Spotlight on DC: Debt brinkmanship, consumer cop, birth control and hackers

Published on

10 Days to Default? Washington has been consumed by debt negotiations that escalated again last night when House Speaker Boehner walked out of discussions with the President. The two-fold debate is one half inconceivable — will House Republicans cling so stubbornly to their anti-tax rhetoric they they remain willfully blind to the consequences of blocking an increase to the amount of money the country can borrow and push the government into default and fiscal crisis? Most assume they will reach an agreement because they must.

The second part of the deal, that Boehner bailed on last night, was supposed to be a 'grand bargain' to lower the nation's deficit with a mix of tax reform and spending cuts. President Obama complained that he'd given away so much in the negotiations that the GOP was punching a gift horse in the mouth by walking away. Although details are scarce, reports are that the president had agreed to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending by $650 billion. President Obama was right when he scolded the GOP, saying the public is tired of partisan bickering and deadlock, and wants politicians to get something done in Washington. But the real question in this standoff has always been if any deficit deal would fall on the shoulders of the country's most vulnerable, or make big corporations and the nation's wealthiest also bear their fair share. Working families should breathe a sigh of relief that the President was stopped from making a deal that was weighted heavily towards the side side that wants to destroy the social safety net.

Still, a lot more than debt brinkmanship was going on in Washington DC this week.

Elizabeth Warren will (NOT) be the nation’s first consumer financial cop.  The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Wall Street reform law last year to put a stop to predatory lending and make banks treat consumers fairly, opened its doors on Thursday. One of its first acts was to launch a new complaint system where consumers can report if they’ve been ripped off, tricked or harmed by their credit card company.

What the consumer bureau is missing is a director. President Obama’s failure to appoint a director last year, when he asked Warren to set up the agency but not run it, has proven to be a costly misstep. 44 GOP Senators have since declared they won’t confirm anyone for the post, unless the president agrees to drastically weaken the bureau’s ability to protect consumers. House GOP underscored their antagonism by approving a bill, on the same day the bureau launched, that would subject its decisions to an unprecedented veto by other banking regulators and take a hatchet to its structure to undermine its authority. 

On Monday the president passed Warren over for the director job again, nominating instead former Ohio Attorney General and current CFPB enforcement chief Richard Cordray. Seems Obama never really intended to nominate Warren — a sad example of his unwillingness to stand up to the Wall Street titans whose greed drove the economy into the dirt.

Still, the agency will need a strong director.  Cordray will likely do a fine job. Since the GOP is intent on crippling consumer protection, President Obama will have to make a recess appointment to make sure the bureau (which doesn't get its full powers until a director is confirmed) can act to prevent the kind of risky and predatory lending that brought on the last crisis.

Free birth control thanks to health reform. We’re almost there. The health reform law requires preventive medicine to be covered by health insurance companies with no up-front cost for patients. The Institute of Medicine issued a report this week that says birth control is a critical part of preventive health coverage for women, to prevent unwanted pregnancies for both family planning and health reasons, and should be one of the services covered with no out of pocket cost. HHS Secretary Sebelius has signaled her support.

Have you been hacked? Wouldn't you like to know.  Palm Springs Representative Mary Bono Mack chairs a key House subcommittee responsible for consumer privacy. It makes sense that a Californian hold the post, since the Golden State is a leader on privacy, and has one of the country’s strongest laws requiring companies to notify consumers if their personal information has been hacked. What doesn’t make sense is the Bono Mack bill that passed her subcommittee on Wednesday and would override California’s strong privacy protections with much weaker rules. The bill limits when companies must tell consumers their information was stolen. (California is not the only state with a stronger data breach law that this bill would negate.) Although it is very unlikely the Senate will embrace the bill, it is yet another a troubling indicator that the GOP is unwilling to break with the companies lobbying to block stronger privacy laws in order to deal with the other side of the aisle, even on an issue that is traditionally bipartisan.

And the most explosive news story not out of DC last week: The Center for Media and Democracy joined The Nation to release leaked documents that draw back the curtain on the shadowy rooms where corporations write legislation as they see fit, and politicians take it and turn it into law. The corporate front group ALEC is a legislative sausage factory, drafting bills at the behest of corporate interests, then handing them over to politicians who shill their agenda in state legislatures across the country.

An excerpt below, with the complete whistleblower expose at the Center for Media and Democracy website.

In April 2011, some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. met behind closed doors in Cincinnati about their wish lists for changing state laws.  This exchange was part of a series of corporate meetings nurtured and fueled by the Koch Industries family fortune and other corporate funding.

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs — all Republican state legislators — to approve "model" legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at  ALEC Exposed.

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases