So get this, sports fans: the day (or maybe two max) before the so-called Audit the Fed bill (a bipartisan initiative to increase transparency) has a torpedo shot at it by a member of the House Financial Services committee, one Mel Watt of North Carolina. Of course, his amendment professes to increase transparence too, but in fact does nothing of the kind, and in fact would reduce the GAO’s audit powers over the Fed.
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a newbie at these matters, but it strains credulity to think Watt came up with this Trojan horse on his own. I’ll bet the Fed provided the language for this stealth operation.
From the Huffington Post:
Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from North Carolina, has introduced an amendment intended as an alternative to the measure to audit the Federal Reserve introduced by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Alan Grayson’s (D-Fla.) . But instead of increasing transparency, as the amendment claims to do, Watt’s measure would instead make the institution more opaque….
Watt pitched his amendment in a letter to colleagues circulated Tuesday. “While my amendment will certainly fall short of demands by those intent on destroying the independence (if not the existence) of the Fed, the critics of my amendment will have to concede…that my amendment will provide transparency of the Fed’s financial operations that will be completely unprecedented,” he wrote.
In fact, the critics are conceding no such thing. “The Watt Amendment, as written today, actually places new restrictions on the little authority that exists, such as it is, for independent auditing of the Fed,” Grayson said. “It keeps in place all existing restrictions and adds four more. So I don’t see why anybody would reasonably think that it creates unprecedented authority to audit the Fed.”
The devil, as always, is in the details. While Watt’s amendment talks a big game about opening up the Fed to a complete audit, all of the new powers granted must be carried out “each case in accordance with subsections (b) and (e).”
Those subsections of the current law delineate the many restrictions that an auditor confronts when seeking to audit the Fed. Watt’s measure not only leaves those in place but requires all audits to abide by them.
And in addition to the current restrictions in place, it creates new ones. An auditor could not look at loans or liquidity arrangements the Fed enters into, the terms of those arrangements, or the effect of those loans and other liquidity deals on “reserves, the balance sheet or financial condition of a Federal reserve bank or the Federal Reserve System.”
Yves here. That is tantamount to saying you are permitted to operate a strip club as long as the patrons are prohibited from looking at un or underclad bodies. Back to the article:
The Fed has expanded its balance sheet drastically over the last year, entering into exotic swap arrangements and otherwise pumping trillions of dollars into the economy. How it has done so and who has been on the receiving end would remain secret under Watt’s bill.
By contrast, the Paul-Grayson amendment is patterned after Paul’s bill H.R. 1207, which has broad bipartisan support. It has more than 310 cosponsors in a chamber with 435 members.
Paul’s measure would repeal the provisions that Watt’s leaves in place. If every member who cosponsored Paul’s bill votes for it in committee this week, it would have the votes to pass. Watt’s amendment is an effort to peel off votes…
“The new exemptions are described as limited but they are extremely broad,” Grayson said. They’re so broad, in fact, that there would be very little left for an auditor to look into. What could an auditor check up on?
“Count the pencils on the desks,” Grayson speculated. “Perhaps check on proper Metro card usage.”
You can read the full text of the Watt letter at HuffPo.
If this offends you as much as it does me, I hope you’ll make a call or two tomorrow. Here are the Democratic numbers of Congress who support auditing the Fed. They should support the Paul-Grayson amendment and not the Watt amendment. Thanks!
Rep. John Adler, NJ: (202) 225-4765
Rep. Travis Childers, MS: (202) 225-4306
Rep. Steve Driehaus, OH: (202) 225-2216
Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, TX: (202) 225-2531
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, FL: (877) 956-7627
Rep. Dan Maffei, NY: (202) 225-3701
Rep. Brad Miller, NC: (202) 225-3032
Rep. Walt Minnick, ID: (202) 225-6611
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, CO: (202) 225-2645
Rep. David Scott, GA: (202) 225-2939
Rep. Brad Sherman, CA: (202) 225-5911
Rep. Jackie Speier, CA: (202) 225-3531