Yesterday, we had our first success in the progressive legislation monitoring project. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said that he would try to push Senator Byron Dorgan's S 195 in the banking committee, in order to increase the amount of oversight and transparency in TARP. In conjunction with a few state blows, we had been preparing an action alert for either today or tomorrow to call members of the Senate banking committee and ask them to help push S 195 through. Since Senator Brown gave me the assurance we were seeking form those phone calls, for the time being we can put direct action on S 195 on hold. Of course, since there is no guarantee it will pass, we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.
After our article on Senator Brown's comments yesterday, the Drum Major Institute posted a comparative analysis of S 195 and its counterpart in the House, HR 384. The basic thrust of the analysis was that HR 384 was superior to S 195, since the latter lacks provisions on how the money should be spent, and thus cannot guarantee money will be spent to mitigate foreclosures. I actually agree with this analysis, even though I intend to keep pushing S 195. My hope is that, in the event that S 195 makes it through committee, that amendments can be offered to the bill before it passes through the chamber.
The problems with S 195 also reveal a feature of the progressive legislation monitoring project that I should point out: we will only be working with bills that have already been introduced to Congress, not with theoretical legislation. Further, the only specific tweaks we will suggest to any of the bills that we support will be in the form of amendments, and those amendments will also have to be legislation that was previously introduced to Congress. For example, Senator Diane Feinstein's S 116, requiring that $10 billion in TARP money go to state and local governments who lost money by investing in certain financial institutions, would be one possible amendment to S 195 we might try to push.
The reason we are focusing on legislation that has already been introduced is two-fold. First, getting a bill introduced into Congress is a major step in the legislative process, and by focusing only on bills already introduced we reduce the number of steps required to help pass any legislation. Second, I would rather the project not become a wonky, theoretical discussion of legislation. Given the amount of time involved in such discussions, and the disagreements those discussions can potentially sow, we simply can't sit around and write legislation by committee. We need actionable items that are, in the jargon of our time, "shovel ready."
This is a project to focus on the best of the possible legislation, rather than the best legislation in theory. In the case of HR 384 and S 195, we are trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and do so with the legislative tools available to us. Personally, I would have pushed for the TARP money to be denied entirely until HR 384 had passed both chambers and been signed into law. However, since that wasn't possible, we are simply following the paths available to us. It isn't perfect, but it is the best we can do in the short-term.