Friday, December 6, 2013
The announcement by Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts last week that he will support President Barack Obama's nominee to lead a new consumer protection bureau gave the administration hope that other moderate Senate Republicans might follow suit.
But GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine so far aren't budging.
Collins will meet next week with former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, but isn't ready to break with her party and support him for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created as part of the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul.
"I am going to meet with him ... but I am concerned that the Obama administration has yet to take any steps whatsoever to respond to concerns that many of us have about the structure of the new bureau," Collins said last week. "It is absolutely unacceptable that Congress has no ability to control the budget of the bureau."
Collins and Snowe joined 42 other Republican senators in signing a letter earlier this year saying they would block any nominee until the White House agrees to changes in the bureau's structure. Snowe is also maintaining that position, her office says.
The Obama administration says the bureau is needed to protect consumers from overly risky financial products.
Brown, perhaps not coincidentally, is in a tough re-election race against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a financial reform proponent who helped create the bureau.
York River may be 'wild and scenic'
Legislation to launch a $500,000 study of whether the York River should be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System has moved closer to a House vote.
The House Committee on Natural Resources last week approved Rep. Chellie Pingree's bill to authorize the study, which would be overseen by the National Park Service and conducted by local organizations. It could take up to three years.
A National Wild and Scenic Rivers System designation could mean federal funding to protect wildlife and more scrutiny of projects such as dredging or dams. But it wouldn't interfere with private property rights, according to Pingree's office.
The 11-mile river flows from York Pond in Eliot to York Harbor. The only other Maine waterway in the 203-river system is the Allagash in northern Maine.
GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, added an amendment to the bill that would require the study to analyze the impact designation could have on fishing, hunting, bridge building and other activities.
Pingree, D-1st District, said the amendment only "makes the legislation stronger. It's important that community members have all the information they need to decide whether they think the designation should move forward."
Health plan tax repeal
Snowe and two other GOP senators introduced legislation last week that would repeal a key element of Obama's health care law.
The Jobs and Premium Protection Act would eliminate a tax levied on health insurance plans. Snowe and Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and John Barrasso of Wyoming say businesses and workers will pay higher premiums because of the tax -- at an overall cost of $87 billion over 10 years -- because insurance plans will pass it on.
Snowe favors repealing the entire health care law. But she said Congress must pass more "workable reforms" and retain a number of benefits in the health care law, including the ban on refusing to cover people based on pre-existing conditions.
The liberal blog Think Progress said insurance plans are plenty profitable enough to handle the tax without passing it on to consumers. Republicans are hypocritical for criticizing a way to pay for expanded health coverage that doesn't add to the deficit, Think Progress said last week.
"Of course, the appropriate response isn't to roll back the taxes - which are necessary to finance reform and ensure that coverage expansion is fully paid for -- but to strengthen provisions that help lower costs and mitigate the cost-shift," says Think Progress.
Jonathan Riskind -- 791-6280