Washington Week

By: Elizabeth Letchworth | Posted: April 30, 2010 5:21 PM
Elizabeth Letchworth photo

This week the Senate spent most of its time deciding whether the financial reform bill was ready for prime time on the Senate floor. The Senate GOP made several demands for concessions to alter or drop some large provisions contained in the bill. After three failed procedural votes occurred, the Senate Democrats gave into enough changes to the GOP that by Thursday midday the GOP dropped their filibuster and the bill became pending business in the Senate.

One of the concessions to the GOP was what is called a "bailout relief fund." The bill language provided $50 billion to be placed in a fund by banks to insure bailouts would not occur again on the American taxpayers' dime. Many GOP Senators felt like it might be used to permit sloppy behavior from large financial institutions and thus they opposed its inclusion in the bill.

Once the bill finally became pending, Senate Majority Leader,Harry Reid (D-NV) offered the first amendment on behalf of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Senator Boxer is in a tough reelection race back in her home state of California, and needs the exposure.

Her amendment, which will remain pending over the weekend, says that the taxpayers will never again pay for the financial bailout in "too big to fail" scenarios. This sounds great, but there is a catch. The amendment says that a bailout fund will be created much like the FDIC where banks pay "dues" of sorts to this Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

However, this fund is created by "financial companies" which reaches into our small business community like never before. The amendment would require small hometown auto dealers, payday stores and the like to contribute into this fund very much like banks contribute to the FDIC. These "financial companies" will feel the touch of these new federal financial regulations like never before if the Boxer amendment becomes law.

This is only the beginning of the debate on this huge reform bill, but this approach is what many in the Senate GOP feared and is why so many were willing to stall the consideration of the bill earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, on the House side of the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives passed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act by a vote of 223 to 169 to 1.

Just so you have some historical background, Puerto Rico has been a Commonwealth since 1952 which means they are subject to our laws and they hold American citizenship. They can't vote in our presidential elections and have no representative in the U.S. Senate. Their representative in the U.S. House is limited.

The bill passed on Thursday in the U.S. House would allow the people of Puerto Rico to vote to choose either to keep their current status or change it. If they vote to change their status, their options are to be a free sovereign nation, separate from the U.S., or to become a state, equal to our other 50 states. If they choose to keep their current status, they have the option to revisit the question every 8 years.

The bill is now on its way to the U.S. Senate, where "Hill watchers" believe it will never see the light of day. Most believe the vote scheduled in the House was a political move to garner more friends in the Latino community.

Back to the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol ... Expect them to be debating this major financial reform bill for a couple of weeks to come. Stay tuned for an update as to what happened to the Boxer amendment and other amendments that will become pending in the coming week.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of GradeGov.com.




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