As a financial reform bill was debated in the Senate, Senator Bernie Sanders' proposal for a top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve was approved overwhelmingly. Another adopted amendment would cut a fee that banks slap on merchants every time a debit card is swiped. A vote on limiting credit card interest rates is still to come. "We're making a little bit of progress in bringing Wall Street to heal," Sanders told radio host Thom Hartmann. Meanwhile, President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico from an offshore drilling rig. And Sanders applauded the Vermont Legislature for passing a bill that could make Vermont health care a model for the nation.
End Fed Secrecy The measure to require the comprehensive audit of the Fed by the Government Accountability Office also would make the Fed divulge which banks took more than $2 trillion in secret loans. "Senator Bernie Sanders is giving them hell," CNN's Rick Sanchez declared. Passage of Sanders' amendment "shows the growing pragmatism of the passionate populist that allows him to be an effective player in the upper house," The Burlington Free Press said in an editorial. Sanders is "pushing the Democrats toward the tough reforms that the people are demanding." To watch a press conference after the Sanders Amendment was adopted, click here. To read coverage of the amendment in The New York Times, click here. To watch an interview on CNN, click here. To read the Vermont editorials, click here and here.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards The Senate voted 64 to 33 to curtail "swipe fees" by banks on debit transactions. Sanders cosponsored the amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 leader. Sanders long ago introduced legislation to impose a 15 percent nationwide cap on credit card interest rates, but he also is a cosponsor of an amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse that would allow states to again enforce their own usury laws. At a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, Sanders said that's something the American people want. "They're sick and tired of being ripped off by banks that they helped bail out and are now forcing them to pay 25, 30, 35 percent interest rates on their credit cards." To watch the press conference, click here.
Ratings Agencies The Senate approved a provision that would eliminate conflicts of interests in determining who rates complex bond deals. The way it works now is the issuers of bonds choose ratings agencies and pay for ratings. The upshot under the current system is that revenues for the raters come from the exact same firms whose bonds they are asked to judge. Under the amendment, , the Securities and Exchange Commission would set up and oversee a credit-rating board that would pick which agency would rate securities that are called structured bonds. Sanders cosponsored the amendment that was described by The Wall Street Journal as "one of the strongest moves yet by Congress to change how business is done on Wall Street." To read the article, click here.
Supreme Court President Obama on Monday nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be only the fourth female justice in American history. As the administration's top lawyer before the high court, Kagan was on the losing side of a 5-to-4 decision last January 21 in the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The president praised her effort to preserve restrictions on corporate spending in elections. "I look forward to meeting her and learning more about her record and views," Sanders said. "At a time of growing corporate power in America, I am interested in how she sees the Constitution protecting the interests of ordinary American workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations," Sanders added. Although many justices throughout history were not judges earlier in their careers, Kagan would be the first in nearly four decades. "I can only say that if the Citizens United ruling...is what results from a court made up of people who wore robes most of their lives, then Elena Kagan's experience outside courtrooms should not be held against her," Sanders said.
Gulf Oil Spill BP must pay for cleanup costs associated with the massive oil spill that resulted after an explosion and fire on one of its drilling rigs, Sanders said on Thursday. Noting that BP posted $6 billion in profits during the first three months of this year, Sanders said: At a time when we have a record braking deficit, it must be BP and not the American taxpayer that pays for the cost of cleaning up the mess they made in the Gulf of Mexico." Sanders is a cosponsor of legislation to hold oil polluters like BP fully accountable for the cost of the spills they cause. he Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act would raise the liability caps for oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion to help ensure that they pay the full costs of economic and environmental disasters caused by their negligence.
Health Care The Vermont legislature passed a bill on Wednesday mandating the study of three approaches to universal health care--a single-payer system, healthcare with a public option, and the current system under the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress. "As a long-time advocate of single-payer I'm glad the state is going to have a study," Senator Sanders told The Nation. "I think the result of it will show that the most cost-effective way to provide universal, comprehensive healthcare to every Vermonter is through a single-payer approach. What the Vermont legislature has done is very important, very positive, and I strongly support their efforts." To read the article by Katrina vanden Heuvel, click here.