I clicked on the live webcast of the U.S. Senate floor proceedings to find New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez pleading for Congress to take up H.R. 1, the Supplemental Appropriations Act that provides $60 billion in disaster funds for Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, Senator Menendez, in making his case for federal funding, was showing photographs of affluent Mantoloking, New Jersey. His advocacy shows why it is necessary for Congress to move slowly on the funding request to ensure that the spending gets to individuals and communities who really need assistance.
This week, former Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren rode to her election night victory in Massachusetts with an eight point margin as the people’s senator. Now, as she moves closer to her swearing-in at the Old Senate Chamber in early January, the political wags are speculating whether she will be given a seat on the Senate Banking Committee. Warren herself has said that she is in discussion with Senate leadership about her committee assignments, according to Reuters:
Municipal advisers, those muniland professionals who are hired by public officials to evaluate their needs for financing and guide them through the underwriting process, don’t receive enough attention. Generally, they are paid by a government entity but also receive fees from the banks who underwrite the deals. Dodd-Frank set out to restrain potential conflicts in this space by requiring municipal advisers to register as such and imposing a fiduciary duty on their activities.
After the tragic murders in Aurora, Colorado last Friday, the debate over gun control in the U.S. has been reignited. Policymakers would do well to study the case of Australia’s gun-control laws, which were put in place following a comparably tragic incident in 1996. After a man killed 35 people and wounded an additional 21 with two semi-automatic rifles in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur, Australia passed a law that banned all such rifles, along with semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and then created a restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.
Although Republicans have been insisting on cuts to federal spending, they are fighting to keep the defense budget off limits. They agreed to make cuts to military spending as part of last year’s sequester agreement, but there is a full-court press in progress to derail the cuts as the date on which they are set to take effect nears. This well organized campaign involves members of Congress, governors, mayors and military contractors. Here is what is involved, according to the House Armed Services Committee:
In a press conference last Friday, President Obama said that reasonable progress had been made in restoring the private-sector jobs that were lost since the financial crisis but that progress in restoring lost jobs in state and local government had been slower. As this observation is conventional wisdom at this point, it’s surprising that it got any media attention. The more interesting question to ask is why the hiring at the state and local levels has not bounced back as quickly as private-sector hiring.
“Have a drink out there, folks, and just know that your kids and grandkids will be out there picking grit with the chickens,” says former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson in the video above. Simpson’s quip is the best summary I’ve ever heard of the public’s lack of understanding of the severity of the nation’s fiscal crisis. The federal government is currently borrowing 42 cents of every dollar that it spends. Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and the strong global demand for U.S. Treasury debt, the nation has been able to borrow heavily at low interest rates to cover its budget shortfalls.
Last month, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño delivered a speech at the libertarian Reason Foundation on “how Puerto Rico avoided becoming “America’s Greece.” In his talk, the governor espoused the anti-government ethos of Grover Norquist, whom he cited as a friend in the first minute of his remarks. Fortuño has been a staunch advocate of “right-sizing” government: Soon after taking office, he laid off a substantial number of the commonwealth’s employees and reduced the island’s personal, corporate and property taxes.
A huge win for muniland was finalized last week when the SEC approved new rules that will shine light on the municipal bond underwriting process. This Bloomberg headline says it all: “Bond-Disclosure Rules Backed by SEC to Protect States From Banks”: