Posts Tagged ‘lobbyists’

It’s the Jobs, Stupid.

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

President Obama recently took a short stroll from the White House and through Lafayette Park to give a speech in what might be termed enemy territory – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The subject was jobs and what the Chamber can do to jump start hiring by the companies that form its membership.  Noting that American companies are sitting on approximately $2 trillion in cash, the president challenged the Chamber to invest some of that money by hiring Americans who are out of work.

“Many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting a healthy increase in demand.  So I want to encourage you to get in the game,” Obama said, referencing the tax credits his administration negotiated to spur new investments.  “As you all know, it is investments made now that will pay off as the economy rebounds.  And as you hire, you know that more Americans working means more sales, greater demand and higher profits for your companies.  We can create a virtuous cycle.  Not every regulation is bad; not every regulation is burdensome on business,” he said.  “Moreover, the perils of too much regulation are matched by the dangers of too little.”

Relations between the president and the Chamber – one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups — have been chilly and the speech was an effort to find common ground.  Since the Democrats’ defeat in the November mid-term election, Obama has been trying to mend fences with big business.  One part of that strategy was to hire Bill Daley, a former Chamber board member and JP Morgan Chase executive, as his new chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel.  Additionally, he named General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head an economic advisory panel dedicated to job creation.  According to the president, “I will go anywhere anytime to be a booster for American business, American workers and American products, and I don’t charge a commission.”  

The Chamber gave the president a warm welcome, with the organization’s president Thomas Donohue expressing the body’s “absolute commitment” to working with the White House on turning around the economy and creating new jobs.  “Our focus is finding common ground to ensure America’s greatness in the 21st century,” he said.  “America works best when we work together.”

The president’s remarks came on a day when several Illinois firms warned that they are planning to lay off employees or close facilities. For example, Kmart is planning to close several stores in Illinois.  Gold Standard Baking, Inc., will close a commercial bakery in Chicago, slashing 73 jobs.  Another 67 employees are likely to be laid off at Itasca-based C. D. Listening Bar Inc., which sells DVDs, CDs, books and video games online at DeepDiscount.com.  AGI North America, LLC, a paperboard box manufacturing company in Jacksonville, is closing at the end of March, putting 70 employees out of work.  Gray Interplant Systems, Inc. – a warehousing and storage company in Peoria and Mossville – is planning to lay off 167 employees in April.

So why are American companies not hiring – or not hiring on their home turf?  According to the Chamber’s Donohue, it’s a variety of reasons, including new regulations contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Additionally, companies are holding onto their cash to fund future acquisitions.  Consolidation makes new regulatory burdens easier to bear.  Once companies’ regulatory costs are clear and under control, they can begin hiring, he said.  Finally, demand remains relatively low.  Once spending improves, the Chamber believes that companies will have no choice but to invest in additional personnel to meet that demand.  As consumer and business spending grows, so should jobs.

And, the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies created 1.4 million jobs abroad in 2010, compared with less than 1 million in the United States. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have cut the unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, according to Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.

Congressional Oversight Panel Takes on the Foreclosure Mess

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Congressional Oversight Panel Takes on the Foreclosure MessSloppy foreclosure paperwork could upset the nation’s housing market and destabilize the economy in general,  according to a report released by the Congressional Oversight Panel.  This group oversees the government bailout and its statement marks the first time a federal watchdog has issued an opinion on the foreclosure issue.  Consumer advocates and financial analysts had previously raised the issue, noting that although the consequences of the foreclosure mess are unclear.  The situation has the potential to impact mortgages that are not in trouble but were securitized and sold to investors.

“Everyone’s very nervous about what’s going to happen,” said an anonymous industry source.  “We have all hands on deck.”  Some lawmakers want to revisit legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to order lenders to reduce the principal the homeowner owes.  Others favor allowing big banks to spin off their mortgage-servicing operations to avoid conflicts of interest.  “The risk is small that a bill gets through, but we are taking it very seriously,” said another unidentified financial lobbyist.  The dilemma became apparent in recent months as Ally Financial, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase halted foreclosures as it became clear that many were based on flawed documentation.

The oversight panel also voiced concerns that investors who bought the securitized mortgages could file lawsuits that ultimately might cost banks billions of dollars.  At the same time, the panel said the Treasury Department’s claims that the mortgage situation poses slight systemic risk to the financial system are premature.  “Clear and uncontested property rights are the foundation of the housing market.  If those rights fall into question, that foundation could collapse,” according to the report, which also recommended that the Treasury and Federal Reserve conduct new stress tests on Wall Street banks to gauge their ability to cope with any new upheavals.

Next Up on the Presidential Agenda? Reforming Fannie and Freddie

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is next on President Obama’s to do list.  The next item on President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda is likely to be overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage firms that so far have cost American taxpayers $145 billion to keep afloat.  The two firms, which own more than half of the nation’s $11 trillion in home mortgages, collapsed along with the housing market and were taken over by the federal government in September of 2008.

Many Congressional Republicans believe that scrapping Fannie and Freddie is mandatory; Democrats disagree and President Obama is expected to support reforms backed by consumer, real estate and banking groups.  The core of the emerging consensus is to preserve the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.  Susan Woodward, former chief economist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and a founder of Sand Hill Econometrics, said “People regard it as a right as Americans to get a 30-year, fixed-rate loan.”

Banks and builders agree with consumer advocates representing homebuyers that it’s good for the government to promote residential lending by supporting what Fannie and Freddie have done for years – purchasing mortgages and bundle them into securities that they sell to investors.  When the system works as intended, the MBS market creates additional money that is funneled back into the market to make new affordable loans.  The task is to determine how to accomplish this without the lax practices that the taxpayers had to pay for when catastrophic losses occurred in 2008.

The Obama Administration and leading Democrats strongly believe that the federal government should have a role in promoting homeownership.  Shaun Donovan, HUD Secretary, said “We should not compromise any of our core policy goals in the decisions we make in structuring our house financing system.”

Financial Reform Legislation Faces Uphill Battle in the Senate

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

The most sweeping financial reform legislation since the 1930s will be debated in a polarized Senate.  Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced revised legislation to regulate the nation’s financial system.  The plan would create a nine-member council, led by the Treasury secretary, to be on the alert for systemic risks, and direct the Federal Reserve to oversee the nation’s largest and most interconnected financial institutions.

The bill, which would be the most comprehensive change in financial rules since the Depression, would preserve much of the existing regulatory system, which has been criticized as being too disjointed.  Additionally, it would rely on a new mechanism for seizing and liquidating large financial companies on the verge of failure.  This would reduce, but not eliminate, the possibility of future bailouts.

The legislation incorporates a version of the Volcker Rule, a proposal from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker that would make certain that legislators ban banks from investing in or owning hedge and private-equity funds.  Republicans and Wall Street strongly object to that idea.  Dodd’s legislation takes a fairly tough line with financial firms in general.  The proposed consumer protection agency would be given the authority to write and enforce rules for banks with more than $10 billion in assets.  The oversight also would apply to mortgage companies, credit card issues and other lenders – a move that Republicans oppose.

“Our regulatory structure, constructed in a piecemeal fashion over many decades, remains hopelessly inadequate,” Dodd, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this term, said.  “There hasn’t been financial reform on the scale that I’m proposing this afternoon since the 1930s….  It is certainly time to act.”

One Year After Financial Meltdown, Obama Counsels Caution

Monday, September 21st, 2009

On the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the global financial crisis,  President Barack Obama used a Wall Street speech to call for stringent new regulation of United States markets.  After Lehman’s collapse, the American government infused billions of dollars into the financial system and took major stakes in Wall Street’s most famous names.  Although this action stabilized the system, it could not forestall a shrinking economy or the highest unemployment rate in 26 years.lehmanbros

“We can be confident that the storms of the past two years are beginning to break,” he said.  As the economy begins a “return to normalcy,” Obama said, “normalcy cannot lead to complacency.”

Lobbyists, lawmakers and even regulators so far have opposed proposals to more closely monitor the financial system. The five biggest banks – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America – posted second-quarter 2009 profits totaling $13 billion.  That is more than twice their profits in the second quarter of 2008 and nearly two-thirds as much as the $20.7 billion they earned in the same timeframe two years ago – a time when the economy was considered strong.

Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is the point man for formulating new rules.  President Obama wants stricter capital requirements for banks to prevent them from purchasing exotic financial products without keeping adequate cash on hand.  It was precisely this type of behavior that caused last year’s financial crisis.