Weekly Wrap-Up & the Final Four

Caryn Freeman 4:37PM EST
We’ve all made it to Friday and I’m sure you have piquant plans for the weekend ahead. Even though the drama of the White House debt ceiling talks dominated the main stream media just a few blocks away folks on the Hill helped members of Congress with more workable solutions to a few other legislative needs. Let’s wrap up the week on a high note and talk about what Congress actually did accomplish.

Monday: The Judiciary and Ways and Means committees met to discuss the role of administrative law judges, the impact their decisions have on the claimant and the taxpayer. Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) explained to the committee and witnesses that, “No one should have to wait months or even years for their hearing decision….that’s plain wrong,” he said. The committee did make some headway in addressing the inefficiencies within the system, the burden on tax payers and the individual applying for aid.

Tuesday: The role of U.S. aid to Palestine in promoting peace in the Mid-East region and how this investment serves U.S security interests was tackled by the committee on Foreign Affairs. All sides agreed that building a “Palestinian government and a viable Palestinian economy serve these interests and are essential for peace.

Rep. Connolly (D-VA) asked witnesses for more information on the amount of aid going to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a potentially Hamas-led government. For the record, USAID works with the government in the West Bank, but in Gaza programs are run through international nongovernmental organizations.

Also on Tuesday NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke about human space flight. Bolden pledged that the U.S. would not lose its standing and described how deep space travel was the new frontier in the space program as well as planned mission to an asteroid in 2025 using the MPCV (multi-purpose crew vehicle).
The highlight of my week came Wednesday when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) served Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with best verbal smack down delivered by a member Congress this week, when she asked Bernanke to explain how hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars designated for TAFT in the 2008 bailout ended up in the hands of two women who ran a small debt purchasing company with only fifteen million in debt backed assets but received two-hundred million dollars of tax payer money. The Fed Chair could only respond by saying that “the program was available to any American company,” but gave no answer to how this actually occurred.

Later that day, Republicans called off a congressional hearing on “What Went Wrong at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.” Democrats asserted that Republicans didn’t like what they found in the investigation. Wednesday, Commissioner Peter Wallison who is also  an Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute called the financial panel a “fiasco” and said that the commission had been wrong to ignore the work of his colleague at the Enterprise Institute on housing policy.
Thursday: The House Energy and Commerce Committees hearing on Internet privacy gave no indication of where Congress stands, how or if they plan to move forward with legislation. Republicans were concerned legislation might impede innovation. “At this point, it is not clear what legislation, if any, is necessary, but the hope is that this hearing will shed additional light on that question,” said Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, (R-OR). Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton added that there was a “need to hear from everyone with a stake in Internet privacy before we contemplate legislating."

The Committee on Government Oversight and Reform addressed Consumer protections with testimony from Elizabeth Warren. Mrs. Warren, Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau told Congress in her opening statement that the Bureau is “working nonstop to build an effective operation, with the goal of making consumer financial markets work better for consumers and better for financial services providers alike.” Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been an outspoken critic of Consumer Protection Bureau for months now voiced concerned on how, “the regulatory authority granted to the CFPB will protect consumers, guard against rate and fee spikes, and promote private sector job growth.”  Issa was clearly on message.

TGIF & The Final Four:  Offshore Energy: Interior Department's Plans for Offshore Energy, Revenue, and Safety Reorganization, a Legislative Hearing on H.R. 2433, H.R. 1941 and H.R. 169,  Homeland Security Contracting: Does the Department , Effectively Leverage Emerging Technologies? Finally there will be a hearing on the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.

Congratulations on making it through the week. Thanks for reading Quorum Call. I hope you all enjoyed my initiation to Cloture Club. Please come back to for regular updates and analysis of what’s happening @ the hearings.


Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke Tells Congress Credit Default Could be Disastrous for U.S.

Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spent almost three hours on Capitol Hill today taking questions from the House Financial Services committee. Republicans took aim at the cost of entitlement programs and hammered the Chairman on what would actually create jobs. "At what point is there going to be political courage if we can’t to do it today" Rep. Sean Duffy (R- WI) asked. "Do you think we can help our job seekers by taxing our job creators?" Bernanke told Duffy "it depends on how you do it"
The Chairman did make it clear that if debt ceiling negotiations continued to stall that "defaulting would create tremendous uncertainty in U.S.," and that "defaulting would set back job creation significantly" He also reminded congress that it had only been a few years since the financial crisis. That financial institutions and markets were not able to forecast how long the recovery will last and what the long term impact this short period of recovery will have on the economy. "We don't want to hamstring the financial system," Bernanke said.

Republicans asked the Fed Chair to explain what impact raising taxes could have on economic recovery. Bernanke suggested that it might be wise to "maintain and lower marginal taxes and eliminate tax breaks that may be spending in disguise." The Fed Chair also reassured Congress that quantitative easing or QE2 did not cost the government anything but that he is "very much in favor of a reduction in our fiscal deficit." and that if the balance budget amendment could be done, "it must have some flexibility." He also explained to Congress that "not raising debt limit is like going on a spending spree and not paying the bill."

Maxine Waters (D-CA) used her five minutes to close the hearing with questions on the TAFT program. The Congresswoman launched tough question at the Chairman regarding a two-hundred twenty million dollar payout to two women, one of whom is the wife of a JP Morgan Chase executive who had only a fifteen million dollar investment in buying up security backed debt, like student loans for example. These two women, according to the Congressman had no business experience but did have connections to capitalize on programs like TAFT. The Congresswoman told the committee that she'd had many meetings the Fed Chair and minority business owners in an effort to build relationships between the Fed and minority businesses. None of these businesses received funds form TAFT. "How many African American and minority businesses did you fund through the TAFT program? Bernanke told the Congresswoman that, "it is difficult to identify the race of shareholders," and "the program was available to any American company that qualified"

The Congresswoman also asked the chairman about a lawsuit filed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Virginia against Bank of America for 8.5 billion. The lawsuits will re-coup 8.5 billion only 5% of what the bank purchased in bad loans. The Chairman told the commit tie "we went after what we thought we could get and that the 8.5 billion was determined by the court"

The Dow Jones industrial was up 150 points at the close of the House Financial Services hearing that ended at12:30 PM EST. The gains prompted by testimony by the Chairman have been a result of the Fed Chairman's statement that he economy may need "additional policy support" to boost the economy to levels that would spur the type of growth that Americans need to see to start spending. Wall Street may have interpreted the Chairman's testimony as an indication that QE3 may be on the way. This likely spurred the 100 point plus gain.

Boehner to seek smaller $2 trillion deal



Get Ready for a Marathon Work Week



Life on the Hill will be quite busy for staffers & members of Congress this week. With over forty hearings and the seemingly endless debt ceiling negotiations Hill staffers will have their hands full. Plan on burning the midnight oil this week. On the House side the Judiciary, Way and Means, budget and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are all holding hearings on Medicare which has become the boomerang of the debt ceiling negotiations. In what could be a week full of opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to fill their campaign armory with political capital on Medicare. Say the wrong thing in any of these hearings and you could be the star of your opponents attack ad with twisted interpretations of your position on entitlement programs.
Monday, Congress will start addressing the role of social security law judges. The Judiciary and Ways and Means committees will hold simultaneous hearings on this. Looks like leadership wants to start the week off continuing to explore entitlements.
Tuesday, Congress will continue with debate and testimony on entitlements with two hearings on Medicare. The first will examine the Independent Payment Advisor Board. The second hearing aims to trigger a Medicare plan from the Administration. Also on Tuesday H.R. 463, Fannie and Freddie Transparency Act will attempt to ensure that there are no future reductions in dividend payments from Fannie & Freddie whom the mortgage company agreed to pay the U.S. for funds received from the TARP bailout.
In a strange paradox that only Congress could produce, Wednesday @ 9:30am Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on TARP will hold a hearing to discuss what went wrong with the TARP bail out. Thirty minutes later @ 10:00am Ben Berneke will be down the hall in Rayburn testifying on the Federal Reserve’s outlook on the looming Debt Crisis.

The week is full of hearings to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with our economy, figuring out where the jobs are and working on the debt ceiling. Another hearing on Wednesday will explore reducing regulatory burdens on business, ensuring the flow of commerce and protecting jobs.” If anyone were capable of “ensuring the flow of commerce in the U.S.,” Congress wouldn't have to hold multiple hearings on these topics. H.R. 527 Regulatory Flexibility and Improvements Act and H.R. 585 Small Business Size standard Flexibility Act of 2011 are also being marked up on Wednesday.
Thursday Congress will get around to the Fair Labor Standards Act: “Is it meeting the need of the Twenty-First century workplace?” Probably not, some parts of this hearing will likely rehash, some of Wednesday’s Transportation Committee hearing on reducing regulatory burdens, ensuring the flow of commerce and protecting jobs. FEMA will be on the Hill for a hearing with the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to discuss cutting the red tape within the agency

By the time Friday rolls around, and this could be the mother of all TGIF’s, the Department of Interior will reveal its plans to the Committee on Natural Resources regarding its tactics for off-shore energy, safety and most importantly revenue organization. A quick run-down of what Congress and staffers are facing this week, in addition to the ticking time bomb of the debt ceiling; Medicare, Social Security, Freddie and Fannie, land trusts for native americans, maritime security, securing rural schools, pipeline safety, caregiver assistance, Nasa’s space launch system, USDA farm loan program, abandoned