Thursday, March 30, 2006

CA-11 Blog | Policy Discussion Series | Bankruptcy Bill

Against overwhelming evidence that the majority of Americans file for bankruptcy protection as a direct result of debt from personal catastrophes like medical problems, divorce, or the loss of employment, Congress decided to make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) and costly for working families to file for bankruptcy. Congress fast-tracked the Bankruptcy Bill, which was literally written by the Credit Card Industry and deceptively framed the issue as reforming bankruptcy laws due to people abusing the system by going wild with credit cards and not paying their bills.

The Bankruptcy Bill has received widespread criticism from those aware of its existence. While trying to interpret this legislation which harms honest people who are going through a serious financial crisis, Federal Judge Frank Monroe, in a written judicial opinion, said the following:

"Those responsible for the passing of the Act did all in their power to avoid the proffered input from sitting United States Bankruptcy Judges, various professors of bankruptcy law at distinguished universities, and many professional associations filled with the best of the bankruptcy lawyers in the country as to the perceived flaws in the Act. This is because the parties pushing the passage of the Act had their own agenda. It was apparently an agenda to make more money off the backs of the consumers in this country."


1. Some see the Bankruptcy Bill as a prime example of how Congress has completely turned its back on working families. Do you think that's true?

Steve Filson: Yes. I believe the vote to pass The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) is a perfect example of lobbyists with big checks getting exactly what they wanted while working families and small business owners were ignored.

2. The Bankruptcy Bill garnered bi-partisan support, including vigorous support from Ellen Tauscher (D-Alamo). Do you think it was a mistake for some Democrats to support this Bill?

Steve Filson: I think it was a mistake for Democrats and Republicans to support the bill. While I have the utmost respect for Congresswoman Tauscher and the work she does for the 10th Congressional district, I disagree with her on this issue.

3. How do you view the Bankruptcy Bill's relationship to other issues like Health Care Reform or Campaign Finance Reform?

Steve Filson: I believe these issues are related because they demonstrate how Congress can be held hostage on issues important to the American people by very small groups of powerful special interests.

There should be an honest and open debate in this country about how we get health care for all Americans. But that debate can’t happen when the only ones in the room benefit from obscene administrative costs at the expense of coverage.

There should be an honest and open debate in this country on campaign finance reform and free speech. But the debate is being stifled by powerful media interests benefiting from the outrageous prices charged to candidates so they can get their message to voters.

Money can narrow the conversation about how best to address the issues we all face and can suppress the best ideas that can move American forward.

4. What impacts do you think the Bankruptcy Bill will have right here in the CA-11 District?

Steve Filson: The impacts will be widely felt.

Small business will be punished by the complicated rules surrounding business formations that need to co-mingle personal and business assets.

Consumers and new students will suffer because the law does not address the aggressive marketing of high interest, high fee credit cards to new graduates and low-income workers. The majority of bankruptcies are not caused by one’s “moral failings” but have their origin in catastrophic events and medical emergencies. The law strips away the financial second chance Americans deserve.

Perhaps most depressing is the effect this law will have on active duty troops and Reserve and National Guard members. In 1999, a General Accounting Office study analyzed bankruptcy filings and determined that 16,000 active-duty service members had filed for bankruptcy during the course of the last year. In addition, a 2002 Pentagon study found that 1/3 of military families experience a significant drop in income when a member was deployed, and for Reserve and National Guard members this figure rose to 40%. The men and woman who defend this country must have better.

Since the bankruptcy law became effective, the Republican majority in Congress continues to block any exceptions to the bankruptcy law for service men and woman as well as victims of last season’s terrible hurricanes.

These are times when Congress should side with working families and the men and women who defend our nation.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tri-Valley Dem club candidates forum

A couple of folks have asked me how the forum went so I thought I would list my notes on each candidate.


A.J. Carillo took on tough duty while substituting for Jerry due to a death in Jerry's family

  • Jerry is a "Barbara Boxer Democrat"
  • responding to a question about what his first authored bill would be if elected:
    "support John Murtha's bill on withdrawl from Iraq"
  • CA-11 should not pursue an "electibility strategy" - sited the 2004 John Kerry strategy
  • reiterated Jerry's vision for CA-11 to become the world leader in renewable energy businesses and technology (I REALLY like this by the way - it is a big vision but it's really worth some attention)


Basically delivered an amplified version of his remarks from the Lamorinda event

  • he effectively stepped up the pitch and in one moment he said we need to "kick ass"
  • responding to a question about what his first authored bill would be if elected: "fix our Delta Levee problems"
  • turned his "impeachment" frame into "censure" (good for him)
  • he ran out of time and only enumerated 2 of his 5 key platform items: 1. terrorism 2. economic bill of rights (I really wish he would have returned to this in a subsequent answer)
  • spoke about and handed out flyers on how a Bob Casey Jr candidacy is bad because he is a pro-lifer (I respectfully disagree - I've met Bob Casey Jr. and no matter how much I disagree with him on that issue, he's the only one who has any shot at beating Santorum)


Stepped up his tone and pitch somewhat but essentially delivered much of the same content as the Lamorinda event

  • Noted that the current GOP'ers think its "every man for himself" and Democrats know that we're all in this together
  • responding to a question about what his first authored bill would be if elected:
    "transportation bill for the district" mentioned I-205.
  • went on the offensive and said that in the 2004 election 30,000 voted for Boxer while at the same time voted for Pombo
  • spoke effectively about ESA and "critical habitats"
  • re-iterated several times that "the time is now" to win this race - a real sense of urgency came across

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Contra Costa Times "watchdog" reporting

Here's how the editor of the CC Times, Chris Lopez, characterized an article which simply enumerated the dollars spent by each Bay Area politico for privately funded travel and stated this was a Congressional reform topic.
[The article is] an excellent example of the Times' commitment to watchdog reporting on public officials.

The article served its stated purpose and was clearly well sourced, well written, and thouroughly researched. But "watchdog" reporting? C'mon.

Cast your attention to the San Diego Union Tribune for an example of watchdog reporting. Duke Cunningham and John Doolittle have bite-marks on their trousers from these guys and in Cunningham's case, they replaced his trousers with an orange jumpsuit.

Indeed, there may be no "there, there" with Pombo but it sure seems like a target rich environment for journalists given Pombo's associates, his powerful committee, and the current state of play in Congress.

I think the McClatchey deal serves as a helpful reminder about the fundamental mission of these organizations. A mission which, in many ways, runs contrary to the pursuit of public official watchdoggery. I would be the first to applaud the CC Times for any progress in this area but if this is their standard of excellence for watchdogging, I fear I'll be waiting quite a while to congratulate them.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pombo's demolition approach to our legislative process

Erica Rosenberg, a former staffer for the House Resources Committee wrote an excellent LA Times Op-Ed piece detailing how Pombo dutifully follows the GOP playbook of circumventing and ignoring the legislative process in order to railroad their bills to a vote. I highly recommend you go read the whole thing.

Basically, what's at stake here is the erosion of our democratic process itself. This is intolerable and it transcends policy and politics.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Scientists agree: Pombo's anti-ESA bill sucks

I guess these scientists are simply participating in election-year partisan politics.

5,738 scientists think Pombo's bill will effectively gut the Endgandered Species Act and they have a crazy notion that its better to allow scientists rather than political appointees to control which studies and scientific methods are used to evaluate Endangered Species.

Last August, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that undermines the science behind the ESA in significant ways. First, the legislation transfers the authority of deciding what is the best available science from scientists to political appointees in the Department of Interior. Second, the legislation requires decisions affecting species to be based on empirical data—effectively eliminating the use of established scientific techniques such as modeling, population surveys, and taxonomic and genetic studies.

The House legislation would fundamentally and negatively alter the way science would inform critical decisions affecting endangered and threatened species. Furthermore, it represents a Congressional assault on scientific integrity and the ability of federal scientists to do their jobs.

I'm sorry but this is shameful and its seems that Pombo has previously assaulted science for political gain:

Due to his unwillingness to regulate companies whose emissions result in unsafe levels of mercury in the fish we eat, Pombo issued his own "report" on mercury risks. Not surprisingly, the report was in lock-step with his decision avoid regluating the polluting corporations. Also not surprisingly, instead of using well respected mercury studies from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Sciences, Pombo's report was written by the polluting industry itself and various Right-Wing think tanks. Chris Mooney catalogs the atrociousness of Pombo's report here.

You won't believe it until you read it. With its recently released report titled "Mercury in Perspective: Fact and Fiction About the Debate Over Mercury”, the GOP leadership of the House Committee on Resources has brought scientific debate on an already politicized issue to a new low.

The 33-page document, issued by anti-environmentalist committee Chair Richard Pombo and fellow Republican Jim Gibbons of Nevada, is billed as a "comprehensive synopsis of the federal agency, private and recently peer-reviewed research used in the debate over regulating mercury." In fact, it's a misleading contrarian pamphlet aimed at convincing Americans that despite everything they may have heard, mercury levels in fish aren't dangerous and U.S.-based mercury emitters aren't a significant part of the problem.

I can't help but think of the cry from President Bush that as a nation our students are falling behind the rest of the world in science and math. The GOP might as well be saying: "We want more kids to dedicate their entire scholastic career and life's work in the field of science so we can ignore them when their findings don't align with our policies." Ugh.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pombo breaks House Rules

Richard Pombo broke House Rules by allowing 2 "detailees" from the Executive Branch (DoI) to work on his sub-committee for a full year past their maximum allowable time limit. At the time, Pombo was pursuing 2 provisions to the budget-reconciliation bill which were eventually stripped before the bill passed:

Provision 1: Pay states to allow oil and gas companies to destroy their coasts
One controversial provision would have given states revenue-sharing incentives for opting out of the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf

Provision 2: Giveaway federal lands to private interests
The second [provision] would have amended mining law to allow federal lands to be sold to support the sustainable development of dying mining towns.

Aside from the devastaing effects these policies would have on our country, there are two things to note here:

First, this is yet another instance where Pombo exhibits his complete disregard for House Rules. The Rules say:
The Committees' Congressional Handbook states that “detailing agreements may not exceed a 12-month period, or the end of a Congress, whichever occurs first.”

Interestingly, Pombo is trying to hide behind Bob Ney (R - Ohio) who was ostensibly named in the Jack Abramoff indictment for taking bribes.
Before Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) stepped down as chairman of the Committee on House Administration because of his link to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, he signed letters giving [Pombo's detailees] permission to serve beyond the time limit set by House rules.

Second, Pombo's actions are part of a national theme where we've seen single party rule erode the checks and balances between each Branch of Government. Serious conflicts of interest arise when such cross branch coziness occurs. Hence the need for the rule Pombo decided to break.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Media, Ethics, and Pombo's Worldview: RV Edition

Pombo has been interviewed by both the CC Times and the Sac Bee about his "business trip" to several National Parks at taxpayer expense. Each paper basically "took Pombo's word for it" that he was undertaking the people's business (along with his wife and three kids) and proceeded to minimize its significance.

Indeed, this matter is small in magnitude but when added to the cavalcade of Pombo's ethical entanglements, more of the forest starts to materialize from the trees. Perhaps its greatest importance is that it provides a window into Pombo's principles which is easy for voters to internalize. A nice lady from Richmond proves this point in her recent letter to the CC Times:

My family has not been able to afford the luxury of a vacation for the last five years. Therefore, I found it offensive Vorderbrueggen was surprised Pombo's wonderful trip with his three children (under the age of 15) could be called a "vacation."
Her letter also lays the smackdown on the CC Times for a "Republican bias". More on that later...

Putting aside the ethical aspects of this affair for a moment, perhaps the most revealing storyline is the profound insight Pombo gained whilst touring some of the most beautiful places on Earth:

He came away from the Mojave National Preserve thinking that the park needs to allow more off-road vehicle use. That preserve was designated by Congress as part of the national park system by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994; Pombo wants to reopen that act and "fix it" to allow more off-road recreation.

He came away from his visit to Yellowstone, the nation's first park, with more concern for preserving winter business for concessionaires - i.e., snowmobile use - than for safeguarding the park itself so as to leave it "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," as the 1916 law requires.
Let me sum up. I'm maddened by the fact that the media has become our de facto Congressional ethics review panel because the previously professionally run, somewhat non-partisan, House ethics review process has been obliterated by Pombo associate Tom DeLay.

For certain, the media can be a positive force in this area but let's be honest, they are not suited for this task. They risk alienating readers with the mildest of rebukes of either side and thus risk losing money as a business. They have no benchmarks or established standards from which to analyze and pass judgement. They often confuse ethics issues with legal issues. The end result is subjectivity like this:

"A Contra Costa Times investigation of ethical charges leveled at Pombo reveals a more complicated portrait of a singularly dogmatic and calculating lawmaker who stretches the rules but stops short of breaking them."
Smacking the media on these matters is worthwhile to some degree but true reform must start elsewhere. It starts with the voters of CA-11.