TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2012
OPINION: Beware of Budget Gimmickry (Bruce Bartlett)
It’s clear that the United States is entering a long period of budgetary confrontation. Sooner or later, meaningful action on the budget deficit will be necessary. And despite the best hopes of budget hawks, the likelihood of a grand bargain that will solve our problem once and for all is extremely remote.
Because all of the options for meaningful deficit reduction – tax increases, in particular – are extremely unpopular, it is inevitable that accounting gimmicks will be called upon to give the illusion of progress.
Investors Are Looking to Buy Homes by the Thousands
With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants. Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses. Typically, landlords tend to be individuals or small firms that own just a handful of homes.
Big Banks Push for Early Guidance on Volcker Rule
As a regulatory deadline rapidly approaches, big banks are becoming increasingly anxious about how they should comply with a ban on proprietary trading.
Although regulators have issued a proposal on the so-called Volcker Rule, the plan has been widely assailed as too complicated and regulators are unlikely to make a July 21 deadline to release a final rule.
Small Banks Shift Charters to Avoid U.S. as Regulator
An increasing number of the nation’s more than 600 savings and loan associations are fleeing the comptroller’s office as they navigate a shifting regulatory landscape. The Dodd-Frank financial reform law closed their longtime regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and moved them to the comptroller. A few of these institutions are trying to become credit unions, and many others are choosing state oversight. Nationally, 35 have applied to switch from national to state charters since July 2011.
While the banks say that they are looking for a regulatory agency that understands them, some former industry experts have expressed concern that the financial institutions are regulator shopping.
Obama, the left take on Supreme Court
President Barack Obama has joined a growing number of Democratic lawmakers, left-leaning commentators and progressive activists who are warning the Supreme Court on the health care law: Don’t you dare overturn it.
Obama made an unusual pre-emptive strike Monday that previews the Democratic strategy if the high court nixes all or major parts of his signature domestic achievement. His volley, coming less than a week after the oral arguments wrapped up and while the justices are still deliberating, injects a high-level dose of politics into the most anticipated ruling since the court settled the 2000 presidential race.
F.T.C. Approves Merger of 2 of the Biggest Pharmacy Benefit Managers
Despite potential antitrust concerns and vocal opposition by some lawmakers and consumer groups, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, two of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers, said Monday that federal regulators had approved their $29 billion merger.
The decision, by the Federal Trade Commission, to let the merger proceed was not unanimous, indicating conflicting views among the agency’s top regulators over whether to challenge — or impose limitations on — the combined company. After eight months of review, the F.T.C. commissioners voted 3-to-1 to close the agency’s investigation.
EPA Delays Hydraulic-Fracturing Rules
The Environmental Protection Agency has postponed its first rules aimed at reducing air pollution from natural-gas wells that are drilled by hydraulic fracturing, following a last-minute push by oil and natural-gas companies to weigh in on the new standards.
The EPA said in a statement Monday it was postponing the rules by two weeks, pushing back a deadline until April 17. The agency said it needed more time to digest more than 150,000 comments that had been submitted on the rule.
Federal Dysfunction Sets Stiff Challenge for State K-12 Chiefs
With Congress seemingly deadlocked on reauthorizing the main federal K-12 education law, state school leaders feel they are being asked by the federal government to blaze a trail on school improvement and innovation while looking over their shoulders.
For the most part, those gathered at the Council of Chief State School Officers’ legislative conference last week have gladly stepped into what they see as the power vacuum left by Washington, with praise from federal officials.
OP-ED: How China Steals Our Secrets (Richard A. Clarke)
For the last two months, senior government officials and private-sector experts have paraded before Congress and described in alarming terms a silent threat: cyberattacks carried out by foreign governments. Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., said cyberattacks would soon replace terrorism as the agency’s No. 1 concern as foreign hackers, particularly from China, penetrate American firms’ computers and steal huge amounts of valuable data and intellectual property.
It’s not hard to imagine what happens when an American company pays for research and a Chinese firm gets the results free; it destroys our competitive edge. Shawn Henry, who retired last Friday as the executive assistant director of the F.B.I. (and its lead agent on cybercrime), told Congress last week of an American company that had all of its data from a 10-year, $1 billion research program copied by hackers in one night. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the military’s Cyber Command, called the continuing, rampant cybertheft “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
Syria Agrees to Troop Withdrawal, Annan Says
The Syrian government has agreed to withdraw its security forces from in and around major population centers by April 10, ostensibly paving the way for a general cease-fire two days later, the special envoy told the Security Council on Monday.
Many Security Council members greeted the information from Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, with a certain skepticism given Syria’s record of disregarding peace plans it had accepted.