Initiative 126 Launches To Stop Predatory Payday Lending Usury

A press release from a coalition of groups who launched a ballot initiative campaign to cap interest rates on so-called “payday loans”–a finance product aimed at struggling consumers that frequently traps borrowers in a cycle of unaffordable debt at interest rates that would blow creditworthy consumers away:

A coalition of community, faith, and advocacy organizations have come together to stop predatory payday loans in 2018. They are working to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that would cap payday lending interest rates. Payday lenders are currently exempted from the state usury cap, allowing them to charge over 200% for short-term loans of up to $500.

Payday lenders strip $50 million per year in interest and fees from financially-strapped Coloradans. The average loan lasts 97 days, and some customers take these loans one after another, spending more than half the year in high-cost debt. The average loan of $392 costs customers an average $119 in interest and fees to borrow money for 97 days. With a default rate of 23 percent — almost 1 in 4 loans — many customers face insufficient funds and overdraft fees, collection efforts, and even bankruptcy for a loan that was supposed to help them through a shortfall.

There was a legislative attempt at reforming this industry a few years ago that made a few changes beneficial to borrowers, most importantly changing the terms of payday loans from a two-week full repayment to a six-month plan. Despite this change, consumers continue to be subject to finance terms from payday lenders that result in a loan product of dubious net value just to bridge the gap to the next pre-spent paycheck. Initiative 126 would cap the allowable interest on payday loans at 36%, which most people would still consider to be awfully damn high.

Back when payday lending reform was a major issue in the Colorado legislature leading up to the passage of the 2010 reform legislation, longtime readers will recall this this blog was hit by a large volume of spam posts linking to various payday lending outfits. We were never quite sure if there was a connection between the legislative effort in Colorado to rein in payday loans and the mass spamming of our blog, but we resolved in the wake of that episode to enthusiastically support all efforts to regulate these loan sharks into an ethical business model. Or failing that, put them out of their predatory business entirely.

And please, spare us the disingenuous pleas of mercy for the minimum-wage employees of payday lending shops. There are better jobs waiting for all of them in today’s fully-employed economy. The damage done by predatory lending eclipses any value of those low-wage jobs.

Colorado will be just fine without loans that hurt people more than they help them.

House “Freedom Caucus” Kills Farm Bill

The House Freedom caucus tries to explain why the Farm Bill is “just resting.”

As Politico reports, Republicans still can’t figure out what to do with their majority in Congress:

The House Freedom Caucus on Friday sank a partisan farm bill over an immigration dispute with GOP leadership, delaying a bill that included President Donald Trump’s push to impose stricter work requirements on food stamp recipients.

The bill went down, 198-213, after leaders feverishly tried to flip conservative votes on the floor, even leaving the vote open for a time to try to change opponents’ minds. It is a huge setback to the farm lobby and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s welfare reform agenda. [Pols emphasis]

The vote came after a 48-hour standoff between GOP leadership and members of the Freedom Caucus. The bloc of conservatives held the bill hostage, demanding that the House first vote on controversial immigration legislationin exchange for their support for the sweeping agriculture and nutrition legislation.

“It’s not a fatal blow, it’s just a reorganize,” said Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows. “I think at this point we just really need to deal with immigration in an effective way.”

Republicans will no doubt try to find a way to blame Democrats for this latest failure, but history doesn’t support such an argument:

Rejection of the legislation is reminiscent of the last farm bill cycle in 2013, when the House also voted down a conservative version of the legislation, delaying the process for months. Ultimately, the sweeping bill was bailed out by Democrats the following year. [Pols emphasis]

While the farm bill is historically bipartisan legislation, Ryan has backed a Republican-only version this cycle as a way to notch a win on his welfare plan before he retires at the end of the year. House GOP leadership also pitched the bill as a positive messaging tool for the midterms.

Three members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of the Farm Bill today: Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora). Greeley Republican Ken Buck did not cast a vote on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

Gardner On Wrong Side As Senate Halts Net Neutrality Rollback

THURSDAY UPDATE: The battle to save net neutrality now moves to the House, where all eyes are on Rep. Mike Coffman to see if lip service will translate to votes at the critical moment they’re needed:

Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that has advocated for an open internet since 2011, told Courthouse News this week that the prospect of achieving the simple majority in the House is “doable.”

“But it’s an uphill battle,” Greer said.

“Fifteen House Republicans voted against the CRA to gut broadband privacy rules last year and a handful of others like Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Don Young of Arkansas, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Dave Reichert of Washington, John Curtis of Utah have already publicly criticized the FCC repeal,” she said.

Even if the resolution clears Congress and makes it to President Donald Trump’s desk, there’s a still a chance he could veto it.

But it’s not a given, Greer said.

“Getting this to Trump’s desk would be a massive victory for the net neutrality movement,” she said. “It would show that there is a clear mandate for strong, enforceable net neutrality protections. Even if Trump vetoes it, it will set a tone for any future congressional fights to come and beat back attempts by ISPs to push watered down legislation that undermines net neutrality while claiming to save it.”

The whole series of tubes is watching.

—–

Senator Cory Gardner (R).

A dramatic vote in the U.S. Senate today delivers a stinging rebuke to the Trump administration and Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai in particular–overturning new rules that would have gutted longstanding regulations requiring equal treatment of all internet data. CNN reports:

The Senate voted Wednesday to pass a measure that would repeal changes to net neutrality rules that were recently adopted by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission.

The measure, which was backed by all 49 Democrats and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana, will be sent to the GOP-led House, where it’ll likely go nowhere — and President Donald Trump is unlikely to back it.

While Collins’ support had been public leading up to the vote, Murkowski’s and Kennedy’s “yes” vote came as a surprise to some.

Democrats used the Congressional Review Act to force a vote — a law that allows Congress to repeal agency rules and regulations on a simple majority vote, instead of a 60-vote threshold needed to break procedural hurdles on most legislation, the kinds of traditional roadblocks where Senate leadership could typically hold up such a proposal.

NPR reports Sen. Cory Gardner’s vacant sloganeering while yet another issue with lopsided public support passes him by:

Republicans overwhelmingly support ending net neutrality because they want to shift regulatory power away from the federal government and toward the private market. Republicans also argue that Democrats are playing on unfounded fears that Internet service providers will jack up costs and anger their consumer base. “If the Democrats want to run on regulating the Internet, I think that’s a losing strategy,”  [Pols emphasis] said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who runs the Senate GOP’s 2018 campaign operation and voted against the resolution.

A poll from last February demonstrates just how fundamentally out of touch this statement is:

Outside of Washington, D.C., net neutrality isn’t a partisan issue. Americans from red and blue states alike agree that equal access to the internet is a right, including: 79% of Colorado residents, [Pols emphasis] 81% of Arizona residents, and 80% of North Carolina residents.

91% of Americans believe consumers should be able to freely and quickly access their preferred content on the internet. Support for net neutrality is growing: When Mozilla and Ipsos asked this same question in 2017, 86% of Americans believed this…

76% of Americans believe internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all consumer data the same, and not speed up or slow down specific content. This opinion is most common among older Americans (80% of adults ages 55+) and Americans with a college degree (81%). 63% of Americans do not think that ISPs will voluntarily look out for consumers’ best interests, compared to 32% who agree with this statement…

So here’s where this issue stands just a few months from the midterm elections: when Republicans took control of the White House in 2016, ending net neutrality was high on the agenda. The attempt to repeal net neutrality rules was a major public relations fiasco, with the public and most of the tech sector outside internet service providers flatly rejecting the new rules. Stakeholders then organized a months-long grassroots lobbying campaign with the longshot goal of persuading enough Senators to reject this long-lobbied change. Since then, millions of Americans have contacted their representatives urging them to hit the brakes.

Today, that’s exactly what happened. While Sen. Cory Gardner stood with the 21% of Coloradans who don’t want net neutrality, a coalition of all 49 Senate Democrats, including Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and a few conscientious Republicans, scored a critical victory for a free internet.

It’s not a decisive issue for everybody. But to patrons of this blog and every other website, it should be.

The Real PERA Problem is Getting Ignored

State lawmakers are rushing to finish up a number of bills before Wednesday’s final day of the 2018 legislative session. At the top of the list is legislation to make changes to PERA (the Public Employees Retirement Association), the state pension system that includes more than 500,000 Coloradans among its members. Legislators from the House and Senate are currently trying to work out a compromise on SB-200, but there are serious differences of opinion on issues such as raising contributions and limiting cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries.

The weakening of retirement benefits has been a significant pain point for teachers across the country, from Kentucky to Arizona and here in Colorado. Reforming PERA is also emerging as a major issue in the 2018 race for Governor, particularly on the Republican side; State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has long made PERA reform a signature issue (when he bothers to show up, of course).

“Many institutions pay substantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game…

…Most advisors, however, are far better at generating high fees than they are at generating high returns.”

— Warren Buffet

Most of the discussions around PERA funding have revolved around whether to increase contributions from employees and/or the state, but as David Sirota reports for Westword, there is a gigantic elephant in the room that has yet to be addressed: PERA is paying Wall Street investing firms more than a billion dollars in fees for managing portfolios that are consistently underperforming their benchmarks — which means PERA hasn’t even been keeping up with the stock market.

Sirota’s story is thick with detail but well worth the read:

Ask legislators at the Colorado State Capitol if they’ve even heard about the $1 billion of investment fees that the state’s pension system paid out to external money managers between 2009 and 2016, and you will get blank stares. Ask them if they realize those are only the fees that are disclosed — and that there are likely hundreds of millions of dollars of additional fees being paid — and they will express disbelief. Ask them if they know that state officials passed legislation — written by the financial industry — barring the details of the fee terms from being revealed to the public, and you will elicit outrage.

This is a little-discussed reality at PERA — just as it is at many retirement systems across the country. And lately PERA has moved to funnel even more money into an opaque fund that is a mishmash of exotic investments from timberland to hedge funds — and has generated ever-higher fees while trailing the broader stock market…

…In nearly every state with revenue shortfalls, the political debate over pension reform primarily revolves around proposals to cut workers’ benefits — while ever-larger payouts to financial firms are considered sacrosanct and kept hidden from view.

As Sirota explains, PERA’s problem isn’t just that it holds underperforming “alternative” investments (including private equity, real estate, and hedge funds), but that hundreds of millions of dollars are being paid in “fees” to Wall Street brokers to manage these middling returns. We don’t know exact numbers on how much money is being paid in fees because an obscure piece of legislation from 2004k keeps everything hidden:

Colorado’s two-paragraph legislation gave PERA the right to hide all information about private equity, debt and timber investments if pension trustees determined that “disclosure of such information would jeopardize the value of the investment.”

Detailed financial information on management fees is not, and cannot, be disclosed by PERA. What we know about these fees is based only on a snapshot of data provided by PERA. For example:

Between 2009 and 2016, PERA disclosed spending roughly $1.2 billion to manage all of its investments. More than two-thirds of those expenses were fees paid to firms managing money in the private equity, hedge fund and Opportunity Fund portfolios, even though those managers only oversaw roughly 20 percent of the state’s overall investments. 

… In its 2016 annual report, PERA reported an 8.5 percent return over the most recent five years — but even that has trailed a traditional Vanguard fund, and it also trailed at least one of its peers in the Intermountain West. Nevada’s public pension system, which is 12 percent smaller than PERA and has far less exposure to private equity and real estate, earned a 9.1 percent return during the same five-year period. That outperformance came at a cheaper cost: Nevada paid 75 percent less in fees than did Colorado, paying half a billion dollars less to Wall Street than PERA did.

The numbers that are available from PERA don’t provide a lot of confidence. For example, take a look at PERA’s Annualized Rate of Return over the last decade (outlined in PERA’s 2016 annual report): PERA shows a return of 5.2%, while the median public pension system in the U.S. saw a return of 5.5%. During that same time period, Vanguard’s low-fee Balanced Index Fund (60% stocks and 40% bonds) generated annualized returns of 6.4%.

Again, you really should read the entire Westword story in order to understand the full depth of the problem here. It would appear that PERA can make great strides in its bottom line by changing its investments andaddressing the hundreds of millions in fees being paid out to Wall Street for what seems to be pretty terrible advice. This probably won’t be enough to fix PERA’s financial problems entirely, but the burden for reform shouldn’t be felt by PERA members alone.

Where’s Walker? Stapleton Absent from Big PERA Meeting

Reforming PERA (the Public Employees’ Retirement Association) has always been a top issue for State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is also the current frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Stapleton is a member of the PERA Board of Trustees, and despite his professed interest in PERA reform, his overall involvement in reform — as well as his attendance at board meetings — has been consistently spotty over the last eight years.

On Thursday, the PERA Board held a special meeting to discuss a critical piece of legislation that is being worked out in a legislative conference committee. Guess who didn’t show up?

Stapleton has never been particularly good about showing up for work since he was elected Treasurer in 2010. His attendance record at PERA Board meetings is particularly abysmal, and despite his regular rants on PERA reform, Stapleton doesn’t really dispute his lack of involvement in the actual details on the issue. On Thursday, Stapleton didn’t even bother sending a representative from his office to the PERA meeting (although this might actually make some sense, given that he had to fire Deputy Treasurer Jon Forbes last summer after Forbes loudly told the rest of the PERA Board to “go f*** themselves”).

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton

Stapleton’s opponents in the Republican Primary for Governor have taken notice of his vapid rantings. Check out what Doug Robinson (Mitt Romney’s Nephew) said on “The Get More Smarter Show” two weeks ago:

I’m tired of the talk. I’m tired of people saying they’ve been a voice on this issue or that issue. Yet, you’ve been on the board for seven years and it’s not done. The problem is bigger today that it was before…

I’m upset about this. In remember in 2010, PERA was in a big crisis and they said they made changes and they fixed it. And now it’s almost double the liability that it was at that time, and the stock market has more than doubled during that time.

So where was Stapleton last night instead of attending a special PERA meeting? We’ll update this story as we learn more about Stapleton’s absence. Hopefully it wasn’t just because of a rainy night in Denver.

Surprise! Republican Tax Plan Only Good for Rich People

Economic Rocket Fuel!

Congressional Republicans were giddy in late 2017 when they finally did a thing after spending most of the year fumbling around with healthcare “reform” and generally accomplishing nothing. The Great Republican Tax Plan was touted as “rocket fuel” for the American economy that would spur American investments and corporate growth, which in turn would trickle down to the middle class, yada, yada…

As the New York Times reports, that didn’t really happen:

Republicans sold the 2017 tax law as “rocket fuel” for American investment and growth, saying that corporations — flush with cash from lower tax rates — would channel money back into the economy by building factories and offices and investing in equipment, which would help companies grow and provide winnings for workers…

But, so far, hard evidence of such an acceleration has yet to appear in economic data, which show more of a steady investment roll than a rapid escalation. And while there are pockets of the economy where investment is picking up — among large tech companies and in shale oil business, for example — corporate spending on buying back stock is increasing at a far faster clip, prompting a debate about whether the law is returning money to the overall economy or just rewarding a small segment of investors. [Pols emphasis]

Data on the gross domestic product, released Friday, showed that business investment grew at a 6.1 percent annual clip during the first three months of 2018, down from 7.2 percent during the first quarter last year. Excluding oil and gas investment, which is particularly volatile, the investment pace grew slightly over the past year.

While the first-quarter investment numbers were more robust than they were in 2015 and 2016 — when a bust in oil prices curtailed a large chunk of American corporate spending — they weren’t radically different from the roughly 5 percent rate of growth for business investment that has prevailed since 2010.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is getting flogged by right-wing Republicans for daring to point out the obvious: The Republican tax plan ain’t doing shit for the economy. Check out this quote from Rubio in the current issue of The Economist:

“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers. In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.” [Pols emphasis]

Perhaps Rubio’s buddy, Sen. Cory Gardner, saw this coming; Gardner regularly praised the legislation as something of a Christmas miracle, but he was noticeably absent in defense of the tax bill in the aftermath of its passage (he has since returned to cheerleading the legislation). American voters, meanwhile, were well aware of the problems with this turd long before President Trump signed it into law.

Gardner has another two years to worry about the electoral consequences of his tax vote, but this bill is coming due in November for Republicans like Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez). Coffman shrugged off concerns about rising debt and in January scolded critics of the tax plan, telling KNUS radio that the stock market would have crashed had Republicans not acted when they did. Tipton, meanwhile, never even seemed to bother with trying to understand the tax bill that Republican leadership told him to support.

What was once billed by the GOP as its signature achievement of 2017 is turning into an issue that Republican candidates may avoid discussing altogether this fall.

Alamosa Official Won’t Resign After Writing ‘Republicans hate poor people’

(The foot remains in the mouth – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Alamosa residents decried Councilor David Broyles’ assertion that “Republicans hate poor people,” before calling for his resignation at last night’s city council meeting, which also included a discussion of a possible recall election.

Broyles admitted to being the author of the Alamosa County Republicans’ controversial post on its Facebook page Friday. He has since resigned from his position as Vice Chair of the Alamosa GOP, but remains in his public office as city councilor for Alamosa’s Ward 2. 

The full city council meeting can be viewed online here. The links in the paragraphs below jump directly to the statements being discussed.

Alamosa GOP Facebook post by then-Vice Chair David Broyles

South Alamosa resident Scott White asked directly for Councilor Broyles’ resignation: “We should as a city, ask for Broyles’ resignation as a clear show of support for the poor people that he claims Republicans hate. We are some of the poorest counties in the state and we need to support our people and not encourage or defend hate speech. I ask that Councilor Broyles resign as a city councilperson.”

Following comments from the public that included requests for his resignation, Councilor Broyles apologized for the post, saying in part,

“I made the posting. It doesn’t represent who I am and it doesn’t represent the platform of the Republican party. I sincerely apologize to the public and to the Republican Party. All I can say is that I will show you in the months ahead that my heart really is centered with helping the poor. My whole life has been with working with the poor. One of these days I’m going to write a letter to the editor to tell you everything I do to work with the poor.” 

(more…)

Caption This Photo of Sen. Kevin Lundberg Tripping Out

The Colorado Senate GOP is celebrating passage of this year’s budget in an almost schizophrenic way:

Got that? $600 in “new spending proposed by the Democrats.” But then the very next two Tweets:

Because the debate was never about “new spending” by Democrats–there’s simply more money in the budget this year! Everybody who follows Colorado politics knows that, or at least should know that, so it makes you wonder who Senate Republicans think they’re kidding. It’s an old joke that in Washington, Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is President. In Colorado where we’re not allowed to run deficits, it appears the only good spending is GOP majority-approved spending.

Though to Sen. Kevin Lundberg, especially on whatever he’s smoking in the image above, we honestly believe that Democratic and Republican spending all looks the same.

Trippy, man.

Repealing Fuel Economy Standards–Because Trump Can!

Gas guzzlers.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan’s Jace Marmaduke reports on the latest head-scratcher from the Trump administration–a proposal from embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards:

The average Colorado household could miss out on up to $2,700 in gas savings by 2030 after a planned rollback of Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy standards, according to a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis.

Union of Concerned Scientists calculated a household’s potential savings if the standards were kept in place, even factoring in a potential increase in vehicle prices due to manufacturers updating models to meet the current federal standards.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced this week that he plans to relax the standards, which currently include an average fuel efficiency target of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

“The Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in a press release. “Obama’s EPA cut the midterm evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality and set the standards too high.”

ThinkProgress explains the backstory:

In 2012, the Obama administration approved new auto emissions standards, with 2018 model year vehicles required to average 38.3 miles per gallon of gasoline and 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The 2025 target was set as part of a compromise reached between the Obama administration and the auto industry.

Environmental and energy efficiency groups accused Pruitt of siding with the fossil fuel industry by seeking to weaken the fuel efficiency standards…

“There’s no good reason for these standards to be sabotaged,” Evans said. The Alliance to Save Energy is a bipartisan alliance of business, government, environmental, and consumer groups that works to expand the economy while reducing energy consumption.

ThinkProgress reports that although the auto industry was good with these higher mileage standards when they were hashed out with the Obama administration, they’re just as happy with seeing them relaxed! As long as people keep buying cars, which we’re pretty sure under just about any foreseeable circumstance they will. After all, automakers won’t have to spend the money to improve their cars now. And while the oil and gas industry might say they’re all about efficiency, we suspect they’ll be just fine without it too.

Who loses? Well, who always loses when the the current generation stops caring about the next one?

But it’s okay, because Scott Pruitt–and Donald Trump–will be long gone.

The Big Budget Deal, Guns, and Gardner

Trump sign bill, but Trump still mad!

After briefly threatening a veto — and randomly asking Congress to give him line item veto powers (and eliminating the filibuster) — President Trump today signed a massive $1.3 trillion spending deal that includes changes to background checks for gun purchases that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) opposed to the very end. If that sentence seems complicated…well, it is. There’s no easy way to unpack the giant omnibus spending bill rammed through by Congress early this morning.

Let’s start things off with the Washington Post reporting from the White House:

Just hours after threatening a veto, President Trump said Friday afternoon that he had signed a “ridiculous” $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday and averted a government shutdown…

…But speaking to reporters at the White House about four hours later, Trump said he had decided to sign the bill despite his reservations, arguing that it provides much-needed funding for the military, including a pay increase for troops and new equipment.

In his remarks to the media today, Trump was in full angry old man mode. From the New York Times:

In a rambling and disjointed 20-minute statement from the Diplomatic Reception Room, Mr. Trump denigrated the bill, which was rushed through the House and the Senate by members of his own Republican Party, as “crazy” and vowed to never “sign another bill like this again.”

“Nobody read it,” Mr. Trump said of the sweeping funding measure drawn up by Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. Echoing criticism from those who voted against the measure, Mr. Trump added, “It’s only hours old.”

Trump specifically addressed his anger about the 2,322-page spending bill that lawmakers could not have possibly even begun to have read before voting on the measure. The House version of the bill made it to the floor on Thursday after just 16 hours of debate; all four Colorado Republican members of Congress voted to end discussion, moving things along with a narrow 211-207 result. Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Ken Buck (R-Greeley) were ultimately able to vote “YES” and “NO” on the proposal (Coffman and Buck voted YES on the procedural move before pressing the “NO” button on the final vote).

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma).

Over in the Senate, the spending bill passed with 62 votes; Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) voted “YES” and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) was a “NO.” Gardner’s vote is particularly interesting because the bill included the “Fix NICS” background check provision that Gardner had been blocking for weeks. The next time Gardner pretends to be concerned about gun violence, remember that he prevented the popular background fix measure from being debated in the Senate and ultimately voted against its final approval.

What else do we know about the giant omnibus spending bill? As CNN’s Gregory Krieg explains, it’s important to consider everything that was NOT bundled into the legislation, such as: 1) DACA and immigration reform, 2) Billions of dollars for Trump’s border wall, and 3) Serious attempts at preventing gun violence, including no new limits on gun purchases.

How did this all happen so quickly? As Sarah Binder writes for the Washington Post, this was Republican strategerie at work:

One of the reasons GOP leaders were keen to rush the bill to a vote is that they didn’t want their partisan base to notice that it both funds innumerable Democratic priorities and blocks the Trump administration from doing such things as expanding detention of immigrants, defunding sanctuary cities, and ending federal funding for the arts, to name a few. [Pols emphasis] The Trump White House and many conservatives wanted deep cuts to domestic programs. Party leaders ignored that. The more quickly the two chambers vote, the less time potential opponents have to unearth details that could outrage the GOP base, who might pressure their representatives to vote against the deal.

To summarize, Congressional Republicans rammed through a humongous spending bill that they didn’t read and didn’t really like that does very little to address their political vulnerabilities on gun violence and immigration reform…and will also likely anger their base of supporters.

House Passes Omnibus Bill Nobody Had Time to Read

UPDATE #2: All four Republicans in Colorado’s Congressional delegation sided with leadership on a narrow 211-207 vote to move the discussion forward. As CNN explains:

The internal GOP backlash to the amount of spending and the process of rushing the measure through just 16 hours after it was released was on full display on the House floor on Thursday. Twenty-five House Republicans broke with their leadership and opposed the usually party line procedural vote bringing up the legislation. But the measure narrowly passed 211-207.

After the vote to move the omnibus debate forward, the House approved the bill with a 256-167 margin…with Republican Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Ken Buck (R-Greeley) conveniently voting “NO.” In other words, Coffman and Buck voted “YES” before they voted “NO.”

—–

UPDATE: House Republicans rammed through the omnibus bill without even waiting for every member to vote. Here’s more from Politico.

—–

Via @RepJayapal

Chris Cillizza of CNN takes note of the absolutely massive new omnibus spending bill that Congress is trying to pass before tomorrow’s deadline for funding the federal government:

On Wednesday night, congressional leaders unveiled a spending bill that will fund the entire federal government through September — at a whopping estimated cost of $1.3 trillion. The bill is 2,322 pages long. It has be to be passed through both chambers of Congress by midnight Friday or else the government shuts down. Again.

Some quick back-of-the-envelope math shows that if every lawmaker stayed up for 48 straight hours — the time, roughly, between when the so-called “omnibus” bill was unveiled and when it needs to be passed — they would need to read an average of 48 pages per hour, every hour, to read the entire thing. Which seems, um, unlikely.

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is a big fan of pretending to read bills before he votes on them, but it’s going to be tough for him to continue that lark with a new omnibus bill that might be taller than the Congressman himself.

As a freshman in Congress in 2009, Coffman had a speaking role in Republican efforts to promote “transparency” and a “read the bill” initiative. Just last March, Coffman Tweeted a photo of himself “reading” Obamacare repeal legislation at his desk in Washington D.C. — at about the same time he was promoting a radio appearance in Colorado to discuss his support of said legislation.

Perhaps we should give Coffman the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has a superhero-esque ability to read and digest complex information in a matter of minutes. Or, perhaps, there is a simpler explanation here.

Trump Does Tariffs

As the New York Times (and everyone else) reports:

President Trump defied opposition from his own party and protests from overseas on Thursday as he signed orders imposing stiff and sweeping new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. But he sought to soften the impact on America’s closest allies with a more flexible plan than originally envisioned.

After a week of furious lobbying and a burst of last-minute internal debates and confusion, Mr. Trump agreed to exempt, for now, Canada and Mexicoand held out the possibility of later excluding allies such as Australia. But foreign leaders warned of a trade war that could escalate to other industries and be aimed at American goods…

…Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said on Thursday that a plan to impose broad tariffs that hit allies was “dangerous” and could undermine national security.

“If you put tariffs against your allies,” Mr. Draghi said at a news conference in Frankfurt, “one wonders who the enemies are.”

The tariffs will officially take effect in 15 days.

Bennet Deservedly Takes Heat Over Banking Bill

Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

As the Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reports, sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head and wonder:

A bill that would weaken oversight of the banking industry is up for debate this week in the U.S. Senate, where Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet’s support of the measure is drawing heat from its liberal opponents who warn the proposal could lead to a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

Bennet was one of more than a dozen Democrats who joined with the Republican majority on Tuesday to help the measure clear a procedural hurdle and set up a final vote in the coming days.

Its advance drew fire from Democrats such as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who said the legislation was “all about helping big banks.”

The New York Times’ Mike Konczal sums up the dismay of liberal Democrats over the number of Democrats who joined with the GOP majority in the Senate to advance this legislation:

Why would some Democrats provide support for a rollback of Dodd-Frank? Proponents argue that this bill provides much needed relief for community banks and credit unions, which, these proponents claim, face enormous difficulties. They also say that it doesn’t endanger financial reforms aimed against the largest and most dangerous players.

But that view is mistaken: This bill goes far beyond the health of community banks and credit unions. It removes protections for 25 of the top 38 banks; weakens regulations on the biggest players and encourages them to manipulate regulations for their benefit; and saps consumer protections.

What do Democrats get in return? Nothing substantive that they should want. They could demand better funding for regulators or an appointment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — or a vote on gun control…

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was particularly vocal in her criticism of Democrats who voted for the bill:

Although Sen. Michael Bennet isn’t up for re-election for a number of years, it’s a problem to see him voting with Republicans once again on an issue for which his record has demonstrated a persistent blind spot. And it’s not just problematic for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s consumer watchdog allies. As a moderate Democratic Senator who has always tried to bring opposing sides to a compromise on issues like protections for finance-product consumers, Bennet is co-sponsoring legislation that overwhelmingly aggrieves one side. Either Bennet is unaware of the staunch opposition to the bill he’s sponsoring or he doesn’t care, and neither seems likely to ingratiate the side of this debate he should be trying to persuade.

And we’ll say it as nicely as we can: although Bennet has little to lose in the short term, collaborating with Republicans to weaken banking protections over the loud objections of a possible 2020 presidential candidate isn’t the way to rally base Democratic voters ahead of the 2018 elections. We would encourage, to the extent a course change for Colorado’s senior U.S. Senator is possible here, that it be considered.

“Full Frontal” on TABOR and Doug Bruce

Colorado was a big topic of discussion on the TBS comedy show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on Wednesday. If you haven’t already seen it, you need to stop whatever you are doing and watch the full six-minute bit below.

The segment features Mike Rubens exploring Colorado’s fiscal problems thanks to TABOR titled “Doug Bruce Ruined Colorado.” The video includes Governor John Hickenlooper in a plum-colored shirt, as well as the following verbatim quotes from Doug Bruce himself:

“People would be very foolish to say that civil rights just has to do with benefits to black people…hispanics, blacks, orientals, whatever.”

“Martin Luther King and I are both…” [pause while Bruce burps — literally] “…freedom fighters.”

“‘Communal’ is a word…the derivation of which is ‘commune,’ which is…’communism.'”

“I wasn’t aware that this proceeding was going to turn into a homosexual encounter.”

 

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (March 7)

It’s not officially Springtime just yet, but it sure feels that way. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Democrats turned out for their Party caucus in huge numbers on Tuesday. In the race for Governor, Cary Kennedy appears to have the early lead among caucus-goers with 50 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Jared Polis. According to the Colorado Democratic Party, more than 23,000 Democrats turned out for Tuesday’s caucus, which amounts to a nearly 400% increase from the last mid-term election year (2014).

Elsewhere, Democratic turnout for Tuesday’s primary election in Texas has Republicans worried. As NBC News reports:

Democrats hoping for a blue wave in November were buoyed, if not jubilant, Tuesday as Texas voters cast the first ballots in this year’s midterms in closely watched primaries for Senate, House and governor.

While final turnout numbers were not as strong for Democrats as heavy early voting had suggested, more than 1 million party members in Texas cast ballots — the first time Democrats topped that figure in a primary since the 2002 midterms…

…Democratic turnout was up 84 percent from the last midterm primary, in 2014, while Republican turnout increased about 14 percent, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. GOP turnout was the highest since the 2010 midterm.

 

► Colorado Senate Democrats renewed their call for a hearing on an expulsion resolution for Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who faces multiple charges of sexual harassment. Senate President Kevin Grantham, meanwhile, continues to respond to allegations of harassment by three Republican Senators in the absolute worst manner possible.

 

President Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is resigning over disagreements about Trump’s proposals for expansive new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Wall Street did not react well; the Dow took a sharp dive in early trading on Wednesday.

As the New York Times reports, Cohn’s resignation is a major indicator of a growing rift on trade in the Republican Party

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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