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Wonkbook: Jobs bill fails; BP puts up $20 bill; Legislators own millions in oil and gas stock

By Ezra Klein
Thursday, June 17, 2010; 7:13 AM

With unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, the jobs bill being considered in the Senate failed a key vote, and Senate Democrats are paring it back to with passage. Meanwhile, BP executives met with Obama and agreed to a $20 billion escrow fund to pay for the Gulf cleanup, to be run by "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg. And House and Senate members charged with oil and gas oversight hold millions in personal investments in the oil and gas industries. May's inflation numbers come out today, and BP's Tony Hayward will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

It's Thursday. Welcome to Wonkbook.

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The jobs bill will be pared back by billions after losing a dozen Democrats in a key vote, reports David Rogers: "The spending reductions - estimated near $20 billion - are accompanied by tax changes tailored to the small-business concerns of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) as well as venture capital and real estate interests with influence in both parties."

BP will provide $20 billion for an independently-run cleanup fund: http://bit.ly/ds2BxT

The fund's head, "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg, has plenty of experience with funds like this, reports Ed O'Keefe: "Compelled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he volunteered to oversee the victims compensation fund established by Congress, embarking on a 33-month effort that included public forums and one-on-one meetings with victims' families. He led a similar effort in 2007, following the Virginia Tech shootings and for the past year has served as the Obama administration's 'Special Master for Compensation' (or 'pay czar'), tasked with capping the salaries of executives at automobile companies and banks earning financial support from the government bailout."

Congressmen and Senators charged with oil and gas oversight hold millions in stock in oil and gas companies, report Paul Kane and Karen Yourish: "Nearly 30 members of the congressional committees overseeing oil and gas companies held personal assets in the industry totaling $9 million to $14.5 million late last year. That included at least $400,000 in the three companies at the heart of the Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling disaster, according to a Washington Post analysis of financial disclosure forms released Wednesday."

Scandinavian pop interlude: Robyn covers Alicia Keys' "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart".

To come: In energy news, BP's second containment effort is starting up; in economic news, David Broder thinks Obama should stop worrying about BP and start worrying about the deficit; in domestic policy, liberal opposition to the compromised DISCLOSURE Act is growing; and in FinReg, the conference committee has reached a deal on credit rating agencies.

Energy

BP's second oil collection system is up and running, report Susan Daker and Jeffrey Sparshott: "BP PLC put a second containment vessel into operation Wednesday, a long-awaited move that the company says will allow for the increased collection of oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill. The use of the Q4000 ship had been stalled by at least a day, adding to ongoing concerns about BP's ability to contain a growing spill that is causing environmental and economic damage along the U.S. Gulf Coast."

BP's chairman says they "care about the small people": http://bit.ly/amYCQo

Obama's Gulf cleanup plan is short on details, reports Juliet Eilperin: "The White House has not even begun to contemplate questions such as how to restore the 2,300 square miles of wetlands that have vanished over the past century. When asked for details about the new plan, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said it would include 'a comprehensive assessment of post-spill recovery needs, as well as a plan to provide integrated federal assistance for longer-term restoration and recovery.'"

Scott Brown has ruled out supporting a price on carbon, reports Alexander Bolton: "Climate change legislation appears dead after two setbacks in quick succession - first from the Oval Office and then from Congress. Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), a crucial Republican swing vote, met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday and told him he would not support a cap-and-trade plan or carbon fee to limit greenhouse gas emissions."

The absence of a mention of a carbon cap in Obama's speech is hurting its Senate prospects: http://politi.co/bDk5Zn

Bibliophile interlude: A blog of bookshelf photos.

Economy

David Broder thinks Obama should stop focusing on the oil spill and start focusing on the deficit: "By dramatizing his belief that the struggle in the gulf has become his main preoccupation, Obama has essentially ignored challenges that may be much more vital to the country -- and to him.┬┐Obama seems focused on the relatively insignificant. With the administration and Congress whipsawed between those calling for more government-financed stimulus and those warning of deficits soaring out of control, the president has weighed in belatedly on the side of more stimulus spending."

As housing falters, the US industrial sector is gaining ground: http://bit.ly/9L4Kca

European leaders ignored US and IMF warnings before this year's crisis, report Howard Schneider and Anthony Faiola: "The U.S. government and the International Monetary Fund warned European officials as early as February that escalating financial problems on their continent had to be addressed quickly to forestall a larger threat to the world economy, but those urgings were discounted, according to participants in the private discussions. By the time European officials acted several months later -- prompted by a near-meltdown in Greece and gathering chaos in other countries -- the price tag for stemming the financial contagion had soared."

The dollar is falling as fears about the global recovery subside: http://bit.ly/a4VPMx

EJ Dionne wishes Democrats would stick up for themselves on economic issues: "They lost it on a stimulus bill that clearly lifted the economy, as Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, argued persuasively in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. They are losing it on the health-care bill, a big improvement on the current system enacted through a process that made it look like a tar ball on an Alabama beach. They are losing it on the deficit even though it was Republicans who cut taxes twice while the Bush administration was starting two wars."

Rise of Skynet interlude: Watson, IBM's trivia-answering computer.

Domestic Policy

Liberal groups are uniting in opposition to the NRA-exempting version of the DISCLOSURE Act, reports Dan Eggen: "In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Alliance for Justice, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and 43 other groups decried an exemption 'which, given the amendment's language, in reality only applies to one entity, the National Rifle Association.' 'It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another for everyone else,' the letter says."

The US has done little before this year to cut health-care spending growth: http://bit.ly/cR5lkc The Department of Education is delaying its rules on for-profit colleges, reports Tamar Lewin: "While a package of proposed new student-aid regulations was released Tuesday, a department official said no decision had been reached about what debt-to-income ratio would make for-profit programs ineligible for federal aid. 'This is about accountability, and protecting students,"'said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. 'We have many areas of agreement where we can move forward. But some key issues around gainful employment are complicated, and we want to get it right so we will be coming back with that shortly.'"

David Wessel thinks we need to reexamine the role of home ownership in American life: "The U.S. has long seen home ownership as an unquestioned virtue, dating to a 1918 government 'Own Your Own Home' campaign. Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all talked as if owning a home was the only way to join the middle class. Not only did it promote social stability-recall Mr. Bush's 'ownership society'-and build well-maintained neighborhoods, home ownership became a hedge against inflation and a way to save for retirement. Until it didn't."

Online publishers are fighting proposed federal privacy rules that could seriously hurt the online ad market: http://politi.co/9e0Ew6

Cleta Mitchell argues the DISCLOSURE Act favors certain types of speech: "In Citizens United, the court held that the First Amendment doesn't permit Congress to treat different corporations differently; that the protections afforded political speech arise from the Constitution, not Congress. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to a congressional power to license the speech of some while denying it to others. The NRA carve-out is a clear example of a congressional speech license."

Congressmen Chris van Hollen and Mike Castle respond that it's about transparency: http://bit.ly/9SeyDC

Still the same ol' G interlude: "Under Pressure", Dr. Dre's first new single in nine years.

FinReg

FinReg conference committee has reached an agreement on rating agency regulation, reports Fawn Johnson: "House and Senate lawmakers have agreed to a liability standard for credit-rating firms, saying that investors can sue them if their views of financial products are deemed 'grossly negligent.' But negotiators on a broad financial-overhaul bill dropped a broader liability standard that the ratings firms had deemed problematic.┬┐The liability standard is a win for credit-rating agencies, which had protested against the Senate's liability provision, fearing that it would increase their chances of being sued. Senate lawmakers agreed to accept the House version."

Republicans are pushing to let the Treasury overrule state financial regulations, reports Chris Frates: "Some suggest that giving the federal government authority to pre-empt state laws would make it easier for the financial industry to concentrate its lobbying power in Washington, instead of having to work in 50 state capitals. The industry, meanwhile, is urging conferees to use the Senate's version - saying it would give the federal government only the ability to negotiate international agreements, something states don't have authority to do."

Business and labor are concerned FinReg could put swaps out of business: http://politi.co/d6Nv4Z

All told, Wall Street has given $112 million to members of the FinReg conference committee, reports Chris Frates: "The 43 lawmakers negotiating the final version of the Wall Street reform bill have collected more than $112 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors during the past 20 years. And the financial services sector gave a total of $695 million during the same period, according to a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group. The conference committee members make up just 8 percent of Congress, but their slice of campaign cash accounted for 16 percent of the total amount given to lawmakers by financial services companies, the report said."

Ben Bernanke is happy with the pace of progress on FinReg: http://bit.ly/c3T7f8

Dick Durbin is fighting to keep swipe fee limits in FinReg, reports Silla Brush: "Ever since his seven-page amendment passed on a 64-33 vote, Durbin has pushed back hard on lobbying efforts to weaken the provision or remove it entirely. He has sent letters calling out lobbyists for misrepresenting his legislation. At a hearing last week on antitrust concerns, Durbin took aim at Visa and MasterCard, the payment networks that set fee rates. On Wednesday, Durbin called a hearing of his Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services to look into the impact of the fees on the federal government."

A former mortgage lending executive is being criminally charged in a bank's downfall: http://bit.ly/bxCVHS

Closing credits: Wonkbook compiled with the help of Dylan Matthews and Mike Shepard.

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