Feb 24, 2014
In this episode, we catch up on all the bills that passed the House of Representatives in January, including a bill to protect chemical storage companies from having to pay for their messes, a few bills to damage ObamaCare, and a bill to make sure private health insurance companies can't pay for abortions.
Information Presented in This Episode
Mel Watt Resigns On January 7, Rep. Mel Watt of North
Carolina's 12th district resigned to become Director of the
Federal Housing Finance Agency after being appointed
to the position by President Obama. The Federal Housing Finance
Agency was created during the 2008 financial meltdown, a meltdown
created largely by giant private banks chopping up bad mortgages,
mixing them with good mortgages, and selling them to other
companies such as Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FHFA is in charge of regulating sort-of
Federal mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Private banks want Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac gone because Fannie and Freddie are more heavily
regulated than private banks and create a basement of rules that
banks sort-of have to play by. Private banks want the "free market"
to control mortgages so that they can, once again, do whatever they
want and make enormous profits with new financial
models. Last August and again in the State of the Union, President Obama sided with the "free
marketeers" and voiced his support for getting rid of Fannie
Mae and Freddie Mac in favor of more private banker control of our
mortgages. Who will President Obama's choice to regulate Fannie Mae
and Freddie Mac side with? Well, former Representative Mel Watt's
top two campaign contributors over the course of his Congressional
career were Bank of America and the American Bankers Association.
In total, he took over $1.3 million from the
Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate sector. Representative Watt's
former district, North Carolina's 12th district, is a funny shaped,
likely gerrry-mandered district that cuts through the center of the
state; it includes portions of Charlotte, Salisbury, and Lexington.
The district will remain unrepresented until the November election.
HR 2279: Protects Finances of Chemical Storage
Companies On January 9, the House passed H.R. 2279.
The one good thing about this bill is that it would require owners
of chemical storage facilities to report to their states the
quantities of dangerous chemical that they store in their
buildings. This is a direct response to the giant explosion at the
West Fertilizer Company in West Texas, which took place on the same
week as the Boston Marathon bombing, killed five times as many
people, but didn't get nearly as much press coverage.
The explosion happened after the
building caught fire and ignited ammonium nitrite - the same stuff
used in the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing- which was being
stored in the building in huge quantities which were never reported
to Texas regulators or the Department of Homeland Security. The
building had not been inspected by Federal worker safety regulators
since 1985, when it was cited for improper storage of dangerous
chemicals and given a $30 fine. It had been fined again in 2012 by
the Department of Transportation for improper storage of dangerous
chemicals. The explosion killed fifteen people, injured 160, and
destroyed 50 homes. So had this bill been law early last year, in
theory, Texas and the Department of Homeland Security would have
known how much the company was storing and may have done
inspections more regularly. That's a good thing. But that's where
the good things stop. The company responsible for the West, Texas
explosion was only insured for $1 million in
damage, which wasn't nearly enough to cover the damage they
caused. The damage was estimated at $100 million, at least. The
State of Texas has no requirement for storage facilities to have
any insurance, and so FEMA had to pay 75% of the costs of the
damage. Despite the fact that the Federal government had to pick up
the tab for that explosion, H.R. 2279 would make it
more difficult for the Executive Branch, and therefore the
Federal government, to require companies that store hazardous
materials to have insurance or cash on hand to pay for their
accidents; it prohibits the Feds from requiring any more insurance
than the States require. Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado, argued
for H.R. 2279 on the House floor on January 9; he is the author of
"Solid waste must be disposed of in a responsible, efficient, and environmentally friendly manner; but there is no need for overly burdensome regulations that put a strain on businesses."
In addition, the law currently says that the President needs to create and annually update a list of facilities with hazardous materials and that each State must designate one facility as their most dangerous. H.R. 2279 says the States no longer need to do this and replaces that requirement with one that says the President can't add a facility to the list if the State objects. Even if the States wanted to, however, the bill says the States can't add facilities to the list any more than once every five years. On the very same day that the House of Representatives were passing H.R. 2279, chemicals that were being stored at a facility owned by Freedom Industries - a facility that had not been inspected in over 22 years - spilled into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia poisoning the water supplies of over 300,000 people. And just like in Texas, the chemical storage facility in West Virginia was subject to almost no State or local regulations. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. expressed his concerns about HR 2279 while, unbeknownst to him, poisonous chemicals were gushing into the Elk River:
"And I am especially troubled by provisions in the bill that enable sites to veto sites from being added to the Superfund National Priorities List, as well as the provision that weakens the requirement for companies who deal with hazardous materials to carry insurance to cover contamination threats. Absent this insurance requirement, it will be easier for a company to go bankrupt and shirk its responsibility to clean up contamination that it has caused"
Which is exactly what Freedom Industries did nine days after the spill. At the time Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy, 25 lawsuits had been filed against the company, all of which have been put on hold. The bill passed the House of Representatives 225-188 with mostly Republicans voting for it and mostly Democrats voting against it. All three Representatives from the state of West Virginia voted for the bill. Voting yes on H.R. 2279 was Shelley Moore Capito, who represents the part of West Virginia directly affected by the spill. A week after she voted for the bill to make it harder to regulate chemical storage facilities while her own constituents got poisoned, she gave a speech which said this on January 16:
"For more than two decades, no government agency inspected this facility. Precious response time was lost be-cause Freedom Industries did not immediately report the spill, and responders did not have sufficient information about the chemical. We must examine our existing laws at all levels of government—local, State, and Federal—and find the gaps that allowed this spill to occur. "
By voting yes, she did not do what was best for her constituents; she did what was best for Freedom Industries by trying to make it harder for the Federal Government to police them, yet instead of apologizing for that vote a week later, she pretended the vote never happened. As always, the reason for her vote is most easily found in the financials. Shelley Moore Capito has taken over $800,000 from the mining industry, and Freedom Industries was storing a chemical used to "clean coal" in the facility that poisoned - and continues to poison- her constituents. Shelley Moore Capito is running for one of West Virginia's two Senate seats in November. H.R. 3811: Prevent Imaginary Security Breaches on Healthcare.gov On January 10, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3811, which would change the law to say that the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have two days to tell us if there has been a security breach on healthcare.gov if our personal information was stolen. In reality, there haven't been any security breaches on healthcare.gov. Seems to me to be an unnecessary bill aimed to make people think there have been security breaches. H.R. 3811 passed the House of Representatives 291- 122. HR 2274: Deregulation of Wall Street, But Not Too Much On January 14, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2274, which exempts mergers and acquisition brokers from registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mergers and acquisition brokers specialize in the sale of private businesses; they help big companies gobble up little companies. SEC recently issued regulations basically saying that if a merger and acquisition broker is not dealing at all with securities - if the broker doesn't gamble or "trade" items that they don't actually possess- then they don't have to register with the SEC, rendering this bill unnecessary. The SEC has ten conditions the merger and acquisitions broker must obey in order to not register; this bill only has two, meaning that the SEC rules protect the financial system better than this bill. H.R. 2274 passed the House of Representatives unanimously. HR 1233 - Allows Presidential Records To Stay Secret Under the Presidential Records Act, a former President can restrict access to his records for twelve years. After that, an Executive Order says that the former President can appeal to the current President to keep his records secret by claiming executive privilege. In essence, the decision rests with the current President and can be overturned by the courts. This bill makes that rule an actual, passed-by-Congress law, instead of a rule by Executive Order, as has been the case since the Reagan administration. It also puts in place procedures with deadlines for a former President to claim continued executive privilege. One provision says that the former President must make the request personally, which I think means that his records are fair game once he's dead. Passed the House of Representatives 420-0. The Budget On January 15, the House of Representatives passed the 2014 budget, which has been signed into law. The law was covered in detail in Congressional Dish episode CD061: State of the Budget. HR 3362: Busy Work for Obamacare Workers Right now, the executive branch is releasing required monthly reports on enrollment data for health insurance plans. H.R. 3362 would require the Secretary of Health and Human services to do a detailed report every week which includes every individual state's enrollment numbers, hits on the health care exchange websites, number of customer chats, number of customer phone calls, how many people enroll per zip code, what kind of plan each person picked, how many people logged into the websites, the ages of new enrollees, the number of new people in Medicaid, an estimation of the cost of tax credits and more. These weekly reports would have to be issued until March 2015. H.R. 3362 also requires the government to publicly publish the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every person trained to help Americans get health insurance coverage - called navigators. But the bottom line is that this will never become law because, once again, it's would have to be signed by President Obamacare, who has no reason to give his administration extra, unnecessary busy work. 259 members of the House voted for this doomed bill. HR 7: Prohibit Private Insurance Plans from Covering Abortions The day of the State of the Union, the Republicans passed a bill that restricts our access to abortions. First, the bill prohibits any Federal money from going towards abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother, which is already Federal law. The bill changes current law by dictating what private insurance companies will and will not be allowed to cover. Any health care plan offered to Federal employees which will be paid for by their employer - the government - can not offer abortion coverage. The employees would be allowed to get separate abortion coverage with their own money. The bill also allows States and local governments to get extra abortion coverage for their employees; one place that doesn't work for though is the District of Columbia which is part of the Federal government. This bill also prohibits any tax credits from going to a person or company who chooses a health care plan on an exchange that includes abortion coverage. In addition, the bill would stop the private health insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortions because it changes the definition of "qualified health plans" so that ones that offer abortions are no longer qualified and therefore wouldn't be able to sell those plans on the exchanges. H.R. 7 passed the House of Representatives 227-188. Music in This Episode Intro and Exit Music: Tired of Being Lied To by David Ippolito (found on Music Alley by mevio) All Hail to the Market by Alun Perry (found on Music Alley by mevio) Jennifer Briney's Upcoming Guest Appearance Start Talking and Recording Today, hosted by Nick Seuberling Also recommended: Whodey Weekly (a podcast about the Cincinnati Bengals), hosted by Nick Seuberling