Sunday, May 19, 2013

Who Does Wall Street Own In Congress?


The Grayson Takano No Cuts letter is the gold standard

The House doesn't usually stay in sessions Fridays, let alone take serious votes, but this past Friday, as we mentioned yesterday, Boehner and Cantor kept the Members in town to repay a promise they had made to their Wall Street masters to further weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. A bill Wall Street lobbyists wrote with one of their most pathetic congressional shills, Scott Garrett (R-NJ)-- and co-sponsored by 23 other bankster asswipes (20 of them members of the House Financial Services Committee who brazenly take large legalistic bribes from Wall Street firms they're supposed to oversee on behalf of the American people) came up for a vote. The bill to weaken Dodd-Frank passed 235-161.

Here's a list of the House Financial Services Committee members who co-sponsored the bill (+ Boehner and Cantor) with the bribes they took from Wall Street banksters last cycle, strongly pointing to an illegal quid pro quo:
John Boehner (R-OH)- $1,415,075
Eric Cantor (R-VA)- $902,400
Scott Garrett (R-NJ)- $537,020
Michele Bachmann (R-MN)- $79,024
Spencer Bachus (R-AL)- $286,677
Andy Barr (R-KY)- 0
John Campbell (R-CA)- $79,750
Tom Cotton (R-AR)- 0
Stephen Fincher (R-TN)- $55,650
Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm (R-Mafia)- $209,732
Bill Huizenga (R-MI)- $51,800
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)- $136,500
Robert Hurt (R-VA)- $127,000
Peter King (R-NY)- $128,950
Patrick McHenry (R-NC)- $80,000
Gary Miller (R-CA)- $32,750
Mick Mulvaney (R-SC)- $500
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)- $125,500
Stevan Pearce (R-NM)- $19,950
Robert Pittenger (R-NC)- 0
Dennis Ross (R-FL)- $18,200
Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)- $15,250
Ann Wagner (R-MO)- 0
Don't worry about the 4 Republicans with zero dollars from Wall Street. They're freshmen and weren't doing errands for the banksters in 2012, the way they are now. Next year, each will get thousands of dollars from Wall Street. As economist Dean Baker explained last week in Cutting Social Security and Not Taxing Wall Street, "Wall Street bankers have a lot more political power than old and disabled people who depend on Social Security." Like many of us, Baker is frustrated that Obama isn't fighting the Wall Street/GOP approach... and perhaps even embracing it.
As we move toward the fifth anniversary of the great financial crisis of 2008, people should be outraged that cutting Social Security is now on the national agenda, while taxing Wall Street is not. After all, if we take at face value the claims made back in 2008 by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, Wall Street excesses brought the economy to the brink of collapse.

But now the Wall Street behemoths are bigger than ever and President Obama is looking to cut the Social Security benefits of retirees. That will teach the Wall Street boys to be more responsible in the future.

Most people are now familiar with President's Obama's proposal to cut Social Security by reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). While the final formula is somewhat convoluted, the net effect is to reduce benefits by an average of roughly 3.0 percent.

Since Social Security benefits account for more than 70 percent of the income of a typical retiree, this cut is more than a 2.0 percent reduction in income. By comparison, a wealthy couple earning $500,000 a year would see a hit to their after-tax income of just 0.6 percent from the tax increase that President Obama put in place last year.

While President Obama is willing to make seniors pay a price for the economic crisis, his administration is unwilling to impose any burdens on Wall Street. Specifically, it has consistently opposed a Wall Street speculation tax: effectively a sales tax on trades of stock and derivatives. The Obama administration has even used its power to try to block efforts by European countries to impose their own taxes on financial speculation.

If the idea of taxing stock trades sounds strange, it shouldn't. The United States used to impose a tax of 0.04 percent until Wall Street lobbied to eliminate it in the mid-1960s. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, China, and India already impose taxes on stock trades.

The tax in the UK is 0.5 percent on stock trades (0.25 percent for both the buyer and the seller). It dates back more than three centuries. The country raises more than 0.2 percent of GDP ($32 billion in the United States) from the tax each year. The tax has not prevented the London stock exchange from being one of the largest in the world.

There are currently two bills in Congress for a similar tax in the United States. A bill by Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison would impose the same tax as the UK on stock trades and would apply a scaled rate to options, futures, credit default swaps and other derivative instruments. It could raise more than $150 billion annually or more than $2 trillion over the ten year budget window.

A second bill has been put forward by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio. This bill would apply a 0.03 percent tax to trades of stock and a wide range of other financial assets. According to the Joint Tax Committee, the bill would raise close to $40 billion a year or over $400 billion over a ten-year budget window once it is implemented.

Unfortunately the administration has consistently opposed both bills. It claims that it is concerned about the incidence of these taxes-- that ordinary investors would see large burdens from the tax. It also claims to be worried that the taxes will disrupt financial markets by making trading more costly.

Neither of these stories passes the laugh test. Ordinary investors don't trade much, and therefore are not going to feel much impact from the tax. If someone with $100,000 in a 401(k) (this is much larger than the typical 401(k)) turns it over at the rate of 50 percent annually, they would pay $15.00 each year as a result of the Harkin-DeFazio tax.

Furthermore research shows that investors reduce their trading as costs increase. This means that if the tax increases trading costs by 20 percent, then investors will reduce their trading by roughly the same amount (in this example, turnover would fall to 40 percent annually). That means that the net cost of turnover in a 401(k) will barely change for a typical investor as a result of the tax. Wall Street would just see much less business.

So the Obama administration wants us to believe that it is willing to cut the Social Security benefits of retiree living on $15,000 a year in Social Security by $450 but it opposes a Wall Street speculation tax because it is concerned that investors with $100,000 in a 401(k) may pay a few dollars a year in additional trading costs. Only a reporter with the Washington Post would believe a story like that.

The other part of the Obama administration's story is equally laughable. The cost of financial transactions has plummeted in the last four decades because of computers. Even the Ellison tax rate would just raise costs back to their mid-'80s level. The Harkin-DeFazio tax rate would probably still leave costs lower than they were in 2000.

The country certainly had a vibrant capital market and stock exchange in the 1980s, taking costs part of the way back to this level will not prevent Wall Street from serving its proper role of transferring capital from savers to borrowers. It will just clamp down on speculation.

The basic story is very simple. Wall Street bankers have a lot more political power than old and disabled people who depend on Social Security. That is why President Obama is working to protect the former and cut benefits for the latter.
David Cicilline, a co-signer of the Grayson Takano No Cuts letter to Obama, proposed a congressional resolution that isn't as strong and definitive, and (therefore) has attracted more support in the House:
Expressing the sense of the Congress that the Chained Consumer Price Index should not be used to calculate cost-of-living-adjustments for Social Security Benefits

Whereas the Social Security program was established more than 77 years ago and has provided economic security to generations of Americans through benefits earned based on contributions made over a worker's lifetime;

Whereas the Social Security program continues to provide modest benefits - averaging approximately $14,000 per year-- to more than 53,000,000 individuals, including 37,000,000 retired workers in February 2013;

Whereas the Social Security program has no borrowing authority, has accumulated assets of $2,700,000,000,000, and, therefore, does not contribute to the Federal budget deficit;

Whereas the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund projects that such Trust Fund an pay full benefits through 2032;

Whereas the Social Security program is designed to ensure that benefits keep pace with inflation through cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) that are based upon the measured changes in prices of goods and services purchased by consumers, currently the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics;

Whereas the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a supplemental measure of inflation, the Chained Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U), or "Chained CPI," which adjusts for projected changes in consumer behavior resulting from price fluctuations known as the "substitution effect," which occurs when consumers buy more goods and services whose prices are rising slower than average and less of those rising faster than average;

Whereas studies indicate typical Social Security beneficiaries spend significantly greater shares of their budget than consumers generally on health care, prices for which have increased at higher than average rates, and health care may not easily be substituted by consumers such as seniors;

Whereas the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would reduce Social Security benefits by .25 percent per year as compared to current policy, resulting in a reduction in outlays of $112,000,000,000 over the first decade;

Whereas reductions in Social Security benefits from using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would continue to compound over time, and the AARP Public Policy Institute estimates that such reductions would grow to 3 percent after 10 years and 8.5 percent after 30 years;

Whereas Social Security Works estimates that using the Chained CPI to calculate Social Security COLAs would reduce annual Social Security benefits of the average earner - who is making $43,518-- by $658 at age 75, $1,147 at age 85, and $1,622 at age 95; and

Whereas reductions in Social Security benefits would harm some of our most vulnerable populations: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that the Chained Consumer Price Index should not be used to calculate cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits.
So far over 90 Democrats have signed on, spanning the ideological divide inside the congressional caucus from extreme right-wingers like Ron Barber (AZ) and Kirkpatrick (AZ), who are always looking for opportunities to tell their constituents they're against Obama, to normal liberal Democrats like Jan Schakowsky (IL), Judy Chu (CA) and Donna Edwards (MD) who prefer to support Obama. Here's the list of Democrats urging Obama to untangle himself from another Republican assault on American working families:
Ron Barber (New Dem-AZ)
Karen Bass (D-CA)
Joyce Beatty (D-OH)
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Robert Brady (D-PA)
Bruce Braley (D-IA)
Corrine Brown (D-FL)
Cheri Bustos (D-IL)
Tony Cardenas (D-CA)
Matt Cartwright (D-PA)
Judy Chu (D-CA)
Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
Lacy Clay (D-MO)
John Conyers (D-MI)
Joe Courtney (New Dem-CT)
Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
Danny Davis (D-IL)
Pete DeFazio (D-OR)
Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Ted Deutch (D-FL)
Mike Doyle (D-PA)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Bill Enyart (D-IL)
Lois Frankel (D-FL)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
John Garamendi (D-CA)
Alan Grayson (D-FL)
Gene Green (D-TX)
Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
Janice Hahn (D-CA)
Colleen Hanabusa (New Dem-HI)
Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Brian Higgins (D-NY)
Rush Holt (New Dem-NJ)
Mike Honda (D-CA)
Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Shiela Jackson Lee (D-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Bill Keating (D-MA)
Dan Kildee (D-MI)
Ann Kirpatrick (AZ)
Jim Langevin (D-RI)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
John Lewis (D-GA)
Dave Loebsack (D-IA)
Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
Stephen Lynch (D-MA)
Dan Maffei (New Dem-NY)
Ed Markey (D-MA) Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Jim McDermott (D-WA)
Jim McGovern (D-MA)
Mike Michaud (Blue Dog-ME)
Gwen Moore (D-WI)
Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
Richard Nolan (D-MN)
Ed Pastor (D-AZ)
Donald Payne (D-NJ)
Gary Peters (New Dem-MI)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Charlie Rangel (D-NY)
Nick Rahall (D-WV)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
Bobby Rush (D-IL)
Tim Ryan (D-OH)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Bobby Scott (D-VA)
José Serrano (D-NY)
Carol Shea Porter (D-NH)
Albio Sires (D-NJ)
Jackie Speier (D-CA)
Mark Takano (D-CA)
BennieThompson (D-MS)
Dina Titus (D-NV)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Juan Vargas (New Dem-CA)
Mark Veasey (D-TX)
Filemon Vela (New Dem-TX)
Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)
Maxine Waters (D-CA)
Peter Welch (D-VT)
Frederica Wilson (D-FL)

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