props thing. (Talking about a program to help oil-company workers? Cue two oil-company workers flanking the First Lady, sitting in the first row. You know what I’m talking about.  Ad nauseum.)  

But since the invites of real Americans surely have already been sent out, and there’s no stopping that juggernaut anyway, however more eyes it causes to roll each year, I suggest the addition of some real Americans who already have benefited from the Bureau’s actions.  

I also, by the way, suggest the addition of a real American or two who, because of the provision in Dodd-Frank–or maybe it was a separate statute, all its own, effective in August 2011 but enacted in 2010 by a Dem-controlled Senate and Dem-controlled House; I’m not sure–that ended what millions of Americans fondly came to call the $400 Starbucks/McDonalds/Dunkin’Donuts coffee/sandwich/dessert, the result of inadvertent, momentary checking-account overdrafts when the mortgage payment, the doctor’s co-pay, and payment for the brake job the SUV all just by chance happened to post to your checking account moments before you swiped that ATM/credit/debit card at the Starbuck, McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.  I’ll nominate myself for an invite on that one, even though I’ve never actually owned an SUV and don’t like them much.  

No, that doesn’t involve something that changed the state of the union this past year.  But it’s long past time for our Dem politicians to start pointing out things of exactly this sort, and to ask what exactly the congressional Republicans have done along those lines since Jan. 2011. And to start educating the public about what the specifics of what they’ve done to undermine protections against financial-industry abuse, whether legal or illegal.

Stories that will continue to get far too little attention as long as Obama allows them to. Or until maybe Prof. Krugman becomes President Krugman–which sounds like a plan, to me!

UPDATE: Oh, dear.  Turns out that Mitt Romney isn’t the only one who wasn’t familiar with the pre-Aug. 2011 $400 McDonald’s sandwich paid for (many times over) with ATM card payment charges (a.k.a., multiple overdraft fees within a period of 30 seconds.)  Regular reader coberly wasn’t either.  So he and I just exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:



You did not exactly take advantage of your own opportunity to explain the Starbucks $400 dessert, but I can guess.

Back when it might have been a problem for me, I kept track of the checks I wrote and did not write them for any more than I had in the bank. I think this prevented even “inadvertent” overdrafts.


Ah. Actually, I just threw that in there to be funny.  Or to try to be. (It’s not really a funny subject, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried.)  But unless you keep a lot of cash in your checking account or tie it automatically to a savings account, or were extremely careful to keep track of your checking account–and a lot of people have more than one checking account–you would, before that law came into effect in 2011, have to keep enough money in your account to include an  overdraft fee of $36 (or whatever) each for a single inadvertent overdraft, or you would find yourself charged repeated overdraft fees in a single day for every charge that came in until you realized you were overdrawn.  

The new law applies only to debit/credit card/ATM transactions, not to actual checks, so you still have to be careful about checks, especially since you can’t be sure when they’ll be cashed.

It also helps if you can add and subtract, I’ve learned the hard way.  One of my tax-law profs. used to say that his wife was always the one to actually do their income tax returns. The guy was friggin’ brilliant in discussing legal theory and tax strategy–best as I could tell, anyway–but swore that he couldn’t do actual math, or even competently use a calculator, worth a damn.  Makes me feel better when I recall that. (Calculators sorta throw me off, too, since I can’t figure out what all those funny-looking math symbols are.  Like the + and – signs.)

Back in the pre-Dodd-Frank days, there were looooads of stories on the web and elsewhere about this kind of thing.  So I assumed everyone was familiar with the issue.  Not so, though. So I thought I’d add this explanation.

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Senator Shelby of Alabama Puts France and Airbus Ahead of America and Boeing

by Bruce Webb

Would that have been a fair headline for the following story: Richard Shelby Puts Hold On President Obama’s Nomineesl? Because the facts are pretty clear, Shelby placed these holds mainly because of concerns over as Politico delicately puts it “Pentagon’s bidding process for air-to-air refueling tankers”. We can put that a little more starkly. The Pentagon wants to buy a replacement of much of its KC-135 Air Tanker fleet. You can read the background in this Wiki article KC-X but it really comes down to the following question. Are we going to buy these planes from Boeing or from a consortium of AEDS/Lockheed where AEDS is better known to Americans as AirBus? In other words American Boeing 767 or Old Europe Airbus A-330?

Now the actual question is deeper than that. Boeing outsources a lot of its work overseas and the Airbus tankers would be assembled in Alabama, hence Shelby’s interest but my question is this. If in 2007 Senator Barbara Boxer had stepped in and put a hold on every single Bush nominee in the interest of keeping a slice of the profits in the hands of California based Lockheed would Fox News and the Republican noise machine just have let it go? Or would the airways be full of screams and cries about how ‘San Francisco liberal’ Barbara Boxer was simply selling out America in favor of a bunch of Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys?

Shelby single-handedly decided to hold the Federal Government hostage so that a U.S. military contract would be awarded to a foreign country, worse yet that country is France. But don’t expect that to be the lead at Fox, even the stories in the rest of the MSM seem oddly resistant to putting the words “European” or “Airbus” into their stories. Might make a Republican look bad or something, maybe even unpatriotic. Have the Teabaggers caught wind of this yet?

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Bernie Sanders Draws the Line on Health Care

by Bruce Webb

Sanders makes the case I have been thinking of making (bolding mine):
Bernie Sanders Demands Democrats Commit To Stopping Health Care Filibuster

One of the Senate’s most vocal progressives is demanding that the Democratic Party commit to voting against filibustering health care legislation now that, with the impending arrival of Al Franken, the party has 60 caucusing members.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), called on the White House and Democratic leadership in Congress to ensure that party members agree unanimously to support cloture on legislation that would revamp the nation’s health care system. Democratic senators on the fence, he added, could still oppose the bill. But at the very least they should be required to let the legislation come to an up-or-down vote.

“I think that with Al Franken coming on board, you have effectively 60 Democrats in the caucus, 58 and two Independents,” Sanders said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “I think the strategy should be to say, it doesn’t take 60 votes to pass a piece of legislation. It takes 60 votes to stop a filibuster. I think the strategy should be that every Democrat, no matter whether or not they ultimately end up voting for the final bill, is to say we are going to vote together to stop a Republican filibuster. And if somebody who votes for that ends up saying, ‘I’m not gonna vote for this bill, it’s too radical, blah, blah, blah, that’s fine.'”

“I think the idea of going to conservative Republicans, who are essentially representing the insurance companies and the drug companies, and watering down this bill substantially, rather than demanding we get 60 votes to stop the filibuster, I think that is a very wrong political strategy,” Sanders added.

There is nothing in the Constitution that suggests that ordinary legislation or amendments thereto should require a 60 vote super-majority to move to a vote. But the filibuster exists and the majority cannot deny the minority some opportunity to demand debate (not that the filibuster ever is actually used to honestly debate anything). Still enough is enough. The Senate has never had the Whipping system of say the British Parliament, indeed its tradition allows leading members to buck Leadership and the White House on final legislation. However extending that principle to the point that unless everyone capitulates to every demand of the most center-right member of the caucus every time is to make a mockery of the Constitution itself. Exactly when did we decide to turn total power over to Ben Nelson?

Time to play hardball. Nelson doesn’t have to be a good soldier every time, he can vote against every bill that violates his conscience or ideology or that goes against the interest of his state. But there have to be sanctions for going AWOL time after time and even more severe sanctions for giving Aid and Assistance to the Enemy. Currently Ben Nelson sits on four powerhouse committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Armed Services, and Rules. First offense? Lose Rules. Second offense? Off of Appropriations. What’s his recourse? Becoming the permanent Mr. No as the junior member of the Republican caucus?

Look we are not looking for a blood oath here, just an agreement to let legislation go to an up or down vote. Time to get things which have majority support among the American people and the US Senate done.

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Specter, Blue Dogs and Filibusters: the Dynamics

by Bruce Webb

I just went on a web cruise through the bigger venues of the left blogosphere and I don’t think even some of the big guys get it. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that 60 is not a particularly important number because it only takes one Blue Dog to defect to sustain a filibuster. But this I think is to miss the actual dynamics that were in play and how Specter’s move changed the game.

(This ran long so I stuck most of it under the fold.)

First Republicans rarely had to sustain a filibuster through an actual cloture vote, and when they did had the numbers to do it on their own. When Bush was in office they used the filibuster as a stand-in for the veto threat, on the reasonable enough argument that if Democrats couldn’t muster 60 votes for cloture, they sure as hell wouldn’t get 67 to override a veto. So if the ultimate result was going to be a veto then a compromise why not save everyone time and grief and compromise now. In doing so they were able to present themselves as the voice of reason while asserting that everything the Democrats did was simply political posturing in the face of the inevitable. And once compromise was agreed to the Blue Dogs could spring to action without every being openly disloyal to the party. Given that at least some of their votes would be needed to pass any legislation they held a key gatekeeping role.

But the key is that the Republicans took all of what heat there was in this scenario, which is okay for them, there was realistically not much the Democrats could do to them beyond trying to punish them at the ballot box, something they would be doing anyway. Meanwhile the Blue Dogs could but on the White Hat of Compromise.

Things tightened up after the election of Obama, the implicit veto threat now being off the table and so removing the Republican defense that they were only facilitating the ultimate compromise. Now they truly had to be the Party of No in order to be effective, but as long as they could keep a united front they could still prevail. And just as importantly their Blue Dog allies could keep their hands clean.

Well that dynamic changed yesterday. Specter’s move in party may not have much effect on his vote on final legislation but though he denies that this means he will be a reliable 60th vote on cloture in practice that will be impossible. He simply can’t afford to be the constant last vote to block the Leadership agenda, their promise to clean the primary field as much as possible will become null and void if he constantly sides with the Republicans on filibuster threats. And the same goes for the current Blue Dogs. Up to now they have been able to keep their hands clean and while they could hint that they were not certain votes for cloture in practice they had to go along. Which is why Democrats had no defectors on the Obama budget, the Dogs had too much to lose.

Why is why some of the projections on the Left that Bayh or Nelson will jump over to the Republicans are more than overstated. Thinking back over the history of Senatorial defections I can’t think of one since Strom Thrumond went from Dep to Rep in 1964 where someone consciously chose to move into the minority on principle alone.

There may be some key votes where a Blue Dog will simply decide he can spit in the faces of Obama and the Leadership and get away with lining up with Republicans to sustain a filibuster but there will be a price to pay, (as Specter found out when his leadership tacitly endorsed him being primaried by Toomey). So while we can expect them to do their best to block the progressive agenda I don’t think the filibuster will be a viable option, and certainly not if with Bayh you have Presidential ambitions.

So yesterday was a big day. The ideology of the Senate may not have shifted an iota, but the dynamics shifted a lot. Rather than being passive enablers of Republican obstruction the Blue Dogs would have to move into open opposition to Obama. This might work in relation to something like EFCA but if they try to get too blatantly in the way of Health Care reform they will be steamrolled. Something I suspect they know full well.

(In Googling I see that Ben Nelson serves on four powerhouse committees: Appropriations, Armed Services, Agriculture, and Rules and is up for election in 2010. I don’t think he would like to be shifted from one or all of those over to the Indian Affairs or Aging Committees or the Special Committee on Printing in 2008.)

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Why the Filibuster Doesn’t Matter (so much)

by Bruce Webb

A great deal of ink and untold pixels have been expended ‘explaining’ why a real majority in the Senate requires enough votes to shut down a filibuster, i.e. sixty. And in that vein people are eagerly following the races in Alaska, Georgia and WisconsinMinnesota hoping all three will break the Democrats way and fretting that the Dems can’t afford to boot Lieberman if by some chance lightning does strike. Well I suggest this ignores the actual way filibusters actually played out in the 110th Congress. Rather than being a constitutional issue or even strictly a political issue instead the filibuster was used primarily for its public relations power in allowing Republicans to present themselves as stewards of civility and compromise while pinning Democrats as political grand standers. Well that dog won’t hunt anymore. But to see why we have to look at the actual mechanics of the filibuster in the last Congress.

It all depended on moving the goalposts from 51 votes to 67 (sic). Step one: get President Bush to threaten a veto. It didn’t really matter if this threat was in real terms serious, it just had to be out there. What it did is allow Republican Senators to make the claim that any attempt by the Democrats to move legislation that did not have enough votes to overturn the veto was just a time-wasting PR move. If Republicans did relent and allow the legislation through the only result would be a veto and the return of that bill to the Senate for some compromise. So why bother? Instead get the Dems to admit that they didn’t have even 60 immediate votes to close debate and so force them to compromise anyway. Under this framing any Republican filibuster was simply a time saving move in the ultimate interest of getting signable legislation accomplished. And more to the point any attempt by Democrats to put Republicans on the spot by forcing them to actually engage in prolonged debate simply illustrated how non-serious the Democrats were in actually governing.

But this strategy all falls to pieces if you don’t have the backup of a Presidential veto. If instead you have a bill with strong support of the House, a solid majority of the Senate and expressed willingness by a Democratic President to sign it there is no way to spin a filibuster as some time-saving way of getting to an inevitable compromise. Instead it is exposed for what it really was all along-a naked attempt by the minority to shut down progress supported by the majority. Institutionally there is no difference, but it is night and day on the public relations front. In particular it strips all cover from remaining Republican moderates. In the last Congress they could make a plausible CYA explanation that they were just acknowledging the reality of the Presidential veto, that it wasn’t the fortieth vote to sustain the filibuster that mattered but instead the thirty-fourth vote that would uphold the (theoretical) veto. In this Congress that loincloth just got stripped away.

From a Democratic perspective it would be useful to achieve a filibuster-proof sixty vote majority, and particularly when it comes to such vital matters as new Supreme Court justices. It might even be reason enough to tolerate a mild level of blackmail by Lieberman to keep him nominally in the caucus. But the oft expressed notion that the Republicans can simply filibuster anything and everything in the way they did in the last Congress simply does not survive exposure to the actual political and public relations process as it will play out with a Democratic President backing up a Democratic Senate. Because in the end that goal line has been moved back from 67 to 51 and the filibuster has been reduced to what in football terms is known as the Prevent Defense. And as every good football fan knows the only thing the Prevent Defense prevents is victory, and tends to piss off the fans all at the same time.

So root, root, root that Stevens, Coleman and most especially the thoroughly despicable Chambliss get kicked to the curb over the next few weeks. Just don’t spend time worrying that the entire Obama/Democratic agenda depends on reaching 60 votes in the Senate. The dynamics have changed and Republicans no longer have the PR cover they did when Bush’s veto pen floated in the background.

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