Another Senate Charade

This note comes courtesy of my friend David Sirota out in Colorado. This is a classic example of how the Senate works. If the public understood better how rigged this game is, and how few issues are actually left to an honest vote in the legislature, I'm pretty sure the pitchfork factor would be twice even what it is now.


The short version of this story: Bernie Sanders had put forth a proposal in the Senate to put a 15 percent cap on credit-card interest. Who isn't in favor of this kind of legislation? The only difference between credit card companies and loan sharks at this point is that you can choose to not patronize a loan shark. As an adult professional in this country one has to have a credit card - it's impossible to rent a car, buy a hotel room, shop online or do countless other things without one.


But all the credit card companies use the same insane formulae based on FICO scores to charge exorbitant interest rates for anyone who slips up - and they don't exactly make it easy to not slip up. (I'm doing research on this subject so anyone who has a particularly egregious story about being ripped off by credit card companies, please write in). Almost everyone has horror stories about consumer credit and my guess is that if put to a national referendum, something like the Sanders 15% cap would pass pretty easily.


In Washington, of course, it's another story. Finance/Credit companies spent well over $30 million in lobbying in each of the last two years. If you take a look at contributions to Banking Committee members, you always find Finance and Credit companies at or near the top of the list. The credit card companies' dominance of congress was never more apparent than in the Bankruptcy Bill back in 2005, which essentially made it impossible for people with credit card debt to file for bankruptcy to keep their houses.


So when something like this Sanders thing comes up, the outcome is usually pretty predictable. The measure got beat pretty soundly, but the Colorado delegation provided a comic asterisk to the defeat. Both of the state's Democratic Senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, initially voted "no." But right before the vote, i.e. once it became clear that the bill had no chance of passing, they both switched sides and joined 31 other Senators in voting "yes."


Right after it happened, Bennet was accused of changing his vote so that he could seem like he was for the measure, even though he had no intention of voting "yes" if the bill had any chance of passing.


A spokesman for Bennet's Democratic primary challenger, Andrew Romanoff, says it appears Bennet changed his vote after it was clear the cap proposal would die, so he could tell constituents he voted "yes" for consumer protection.


"The general public has no idea what goes on in the name of political self-preservation," said Romanoff spokesman Roy Teicher. "This is why people hate Washington, and this video makes their case swiftly."


This sort of thing is so common in the Senate, nobody even blinks anymore. One of my favorite examples was Alabama Republican Richard Shelby's decision to cast a "yea" vote for the doomed Brown-Levin amendment mandating the breakup of "too big to fail" companies. Brown-Levin was first of all a classic example of how the leadership, in this case Harry Reid, never lets a dangerous amendment get voted on until he's quite sure that it will lose. But when Shelby - one of the chief obfuscating forces in the entire finance reform effort - decided  to cast a "yea" vote for Brown-Levin, it was almost like a Senatorial attempt at humor.


Obviously there's no proof that this is what went on with Udall and Bennet, but it's not hard to draw conclusions. Very little is left to chance on the Senate floor. The leadership does a careful head count before every vote, and it's rare that the outcome of any important vote is a surprise. I've even been told that sometimes members will get the blessing of the leadership to cast "populist" votes once it's been determined that the measure will fall short.

P.S Here's Sirota's video on the issue

P.P.S. Watch the video closely. You can see Udall and Bennet initially vote "no." Then you see them conferring with Chuck Schumer, at which point they're probably learning that the vote will lose. At 3:07:57 Bennet switches his vote, and 15 seconds later Udall does the same.

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