Friday, July 30, 2010

Data from Philadelphia Participants of National Budget Discussion

from the inbox:

New findings will be reported to Congressional leaders this week from an unprecedented National Town Meeting on the nation’s long-term deficits that engaged hundreds of Philadelphia residents and approximately 3,500 Americans across nearly 60 sites around the country linked together by live satellite and webcast. The report, produced by the nonprofit organization AmericaSpeaks, indicates that a large, diverse group of local residents and fellow Americans were willing to work across political differences in order to reduce the deficit in 2025 by $1.2 trillion.

The new report provides additional insight into how the views of participants on spending and revenue options broke down by ideology and geography. It describes the preferences of diverse table groups that developed packages to reach the long-term deficit reduction goal and corrects errors in preliminary voting results reported during and immediately upon the conclusion of the meeting.

Key Findings

· Defense Spending: Reducing national defense spending was one of the most popular options for cutting the national deficit. 85% of participants at the 19 primary town meeting sites supported at least a 5% cut, and 51% of participants supporting a 15% cut.

o A cut of at least 5% in defense spending was supported by 60% of “conservative” participants and 83% of those who identified themselves as “somewhat conservative.”

· Health Care and Other Spending: While participants expressed moderate support for increased government action to boost the economy in the short term, participants also expressed long-term support for reductions in health care and “all other non-defense” spending to reduce the deficit to a sustainable level over the next 15 years. 62% of participants supported at least a 5% reduction in the former and 68% supported at least a 5% reduction in the latter.

o 36% of liberal participants and 58% of those describing themselves as “somewhat liberal” expressed support for a 5% reduction in health care spending. 44% of liberal participants supported at least a 5% reduction in “all other non-defense” spending.

· Income Taxes: A majority of participants supported raising some taxes to reduce our long-term deficits, specifically on those in higher tax brackets. For example, 54% supported an extra 5% tax on those earning more than $1 million a year.

· Carbon and Securities Taxes: 54% of participants also expressed support for a carbon tax and 50% supported a securities transaction tax. In developing their deficit reduction packages, one-third of participants who described themselves as “somewhat conservative” expressed support for a carbon tax and securities transaction tax.

· Retirement Age and VAT Tax: Two reform options that have received significant attention from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – raising the retirement age for receiving Social Security benefits and creating a Value Added Tax – failed to achieve support from a majority of participants. Only 39% of participants supported raising the age for receiving full benefits to 69 and only 24% supported the creation of 5% Value Added Tax.

· Two reforms not included in the presentation to participants but which received strong support from many table groups were reforming the health care delivery system through the creation of a single-payer system and the simplification of the tax code through the creation of a flat or fair tax.

"Hundreds of participants in Philadelphia came together and demonstrated it is possible for the public to find common ground on tough policy challenges. Despite predictions from the left and the right, participants from across the political spectrum displayed civility and a willingness to listen to each other’s ideas," said Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, president and founder of AmericaSpeaks. "Together, we are asking our elected officials to listen to their constituents and make tough choices to get our nation’s fiscal house in order."

The nonpartisan discussion, called AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy, was made possible by support from a diverse group of private foundations with a shared commitment to informing the American public and policymakers of the fiscal realities facing the country, including the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It originated in Philadelphia and linked 19 meeting sites and an additional 38 volunteer-led community conversations across the country. In addition to Philadelphia, other major sites included Albuquerque, NM; Augusta, ME; Casper, WY; Chicago, IL; Columbia, SC; Dallas, TX; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Grand Forks, ND; Jackson, MS, Overland Park, KS; Pasadena, CA; Louisville, KY; Missoula, MT; Portland, OR; Portsmouth, NH; Richmond, VA and Silicon Valley, CA.

Using keypad polling devices and networked computers, participants identified and prioritized the messages that were used to create a report for Congressional leaders and the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Participants used a set of 42 reform options developed in conjunction with AmericaSpeaks’ ideologically diverse National Advisory Committee.

The unique meeting seated participants together from across the political spectrum, creating an opportunity for participants to influence each other and find common ground. At the end of the day-long meeting, 60% of participants said they were influenced by the views of others “a great deal” or “somewhat.” Many results of the deliberations challenged the media’s portrayal of the public by demonstrating a willingness to learn from one another and make tough choices.

Dr. Lukensmeyer presented preliminary findings from the discussion to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on June 30th in Washington, DC. Lukensmeyer is now briefing Congressional leaders on the results released this week. The National Town Meeting was hosted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan AmericaSpeaks, which accesses the collective wisdom of the American people on local, regional and national decision-making on the most challenging public issues of the day.

The results being shared with Congress this week includes corrections to some preliminary numbers that were caused by errors in the keypad voting software used during the meeting. The corrections reduced the percentage support for reforms reflected in four categories of reform options: Social Security, raising tax rates, reducing deductions and credits, and establishing new taxes.

A copy of the full report, the Philadelphia report addendum, information on the options presented and a list of National Advisory Committee members can be found at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Policy Issues in the 7th Congressional District

Yesterday I reviewed the health care issue statements of Pat Meehan (Rep) and Bryan Lentz (Dem), the candidates for the 7th congressional district. They have a few other comparable issue statements and we will look at those this evening.


Both men focus on small business in their policy statements. Meehan wants to do more to providing small businesses "with the tools they need to succeed" but he doesn't specify what they are. He does think we should "free small business of overly burdensome regulation that restrict innovation and growth and a tax structure than punishes entrepreneurs rather than reward them for creating jobs." Lentz says he will "end tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas and cut taxes for small businesses that are creating jobs here at home." He also says he will hold Wall Street accountable to "unchecked greed and bad practices." Like Meehan, Lentz mentions small business, saying he “will work hard to ensure that small business owners have access to the capital they need to keep our economy thriving.”

Interestingly Meeham "supports increased investment in our region's infrastructure, including highways and mass transit, as well as our aging water and sewer systems. The infrastructure invesment will help create immediate jobs, while also improving the quality of life for local residents and the ability of our region to attract new employers." Wouldn't that be stimulus money? Or some other form of government money?

Meehan also mentions education but only in the areas of math and science.

Government Reform / Fiscal Responsibility

Meehan focuses exclusively on the middle class in his statement on "fiscal responsibility and taxes."

While he is steadfastly opposed to any form of income tax increases on the middle-class, Pat Meehan is equally concerned by the potential for Congress to impose new stealth or hidden taxes that will be passed on to working families.
That is his primary point, although he also devotes a paragraph to eliminating waste and abuse in the federal government. Both mention experience as prosecutors. Lentz refers to himself as a “tough and independent” former prosecutor. Meehan notes his work as a U.S. Attorney but states he “personally fought ad prosecuted cases” which could be in reaction to Lentz’s claim that Meehan has not prosecuted a case himself but acted in an administrative function. Lentz provides some evidence for his status as a reformer, voting to end "secretive midnight votes" in Harrisburg and supporting the state's "Right to Know Law." Lentz takes a shot at the GOP by referencing "the culture of corruption that thrived under the Republican-controlled Congress with scandals like Jack Abramoff" and others. He also mentions lobbying reform.

Lentz has policy statements on veterans, seniors, and renewable energy. Meehan has a policy on transportation. Voters in the 7th are encouraged to read the policy statements carefully, compare the candidate's records, and attend debates or townhall meetings (Lentz is holding a series of economic townhalls) to observe them in person.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lentz and Meehan on Health Care

The congressional race in Pennsylvania's 7th district is one of the country's most competitive. Republican Pat Meehan and Democrat Bryan Lentz are running for the open seat currently held by Joe Sestak who is running for the Senate. Both candidates have some policy statements on their website. This post will examine one of them.

Meehan had four policy statements: transportation, health care, taxes, and the economy; Lentz had six, economy, renewable energy, health care, reforming government, veterans, and seniors.

Comparing apples to apples, let's look health care.

Meehan titles his policy simply "Health Care" while Lentz uses the more detailed "Lower Healthcare Costs and Improve Quality." What is interesting here is that they seem to have adopted each other's party line. Lentz makes reference to "eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse." Lentz's only specifics are ensuring people can keep their current doctor is they want to, and stopping discrimination for pre-existing conditions. Meehan provides more specifics. Here are a few: allowing people to keep their coverage as they move from job to job, ending consideration of pre-existing conditions, allowing people to purchase insurance policies across state lines, allowing groups to pool together when buying insurance (small businesses, trade associations, and individuals), prohibiting insurance companies from dropping covering because of illness, prohibiting insurance companies from instituting lifetime or annual caps, and allowing parents to children on their policy until they are 26.

Both men mention personal interests in health care, Lentz as a husband and father, Meehan as the husband of a nurse practitioner.

Both mention that health care costs are increasing. Lentz says

Though we spend more on healthcare than any other nation, our healthcare costs continue to skyrocket. These rising costs are unsustainable, and they are already crippling small businesses and making it almost impossible for hardworking families to make ends meet.
Meehan's campaign says
As the husband of a nurse practitioner, he knows that our current health care system is in need of reform and that health care costs are skyrocketing our of control. In many cases, those costs are being passed on to local residents in the form of changes to their health insurance plans, including higher co-pays, increased premiums, and increased prescription drug costs.

Meehan makes these statements:
The health care problems facing our nation today are the result of more than 50 years of ineffective public policy, business practices, and other factors. Pat Meehan believes it is critical that we implement health care reform correctly and thoughtfully based on effective solutions that keep intact the existing doctor-patient relationship and protect the ability of every American to keep their existing health insurance coverage without a government takeover of health care.

Lentz's statement is more a philosophy to guide his legislative actions. Meehan sets out a more involved, but yet contradictory course. He thinks people should be able to take their insurance coverage from job to job, which puts more of the responsibility and cost onto the individual and not the employer. He also states that he doesn't want a government takeover of health care, which, to me, means little or no government money, and thus more responsibility and cost onto the individual. He notes that costs are going up and that means higher premiums. But where is the solution to all this? Meehan states that he is not in favor of the legislation passed recently. He states that it will "jeopardize millions of jobs, force people out of their existing plans, increase premiums, cut Medicare for seniors, and raise taxes." However, it is interesting to note that most of the items on his wish list are in that legislation.

While he references reform "based on effective solutions" he doesn't say what those solutions are. The reference to buying health care insurance across state lines simply means buying a policy that doesn't cover all the things your state thinks insurance should cover (see quotes from GOP health care statement here). In other words, buying the cheapest coverage possible, taking it from job to job, which usually means paying for it yourself.

More on other policy statements in this race at a later date.

Kanjorski in New Yorker

In the July 26 issue of the New Yorker, John Cassidy has an article called "The Volcker Rule." This is a good overview of the financial reform legislation and how it came about. For instance, catch this little detail:

As the deliberations on Capitol Hill extended through the night of June 24th, the financial lobby exacted several more concessions, including a change in the definition of the three-per-cent limit on investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds. To outsiders, the switch in language from “tangible common equity” to “Tier 1 capital” signified nothing. For the banks, it meant that they could increase by up to forty per cent the amount of money put into risky investment vehicles.

Apparently the devil is in the details.

One of our Pennsylvania congressional representatives, Paul Kanjorski, gets a mention:
On Christmas Eve, he had a long working lunch in the West Wing with Geithner and Summers, both of whom sensed that it was time for a policy switch. The financial-reform bill that had passed in the House in early December included an amendment from Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, giving the Fed the power to order individual banks to cease certain activities, including proprietary trading, if they were taking too many risks.

The article is lengthy but worth reading.

PA Among 19 Finalists for Race to the Top

from the inbox:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that 19 states are the finalists for more than $3 billion available in the second round of funding in the Race to the Top program.

"Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia submitted bold blueprints for reform that bear the signatures of many key players at the state and local level who drive change in our schools," Duncan said.

"Peer reviewers identified these 19 finalists as having the boldest plans, but every state that applied will benefit from this process of collaboratively creating a comprehensive education reform agenda," Duncan added. "Much of the federal dollars we distribute though other channels can support their plan to raise standards, improve teaching, use data more effectively to support student learning, and turn around underperforming schools."

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round of Race to the Top. Including the 36 applications for the second round of Race to the Top, a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia applied for either the first or second rounds - or both.

The 19 finalists are: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Winners will be announced in September.

Obama's Remarks After Bipartisan Meeting

from the inbox:

Good afternoon, everybody. I just concluded a productive discussion with the leaders of both parties in Congress.

This was one of a series of regular meetings that I called for in the State of the Union because I think it’s important for us to come together and speak frankly about the challenges we face and to work through areas where we don’t agree; hopefully find some areas where we do.

Our conversation today focused on an issue that’s being discussed every day at kitchen tables across this country -- and that’s how do we create jobs that people need to support their families.

I believe that starts with doing everything we can to support small businesses. These are the stores, the restaurants, the start-ups and other companies that create two out of every three new jobs in this country -- and that grow into the big businesses that transform industries, here in America and around the world.

But we know that many of these businesses still can’t get the loans and the capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers.

That’s why we’ve proposed steps to get them that help -- eliminating capital gains taxes on investments, making it easier for small lenders to support small businesses, expanding successful SBA programs to help these businesses access the capital that they need.

This is how we create jobs -- by investing in the innovators and entrepreneurs that have always driven our prosperity.

These are the kind of common-sense steps that folks from both parties have supported in the past -- steps to cut taxes and spur private sector growth and investment. And I hope that in the coming days, we’ll once again find common ground and get this legislation passed. We shouldn’t let America’s small businesses be held hostage to partisan politics -- and certainly not at this critical time.

We also talked about the need to move forward on energy reform. The Senate is now poised to act before the August recess, advancing legislation to respond to the BP oil spill and create new clean energy jobs.

That legislation is an important step in the right direction. But I want to emphasize it’s only the first step. And I intend to keep pushing for broader reform, including climate legislation, because if we’ve learned anything from the tragedy in the Gulf, it’s that our current energy policy is unsustainable.

And we can’t afford to stand by as our dependence on foreign oil deepens, as we keep on pumping out the deadly pollutants that threaten our air and our water and the lives and livelihoods of our people. And we can’t stand by as we let China race ahead to create the clean energy jobs and industries of the future. We should be developing those renewable energy sources, and creating those high-wage, high-skill jobs right here in the United States of America.

That’s what comprehensive energy and climate reform would do. And that’s why I intend to keep pushing this issue forward.

I also urged the House leaders to pass the necessary funding to support our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I know much has been written about this in recent days as a result of the substantial leak of documents from Afghanistan covering a period from 2004 to 2009.

While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan; indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall.

So let me underscore what I’ve said many times: For seven years, we failed to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge in this region, the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned.

That’s why we’ve substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work, and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan. Now we have to see that strategy through.

And as I told the leaders, I hope the House will act today to join the Senate, which voted unanimously in favor of this funding, to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and that we’re able to do what’s necessary for our national security.

Finally, during our meeting today, I urged Senator McConnell and others in the Senate to work with us to fill the vacancies that continue to plague our judiciary. Right now, we’ve got nominees who’ve been waiting up to eight months to be confirmed as judges. Most of these folks were voted out of committee unanimously, or nearly unanimously, by both Democrats and Republicans. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they were qualified to serve. Nevertheless, some in the minority have used parliamentary procedures time and again to deny them a vote in the full Senate.

If we want our judicial system to work -- if we want to deliver justice in our courts -- then we need judges on our benches. And I hope that in the coming months, we’ll be able to work together to ensure a timelier process in the Senate.

Now, we don’t have many days left before Congress is out for the year. And everyone understands that we’re less than 100 days from an election. It’s during this time that the noise and the chatter about who’s up in the polls and which party is ahead threatens to drown out just about everything else.

But the folks we serve -- who sent us here to serve, they sent us here for a reason. They sent us here to listen to their voices. They sent us here to represent their interests -- not our own. They sent us here to lead. And I hope that in the coming months, we’ll do everything in our power to live up to that responsibility. Thanks very much.

Lentz Starts Economic Tour

from the inbox:

Representative Bryan Lentz, the Democratic nominee for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, kicked off a ten-week, 25-stop economic regional listening tour on Tuesday with a stop at Aston-based manufacturer New Way Air Bearings on Tuesday.

The visit to New Way included a private meeting between Lentz and several executives from the company, including co-founder Drew Devitt and President and CEO Nick Hackett. That meeting was followed by a tour of the factory floor, where Lentz viewed precision tooling machines the company uses to manufacture machine parts for the semiconductor and flat panel television industries and spoke with some of the skilled employees who operate them.

Lentz said today’s kick-off tour was a good opportunity to hear about the concerns of a company that is creating jobs as the nation continues to emerge from the recent recession. New Way, which sells products to manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas, recently added 15 jobs as demand for its products recovered from the downturn and it also continues to invest in new applications for their products, with potential applications in the clean energy and medical imaging fields.

“Today’s meeting with the leaders of New Way Air Bearings involved a very productive discussion about ways that our nation could more effectively encourage the efforts of small businesses to invest in new product lines and production methods and add jobs,” Lentz said. “There’s no reason why those concerns should not be addressed for New Way, and the other small businesses like it that are the primary drivers of job growth in this nation.”

The tour, which will run throughout the months of August and September, will include 25 stops at local businesses in some of the region’s important industries, like health care, education and manufacturing, as well as town hall forums, and stops at company shift changes to gain input from the area’s work force and residents.

Lentz has already introduced a five-point proposal for generating job growth, including giving companies incentives to invest and expand, and providing educational opportunities to train employees in fields where demand was growing, like math and engineering. He said he launched the ten-week tour of businesses in Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties earlier this week to further meet the demands of local businesses and working families.

"These are the businesses that create jobs and their owners need to have their voice heard as we get our economy growing again,” Lentz said. “That is why I will be seeking input from the entrepreneurs and hard working men and women who drive our local economy.”

Lentz has made saving and creating jobs the cornerstone of his campaign for Congress. He is the only candidate with a published plan to get our economy moving again and the only candidate who supports Wall Street reform and the creation of a consumer financial protection agency to ensure another collapse does not happen. Lentz has also pledged to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas while his opponent Pat Meehan has signed a pledge to continue rewarding companies that outsource American jobs.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Battle of the Juggernaut Amazon Politicos

It is common in politics for national figures to be drawn into state and local races, usually congressional. Big names can endorse or raise money for candidates or they can drag a candidate down. One party tries to tie national names to congressional or senatorial candidates in hopes of tarring the candidate with the animosity directed at the national figure. This year is no exception.

What I find fascinating is that two of the biggest national names this year are women. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, on the left, and Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and former vice presidential candidate on the right. In past years women's role in national policy and ideological debates has often been that of appearance. Both the left and the right have tied the morality and purity of their policies to the degree to which "their" women relate to the cultural beauty ideal or the degree to which their opponent's women have deviated from it.

This year, however, with Pelosi and Palin, while there have been comments of that nature, what I've seen most often in the media I consume, is more policy oriented. For instance, a number of Republican campaigns have used the phrase "the Nancy Pelosi circus" to describe the Democratic campaign. For example, in the 7th congressional district here in Pennsylvania, Pat Meehan ran an ad using that phrase when Pelosi headlined a fundraiser for Bryan Lentz. Another ad that has been used by Republicans in Pennsylvania uses "the 50 foot Pelosi" image.

The Democratic Governors Association, among other Democratic groups and campaigns, have used Sarah Palin as the bogeyman. TheDGA's new site includes images of Palin that are not flattering but she is professionally dressed and her features not overly altered.

In neither case is the relative attractiveness of either woman an issue. It is her policies and her political behavior that is being called into question. Having both women on the national stage at the same time allows them to become or be used as polar opposites. As a girl growing up there were relatively few women in politics at all, let alone on the national stage. The idea that two powerful women politicians would have such name recognition and well-known political philosophies that they could be used in this fashion would have been unimaginable.

At any rate, I've found it interesting.

New Site for US Governor Races

The Democratic Governors Association has set up a new website, with an assortment of interactive pages, including "the fringe 16" that includes Pennsylvania's Republican Tom Corbett. It also has a video entitled "Never Surrender" that features clips from classic films. Note for the ladies (and gentlemen so inclined), one of those clips stars Viggo Mortensen ( ..... what? oh, sorry, lost my train of thought ....).

And, oh yes, it also has a blogroll on it, featuring at least one Pennsylvania blog.

The Always Fascinating Language and Culture Overlap

The Wall Street Journal this past Saturday has a fascinating article on language and culture. "Lost in translation," by Lera Boroditsky includes this note:

In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or remember the agent as well.

In another study, English speakers watched the video of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" (a wonderful nonagentive coinage introduced into the English language by Justin Timberlake), accompanied by one of two written reports. The reports were identical except in the last sentence where one used the agentive phrase "ripped the costume" while the other said "the costume ripped." Even though everyone watched the same video and witnessed the ripping with their own eyes, language mattered. Not only did people who read "ripped the costume" blame Justin Timberlake more, they also levied a whopping 53% more in fines.

I encourage everyone to read the whole thing.

Weekend Political Events

There were a number of political events this weekend. I didn't get to all of them but here are some brief descriptions from my own observation and email / tweets.

Dan Onorato, Democratic candidate for governor, held another in a series of picnics to get to know residents in the greater Philadelphia area. This one was in Malcolm X Park. Previous picnics have been held in Bucks and Montgomery Counties and other parts of Philadelphia. The usual format of these events is informal, with Onorato talking with people individually.

Bryan Lentz, current state rep for the 161st district and Democratic candidate for the 7th congressional district, held a townhall meeting on economic issues. A crowd of about 50 asked questions covered a range of topics.

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz's campaign picnic was moved indoors due to rain but went on nonetheless. A sizeable crowed came out to hear her talk about legislative successes (health care, financial regulation) and issues coming up for action (whether or not to let tax breaks expire). The diversity among the audience was reflected in the range of headgear: Eagles hat, Temple U hat, American flag doo rag, and a rainbow of turbans.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Viewing and Reading Notes

PoliticsPA's up and down on Friday led to two video clips of Patrick Murphy talking about the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act. One is from a press conference, the other from an appearance on "Morning Joe." Both are entertaining but for different reasons.

Reading through Sunday's Inquirer I noted an op-ed by local celebrity economist Mark Zandi. "Serious mistake to believe the stimulus failed" ends with:

There have been missteps for sure, but government has served us well. We must not lose sight of that now, because the economy still needs help.

[blogger's note: Moody's is now Moody's Analytics. I don't know why the name changed.]

In the business section, Bob Fernandez writes "High cost of Hershey School-related boards." I noted this paragraph:
"In Philadelphia, not only do prominent businesspeople serve on charitable boards without compensation, but in many cases they are expected to raise and contribute funds to the charity," John W. Schmehl, a partner with Dilworth Paxson L.L.P., said Friday. "The constant increase in board fees in Hershey is troublesome, even if they do come from subsidiaries of the Trust."

The high pay for those on corporate boards has disturbed me as much as high executive compensation. It is especially annoying as I've served on the board of school, community, professional, and labor organizations, all without any compensation and most often with expectation that I will donate my own or raise money for that particular cause. But those who serve on the board of a local bank or business or, in this case, school, can't be expected to show up unless you pay them and pay them well. Something not quite right about that.

Another CSA Note

I wrote previously about my family's participation in community sponsored agriculture. It has been a real learning experience. In this weekend's bag o' fruits and veggies were something called "ground cherries." I had never heard of them before. They have an unexpected texture and an unusual taste. We spent part of the morning eating them and trying to decide what they taste like. Mr. J said they tasted "brown." I thought it was a tomato / walnut mix. One website I found said tomato / pineapple taste blend. We manged to eat all of them without coming up with a satisfactory taste definition but it was an interesting way to pass the time and try out descriptive phrases.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Auditor General Report on the PUC

In Dec. 31, 2010 PECO's rate caps are scheduled to come off and the Philadelphia area's electric rates are going to go up. Some parts of the state have already gone through this process. The state Auditor General's office has reviewed the PUC's educational efforts in those parts of Pennsylvania where the electric rate caps have already come off. Their report is a 29 page pdf and available on the Auditor General's website. In general the report finds that the PUC did not do all that it could have to let utility consumers know what would happen and what their options were.

Regardless of the amount of effort to let people know what will happen when the rate caps come off, I predict that a large percentage of the populace will find increased utility prices a shock.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Statements on Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (S. 1508)

Rep. Patrick Murphy:

Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy’s (D-8th District) legislation to cut government spending became the law of the land Thursday morning. Having introduced the bill back in 2007, the Congressman was on hand at the White House as President Obama signed his bipartisan bill, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (S. 1508). The bill enacts stricter standards among federal agencies to identify improper payments and recover taxpayer dollars that were misspent. By holding government agencies accountable, the new law will help eliminate the $98 billion in wasteful government spending each year. These improper payments include money misspent due to fraud or a lack of financial oversight within the agency.

“The best way to prevent wasteful spending is to stop it from happening in the first place,” said Murphy. “This bipartisan law holds the federal government to the same standard of fiscal responsibility as Pennsylvania families hold themselves.”

Every day, he explained, the federal government overpays for goods or services. In the case of fraud, the government may pay for something it never receives. If a family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania was double billed for their car payments or paid for groceries they never actually got, they would quickly realize the error and make sure to get their money back. Rep. Murphy’s law, which he’s fought for years to make a reality, ensures that federal agencies do more to stop those erroneous payments from going out in the first place, saving taxpayers billions that would otherwise be lost.

Murphy highlighted several examples illustrating the need for the new law. In 2003, a New York dentist billed Medicaid for 991 procedures - in a single day. And in the months after Katrina, FEMA issued millions of dollars worth of housing vouchers. The only problem was that some of the vouchers were going to people who were in jail. It turned out that people were using the names and Social Security numbers of people who were incarcerated to get these vouchers. Under the new law, programs such as these are subject to tighter oversight rules and stricter auditing standards, and the agencies themselves are held accountable for catching these kinds of mistakes before the money goes out the door.

Murphy collaborated on the legislation with Members of both parties, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Carper (D-DE), along with Murphy’s GOP co-sponsor in the House, California Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-50th District).

The law is endorsed by the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste, who stated in their letter of support that the Congressman’s “pro-taxpayer” law fulfills the “basic expectation of taxpayers” that their hard-earned dollars “go toward their intended purposes and not to inappropriate uses.”

Dr. Manan Trivedi, candidate for the 6th congressional district:
The following is a statement by the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district, Manan Trivedi, in response to President Obama signing the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act.

"I have long been concerned about the widespread waste and inefficiencies in our federal government. Today, with the stroke of the president's pen, we took an essential step that will begin to restore fiscal discipline to our nation's government by cracking down on fraud and cleaning up waste. The law will ensure that our hard-earned taxpayer dollars no longer go to scam artists or companies unwilling to play by the rules, recover funds lost to improper payments, and incentivize auditors to root out and eliminate even more fraud and abuse in our system.

"With our economy so saddled with debt, the federal government has to be a better steward of the people's money and restore balance to our budget, and the tens of billions of dollars that will be saved under this law is a crucial piece of that. But more work must be done. In Congress, I will stand up to out-of-control government spending, increase accountability and transparency in contracting and expenditures, and restore basic fiscal sense to our government."

Manan Trivedi is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District. He is a primary care physician, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, and an Iraq War veteran from Berks County.

Pres. Obama
Today, President Obama will sign the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) which will help achieve the President’s new goal of reducing wasteful, improper payments by $50 billion between now and 2012.

President Obama said, “The bipartisan bill I’m signing today will help ensure that our government serves as a responsible steward for the tax dollars of the American people, and builds on the efforts we’re taking to cut wasteful spending. Those include my proposal for a three-year freeze on all non-security discretionary spending in my budget and working to put an end to wasteful government contracting and unnecessary no-bid contracts. The bill I’m signing today passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate – a powerful reminder of what we can accomplish when we put partisanship aside and do what’s best for the people we serve.”

Each year, the federal government wastes billions of American taxpayers’ dollars on improper payments to individuals, organizations, and contractors. These are payments made in the wrong amount, to the wrong person, or for the wrong reason. Since taking office, the President has worked to eliminate wasteful spending in part by reducing improper payments. In November 2009, the President issued an executive order laying out a strategy to reduce improper payments through boosting transparency, holding agencies accountable, and creating strong incentives for compliance. He followed that up in March 2010 by directing all federal departments to intensify and expand payment recapture audits, and in June by ordering the establishment of a federal Do Not Pay List so that there is one source for agencies to check on the eligibility status of an individual or contractor.

A full fact sheet on the IPERA is below, and a full background document is attached.


The Improper Payment Elimination and Recovery Act and the Administration’s Effort to Cut Wasteful Improper Payments

July 22, 2010

Today, the President will sign into law the Improper Payment Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA), an important step toward realizing the President’s new goal of reducing wasteful, improper payments by $50 billion between now and 2012.

In 2009, improper payments totaled nearly $110 billion, the highest amount to date. These include payments made in error or because of fraudulent claims by contractors and organizations as well as benefits sent to individuals who are dead or in jail. In fact, over the past three years, federal auditors have reported that the government paid out benefits totaling more than $180 million to approximately 20,000 Americans who were dead; and more than $230 million in benefits to approximately 14,000 fugitive felons or those in jail and who are not eligible for benefits.

Since taking office, the Administration has moved aggressively to reduce improper payments:

* On November 19, 2009, the President issued an executive order laying out a strategy to reduce improper payments through boosting transparency, holding agencies accountable, and creating strong incentives for compliance. Specifically, the executive order required the identification of high-priority programs, the selection of accountable officials to coordinate agency program integrity efforts, the development of supplemental measures of payment error for high-priority programs, a public website to track progress in reducing improper payments (, and the pursuit of tough penalties on contractors for failing to timely disclose credible evidence of significant overpayments received on government contracts.

* On March 10, 2010, the President signed a presidential memorandum directing all federal departments and agencies to expand and intensify their use of payment recapture audits. These are audits which offer specialized private auditors financial incentives to root out improper payments, and have been demonstrated through pilot programs to be highly effective. It is anticipated that using the payment recapture audits will return at least $2 billion over the next three years to American taxpayers, and more than that with new authorities to use these audits made available in the Improper Payment Elimination and Recovery Act.

* On June 8, 2010, the President announced that the Administration would cut the improper payment rate in the Medicare Fee for Service program in half by 2012. Doing so will eliminate more than $20 billion in payment errors by FY 2012.

* On June 18, 2010, the President issued a memorandum directing that a Do Not Pay List be established, a single source through which all agencies can check the status of a potential contractor or individual. Too often, an agency does not check all the different databases the government has or finds it difficult to do so. This denies agencies essential information they need to determine, for example, if an individual is alive or dead or if a contractor had been debarred. The Do Not Pay List will allow federal agencies to access this information in a more timely and cost effective manner and will help reduce improper payments made by the Government and help save taxpayer dollars.

* Also on June 18, the Vice President announced the expansion of a cutting-edge fraud mapping tool that the Recovery Accountability Transparency Board (RATB) has deployed that gathers enormous quantities of information in real time and then analyzes the data and helps connect the dots to identify indicators of possible fraud or error. The Administration is expanding the use of this type of tool across government, and piloting it first at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The IPERA will complement and help implement the Administration’s campaign against improper payments. Specifically, the bill will improve agency efforts to reduce and recover improper payments in several ways, including:

* Identification and Estimation of Improper Payments. IPERA requires agencies to conduct annual risk assessments, and if a program is found to be susceptible to significant improper payments, then agencies must measure improper payments in that program. Further, over time, IPERA lowers the threshold for determining a program is susceptible to improper payments.

* Payment Recapture Audits. The bill expands the types of programs that are required to conduct payment recovery audits (from contracts to all types of programs and activities, including grants, benefits, loans, and contract payments), and lowers the threshold for programs and activities that must conduct these reviews if cost-effective (from $500 million to $1 million in annual outlays).

* Use of Recovered Improper Payments. IPERA also authorizes agency heads to use recovered funds for additional uses than currently allowed, including to improve their financial management, to support the agency’s Office of Inspector General, and for the original intent of the funding.

Compliance and Non-Compliance Requirements. Currently, if an agency does not reduce improper payments or implement the existing law, there are no repercussions. Under IPERA, there is a list of actions that an agency must take to be in compliance with the law, and the agency Inspector General is responsible for determining whether the agency is in compliance with the law. If the agency is found not to be in compliance with the law, then IPERA contains a series of actions that the agency must take to improve its error reduction efforts.

* Background_on_Accountable_Government_Initiative.pdf

Stateline on AGs Running for Office has a good article on the difficulties state Attorneys General can face when running for office. ("On campaign trail, attorneys general walk a fine line," by John Gramlich, 7/21). Republican Tom Corbett, current Pennsylvania Attorney General and candidate for governor, is mentioned:

In Pennsylvania, Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett has been leading a months-long criminal investigation into campaign work allegedly done by state legislative employees on the taxpayers’ dime. The scandal, dubbed “Bonusgate” because of the taxpayer-funded bonuses reportedly paid out for the campaigning, has helped Corbett cultivate an image as a law-and-order reformer as he runs for governor. But it also has attracted negative attention to his campaign, particularly after his office tried, as part of its investigation, to subpoena a pair of Twitter users who have been critical of Corbett in anonymous online postings.

Democratic Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato accused Corbett of using his office to bully political opponents, while labor unions and other groups have called on the attorney general to step down while he runs for governor. Corbett, however, has flatly rejected the notion.

“The people of Pennsylvania elected me to be the attorney general,” he said in an interview with Stateline in April. Resigning, he said, would go against the will of the electorate. He also noted that in Pennsylvania, “it’s not a tradition and it’s not a law” for attorneys general to step down when they run for governor.

Interestingly, today the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial calling for Corbett to resign ("Time to step away,"). It starts out:
Attorney General Tom Corbett should quit his day job and focus on running for governor.

It's nearly impossible lately for the public to separate Corbett's law enforcement duties from his role as the GOP nominee for governor. Increasingly, his actions as attorney general are tinged with political ramifications for the November election.

Gort on Romanelli

My blogger buddy to the north, Gort42, has a good post on Carl Romanelli's lawsuit. Romanelli is the Green Party candidate for Senate who was kicked off the ballot in a petition challenge. He got stuck with a lot of legal costs for that. Now he is suing over use of state employee time to research petition signatures. Gort links to the actual legal document (an 11 page pdf) and assorted other links for context, and ties it up in a nice bow with analysis. Worth a read.

Schwartz on 111th Fighter Wing

from the inbox:

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday on a resolution she introduced honoring the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 111th Fighter Wing stationed at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. The resolution passed by a vote of 417 to 0 this afternoon.

“I rise today to honor the service and commitment of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 111th Fighter Wing.

Their bravery and sacrifice over the years has helped ensure our safety and freedom.

“Originally growing out of the sod fields of the Philadelphia Airport in 1924, the Squad was first called to active service in February 1941, to perform antisubmarine patrols off the coast of New England. The Squad saw a lot of action during World War II.

“In 1943, they deployed and performed support operations in the China-Burma-India theater of combat. The same year they earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for their execution of ground attack missions in France and the Low Countries in advance of the invasion of Normandy, and in Germany, for their support of and in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge.

“Members of the 111th honorably served in support of the U.S. war efforts during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1963, the 111th ended their 39 year history at the Philadelphia Airport, and relocated to the Willow Grove Naval Air Station.

“In 1995 and 1999 they performed combat operations in Support of Operation Southern Watch. Immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the 111th Fighter Wing deployed on very short notice to support joint combat operations for Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2002 and 2003, the wing was the lead unit for short notice, voluntary, out-of-cycle Air Expeditionary Force deployments to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

“In 2003, they volunteered for deployment yet again, this time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. So outstanding was their service during this period, they earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, with Valor, for voluntarily deploying to austere bases in two separate combat operations within a five-month period.

“It has been my honor to represent the 111th Fighter Wing as a Member of Congress. Though the latest round of BRAC removed the squad’s fighter mission, they will remain stationed in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and will undoubtedly continue to honorably serve our nation. To quote the resolution before us:

“Members of the 111th Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania National Guard have served with courage, selflessness and compassion in every role that they have been asked to fulfill, and have earned the respect and gratitude of the citizens of Pennsylvania and of all Americans.

“I appreciate bipartisan support of Resolution 1411, and thank the members of the 111th Fighter Wing for their dedication, honor, service and sacrifice.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Statements on Signing of Wall Street Reform Bill

various statements from the inbox:

Rep. Patrick Murphy:

“Today’s signing of Wall Street Reform sends a message to Big Banks that it’s no longer business as usual. American families have been put through the wringer. Years without accountability for Wall Street and Big Banks cost us 8 million jobs. Families have seen their 401(k)s devastated and college savings accounts evaporate.

The new law puts in place commonsense rules to ensure that Wall Street can never again play Russian Roulette with our futures. It reins in Big Banks and their outrageous bonuses, puts an end to bailouts, and protects and empowers consumers to make the best decisions on homes, credit cards, and their own financial future.

These reforms – the most significant since the Great Depression – provide transparency within our financial system to ensure that our economy is never again held hostage by recklessness on Wall Street.”

Dr. Manan Trivedi, Democratic candidate for the 6th congressional district
"Small business owners and hard-working families across the 6th district have all told me the same thing: that to spur small business growth and reboot our economy, simpler, more readily-understandable banking practices have to be in place.

“Well, this afternoon, the president signed into law common-sense financial reforms that will do just that, reforms that will see to it that Wall Street never again brings us to the brink of collapse -- by requiring clear rules and practices, protecting consumers, and holding banks accountable.

“If banks clarify their financial procedures, we can bring the fine print into focus and ensure that average, hard-working Pennsylvanians do not unknowingly sign themselves up for hidden fees, skyrocketing rates, or loans they simply cannot handle. By making Wall Street responsible for their own actions, we can stop financial institutions from backing the government into a corner and prevent our taxpayers from facing the necessity of a bailout ever again. And, when fiscal certainty and stability is finally restored to the markets, banks can once again open the channels to the lending that fuels entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business growth.

“While Jim Gerlach would rather side with the Wall Street donors that prop up his campaign and continue to dismantle essential regulatory practices, I understand that these reforms are a major win for my neighbors and will help to protect their futures. With these practical Wall Street reforms, we can increase the security for the student taking out loans, the small business owner embarking on a start-up, and the hard-working American saving for retirement."

Manan Trivedi is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District. He is a primary care physician, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, and an Iraq War veteran from Berks County.

President Obama:
We are gathered in the heart of our nation’s capital, surrounded by memorials to leaders and citizens who served our nation in its earliest days and in its days of greatest trial. Today is such a time for America.

Over the past two years, we have faced the worst recession since the Great Depression. Eight million people lost their jobs. Tens of millions saw the value of their homes and retirement savings plummet. Countless businesses have been unable to get the loans they need and many have been forced to shut their doors. And although the economy is growing again, too many people are still feeling the pain of the downturn.

Now, while a number of factors led to such a severe recession, the primary cause was a breakdown in our financial system. It was a crisis born of a failure of responsibility from certain corners of Wall Street to the halls of power in Washington. For years, our financial sector was governed by antiquated and poorly enforced rules that allowed some to game the system and take risks that endangered the entire economy.

Unscrupulous lenders locked consumers into complex loans with hidden costs. Firms like AIG placed massive, risky bets with borrowed money. And while the rules left abuse and excess unchecked, they also left taxpayers on the hook if a big bank or financial institution ever failed.

Now, even before the crisis hit, I went to Wall Street and I called for common-sense reforms to protect consumers and our economy as a whole. And soon after taking office, I proposed a set of reforms to empower consumers and investors, to bring the shadowy deals that caused this crisis into the light of day, and to put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all. (Applause.) Today, thanks to a lot of people in this room, those reforms will become the law of the land.

For the last year, Chairmen Barney Frank and Chris Dodd have worked day and night -- (applause) -- Barney and Chris have worked day and night to bring about this reform. And I am profoundly grateful to them. I would be remiss if I didn't also express my appreciation to Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their leadership. It wouldn’t have happened without them. (Applause.)

Passing this bill was no easy task. To get there, we had to overcome the furious lobbying of an array of powerful interest groups and a partisan minority determined to block change. So the members who are here today, both on the stage and in the audience, they have done a great service in devoting so much time and expertise to this effort, to looking out for the public interests and not the special interests. (Applause.) And I also want to thank the three Republican senators who put partisanship aside -- (applause) -- judged this bill on the merits, and voted for reform. We’re grateful to them. (Applause.) And the Republican House members. (Applause.) Good to see you, Joe. (Applause.)

Now, let’s put this in perspective. The fact is, the financial industry is central to our nation’s ability to grow, to prosper, to compete and to innovate. There are a lot of banks that understand and fulfill this vital role, and there are a whole lot of bankers who want to do right -- and do right -- by their customers. This reform will help foster innovation, not hamper it. It is designed to make sure that everybody follows the same set of rules, so that firms compete on price and quality, not on tricks and not on traps.

It demands accountability and responsibility from everyone. It provides certainty to everybody, from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers. And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you’ve got nothing to fear from reform. (Applause.)

Now, for all those Americans who are wondering what Wall Street reform means for you, here’s what you can expect. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, or a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print. What often happens as a result is that many Americans are caught by hidden fees and penalties, or saddled with loans they can’t afford.

That’s what happened to Robin Fox, hit with a massive rate increase on her credit card balance even though she paid her bills on time. That’s what happened to Andrew Giordano, who discovered hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees on his bank statement –- fees he had no idea he might face. Both are here today. Well, with this law, unfair rate hikes, like the one that hit Robin, will end for good. (Applause.) And we’ll ensure that people like Andrew aren’t unwittingly caught by overdraft fees when they sign up for a checking account. (Applause.)

With this law, we’ll crack down on abusive practices in the mortgage industry. We’ll make sure that contracts are simpler -– putting an end to many hidden penalties and fees in complex mortgages -– so folks know what they’re signing.

With this law, students who take out college loans will be provided clear and concise information about their obligations.

And with this law, ordinary investors -– like seniors and folks saving for retirement –- will be able to receive more information about the costs and risks of mutual funds and other investment products, so that they can make better financial decisions as to what will work for them.

So, all told, these reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history. (Applause.) In history. And these protections will be enforced by a new consumer watchdog with just one job: looking out for people -– not big banks, not lenders, not investment houses -– looking out for people as they interact with the financial system.

And that’s not just good for consumers; that’s good for the economy. Because reform will put a stop to a lot of the bad loans that fueled a debt-based bubble. And it will mean all companies will have to seek customers by offering better products, instead of more deceptive ones.

Now, beyond the consumer protections I’ve outlined, reform will also rein in the abuse and excess that nearly brought down our financial system. It will finally bring transparency to the kinds of complex and risky transactions that helped trigger the financial crisis. Shareholders will also have a greater say on the pay of CEOs and other executives, so they can reward success instead of failure.

And finally, because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. (Applause.) There will be no more tax-funded bailouts -- period. (Applause.) If a large financial institution should ever fail, this reform gives us the ability to wind it down without endangering the broader economy. And there will be new rules to make clear that no firm is somehow protected because it is “too big to fail,” so we don’t have another AIG.

That's what this reform will mean. Now, it doesn’t mean our work is over. For these new rules to be effective, regulators will have to be vigilant. We may need to make adjustments along the way as our financial system adapts to these new changes and changes around the globe. No law can force anybody to be responsible; it’s still incumbent on those on Wall Street to heed the lessons of this crisis in terms of how they conduct their businesses.

The fact is every American -– from Main Street to Wall Street –- has a stake in our financial system. Wall Street banks and firms invest the capital that makes it possible for start-ups to sell new products. They provide loans to businesses to expand and to hire. They back mortgages for families purchasing a new home. That’s why we’ll all stand to gain from these reforms. We all win when investors around the world have confidence in our markets. We all win when shareholders have more power and more information. We all win when consumers are protected against abuse. And we all win when folks are rewarded based on how well they perform, not how well they evade accountability.

In the end, our financial system only works –- our market is only free –- when there are clear rules and basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excess, that ensure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system. And that’s what these reforms are designed to achieve -- no more, no less. Because that’s how we will ensure that our economy works for consumers, that it works for investors, that it works for financial institutions -– that it works for all of us.

This is the central lesson not only of this crisis but of our history. Ultimately, there’s no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or fall together as one nation. So these reforms will help lift our economy and lead all of us to a stronger, more prosperous future.

And that’s why I’m so honored to sign these reforms into law, and I’m so grateful to everybody who worked so hard to make this day possible. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)

Rep. Paul Kanjorski:
Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11), Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, joined President Obama on stage in Washington as the President signed into law the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. For the past two years, Chairman Kanjorski has been working on this legislation which provides the most sweeping financial regulatory reforms since the Great Depression. The legislation works to end the era of “too big to fail” financial institutions and prevent future bailouts as a result of the Kanjorski amendment. The new law also reins in Wall Street, better protects American families from abusive mortgage practices, and creates a home foreclosure prevention program nationwide based on Pennsylvania’s successful initiative, among many other significant provisions.

“This is an historic day for our country and the American people. I have been working towards the creation a comprehensive Wall Street reform bill for many years now, and it was a true honor to stand with the President while this law was signed,” said Chairman Kanjorski. “This new law puts the public interest ahead of special interests by taking thoughtful and sweeping action to rein in the reckless actions of Wall Street titans so that they can no longer operate in the shadows and potentially cause harm to the American economy and, as a result, the pockets every American, as we saw in the fall of 2008. It also includes many needed reforms to better protect the financial situations of people throughout the country. I have been working on some of these reforms for years. For the last nine years, I have been working to improve the mortgage process because of mortgage abuses that I discovered in my Congressional District in the Poconos. After many years of work, it is truly a feat to see that these reforms are finally law. Too many people have suffered, particularly during the past two years, because of the irresponsible actions of Wall Street. This law works to put an end to these reckless actions and prevent such financial turmoil from happening again in the future.”

“Additionally, the inclusion of the Kanjorski amendment in the new law ensures that regulators will now have the tools they need to safeguard the U.S. economy from reckless financiers,” added Chairman Kanjorski. “My amendment enables regulators to take preemptive action to prevent financial companies from becoming ‘too big to fail,’ and therefore, ends any need for future bailouts. In the fall of 2008, we experienced some very dire circumstances because a few financial companies had become so large and interconnected that their collapse could dangerously impact the stability of the American economy, as well as, the financial situations and retirements of every American family and small business. Because of the Kanjorski amendment, we will no longer allow financial companies to pose such a risk to our economy or the American people. We have taken action that should help to better safeguard our economy for decades.”

Chairman Kanjorski wrote many key provisions included in the Wall Street reform law, in addition to the Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment. These include provisions to better protect investors and enhance the powers of securities regulators, register and regulate hedge fund managers, reform the operations and regulation of credit rating agencies, create a Federal office focused on insurance matters, crack down on mortgage abuses, and create a national program based on Pennsylvania’s successful mortgage foreclosure prevention program.

The new Wall Street reform law includes many provisions that will specifically work to help protect American families and businesses from facing much of the financial turmoil that has resulted in the past two years. Some of these provisions include:

· Cracking down on mortgage abuses.

For nine years, Chairman Kanjorski has been working on these issues, which first came to his attention because of predatory mortgage lending problems in the Poconos. His 2004 hearing in the Poconos on this issue led to the introduction of his comprehensive bipartisan bill in 2005 to protect consumers. Those bipartisan reforms have passed the House in 2007, 2009, and 2010, and are now law.

The new law establishes broad and comprehensive protections against abusive mortgages. It requires lenders to evaluate borrowers’ abilities to repay loans. The bill also eliminates the incentives to steer borrowers into loans they cannot afford, limits total fees to no more than five percent for almost all loans, and bans many common predatory lending practices.

“Congressman Kanjorski was one of the first people in Congress to identify problems in mortgage financing and real estate. Had Congress implemented many of his ideas when they were first developed earlier this decade, many of the recent problems that we have encountered would likely have been avoided. The professional real estate appraisers of northeastern Pennsylvania, and nationwide, whose services protect lenders and borrowers, are deeply appreciative of his leadership.” -- William Stoerrle, Jr., SRA, President, Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Appraisal Institute

“Since 2004, the residents of Northeast Pennsylvania have been the victims of appraisal fraud. At that point in time, only one person listened to the outcry, and only one person recognized that appraisal fraud was the link between the malfeasance of the originating lenders, the securitization intermediaries and the developers that resulted in the disproportionate amount of foreclosures occurring in the Poconos and surrounding communities, and that the pandemic of foreclosures was spreading across the country. That person is Congressman Paul Kanjorski.” – Maureen McGrath, who lives in Monroe County and represents the National Advocacy Against Mortgage Servicing Fraud

· Helping families to stay in their homes.

Chairman Kanjorski advocated on behalf of a national program to offer emergency bridge loans to help unemployed workers with reasonable prospects for reemployment to keep their homes. This new national initiative is based on the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance program in Pennsylvania (HEMAP), which since 1983 has saved 43,000 homes from foreclosure by helping to cover mortgage payments until homeowners find new jobs.

“I’m a single mother of three children and have not been receiving child support. I was diagnosed with lymphoma which caused me to miss a great deal of work. As a result, I unfortunately fell behind on bills and mortgage. HEMAP helped me avoid losing my home and become current on my mortgage. Now, I have been able to go back to work, but the program helped me stay afloat during a very difficult time in my life. Without HEMAP, my children and I would have been out of a home.” -- Mary Kemps, Scranton, PA

“My husband has been out of work for over a year and he has faced serious health problems, so unfortunately, he probably will not be able to go back to work because of them. We now only have one income for the two of us, and as a result, it became more difficult to make our mortgage payments. We applied for and received a loan through HEMAP which made it possible for us to stay in our home and avoid foreclosure. Without this program we would have faced some very dire circumstances.” -- Woman from Albrightsville, PA

· Protecting consumers.

The Wall Street reform law creates a new independent watchdog, housed in the Federal Reserve, with the authority to ensure that American consumers get the clear, accurate information they need to shop for mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. This new consumer protection bureau will protect Americans from hidden fees, abusive loan terms, and deceptive practices.

· Protecting small businesses from unreasonable fees.

The new law creates new protections for small businesses because too many of them are facing out-of-control swipe fees that banks and other credit and debit card issuers charge these businesses for debit or prepaid-card purchases. As a result, small businesses stand to save billions, as debit swipe fees amount to about $20 billion a year.

· Investing in local communities.

The law provides $1 billion through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to states and localities to combat the ugly impact on neighborhood of the foreclosure crisis -- such as falling property values and increased crime -- by rehabilitating, redeveloping, and reusing abandoned and foreclosed properties.

· Assisting people with personal financial knowledge.

The Wall Street reform law allows consumers free access to their credit score if their score negatively affects them in a financial transaction or a hiring decision. It also gives consumers access to credit score disclosures as part of an adverse action and risk-based pricing notice.

Chairman Kanjorski concluded, “While I am very proud of much of the work that I have accomplished during my time in Congress, the enactment of this Wall Street reform legislation sits at the top of the list. Today marks a day in the history books. We have planted a seed that will grow and better protect our country, our economy, and the American people for decades in the future.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some Preliminary Notes on Dan Onorato

Dan Onorato, the Democratic candidate for governor, is not well-known on this side of the state. To be honest I barely knew who he was when he announced his candidacy. In the interim, I've had the opportunity to see him at five events. He spoke at three and at the other two talked with people individually. (see previous blog posts here and here). That's not really enough exposure to form a definitive opinion of someone but it's enough for an initial impression.

Onorato is both an accountant and a lawyer and that shows. He isn't flashy or visibly charismatic; on the other hand he isn't stiff either. He speaks and moves with quiet energy and knows how to work a crowd. When talking with individuals he focuses on that person and listens to what they have to say. He doesn't rely on staff to move him from one part of a room or crowd to another or act as a buffer with people. He's pleasant and people seem comfortable approaching him. While not a raconteur he speaks well and can get his point across; he can throw in examples and answers questions without getting rattled. His staff is friendly and handles local arrangements well. I've also been pleased to note that the videographer from the Republican campaign (who waits and watches for a candidate to stumble or say the wrong thing) is treated courteously.

Onorato is making an effort to meet voters in the Philadelphia area this summer and if you have the opportunity to go out and do so I encourage you to. For background, his campaign has very detailed policy statements up at

Corbett on Education

John Micek over at Capitol Ideas is reporting that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett told a college audience that education should prepare them for in-demand jobs. This sounds like common sense. And those opportunities should be made available. However, as a parent, I dislike the idea that students should not be able to explore those areas that inspire them, whether a tailor made job is there or not. CI quotes Corbett as saying:

“Development of an educated workforce that meets the demands of the marketplace is the most critical element to ensuring the economic vitality of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Innovation and job creation also depends on entrepreneurs and new technologies and discoveries. Those are usually not driven by corporate widgetry. It is interesting to look at a list of college majors and the income levels of people with an undergraduate degree in that major and no further education. See "Best undergraduate college degrees by salary," on Note that philosophy outranks chemistry, accounting, and information technology. Chances are very corporate help wanted ads call for a philosophy degree. That doesn't mean we should close down all the philosophy departments.

Shannon Meehan in DC

from the inbox:

Retired Army Captain Shannon Meehan, the Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 163rd Legislative District, appeared today with State Rep. Bryan Barbin at a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, to call for the passage of HR856, a resolution authored by Barbin and designed to increase awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, disorders that afflict 115,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I applaud Rep. Barbin for taking to task these seldom-discussed disorders so that injured servicemen and servicewomen are properly treated,” Meehan said. “This resolution is a great first step in raising awareness among Pennsylvanians, and Americans, about the physical and mental effects of war on our soldiers.”

The stop is the culmination of Rep. Barbin’s 1,800-mile motorcycle tour of seven state capitals to call for the pass of HR856 and resolutions like it in other state legislatures.

Meehan, himself a veteran of the Iraq war, fell victim to an anti-tank IED explosion in Iraq in September 2007 when the charge detonated three yards behind him, causing severe injuries to his spine and head.

“I have seen first-hand the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress. While I am making a successful recovery, more can be done to draw attention to the devastating toll war injuries take on soldiers and their families, for possibly years after the fact. HR856 does just that.”

The 163rd state house district is in Delaware County and represents part or all of Ridley, Darby, Upper Darby, Landowne, Aldan, and Clifton Heights.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Remarks by the President on Unemployment Insurance

from the inbox:

Good morning, everybody. Right now, across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, they’re scanning the classifieds, they’re updating their resumes or sending out another job application, hoping that this time they’ll hear back from a potential employer. And they’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will entirely free them of those worries –- the only thing that will fully lift that sense of uncertainty –- is the security of a new job.

To that end, we all have to continue our efforts to do everything in our power to spur growth and hiring. And I hope the Senate acts this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, where most of America’s jobs are created.

So we've got a lot of work to do to make sure that we are digging ourselves out of this tough economic hole that we've been in. But even as we work to jumpstart job growth in the private sector, even as we work to get businesses hiring again, we also have another responsibility: to offer emergency assistance to people who desperately need it -- to Americans who’ve been laid off in this recession. We've got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families even as they’re looking for another job.

That’s why it’s so essential to pass the unemployment insurance extension that comes up for a vote tomorrow. We need to pass it for men like Jim Chukalas, who’s with me here today. Jim worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. He’s posted resumes everywhere. He’s gone door-to-door looking for jobs. But he hasn’t gotten a single interview. He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do.

We need to pass it for women like Leslie Macko, who lost her job at a fitness center last year and has been looking for work ever since. Because she’s eligible for only a few more weeks of unemployment, she’s doing what she never thought she’d have to do -- not at this point, anyway. She’s turning to her father for financial support.

And we need to pass it for Americans like Denise Gibson, who was laid off from a real estate agency earlier this year. Denise has been interviewing for jobs -– but so far nothing has turned up. Meanwhile, she’s fallen further and further behind on her rent. And with her unemployment benefits set to expire, she’s worried about what the future holds.

We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven’t been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening; who need emergency relief to help them pay the rent and cover their utilities and put food on the table while they’re looking for another job.

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition –- under both Democratic and Republican Presidents –- to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits –- benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work -– are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried -– not once, not twice, but three times –- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings –- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now -- and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right -- not for the next election but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times. And that’s what I hope members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will do tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

Health Care Message from Michelle Obama

from the inbox:

Friend --

When you hear about the new health reform law these days, too much talk is focused on the political.

What I've found is that most Americans just want to know how this new law helps their families stay healthy -- and how it reduces their costs.

The first thing I tell people who ask about the Affordable Care Act is that, for moms like me, it makes our lives easier. It gives families control over their own care. And it gives us the comfort of knowing that our insurance will be there when we need it most -- especially if we get sick. Then I tell them that it gets better, but there's a lot to know. To help, this administration has set up, where folks can see customized information about how care will improve for their families.

So much of what makes this law great is its emphasis on preventive care -- right now, too many people aren't getting the check-ups or the screenings they need to stay healthy. Twelve percent of kids haven't seen a doctor in the past year. And 59 million adults -- and 11 million children -- depend on an insurance plan that does not cover basic immunizations.

Health reform is changing that. Under this new law, all new private plans will provide basic preventive services -- things like childhood immunizations and checkups, mammograms, colonoscopies, cervical screenings, and treatment for high blood pressure -- absolutely free of charge. No copay. No deductible. No co-insurance needed.

And, on, you can not only learn what preventive steps will help keep your family healthy, but also what insurance coverage options are available based on your needs.

A focus on prevention will help us to combat diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure -- chronic illnesses that right now lead to seven of ten deaths in the United States and 75 percent of our national health care costs.

And it will help us tackle an issue that is dear to my heart -- childhood obesity. As some of you know one of my top priorities as First Lady is the Let's Move! campaign, where we have made it our goal to put a stop to the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so children who are born today grow up at a healthy weight.

Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own health and the health of our families, and the new health reform law can help. That's why I'm writing today -- to make sure you and Americans across the country know how their health plans are getting better day by day under reform.

Please visit and find out more about your care:

Thank you,

Michelle Obama

Lentz Office Opening

Bryan Lentz, Democratic candidate for the 7th congressional district, opened a campaign office in the Olde Sproul Shopping Center on Baltimore Pike this past Friday evening. I was out running errands and popped in. It's a nice location with a lot of foot traffic.

This was a fun event. Lentz worked the crowd, greeting old friends and new faces, but, honestly, people seemed to be having a good time just talking with each other. The new First Vice Chair of the Delaware County Democratic Party, Nancy Rhoads, was there, as were many other party volunteers. It was packed when I was there.

A few people were in offices working and there were charts and goals posted on the wall. It was definitely a place of business, even while the festivities were going on in public areas. The food was good. The people were nice. I was glad I stopped in.

OFA Registering New Voters

Organizing for America (OFA) has been out registering new voters and encouraging those who voted in 2008 to stay involved and vote in the midterms. Some OFA members worked the lines of people waiting to see the new Twilight movie, signing up new voters and talking with those already registered about the important of voting (see "Twilight zone Dems looking for new blood at movie premiere," by Scott Kraus, Morning Call 7/06/10) [blogger's note: I saw this movie -- put me on Team That Pattinson Boy Needs to Comb His Hair]

This past Saturday OFA held over 30 events across the state to register and re-connect with voters.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

According to "Roads to ruin: towns rip up the pavement," by Lauren Etter in the Saturday / Sunday Wall Street Journal (7/17-7/18) Pennsylvania is one of the states ripping up the pavement on some country and little used roads and turning them back into gravel roads. This is primarily a cost cutting measure as paved roads cost more to maintain than gravel. In the long run, though, it may not be a good move.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Statements on Financial Regulatory Reform

An assortment of items from the inbox on the passage of financial regulatory reform:

Pres. Obama:

Good afternoon, everybody. With today’s vote in the Senate, the United States Congress has now passed a Wall Street reform bill that will bring greater economic security to families and businesses across the country.

It was clear from the moment it began that this recession was not the result of your typical economic downturn. It was the result of recklessness and irresponsibility in certain corners of Wall Street that infected the entire economy –- irresponsibility that cost millions of Americans their jobs, and millions more their hard-earned savings. It’s why businesses cannot get credit and why families haven’t been able to see appreciation in their home values -- in fact, the values of their homes have plummeted.

Even before the financial crisis that led to this recession, I spoke on Wall Street about the need for common-sense reforms to protect consumers and our economy as a whole. But the crisis came, and only underscored the need for the kind of reform the Senate passed today -- reform that will protect consumers when they take out a mortgage or sign up for a credit card; reform that will prevent the kind of shadowy deals that led to this crisis; reform that would never again put taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes.

The reform that Congress passed today will accomplish these goals. It is a bill that was made possible first and foremost by the tireless efforts of Chairman Chris Dodd and Congressman and Chairman Barney Frank, as well as the leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I am extraordinarily grateful for their determination in the face of a massive lobbying effort from the financial industry, and I’m also grateful for all of the members of Congress who stood on the side of reform -- including three Republican senators who put politics and partisanship aside today to vote for this bill.

The financial industry is central to our nation’s ability to grow, to prosper, to compete and to innovate. This reform will foster that innovation, not hamper it. It’s designed to make sure that everyone follows the same set of rules, so that firms compete on price and quality, not on tricks and traps. It demands accountability and responsibility from everybody. It provides certainty to everyone from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers. And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you have nothing to fear from this reform.

For all those Americans who are wondering what Wall Street reform means for you, here’s what you should expect. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print. It’s a big step for most families, and one that’s often filled with unnecessary confusion and apprehension. As a result, many Americans are simply duped into hidden fees and loans they just can’t afford by companies who know exactly what they’re doing.

Those days will soon end. From now on, every American will be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make financial decisions that are best for you. This bill will crack down on abusive practices and unscrupulous mortgage lenders. It will reinforce the new credit card law we passed banning unfair rate hikes, and ensure that folks aren’t unwittingly caught by overdraft fees when they sign up for a checking account. It will give students who take out college loans clear information and make sure lenders don’t cheat the system. And it will ensure that every American receives a free credit score if they are denied a loan or insurance because of that score. All told, this reform puts in place the strongest consumer financial protections in history, and it creates a new consumer watchdog to enforce those protections.

Because of this reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts -- period. If a large financial institution should ever fail, this reform gives us the ability to wind it down without endangering the broader economy. And there will be new rules to end the perception that any firm is “too big to fail,” so that we don’t have another Lehman Brothers or AIG.

Because of reform, the kind of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this financial crisis will finally be brought into the light of day. And from now on, shareholders and other executives can know that shareholders will have greater say on the pay of CEOs, so that they can reward success instead of failure, and help change the perverse incentives that encouraged so much reckless risk-taking in the past.

In short, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street -- to families who are looking to buy their first home or send their kids to college; to taxpayers who shouldn’t have to pay for somebody else’s mistakes or irresponsibility; to small businesses, community banks and credit unions who play by the rules; to shareholders and investors who want to see their companies grow and thrive.

Now, already, the Republican leader in the House has called for repeal of this reform. I would suggest that America can’t afford to go backwards, and I think that’s how most Americans feel as well. We can’t afford another financial crisis just as we’re digging out from the last one.

I said when I took office we can’t simply rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand -- on maxed-out credit cards, houses used like ATM machines, or overleveraged firms on Wall Street. We need to rebuild on a firmer, stronger foundation for economic growth. That’s why we invested in renewable energy that’s currently creating new jobs all across America. That’s why we’re reforming our education system so that our workers can compete in the global economy. That’s why we passed health reform that will lower costs for families and businesses. And that’s why I’m about to sign Wall Street reform into law -- to protect consumers and lay the foundation for a stronger and safer financial system -- one that is innovative, creative, competitive, and far less prone to panic and collapse. Along with the steps we’re taking to spur innovation, encourage hiring and rein in our deficits, this is how we’re ultimately going to build an economy that is stronger and more prosperous than it was before, and one that provides opportunity for all Americans.

Thanks very much.

Rep. Patrick Murphy:
Yesterday, Congress sent to the President’s desk the most significant reforms to Wall Street since the Great Depression. Patrick Murphy proudly voted for the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which reins in Big Banks and their outrageous bonuses, puts an end to taxpayer-funded bailouts, and protects and empowers consumers to make the best decisions on homes, credit cards, and their own financial future.

“American families have been put through the wringer,” Murphy said. “Years without accountability for Wall Street cost us 8 million jobs. Families have seen their 401(k)s and college savings accounts devastated. As we rebuild our economy, we must put in place commonsense rules to ensure that Big Banks can never again play Russian Roulette with our futures.”

While in office, Congressman Fitzpatrick served on the Financial Services Committee – the very committee expected to regulate and oversee the financial industry. Yet he turned a blind eye while Big Banks gambled recklessly with Americans' savings and drove the economy into a ditch. He failed Bucks County families, preferring instead to do the bidding of the Wall Street buddies who bankrolled his last campaign.

Under Congressman Fitzpatrick’s watch, Wall Street ran wild. The Securities and Exchange Commission was gutted, deprived of the resources needed to investigate abuses on Wall Street. And American middle class families were left holding the bag. Even now his Republican leadership is calling for repeal of these vital protections that have been put in place to ensure that a meltdown like this doesn’t happen again.

Rep. Joe Sestak:
U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak today praised the Senate's passage of the Financial Regulatory Reform bill, which will put in place critical reforms to protect consumers and small businesses across Pennsylvania. This is an important step that will help our nation avoid more reckless practices like the ones that led to the current financial meltdown.

"This has been a once-in-a-generation showdown between the American people and the most powerful institutions in the country: big banks, high-paid corporate lobbying firms, and Wall Street," said Joe. "It is a victory for working families over powerful Wall Street special interests. This bill puts in place critical reforms to protect consumers and small businesses across Pennsylvania."

The current financial crisis was created by the escalating greed and recklessness that permeated Wall Street in recent years. As a result of that recklessness, the average American household has lost $100,000 in wealth, eight million Americans have lost their jobs, and trillions of dollars in hardworking Americans' savings have disappeared. This bill provides the strongest defense yet against a similar crisis, yet Congressman Toomey remains steadfast against this bill to the peril of millions of working families still recovering.

"Its unfortunate that Congressman Toomey and his colleagues would rather stand with Wall Street over working families," said Joe. "His opposition to these commonsense reforms underscores his allegiance to Wall Street's powerful interests and the same risky practices that led to our current economic debacle."

Congressman Toomey helped write the bill that repealed the Glass-Steagal Act, helping to usher in the era of too-big-to-fail banks that came crashing down in 2008. As president of the Wall Street special interest group Club for Growth, he defended the billions in taxpayer-funded bonuses paid out by AIG yet he voted against bonuses for our troops while he was in Congress. And despite the painful job losses and weak business environment caused by the Wall Street recession, he still stubbornly sticks to his failed ideology of deregulation above all else.

The new financial reform bill, which Congressman Toomey opposes, will protect taxpayers by:

* Ending taxpayer-funded bailouts and preventing the rise of "too-big-too-fail" banks and financial institutions;
* Creating a Financial Stability Oversight Council to identify and regulate existing large firms that could threaten the entire financial system upon their collapse;
* Regulating -- for the first time ever -- the "over-the-counter" derivatives marketplace;
* Directing the Comptroller General of the U.S. to perform an audit of all actions taken by the Federal Reserve during the current economic crisis; and
* Creating a Federal Insurance Office that will monitor all aspects of the insurance industry.

It will also improve consumer protection by:

* Creating a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: a new, independent department within the Federal Reserve devoted to protecting Americans from unfair and abusive financial products and services;
* Cracking down on predatory lending by forcing institutions to ensure that borrowers can repay the loans they are sold and outlawing many of the egregious lending practices that marked the subprime mortgage boom; and
* Imposing limits on the debit-card transaction fees that credit card companies charge merchants and retailers for using the system, the cost savings of which should benefit consumers.

And it will further protect investors by:

* Strengthening the SEC's enforcement powers so that it can better regulate the nation's securities markets with substantially increased investigative capabilities;
* Reforming credit rating agencies to address the role they played in the economic crisis; and
* Giving shareholders a say on pay for executives, and enabling regulators to ban inappropriate or risky compensation practices, while requiring financial firms to disclose compensation structures that include incentive-based elements.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski:
Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11), Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, applauded the Senate’s passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Chairman Kanjorski participated as one of the few negotiators to resolve the differences between the original House and Senate versions of this legislation. The Senate approved the final agreement on this historic bill by a vote of 60-39, clearing the bill for the President’s signature.

“Today, I am very pleased that the Senate followed the House in voting in favor of passing and implementing the most sweeping financial regulatory reforms since the Great Depression,” said Chairman Kanjorski. “This is an enormous achievement for the American people. I, and many other Members of Congress, have been working on this legislation for over two years now. Now is the time for action to rein in Wall Street. This bill ensures that American families and small businesses will be better protected in the future from the wizards of Wall Street, and it takes strong steps to protect our economy from Wall Street’s casino culture.”

Chairman Kanjorski added, “The Kanjorski amendment, which aims to end the era of ‘too big to fail’ and prevent future bailouts, is one of the strongest provisions to hold Wall Street back from harming our economy in the future. MIT Economics Professor Simon Johnson has called the Kanjorski amendment a powerful tool for reining in Wall Street. Many Wall Street lobbyists have also viewed the Kanjorski amendment as one of the biggest threats to their profitability. We fought back and won. By passing the Kanjorski amendment, Congress has sided with the American people, not Wall Street’s titans. We will no longer allow financial firms to become so big, interconnected, concentrated, or risky that their failure could threaten the stability of the American economy or rock the credit of small businesses and Americans’ retirement nest eggs.”

“During the past two years, too many Americans have faced serious financial problems as a result of the economic crisis,” concluded Chairman Kanjorski. “In sum, this bill contains sweeping authority to help avoid future taxpayer-funded bailouts, prevent financial companies from threatening the stability of our economy, and protect the American public from once again experiencing such tremendous financial turmoil. I am therefore heartened that the Senate followed the House in passing this thoughtful, transparent, comprehensive, and sweeping financial reform package. We will all be better off because of this legislation. I look forward to watching the President sign it into law.”

Click here to view an op-ed published yesterday by Simon Johnson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. The op-ed explains how the Kanjorski amendment relates to anti-trust laws where the power of firms can be constrained.

Click here to view an article from the New York Times which states that former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr., believes that the creation of the systemic risk council is “perhaps the most important aspect of the bill and crucial to preventing the next crisis.” The article explains that the council has “the power to shut firms down or change practices that might put the system at risk,” referring to the Kanjorski amendment.

In addition to shepherding the Kanjorski “too big to fail” amendment through the legislative process, Chairman Kanjorski played a pivotal role in drafting many of the bill’s reforms, including provisions to better protect investors and enhance the powers of securities regulators, register and regulate hedge fund managers, reform the operations and regulation of credit rating agencies, create a Federal office focused on insurance matters, improve mortgage servicing and appraisal rules, and create a national program based on Pennsylvania’s successful experiences in providing bridge loans to help temporarily unemployed workers keep their homes.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (from June 30th):
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz voted in support of legislation today to provide stronger consumer protections for American families and small businesses and prevent the types of abuses that led to the economic crisis. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act includes common sense reforms to protect consumers from predatory lending abuses and misleading tactics, and ensures strong supervision and regulation of the business practices of our financial institutions.

“Working families in Pennsylvania have lost their homes, their jobs and their retirement savings as a result of the financial collapse,” Schwartz said. “This legislation helps move our country back on stable ground – protecting family’s retirement funds, homes and college savings and securing business’s financial futures. With this bill, we are empowering consumers and ensuring taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes.”

Years without accountability and oversight of Wall Street and big banks under President Bush and Congressional Republicans led to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression—and American families and small businesses paid the price. We lost eight million jobs and $17 trillion in retirement savings and Americans’ net worth.

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will:

* Rein in egregious executive compensation and retirement plans;
* Put an end to taxpayer funded bailouts and the idea of too big to fail;
* Create a consumer financial protection agency to protect families and small businesses by ensuring that bank loans, mortgages and credit cards are fair, affordable, understandable and transparent;
* Bring transparency and accountability to our financial system;
* End abusive predatory lending practices;
* Create new protections for grocers, retailers and other small businesses