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No matter how bad things seem to be, there are always ways for them to become worse. While the campaign against Medicare and Social Security is being couched in the sort of faux inevitability that has become familiar via European austerity measures, other pernicious lame duck session measures are moving forward in the hope no one will notice.
Dave Dayen wrote up a remarkably ugly one last Friday. Here we have just been through a wreck-the-economy level global crisis which was in large measure due to deregulation. The measure underway would not only weaken already pathetic regulators like the SEC but for good measure would hobble other ones like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (after Fukushima, how can anyone with an ounce of sense argue for less stringent oversight of nuclear facilities?). From Dayen:
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, under the direction of outgoing chair Joe Lieberman, plans to pass the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act, S.3468, out of committee and into a fast track process. Mark Warner, Susan Collins and Rob Portman are the drives forces behind it. Americans for Financial Reform and other groups have raised alarms about it.
The bill would, according to AFR, strip away independence from various regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, OSHA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These and more agencies would have to submit additional cost-benefit analyses to the executive branch, as well as submitting their rules and regulations for executive branch review. The immediate effect of this would be to slow implementation of things like Dodd-Frank. Review processes take time, and adding an executive branch layer gives Wall Street and other corporate interests another point of attack against various regulations. Heads of all the major regulatory agencies have already complained in a joint letter that the bill would give the executive branch far too much ability to influence their policy decisions.
Americans for Financial Reform writes:
Existing cost-benefit analysis requirements, and related legal challenges, are already a major source of delay in financial rulemaking. S. 3468 would add at least thirteen new resource-intensive analyses of regulatory costs before a rule can be finalized. In addition, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) would get to review any significant new rule, guidance, or policy – a process could add far more time and possibly lead to new rules being abandoned altogether. OIRA has a long standing reputation for blocking environmental and safety regulations, as well as generally being sympathetic to industry arguments that regulation is excessively costly. The big banks could use their influence to turn this tiny office into a bottleneck for all financial regulation. Wall Street lobbyists would have another powerful set of tools to delay and derail the implementation of the safeguards that are needed to protect our banking system and the wider economy.
AFR asks that all members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee get a phone call, to object to this gutting of the regulatory process. It’s bad enough that partisan officials get installed in these agencies, but this would just make the process of influence over the agencies complete.
Lieberman was one of the moving forces behind reducing the SEC from being a competent, even feared, agency to the mainly toothless overseer it is now. Clinton had installed Arthur Levitt, former head of American Stock Exchange, as SEC chairman; he was no doubt assumed to be friendly towards securities firms. But Levitt came out of the brokerage business and believed firmly in protecting small investors. Even with that narrow vision of the SEC’s role Lieberman, the Senator from Hedgistan, would threaten Levitt with cutting the SEC’s budget when he implemented pro-investor programs. So even though Lieberman isn’t one of the lead actors behind this measure, it is completely consistent with his history of unleashing financial firms to prey on a largely unsophisticated public.
I hope you’ll take the trouble to call or e-mail the members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee:
Joe Lieberman, Connecticut, Chairman
Carl Levin, Michigan
Daniel Akaka, Hawaii
Tom Carper, Delaware
Mark Pryor, Arkansas
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
Claire McCaskill, Missouri
Jon Tester, Montana
Mark Begich, Alaska
Susan Collins, Maine, Ranking Member
Tom Coburn, Oklahoma
Scott Brown, Massachusetts
John McCain, Arizona
Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
Rob Portman, Ohio
Rand Paul, Kentucky
Jerry Moran, Kansas
This is the Senate contact information page, which has Washington phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Calling is actually more effective (but if you don’t have time to call, please e-mail!), and I suggest you call the Senators at their state offices rather than the DC offices; I’m told those calls are taken more seriously. Thanks!