Tag Archives: Trump

Speculation and Speculators

So, the President of the United States delivered a lecture to the members of NATO today about “paying up,” and focusing on global terrorism.  Fine and dandy…members who can pay, should pay and there is a need to address incidents of global terrorism.  That said, one of NATO’s prime reasons for existence is as a North Atlantic counterweight to RUSSIAN incursions into Europe.  And we have a President who seems preternaturally incapable of making strong comments about the Putin Regime.  Since everyone else is piling into the discussion, DB will add some questions to the combination Mare’s and Hornet’s nests.

How did characters like Flynn, Manafort, Page, Sessions et. alia. get involved in the efforts to effect the election of Donald J. Trump?  We all know they had contacts with Russians.  Some contacts were reported, others were not.  Mere contact with Russians doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious purposes, but the context and timing of some contacts is certainly open to question.  Investigations and inquiries will add to the chronology and context, but that doesn’t serve to shed light on WHY this cast of characters was drawn to the Trump Campaign.

Are there among us those who would do the Kremlin’s bidding? For purposes of their own, or at the behest of the administration?

What is it that the Kremlin wants?  The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued its Kremlin Playbook in October 2016, with the announcement that in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria:

“This research determined that Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across the region that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decisionmaking. This web resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”

How the Russians proposed to do this is summarized in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s prepared remarks for the May 8, 2017 session on Russian Interference in politics. (note: PDF)

What elements might create the confluence between Russian interests and American politicians and political campaigns?   There are as many possibilities as there are individuals involved, perhaps ranging from personal animosities to broader financial entanglements.  Nor should we dismiss the possibility of a combination of motives.

One avenue of inquiry might be the financial relationship between the Trump business operations and Russian funding. Trump’s “comeback” from financial disaster in the 1990’s has been cited as evidence of a shift from American banks to a reliance on Deutsche Bank.  Evidence unearthed thus far doesn’t substantiate claims of Russian financial entanglement, however there is much to be said for the Deep Throat (Mark Felt) advice during the Watergate investigations — follow the money.

We know from the CSIS study that “Using shell corporations and other devices, Russia establishes illicit financial relationships to develop leverage against prominent figures, through the carrot of continued bribery or the stick of threatened disclosure.”

What might we learn as investigations of the connections between Trump businesses and shell corporations continue?   Would this explain the attraction of the ‘cast of characters’ to the Trump campaign and administration?  Would this help explain the use of other Russian tactics — propaganda, fake news, bots, and Internet Trolls? Hacking and theft of political information?  Timed leaks of damaging materials?

There are two courts in play in these controversies — the judiciary and the court of public opinion.  While it may be difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a proximate cause of Trump’s pro-Putin stance is financial entanglement in a court of law, it’s far more likely that the political court of public opinion will find Trump’s proclivity toward pandering to the Russian Bear ever more unpalatable.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long and sometimes tedious ride.

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Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Senator McConnell couldn’t have made himself more clear to the Republican leadership — let’s please have less drama from the White House so we can get along with our agenda.  Less tactfully phrased, McConnell and his myrmidons such as Representative Mark Amodei (NV2) and Senator Heller (R-NV) isn’t going to do anything about the dolt in the Oval Office until after they get what they want.  They want two things: (1) to return the control of the health insurance market back to the insurance companies; and (2) to dismantle the financial and consumer protections enacted in the Dodd Frank Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Not sure about this, then please consider the current push for the Choice Act:

“At a time when too many hard-working American families are still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crash, deregulating Wall Street’s biggest firms again makes no sense. Yet the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to do exactly that.

It would allow the biggest Wall Street banks to opt-out of significant financial protection rules, while those banks that remain in the regulatory system would be blessed with watered down versions of once-tough protections, like living wills and stress tests. Perhaps most worryingly, the CHOICE Act would cripple two of the most important post-crash reforms: the Financial Stability and Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).” [the Hill]

Review: The CFPB was the agency which brought to light, and then levied fines against Wells Fargo for egregious violations of their customers’ privacy and financial interests.  Little wonder the banks aren’t happy with those “bureaucrats.” Less wonder why the Republicans aren’t going to do anything about the President who had to fire his National Security Adviser — until the Choice Act is safely delivered to his desk.

We should also recall that the Republican version of the healthcare reform act is much less about health insurance reform than it is about bestowing tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, to the tune of close to $765 billion over the next ten years.  We can easily conjecture that the GOP will do nothing about the man in the office who fired the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and then the emissary from the Department of Justice who warned him about the dangers presented by the presence of General Flynn.  At least nothing will be done, until the Republicans can cut Medicaid to the barest of bones:

His (Trump’s) promise would be violated by House GOP bill, as it seeks to freeze Medicaid expansion money for states in 2020 by withhold funding at the enhanced match rate for any new enrollees after that point. Other beneficiaries are at risk with the more long-term transformation that program stands to undergo under the GOP bill. The legislation would overhaul the program—now an unlimited federal match rate—into a per capita cap system, meaning that states would get a fixed amount of funding per enrollee. The Congressional Budget Office, analyzing an initial version of the legislation, predicted out of the 24 million Americans who would lose coverage under the earlier GOP bill compared to current law, 14 million were due to its changes to Medicaid. [TPM]

Given there is no CBO scoring on the current edition, we can’t be certain that States like Nevada which expanded Medicaid enrollment in order to make health care access affordable, won’t be left in the lurch — Congressman Amodei’s tortured logic to the contrary.  So, nothing is likely to be done about the executive who fired the Director of the FBI who was supervising the investigation of Russian meddling in our elections (and possible Trump connections to that meddling) until Medicaid cuts are also tucked into the President’s portfolio for a signing ceremony.

When will Republicans address the Leaker-in-Chief’s discussions with the Russian visitors to the White House?  Probably not until the budget cuts to the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education come to fruition.  Do we have a situation in which the following is true?  If the Trumpian honeymoon isn’t over, it soon will be.

That sentiment was echoed by a prominent GOP consultant I spoke to who asked not to be named to offer a candid assessment of Trump and congressional Republicans.
“The question for Republicans is whether this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said the source. “Forty percent approval is not the issue; an erratic, rudderless, leaderless White House is.” [CNN]

The camel’s back may not bend until the Republicans have seen their agenda realized, their Randian Dreams made true, and their Austerity Government imposed on the American people.   The damage of this administration and the Republicans in Congress who enable and excuse him is only starting to come to fruition.

 

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Filed under Amodei, Comey, conservatism, corporate taxes, financial regulation, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, income tax, McConnell, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health

Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Let’s start with the ASCE’s report card on Nevada’s infrastructure.  The last report card on our kitchen table gives us an overall average C-.  Nevada’s two lowest grades (both D’s) are in categories for schools and dams. The claims from the current White House administration would imply that Nevada will see marvelous levels of investment in Job Creating Infrastructure Projects.  Not. So. Fast.

There are some questions related to projected infrastructure legislation which Nevada elected officials may want to consider very carefully.

#1. Does the infrastructure legislation address Nevada’s greatest needs?  The answer at present is “maybe not.” The commentary coming from the White House, and from members of Congress imply that most of the infrastructure plans are part of the Transportation budget.  [Hill] Again, roads and bridges are important, so are airports, but the greatest needs in this state are for projects and funding for upgrading schools and dams.

This past February a dam failed in Elko county, flooding farmland, homes, and stopping traffic on the Union Pacific RR. Obviously dams must eventually get their due. First, we should notice that the state of Nevada doesn’t keep a ranking of hazardous dams, most of which fall into the “earthen” category.  Secondly, it should be noted that a high hazard dam refers to the damage possible should the dam fail, not to the actual condition of the dams themselves.  Third, many dams in this state are privately owned.  About one third of our 650+ dams are constructed for flood control, another third for mining operations, and the remaining third fall into the amorphous category “anything else.” The state has been relying on 11 engineers to keep track of the 650+ dams, and Governor Sandoval’s budget proposal calls for three additional engineers in the Water Division for the next fiscal term. [LVRJ]

School facility upgrades and construction generally lie outside the common understanding of ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, being the province of local school districts, and based on the shifting sands of bond issues. Nothing signaled by the administration thus far would suggest expansion of federal interest in this category of infrastructure investment.

#2.  Will the legislation address Nevada’s needs for the construction and maintenance of roads and highways?  Maybe not.   The situation at present:

“The Nevada Department of Transportation maintains 5,300 miles of state highways, which includes many rural roadways within Nevada. Without an increase in the gas tax since 1992, the state funding levels have stagnated and Federal funding has remained at a similar level the past 5 years. Hence, the maintenance of the existing highway system has fallen behind and the state will need approximately $285 million annually for the next decade to catch up on the current backlog of highway maintenance. The current funding levels provide only 60% to 70% of the required funding to maintain the state highways. This has resulted in an increase in the number of lane miles requiring either an overlay or full rehabilitation from 28% two years ago to 38% currently.” [ASCE]

New construction is great, no one should argue against it where it’s needed to improve the flow and traffic and attendant commerce, however, when nearly 40% of the current roadways need overlays or full rehabilitation, the problem is focused on maintaining what we have at present not necessarily on new construction projects.

#3. Does the administration’s plan differentiate between financing and funding?  This is important.  A definition is in order:

“Infrastructure funding and financing are different concerns. Funding specifies how resources will be collected to pay for infrastructure construction, operations and maintenance, and repairs. Financing generally concerns how to raise the large upfront costs needed to build the infrastructure.” [EPI]

So, the administration has spoken of “a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment,” what does this mean?  For the administration is apparently means “leveraging private dollars.” Again, some translation is necessary.  What the administration is talking about is the financing of construction projects. And, we’re back to the difference between funding and financing — if states are facing the same questions posed back in 2015, when Republicans proposed that HTF projects be limited to the revenue accumulated from gasoline and diesel taxation, then many projects, especially of the improvement and maintenance variety will be put on hold. [BondBuyer] Infrastructure funding will be a function of how the administration budget addresses the issue of raising the money necessary to construct, operate, and maintain.  However, if the administration is speaking of “leveraging private funds,” then we should assume that the White House is referring to new construction.  And, now we enter the land of the P3.

A P3 is: “Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” [DOT]

Let’s put this question of infrastructure investment in purely financial terms:  Who benefits from P3 structuring?  Hint: It isn’t necessarily the state and local governments because bond yields for such things as school construction, road construction, and other large projects have been dropping since their “highs” around 1982 (13+%) to the current rates (3.5+%). [MuniBond]

Bluntly stated, it’s not the financing that’s a problem for state and local governments, they’re paying almost historic low yields (interest) on the bonds they’ve issued for major projects.  The administration is approaching the infrastructure investment issue from the wrong end of the stick — focusing on the financing and not the funding.

#4. Is the use of the P3 structure based on the needs and capacities of the states and municipalities or the desires of private investment?  Some attention is required because:

“In theory, they can(P3)  be effective—but they provide no free lunches. Funding must still be found for the projects—and ordinary households will end up paying the costs through taxes or user fees. In addition, the details of contract construction and oversight are daunting and require a competent, democratically accountable government to manage them. In short, P3s do not allow for simple outsourcing because they do not bypass the need to fund infrastructure or the need for competent public management.” [EPI]

Or, P3s don’t replace the more traditional methods of financing — local and state taxation is still required for paying project costs. There’s nothing ‘simple’ about these arrangements, and they require extensive oversight and management.  Before leaping into a P3 it should be revealed that these generally allow governments and investors to ignore the requirement of Davis-Bacon Act ‘prevailing wages.’ This may ‘create jobs’ but it doesn’t create ‘good paying jobs’ in the construction sector.

#5. Does the administration plan specify financing and funding of infrastructure projects or is it simply a “tax credit” giveaway to investors?  It certainly sounds like it at this point, but the administration, as is becoming more obvious every day, seems to be short on specifics, and the only solid at the moment is the “tax credit” portion of the pronouncements.  If this is a tax credit for projects already in the planning stage, then it’s hard to characterize this as a bright and shiny new proposal.

#6. Location, Location, Location?  Granted that Nevada is an urban state, with most of the population located in two counties, but the roads, bridges, and dams are aligned through predominantly rural areas. Investors, in P3 or other financing schemes, can clearly see the benefits of construction in urban areas (toll roads, toll bridges, etc.) Rural areas, not so much. Nor does the financing strategy address other infrastructure issues in urban areas — how, for example, does Clark County improve its public transportation facilities and components? Washoe County? Or, Douglas, Lyon counties, and Carson City?  How will investment be directed to poorer areas, or areas under served by current transportation systems? Stated more generally:

“The other problem is that Trump’s approach makes it less likely he’ll actually create new jobs. If the customer base can afford it, and they really need the infrastructure, then the project is almost certainly already profitable and private firms are already willing to do it. The tax credit just sweetens the deal on the margins. Where there’s demand, the private market can already create jobs. The less you’re willing to redistribute, the fewer new jobs you can create.” [TheWeek]

This is another point at which the magic hand of the Market fails on one side and succeeds on the other — where there is demand (and the capacity to meet that demand, the tax credits are minimally useful (except to investors) — where there is great need but little capacity to meet the demand, then the tax credits aren’t an inducement to job creation.

We need to take some care to observe whether the “infrastructure” plan is (1) truly about infrastructure needs in Nevada? (2) truly a job creating plan and not merely a way to get tax credit benefits to the investor class, or ignore the Davis Bacon Act requirements for American workers, (3) about getting the infrastructure investments where it is actually needed.

Caveat Emptor.

 

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Filed under Economy, Federal budget, Infrastructure, Nevada highways, Nevada politics, Politics, public transportation

Quick Phone Call Fodder for Nevada District 2

Should the Trumpcare bill pass this evening, residents in the following Nevada Counties can expect changes in their premiums after tax credits: From $2400 to $3700 — Humboldt, Elko, Pershing, Esmeralda, Lander, Churchill, Esmeralda, and Mineral counties. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

The Bully Budget: A Saturday Rant

The proposed budget from the White House is a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid picture of this administration’s Ideal Government. That, after all, is the function of any budget — the household budget is a plan for the ideal month or the ideal year for expenditures.  So, if this is the administration’s ideal state, it’s pathetic.

At bottom, it’s a massive transfer of wealth from working Americans and small businesses, to the wealthy and multi-national corporations.  It supports the military-industrial complex, but not the workers who build the various machines of war. It supports the fossil fuel industry, but not those who labor in the oil fields, or want to make the family budget stretch to putting more gasoline in the tank. It is a budget which quantified people without adding to the quality of their lives. It is a budget that is all stick and no carrots.

It is a budget which calls for more people to “save” for the exigencies and emergencies in their  lives without granting them the tools needed to secure their own futures. It is a budget which tacitly blames people for circumstances that are beyond their control. It is a budget that assumes the mythology of the fictional Horatio Alger, without bothering to read the book in which our young hero goes from rags to riches by marrying the boss’s daughter.

It is a budget that insults the American public — as if we don’t “need” the documentary films by Ken Burns on PBS, as if we don’t “need” exhibitions of art in our museums, as if we don’t “need” programs like art and music in our schools, as if we don’t appreciate the services of our local libraries. It is a budget that presumes that only the cultured (and rich) who can afford to buy the books, the art, the travel to faraway places, will actually benefit from the accessibility to the arts and humanities.  It is a budget that assumes no quantifiable benefit will accrue to a youngster from a family with limited resources who sits in a library thumbing through a book on dinosaurs, or the planets, or flowers and wildlife.

It is a budget that denigrates the efforts of a mother who takes the kids to the museum on a Saturday, the father who sits with his sons and daughters to watch a PBS documentary on “American Experience” and asks questions of them afterwards to see what they’ve learned.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep the families safe. It cuts expenditures for promising medical research, for containing the dismal prospects of epidemics, even for the ‘welfare observations’ made by the volunteers from Meals on Wheels who not only deliver food to elderly relatives who want to remain in their homes, but observe and report circumstances that impinge on that person’s safety and health.  What the family wants to know is that an elderly grandparent is Okay today, and tomorrow. There will be a time when independence is no longer an option, but as long as the grandparents, or great-grandparents, can stay in their beloved homes, and the relatives can be assured they are safe; programs for the aging help keep those homes safe and the occupants secure.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep struggling families safe from food insecurity. A full pantry is to be the responsibility of the family.  Except real life doesn’t quite work like that.  If the family consists of a mother who stays home (the traditionalist Ideal) and a father who has a minimum wage job, filling up the cabinets and refrigerator with food is a daily struggle. Even when both parents are working keeping up with the dietary needs of two children puts the “insecurity” into the food equation.  No one is safe who is unfed. Dietary deficiencies have medical consequences.  The Army found that out during World War II when many draftees had to be rejected for dietary related physical conditions; the result was the school lunch program.

It is a budget that presumes that all police officers and law enforcement agencies operate in a realm reminiscent of Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane readers. There is no need to fund community policing because every officer walks his beat, knows every family in the neighborhood, and returns silly children to the safety of their living rooms. The founding philosophy of this budget is that parents really don’t have “The Talk” with their POC offspring, ignoring the point that policing services are better and safer when the people in the neighborhood feel secure talking to their law enforcement officers.

It is a budget that threatens the safety of entire cities.  Air and water pollution regulations, decried by ultra-conservatives as destructive of jobs (never specified), are to be relaxed. Smog is really no respecter of neighborhood boundaries. Pollution of ground water resources doesn’t respect city limits or county boundaries.  Chemical spills endanger our very own habitat. Toxic emissions don’t magically evaporate.  There are health implications for all deregulation. There are insurance implications for all deregulation. There are property value implications for all deregulation. As property values decline in neighborhoods susceptible to pollution, so do the revenue prospects of the very cities and counties which rely on property taxes.  Deplete the tax base and we diminish the ability of the community to deal with the results of environmental pollution.

It is a budget by and for bullies.  It is an Ideal Plan for beefing up our military, with all manner of equipment with which we can bully those with whom we share this planet. It is not a budget — an Ideal Plan — for talking to our allies, approaching our foes, and addressing the concerns of those who are unsure of our motivations. It is a budget which allows the selfish and successful to announce firmly that they don’t intend to pitch in a dime more than they must toward satisfying the needs of their fellow citizens. It is an Ideal Plan for a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid vision of America.

 

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Questions for District 2’s Representative should we ever see a town hall session

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was pleased to spend his 2016 campaign season supporting the candidacy of one Donald J. Trump.  Now that the campaign is over — there are some pertinent questions the District 2 Representative might address should he ever have one of those ‘town hall’ things.Carter Page

#1. Do the constituents in your district deserve a full and complete explication of the ties between the present administration and the Russian government, its agents, and its affiliated operatives? How likely is it that there will be a full explanation without an independent commission investigation?

We have some hints at the extent of Russian meddling with our elections and administration in chart form here,  Mr. Trump’s connections in Russia here, and the implications here. And, Politifact’s explication here.   There’s the Carter Page  connection. The Roger Stone connection.  More about Wilbur Ross, the administration’s Secretary of Commerce here. A bit of the Russian reactions recently in this article. What of the activities of Paul Manafort?  The names, in the post Flynn flood, keep coming up and out. It seems necessary to have a full, independent, and comprehensive investigation to determine the extent and implications of the Trump ties to the Russians.

#2. How do you explain support for a health care  act which replaces the Affordable Care Act with legislation that doesn’t offer a route to affordable health insurance plans for working Americans? And, which looks for all the world like a whopper tax cut for millionaires, billionaires, and insurance corporations? 

This topic has been explored in the Washington Post, in the Fortune Magazine, and in Slate.

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover mental health services on par with physical health coverage?

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover pre-natal, maternity, and post-natal expenses for American families?

Will the replacement bill require that consumer protections provided by state insurance commissions be retained?

How will be the replacement make health care policies more ‘affordable’ without going back to the days when insurance companies could sell low coverage/high deductible policies which left families with massive medical debt?

How will the replacement bill maintain the fiscal health of rural hospitals and clinics?

Now, all we have to do is wait for Representative Mark Amodei to hold a meeting with constituents to address these, and other issues.  I’d not like to hang by my hair for as long as this might take.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

The Government Regulations They Love To Hate

The Republicans have catch phrases which have been very handy for their purposes for the last forty years, “burdensome regulations,” are among them. Rarely do they want to identify upon whom the burden rests. Often they are fond of calling the regulations “job killing.”  Nearly always the “regulations” are amorphous, and highly generalized.

Let’s get specific.  Senator Rob Portman will be introducing a bill which, in its present form, would limit the ability of federal agencies to promulgate rules until every last lawsuit against them is completely litigated. In other words, NEVER.  So, what nefarious regulations would people like to have eliminated?

How about eliminating the regulations associated with the Clean Water Act?  One regulation has already fallen — the one limiting toxic sludge emptied into freshwater.  Is this going to make drinking water any safer? Will this encourage the development of tourism based activities in coal country to diversify their economy by adding more hunting and fishing opportunities?  Will elimination of these rules make the drinking water in Flint, MI and other American cities safer for children, and adults?  Do we really want to go back to the not-so-good old days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, OH?

Or perhaps people would like rules associated with the Clean Air Act eliminated?  What’s wrong with breathing a little smog — other than creating public health issues like an increase in the incidence of asthma? Respiratory diseases? Lung cancer? What’s wrong with creating a country of people walking around with face masks as they do in Beijing?

How about eliminating consumer protection regulations?  Gee, what could go wrong, other than a replication of Wells-Fargo’s egregious practice of opening accounts people didn’t know about and then charging fees on those accounts?  Other than predatory lenders charging unimaginable rates for pay day loans to working people, and even members of the US Armed Forces?  Other than mortgage servicers failing to notify customers who held their mortgages and failing to properly record documents with local governments? Other than obviously dangerous products being available for sale to unwitting customers, customers without the ability to check online to see if products for infants, children, and others are safe and free of deadly defects?  Other than allowing financial advisers being able to tell retirees to purchase financial products which benefit the adviser far more than they would benefit the retirees?  Other than making it easier for the Wolves on Wall Street to indulge in Casino play with investment funds?  Were these the “burdensome” rules of which we wish to be relieved?

It’s interesting, that Republicans are only too pleased to speak of those regulatory burdens in highly generalized terms, but when brought down to cases, they tend to sputter that “No, it’s not Those” regulations of which they speak.

Who is in favor of providing federal funds to schools that allow bullying and discriminatory behaviors in their buildings? Who is in favor of making it more difficult to determine if lending institutions are cheating their customers?  Who is in favor of dirty air and filthy streams?  Who is in favor of making it more likely that food sold to the public won’t be properly inspected? Let’s guess it’s NOT the average American member of the public at large.

Someone is in favor of removing these, and other obstacles, to free wheeling unrestrained and unregulated corporate practices, and in this Congress they are finding significant support.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics