Thursday, April 29, 2010

Financial Reform 101: The Process

By: Jordan Young

Welcome to our third and final piece in the
Financial Reform 101 series. If you've actually taken the time to read the first two pieces (on the crisis and the Senate bills), you probably deserve some sort of medal as they were quite long. As a reward, I'm going to try to explain the process for passing financial regulatory reform legislation through Congress as concisely as possible.

To recap our progress so far, let's take a look at the work already completed in the House and in committee.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), chair of the House Committee on Financial Services passed a piece of legislation fairly similar to the Dodd bill on a party-line vote in December of last year. And as the political world focused its attention on the Senate's health care reform floor debate, the full House passed the Frank bill on December 11.

In the Senate, the two committees with jurisdiction, Chris Dodd's Banking Committee and Blanche Lincoln's Agriculture Committee, both passed their legislation earlier this year. Banking worked on their language for months, with Dodd splitting the committee members into bipartisan teams of two to tackle sections of the bill. At the end of the day, none of the committee's Republicans were willing to support the bill, but Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) emerged as point people who expressed willingness to continue to work toward a bipartisan deal. On March 22, Banking passed the Dodd bill without any Republican amendments being offered. Ag passed its derivatives regulations language just last week with a single Republican supporter, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

As of last night, the standoff between the parties has finally broken and the Senate unanimously agreed to begin debating the Dodd bill. 

So where do we go from here?

From this point, debate is likely to last about two weeks, followed by a final vote. While a full floor schedule hasn't been circulated yet, we do know that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to keep the amendment process open, which means anyone can offer amendments to the legislation. Unlike health care reform, where Republicans used the floor process largely to offer unrealistic and 'gotcha' amendments, financial regulatory reform seems far more likely to attract numerous GOP votes. 

Many of the Senators likely to support the final legislation, on both sides of the aisle, are legitimately desirous of an opportunity to amend the bill. In fact, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and six of the chamber's more liberal members have already expressed an intention to mount an aggressive offense to try to strengthen some of the bill's key provisions. Last night on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) committed to offering amendments addressing future bailouts and ratings agencies and revealed that Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) will offer amendments to audit the Federal Reserve and fully implement the Volcker Rule, respectively.

Once the Senate has finished debate, the bill will likely have to overcome another filibuster and will then see final passage. Once this has been accomplished, the House and Senate will convene a Conference Committee to iron out the differences between their respective bills. Rep. Frank had promised this exercise would be "spirited" at a time when many were unsure how strong the Senate's language would be. It now seems clearer that Senate Democrats are willing to play hardball to keep their bill strong, so Conference may be a smoother process than was originally assumed. 

The final combined legislation, known as the conference report, will be sent back to both houses for final passage and then submitted to President Obama for signature. At this point, it is entirely possible, though admittedly optimistic, that financial regulatory reform may be the law of the land sometime near the end of May.

There, that was relatively short and painless, right?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mother of Exiles

By: Jimi Jobin

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she ' With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

So reads the full inscription on our Statue of Liberty, which has waved its welcoming torch to countless immigrants for over 100 years. She declares that America is unique among the world's nations. That we eagerly greet those who are unwanted, homeless, and downtrodden. That we refuse the mentality of an ancient homeland where we belong and others do not. She declares that we, unlike other countries, see the value in a human being.

Recently Arizona's state legislature passed an immigration bill that rejects this noble past. Through the eyes of this new law police officers are required to pursue illegal immigrants as never before. To hunt them down at any cost, even racial discrimination and illegal profiling, whatever it takes to rid the state of their presence. Casting out the tired, poor, huddled masses of wretched refuse into the cold uncaring world, Arizona's new law shines a light on a national truth that has gone unaddressed for far too long: that we are no longer the Mother of Exiles as our statue commemorates. Her torch takes on new meaning, a warning. We should tear down our historic inscription and replace it instead with another: "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here".

Hell as it turns out is not so distant a destination in these times. In the Christian New Testament Jesus warns the world that failing to care for those in need was the same as failing to care for him personally, something that came with the most dire of costs. "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. For I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." In Jesus' teaching, a follower was duty bound to serve whoever was the "least" in a society, failing to do so was a damning gesture. 

While Hell may seem a heavy cost for the Christian who fails to "welcome the stranger", even the Jewish Old Testament warns the faithful of the folly when Moses' God tells the Hebrews "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt." It seems that welcoming a foreigner into one's midst and giving them a home is a consistent thread in the Holy Writ that claims to shape most American's morality. Yet these lessons are abandoned when we are presented the opportunity to put them into action. 

Pragmatically, logically, and politically it makes sense to push immigration reform. But Americans embrace another paradigm that is seldom focused on: virtue. It is virtuous to have compassion on the strangers in our land. It is noble to welcome the homeless and make room for our neighbors and fellow citizens of the world. And while most American's cannot internalize the calculus that proves immigration reform's value, they can empathize with the morality of never abandoning the lonely, or the desperate. 

This is why our iconic Statue of Liberty is emblazoned with poetry, sculpted in symbolism, and stands proudly as an emotional reminder to each generation. It does not summon our enlightened senses, but rather our hearts. We imagine how such an edifice must have greeted the oppressed, the hopeless, the bankrupt, as they drifted to this new land, desperate for a better life. Their tears streaming down dirty faces, as they read the words, and as they thanked God Almighty for such a place; a land where the poor and the broken are made whole, where the unskilled and ignorant are empowered, where the least of these is valued as if they were the very Son of God. 

Drawing on these reasons of the heart, and the conscious of our predominant faiths, we must call ourselves to return to this past. To welcome the sun worn face of the immigrant, to embrace his children into our schools and their illnesses in our hospitals, to invest in him dignity, wholeness, and value. Only then can we rightly claim the meaning of the Statue that was built to honor us, only then can we proclaim that we are a nation unlike any other, only then can we stare off into the distant twilight, a torch held high beckoning the hopeless to find strength, searching for those we might heal, that we might welcome, that we might restore. Only then can we become as we began, the Mother of Exiles.

Jimi Jobin is a spiritual wanderer and teaches Religion and Philosophy in a private school. He, his wife and son live in Las Vegas, Nevada.