Monday, December 20, 2010

Senate Takes Up START Debate as Clock Ticks for Lame-Duck Session

After months of haggling, the Senate is now considering one of President Obama's top foreign policy priorities for the lame-duck Congress -- the New START treaty that he signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to limit both countries' nuclear arsenals, replacing an expired 1991 agreement.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sen. Sanders Held a Tax Cut Filibuster (17.12.10)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrapped up an 8 ½ hour speech, or what his office called a “tax cut filibuster” on the Senate floor opposing the White House and Republican compromise on tax cuts and unemployment benefits. He began his speech at 10:25am saying, “I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.”

Liberals Gained Steam While Losing the Fight (15.12.10)

Liberals may feel that the compromise negotiated by President Barack Obama is a kick in the teeth, but the debate over Bush-era tax cuts has offered progressives a needed rallying point the month after devastating election losses, re-energizing a depressed Democratic base and allowing liberal groups to boost membership and raise tens of thousands of dollars in recent days.
They have also discovered a new hero: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the outspoken socialist who temporarily held the Senate’s tax debate hostage last week by refusing to stop talking or sit down for 8 hours and 36 minutes.
“You can call what I’m doing today whatever you want. You can call it a filibuster. You can call it a very long speech,” he said as he began Friday at 10:24 a.m. “I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle.”
But that’s exactly what he did.
His office reported receiving more than 10,000 phone calls and 9,000 e-mails — the vast majority were supportive — in the three days after his one-man filibuster, dubbed “Filibernie” on the Internet. Sanders’ Twitter followers jumped 160 percent in the past five days, from 9,600 to almost 25,000. And his Facebook “likes” ballooned by more than 17,000.
The money started flowing as well.
Various websites such as Is Bernie were quickly established to help Sanders, who is up for re-election in 2012 and reported a meager $111,000 in his campaign account at the end of September. Roll Call Politics rates this race Safe Independent.
The Democratic fundraising site ActBlue is hosting at least three separate fundraising portals that used Sanders’ newfound fame or the tax debate to generate money for the Senator and like-minded liberal groups.
One of them was Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, which created a fundraising page Tuesday titled “Back-up Bernie Sanders.” The group raised more than $75,000 from 3,769 individuals in less than 48 hours.
“Support a progressive hero ­— Please contribute $5 right now,” reads the website, which produced money for both the Senator and Democracy for America. “Bernie Sanders didn’t back down against long odds — he had the backbone to stand up and fight for what’s right. ... Let’s make sure that every Democrat in Washington gets the message: when you stand up and fight, we’ll have your back.”
Sanders was hardly the only beneficiary of bucking the president.
Other Democrats tied their opposition to the tax cut package to fundraising appeals this week as well. The campaign of Sen. Mark Udall, one of just 10 Democratic Senators to oppose ending debate on the issue earlier in the week, sent a message to supporters Tuesday with the subject line, “I voted No.”
“I stand ready to work through the holidays if that’s what it takes to get middle-class Coloradans the tax relief that they deserve,” Udall wrote in the accompanying message that included a “contribute” button that linked to a donation page. His staff could not immediately say how much the message produced. He’s not up for reelection until 2014.
There’s little doubt, however, that anyone who voted against the tax cut extension could face a political backlash.
A Senate aide acknowledged that it’s possible, if not likely, that the risk of standing alone on a difficult issue could outweigh any fundraising advantage.
“It’s an act of courage because this vote could easily be misrepresented and used against them in their next election,” the aide said. “How much money is it going to take to defend that vote if it’s used against you?”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted no time in doing just that.
The GOP’s Senate campaign arm already blasted Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat up for re-election in 2012, for opposing the motion to end debate on the tax bill earlier in the week. “Sherrod Brown Stands To Left of Obama, Joins Socialist Colleague To Vote For Massive Tax Hike,” reads the headline of the recent NRSC press release.
While 14 Democrats voted “no,” Brown ultimately voted for the bill Wednesday, explaining to reporters he’d “changed his mind” after Ohioans sent him letters.
The conservative group American Crossroads is also using the issue to apply political pressure, spending $400,000 this week to broadcast radio attack ads against 12 vulnerable House Democrats, demanding that they support the measure.
But liberal outside groups energized by the tax debate hope to neutralize the Republican attacks while boosting their own strength., for example, flooded the Senate switchboard this week with an estimated 20,000 calls on Monday alone for a “phone-in filibuster” to protest the inclusion of Bush-era tax cuts. Last week, a New York-based progressive group shut down the White House switchboard with calls opposing Obama’s deal with Republicans.
“We also gathered thousands of Facebook posts and tweets about our campaign,” MoveOn leaders wrote supporters Tuesday. “This is exactly the grassroots surge we need to demand a better deal for the middle class.”
And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reported a 25,000-person membership boost in recent weeks as it aggressively challenged Obama’s decision to compromise with the GOP.
Co-founder Adam Green said his organization also raised more than $100,000 since the tax debate began, which helped fuel a series of television ads in Iowa, Indiana and Washington, D.C., that use the president’s words against him. The ads feature Obama complaining about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the campaign trail in 2008 for having flip-flopped on tax cuts for the rich. “George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience and they still offend yours,” Obama says in the ad.
Green said PCCC members believe Obama is “demobilizing his own troops at Organizing for America and demoralizing independent and Democratic voters right before he seeks re-election.”
Sanders, meanwhile, simply said he was grateful: “Frankly, the response from Vermonters and Americans all across the country was far beyond anything we could have imagined.”


Today the House Republican Leadership released the voting schedule for 2011.  Over the course of the next year we will work to address the top concerns of the American people, including creating jobs, growing the economy, and balancing the budget in the long-term. 
Please click here to find the schedule for the U.S. House of Representatives for calendar year 2011.
Steny H. Hoyer, Majority Leader

If you have any questions please contact: Alexis Covey-Brandt, Austin Burnes or Michael Eisenberg at 5-3130.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

BERNANKE’S BETE NOIRE: Ron Paul has been named the next chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy(14.12.10)

Ron Paul has been named the next chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy. Put more succinctly, the libertarian Texan now will be wielding a gavel over the Federal Reserve. (His main campaign theme as the nascent tea party’s favorite 2008 presidential campaign was that the Fed should be abolished.) So unless Boehner reins him in, Paul will have all the power he needs to push legislation limiting the power of the central bank and promoting gold and silver as legal tender — and to summon Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to a public inquisition whenever he wants. The market moving possibilities (and the headaches for commercial bank lobbyists) seem almost limitless.

Although he’s starting his 11th full term, this will be the first time Paul has occupied the top GOP seat on any subcommittee, mainly because he’s been peripatetic about his committee assignments during his separate stints in the House. His initial legislative push will be for a full-fledged Fed audit. (He got only a very limited audit into the financial services overhaul.)

Monday, December 6, 2010


Congress is debating tax rates, and that has Wall Street nervously eyeing the calendar.
Worried that lawmakers will allow taxes to rise for the wealthiest Americans beginning next year, financial firms are discussing whether to move up their bonus payouts from next year to this month.
At stake is a portion of the hefty annual payouts that are a familiar part of the compensation culture on Wall Street, as well as a juicy target of popular anger. If Congress does not extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest income levels, a typical worker who earns a $1 million bonus would pay $40,000 to $50,000 more in taxes next year than this year, depending on base salary.
Goldman Sachs is one of the companies discussing how to time bonus season, according to three people who have been briefed on the discussions. Pay consultants who work with major Wall Street companies say that just about every other large bank has also considered such a move in recent weeks.
With tax politics in Washington unpredictable, bank executives have spent months sketching out several options for their bonus plans, including the possibility of an earlier payout. Lawmakers have been trading accusations across a partisan divide, but after this weekend, it appears likely that a compromise will extend the tax cuts for all income levels.
Even so, the banks’ discussions about bonus timing underscore how focused the industry is on protecting every dollar of pay.
A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment. Bonus payouts are traditionally shrouded in secrecy; companies are required to disclose their top executives’ pay, but they do not disclose the size of their total bonus pools in their public filings or internally.
Goldman, not surprisingly, is the canary in the coal mine. It often announces its top executives’ bonuses before other firms, and the richness of its payouts sets the tone across the industry.
This year the tax debate has imposed a new wrinkle, and executives at two large banks said their companies tentatively decided not to speed payouts, unless Goldman did. Then, these two executives said, they would consider paying early as a competitive measure, so that their workers were not upset.
Bonus timing is also being discussed at scores of public companies, beyond banks, for top executives who receive multimillion-dollar payouts around the turn of the year. At most companies outside the financial sector, an early bonus would help only a handful of executives, while on Wall Street, the benefit would apply to many more workers.
“This has been a topic of conversation among those of us who are involved in designing and administrating compensation plans,” said Brian Foley, a pay consultant in White Plains, N.Y. “But I really would be surprised if anyone went down this path. This is a bounce-back year in terms of bonuses going up and probably not the time to draw attention to yourself.”
Wall Street firms pay out billions of dollars in bonuses each year. In good years top executives can receive bonuses worth tens of millions of dollars. Even midlevel financial workers often earn above $250,000 a year, and they receive most of their compensation as bonuses paid early in the new year.
Extending the tax cuts for all Americans with taxable income over $250,000 for joint filers ($200,000 for single filers) would cost the country about $40 billion next year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and it would cost $700 billion over the next decade.
Currently the highest rate for taxable income is 35 percent; that would increase to 39.6 percent if the Bush tax cuts expire.
The top
five Wall Street
firms have put aside nearly $90 billion for total pay this year, and they are expected to raise that amount using their end of year earnings. That would make this year one of the best ever for bank pay.
As Mr. Foley said, much of the focus within banks is on the appearance of the payouts. Several senior banking executives received either no bonuses or modest ones in recent years, and with the taxpayer-financed bailouts receding, top executives are pushing to be paid well again.
Some compensation consultants have been helping their clients devise new labels for the pay that are less likely to inflame the public. For instance, some banks are considering reducing the amount of their payouts that are labeled as bonuses, and instead shifting some to other categories like “long-term incentives.”
Depending on how banks structure this part of the payout package, it might not represent much of a change for bankers, since it has long been standard practice to tie up some pay for a few years for retention purposes. But, some bankers said, the goal was to make the dollar amounts appear less offensive.
Bankers are also discussing speeding up the way they award company stock, so workers can benefit from this year’s lower income tax rates for those earnings. Many banks pay a substantial portion of bonuses in stock, rather than cash, and companies often have a multiyear delay between when those shares are awarded and when the employees can sell them. The tax bill does not come due until employees sell the shares, or own them outright.
Robert J. Jackson Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School who helped oversee the Treasury Department’s rules on compensation at bailed-out companies, said he would look carefully at footnotes in company filings to see if they accelerated executives’ stock awards. “Even companies who pay in stock instead of cash can structure it to be taxed at this year’s rates,” Mr. Jackson said. “If it does happen, it may be a little tricky to see.”
It is not uncommon for Wall Street to consider the tax consequences of its pay practices. Private firms like hedge funds often let workers choose when they’re paid. And until about a decade ago, Goldman allowed its partners to decide whether they received their bonuses in December or January. Back then, Goldman was an investment bank, and like other former investment banks, it closed its books at the end of November, making it easier to pay earlier.
One of the challenges for the banks in paying bonuses early would be coming out with exact amounts before the year is over and before they determine their final earnings — a lengthy process. Banks have in the past found ways to get around rules, or make their workers’ pay look lower than it actually was. For instance, a year ago Goldman capped the pay of all of its London workers at £1 million each. But last summer, Goldman made it up to its partners in Britain, albeit quietly. The bank made dozens of multimillion-dollar stock grants to its partners there, according to a person briefed on their pay who was not authorized to discuss it. Credit Suisse, in similar form, paid its British bankers summer cash bonuses to make up for their lower pay last year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Members See Little Recourse for WikiLeaks (01.12.10)

Members of Congress decried the release of more than 250,000 secret State Department cables by WikiLeaks — including some that exposed private talks between Members and foreign leaders — saying it could hamper future Congressional involvement abroad. But it was unclear Monday whether there is much Congress can do about the leaks. “I feel personally violated,” said Rep. Jane Harman, whose name appears in a cable posted by WikiLeaks describing a conversation between a Congressional delegation, or CODEL, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding what to do about Iran’s nuclear program. The alleged 2009 cable describes Netanyahu pressing the Americans repeatedly in what appears to be an effort to pin them down on whether the United States is ultimately prepared to go to war. “Leaning forward, Netanyahu repeated his earlier question: ‘What will you do if it does not work?’ Netanyahu said that learning to live with a nuclear Iran would be a big mistake, which would lead to a different, more dangerous world. While he noted that he could not say for certain that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel, if Iran had a bomb Israelis would have to ask that question every day....For a third time, Netanyahu asked, ‘What are you going to do?’” The cable does not mention a response from the CODEL, and Harman said in an interview Monday that she could not discuss it. “The irony here is it’s still a secret cable,” the California Democrat said. “It hasn’t been declassified. I can’t discuss the contents. I can discuss how I feel about this. It is ironic, isn’t it?” Harman said the releases could damage the value of future CODELs. “If conversations are not protected, some conversations will not occur,” she said, adding that the whole point of a CODEL is to have candid conversations with major players. The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to get a briefing on the leaks in closed session Wednesday with senior intelligence officials and the State Department. Other committees also plan to hold hearings, said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But beyond hearings, it’s not clear if Congress will take any action regarding the matter. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry declined in a brief interview Monday to discuss other cables in which his CODELs were detailed, but he also said those who leaked the documents should be brought to justice. Asked what he thought Congress should do, the Massachusetts Democrat referred to the administration, which is investigating the leaks. “I think there needs to be prosecutor action. I think it’s treasonous, outrageous, counterproductive, dangerous,” he said. “It impacts people’s ability to have honest conversation and talk to you directly ... It complicates diplomacy enormously.”
Kerry said it could also harm security by making some countries, such as Yemen, unwilling to cooperate in fighting terrorism for fear that their leaders’ private conversations will be exposed.
Several Republicans also condemned the leaks. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, called the release an embarrassment to the Obama administration and a failure of the Pentagon and the intelligence community, and he called for Congressional hearings on the matter. “The problem here is there was a massive failure in the design of this database,” the Michigan Republican said. “I’m expecting there will be hearings, maybe even a commission, looking at this massive failure.” Hoekstra said he has been told that at least 500,000 people and as many as 2.5 million had access to the database. “How do you make it available to the private first class in Baghdad?” Hoekstra asked, referring to the alleged leaker of the information. “Are we that bad? And the answer appears to be yes.” Rep. Peter King, who is in line to become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, on Sunday called for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for espionage, and he urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to designate WikiLeaks as a terrorist group. “WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States,” the New York Republican said. “I strongly urge you to work within the administration to use every offensive capability of the U.S. government to prevent further damaging releases by WikiLeaks.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration was not ruling out taking legal action against WikiLeaks.
“Administration-wide, we are looking at a whole host of things and I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Gibbs said at his daily press briefing Monday, calling the leak “a serious violation of the law.” But Harman said she didn’t agree with King. She said that she didn’t think WikiLeaks itself should be prosecuted, adding that she favors a media shield law. She also said that she supports giving the public more information, but not a massive dump of sensitive information such as the latest WikiLeaks trove. “I support increased access to government information, and it’s my bill [President] Obama just signed to reduce overclassification of information, but that doesn’t mean I’m for dumping classified information out on the streets,” she said. Hoekstra said he agrees with Harman that there is too much overclassification. But he said it’s an interesting question of whether WikiLeaks, the New York Times or any other organization involved in the leak can be prosecuted. “The bottom line is we’ve got to create an environment where we have a higher degree of confidence where we can keep information secret that needs to be secret,” he said.
Sen. Kit Bond, ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also demanded answers.
“The [Intelligence] Committee members need a dedicated briefing or hearing about the extent of the damage, what the [intelligence community] is doing to mitigate damage, and what the U.S. government is doing to try to stop such leaks in the future,” the Missouri Republican said. “I also would like to know how someone had such unfettered access to this information that he could go unnoticed while downloading

Road Map: Still No Agenda for Lame Duck

Road Map: Still No Agenda for Lame Duck (30.11.10)

Republicans and Democrats appear content to end the 111th Congress the way it started, by following a “change” election with a round of fiercely partisan fighting over an agenda that even many Democrats have little interest in. In fact, the House and Senate returned to Washington, D.C., on Monday for the lame duck with few solid details about what will be on their plates beyond partisanship. House Democrats may stay in through Dec. 17 as the Senate is expected to do. Or Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) may send her troops home at week’s end and call them to the Capitol only after the Senate finishes work on a long-term continuing resolution that keeps the government funded and operating. Senate Democrats have an agenda packed with political items such as a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but on the biggest issue of the lame duck — how to handle the expiration of the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts — the way forward won’t be decided until after today’s special Conference meeting. “I think we’re going to have to kind of come to grips with the realities of how much time is left and what’s real and what can really pass. And what the scale of importance is of some of those things,” Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Monday. “We’ll just have to take stock.” Aside from resolving the immediate funding problem of a CR that expires Friday, the only certainty is that despite elections earlier this month signaling the public’s demand for more change, neither party seems eager to find bipartisan agreement on anything of consequence. That dynamic is particularly on display in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced that — objections from within his party notwithstanding — he will force votes on DADT repeal and a package of modest immigration reforms. “Most Republicans assumed Democrats would come back with a modified tone, a modified agenda to reflect what happened on Nov. 2, and that just didn’t happen,” a senior Senate GOP aide said, adding that Republicans see no need to shift their own approach. “I think we feel like we’re on solid ground on the policy, and I think we’ve proven over the last two months we’re on solid ground politically,” the aide said. Democrats counter with their own refrain that the lack of action on these items — which is holding up work on taxes and a CR — is a direct result of the GOP’s intransigence and that it is Republicans who should have learned a lesson from the elections. “We could do things a lot faster if Republicans wouldn’t filibuster everything,” a Democratic leadership aide said Monday. “Our hope [was] that after the elections, things would change. But they haven’t,” the aide added. Even on the issue of what to do with the tax cuts, partisanship is likely to carry the day, at least in the short term. Reid and Pelosi are both set on pursuing at least one vote on legislation extending only the middle-class tax cuts, which has long been the priority of Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill, in order to put members of both parties on record. The idea, according to Democratic aides in both chambers, is to choreograph as many votes as possible with Republicans voting against middle-class tax cuts so candidates can use those votes against the GOP in the 2012 election cycle. After that, however, things become less clear. Reid and his colleagues are hoping today’s nearly four-hour, closed-door caucus meeting will yield a strategy on the tax issue. Several Democratic aides predicted that while Reid has committed to holding a vote on the middle-class-only legislation and a GOP version extending all the tax cuts, he could pursue a number of compromise bills that fall between the two. One option would be to offer a series of bills that incrementally raise the income level defining middle class from $250,000. A second option would be a bill that permanently extends the middle-class cuts — but only extends them for top earners for two or three years. The rest of the House’s schedule remains in flux as lawmakers scramble to wrap up their work for the year. One item that seems destined for attention is child nutrition. Later this week, the House is slated to send that bill, which has been a priority of first lady Michelle Obama, to the president for his signature.