02-19-2017  8:29 am      •     
McMenamins

(NNPA) - As the U. S. Senate prepares for a pivotal vote on America's financial future, the emerging scenario is reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath, where a young lad's slingshot felled an enormous giant. A critical U.S. Senate floor vote on financial reform known as Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 is expected to be one of the first votes taken after lawmakers return from the current spring recess. For millions of Americans, its passage could be the slingshot that aims at correcting the neglectful oversight and abusive financial practices that together have created the current crisis.
When average citizens wonder why Capitol Hill does not seem to understand the plight of families struggling with record high unemployment, more foreclosures, and a steep rise in personal bankruptcies, a review of the funds being spread over our nation's seat of government begin to explain why things are happening as they are.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the $3.9 billion that financial interests have spent to influence Washington policy over the last decade represents more lobbying money than from any other industry. In 2009 alone, $465 million spent by the financial industry on lobbying Washington, translates into expenditures of $1.4 million a day and includes 1,726 registered federal lobbyists paid to woo 100 U.S. Senators and 455 Members of Congress.
Moreover, many former members of Congress and their former staffs are now employed by the financial services industry. Included among these prominent former elected leaders are Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House of Representatives; Trent Lott, former Senate Majority Leader; Dick Gephardt and Dick Armey, both former House Majority Leaders.
The tremendous investment meant to preserve the financial status quo and block changes that could prevent another financial crisis are not intended to serve the public's interests; but rather to preserve and increase the industry's considerable profits.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending's most recent research:
Since 2007, 6.6 million foreclosures have been initiated nationwide; without financial reform, the number of foreclosures will total as many as 12 million over the next five years;
In 2009, families living near foreclosures lost $502 billion in property values;
Each year, payday loans strip nearly $ 3.5 billion from working families in fees for churned loans; and
While at least two nationally-chartered banks have begun offering payday loans, their regulator, the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) has condoned that development which brings triple-digit interest rates.
Late last year, the House of Representatives passed its own version of financial reform. Since that time, Senate action has been delayed for months by the lack of bi-partisan support in the Senate Banking Committee of a version offered by its chair, Sen. Chris Dodd. However just before the spring recess, the Senate version passed out of committee on a party-line vote.
Fortunately for consumers, one member of Congress has offered firm and public support for real financial reform. In a recent guest column for The Hill, a widely-read publication for Washington insiders, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), wrote in part, "The greed and excess displayed on Wall Street for too long will only be reined in with effective government regulation."
Continuing she added, "Currently at least seven federal agencies share oversight of the financial system, but consumer protection is not the priority for any of them, and we have seen the results of their neglect: consumers have been taken advantage of and led to financial ruin."
Now while Senators are back home working in their district offices and meeting with constituents, it is a timely opportunity to strongly urge their respective support of the proposed Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) with no weakening amendments to diminish the bureau's effectiveness.
The proposed CFPB would provide for the first time in our nation's history a single agency whose sole mission is to protect the financial interests of consumers. From mortgages, to credit cards, auto and payday lending, the current maze of bureaucracy would be streamlined into a single office. CFPB would also function independently and be empowered with the authority to write and enforce rules.
An abundance of phone calls, visits, letters and e-mail to Senators could mean the difference between pro-consumer reform or more of the well-heeled influence of Washington lobbyists and corporate interests.
Financial reform and the CFPB are the weapon – the slingshot, if you will – that we need to slay abusive and predatory financial practices. Our collective voices are the vehicle that can help it reach the mark.
Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending's Communications Manager for State Policy and Outreach. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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