Friday, April 17, 2020

Giving it Up

On Tuesday, Chris Hayes interviewed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and asked (at 4:05 of the video below)

Two more topics I just want to get to and I – and then I will let you go. But first on oversight, because it obviously is extremely important. $2.2 trillion pushed out the door, $500 billion Steve Mnuchin has tremendous discretion. The president immediately signing the legislation with a signing statement essentially X-ing out many of the oversight provisions you put in.

There`s one person appointed to that sort of oversight panel right now who was just profiled and doesn`t verified Twitter account. Do you and Congresshave the capacity to actually make sure this is not incompetently orcorruptly distributed?

The one word Speaker Pelosi does not use in her response is the one most relevant: "no." She maintains there will be a select committee and that it will have subpoena power. Until and unless it happens, that is in doubt. However, not within doubt is the likelihood that subpoenas will be ignored The Trump Administration has demonstrated how it is done, and the lack of repercussions. Most notably, Robert Mueller considered subpoenaing the President, decided Trump would fight it, and dropped the idea. 

Pelosi responded to Hayes

Well, we have to. In addition to the panel that you reference, and that would be in place, I have named a select committee on the corona –the challenge of the coronavirus. And my colleague, the Democratic whip Mr.Cochran (sic) is the chair of that. That is predicated on a committee called the Truman Committee that the then-Senator Truman instituted during World War II, at the start – at the very beginning of World War II.

He said at the time 116 investigative committees performed to investigate the defense spending on World War I. So he said, how much better it would be in World War II to have an investigative committee at the time.....

And so it would be to fight waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging, profiteering, and the rest. And that is what this committee is modeled off of that, and it will have investigative authority, subpoena power. And that

– I don`t know why Republicans take offense at it. Why wouldn`t they want to fight waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging, and profiteering off of the taxpayer dollar which is destined to fight the coronavirus as it attacks the lives, the livelihood of the American people?

But maybe the problem is not the old bromide "waste, fraud, and abuse."  In some cases, it may be simple greed, which was legal even before the Age of Trump, in which selfishness is condoned, approved, and respected. Greed was described on Wednesday when American Prospect editor David Dayen explained

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was told directly in a phone call on April 1 that the $1,200 CARES Act payments to individuals were not protected from private debt collection. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, informed Mnuchin that the payments could be garnished by private debt collectors, or used by banks to offset existing debts that an individual had with their financial institution.

The payments are going out this week, two weeks after Mnuchin was first informed about the issue. And under the CARES Act, the Treasury Department has the ability to write rules protecting that payment from being taken by financial actors. But Treasury has done nothing of the sort. On Tuesday the Prospect reported that a top Treasury official, on a webinar with bank compliance officers, gave them an effective green light to use the CARES Act payments to offset debts, saying twice that “There’s nothing in the law that precludes that action.” The official also addressed garnishment by private debt collectors, which can commandeer payments if they have a judicial order, saying, “We do understand that concerns have been raised about this legal requirement, but it is a legal requirement at this time,” failing to add that Treasury can suspend that legal requirement through regulatory action.

“On a call with Secretary Mnuchin on April 1, Senator Brown raised the garnishment issue to Secretary Mnuchin, who at the time was not aware of the issue,” according to a statement from Senator Brown’s office. Mnuchin negotiated the CARES Act directly, and it passed a week before Brown confronted him over the garnishment issue. So Mnuchin claimed in this phone call that, a week after crafting the legislation, he was unaware of how CARES Act payments, intended to provide food, medicine, and basic necessities to millions of Americans in an emergency, could instead pass into the hands of creditors.

Senator Brown’s office added: “Treasury has the power to fix this and they should.”

It should but it's not a foregone conclusion that it will. Dayen adds

After the April 1 phone call, Brown on two occasions urged Mnuchin to write regulations to flag the CARES Act payments and prevent financial actors from taking them. On April 3, he joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a letter. Then on April 9, he wrote a bipartisan letter with Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO).

In the parlance of Washington, if a member of Congress writes a letter to an executive branch official, it often means that they are trying to get public attention to an issue they have already raised privately. That appears to be the case here. We do not know what Mnuchin said in response to Senator Brown on that phone call, but his actions indicate that he did nothing. And the rapid deployment of a letter suggests that Mnuchin ignored Brown’s request in that moment, and Brown decided to go public to pressure the Treasury Department to act.

This is the guy, the Foreclosure King, to whom Mitch McConnell's Senate- and Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives- gave up to $4 trillion (with leveraging) to distribute with wide discretion.

Speaker Pelosi didn't have to do this. Back on March 19, when Democrats and most of the media were disregarding the "act in haste, repent at leisure" maxim, Michael Grunwald already recognized that

The lesson of the last congressional response to an economic emergency, President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, is that when a president desperately needs legislation to address a crisis, anyone with the power to stop him can decide what’s in it....

Right now, after initially downplaying the threat of coronavirus, then bungling the response to the pandemic, then watching the swift demise of the bull market he had hailed as proof of his leadership, Trump absolutely needs congressional action to limit the public health disaster and mitigate the economic damage on his watch...

House Democrats can pass whatever bill they want, and if Republicans aren’t willing to go along with it, another lesson of American crisis politics is that it’s Trump who will suffer the consequences.

By giving Trump the emergency measures that he needs most without insisting on the worker protections that Democrats wanted most, Pelosi has sacrificed some of that leverage. She has also helped the president look like a bipartisan consensus-builder, while essentially confirming the GOP talking point that Democrats have a responsibility to meet Trump’s demands in order to avoid a partisan stalemate. In 2009, Republicans simply ignored all the pundits warning that they would pay a huge political price for refusing to help the first black president fix an economic mess he had inherited—and the pundits turned out to be wrong.

Thus far, Nancy Pelosi has been rolled. The only question is whether she was fooled or intimidated, or instead got the result she wanted.

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