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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

 
Yes Virginia, progressive, populist policies are possible. Even now.

by digby


On Virtually Speaking the other night Dave Dayen gave a very interesting rundown of this idea of allowing the post office to offer banking services, especially in "bank deserts" where people are forced to spend upwards of 25% of their annual incomes just to do rudimentary transactions that the rest of us take for granted. It's a fascinating discussion about a particular policy idea that could easily be implemented by the post office --- if it had a postmaster who wasn't a conservative ideologue committed to privatizing the post office and, in the process, destroying the middle class security of its workforce. You can listen here.

You can also read about it in this article at The New Republic where Dayen spells out what the real hangup on this lies. Naturally, the banks don't want it. They are investors in the notorious payday lendering industry which deploys usurious practices to rob the poor, so naturally they lobby against it. But it's also due to yet another example of the White House failing to fill vacancies, even ones that would be uncontroversial:

There are five vacancies on the nine-member board. He has not successfully placed a single appointee on it during his entire tenure in office. The four existing members were all appointed by George W. Bush.

Currently, the board consists of chairman Mickey Barnett, a former Republican state senator from New Mexico and onetime aide to Senator Pete Domenici; vice chair James Bilbray, an-ex Democratic congressman from Nevada; Louis Giuliano, former CEO of ITT Corporation and a senior advisor to the Carlyle Group; and Ellen Williams, a lobbyist and former chairwoman of the Republican Party of Kentucky. So the decision-making entity for the Postal Service remains in partisan Republican hands, five years into the Obama presidency. It’s not surprising, then, that they’ve used a relatively artificial retirement funding crisis to shrink the agency and privatize services.

Obama could fill the vacancies and restore a Democratic majority (by law, no more than five members of the board must come from one party, but with five vacancies to work with, he can certainly establish a majority).2 In addition, Barnett’s term has already expired, and Giuliano and Williams’s terms expire in December. So Obama could remake this board with members more favorable to a truly innovative agenda for the Postal Service that includes non-bank financial services. And since board members serve seven-year terms, they would be insulated from political shifts through the next presidential term.
And that's not all. The Postal Regulatory Commission, which also has some jurisdiction here has vacancies as well. Aside from the inability to creatively use an existing government agency to fix a serious problem, why is this a problem? Dayen explains:
The Obama Administration has often been criticized for failing to fill executive branch agencies with key appointments in a timely manner. It was understandable for the White House to slow-walk what may have been considered low-priority appointments when Senate Republicans routinely blocked every nominee. But since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered the nuclear option, nominees only need 50 votes for confirmation, lessening the possibility for obstruction and making the administration’s sluggishness far more frustrating.

In effect, you have a Republican majority controlling an executive agency under a Democratic president, which happens to be the country’s second-largest civilian employer, behind Walmart. The loss of over 125,000 postal jobs has had a detrimental effect on employment, and the resistance to ideas like postal banking prevents low-wage communities from an alternative to payday lenders, check-cashing stores and other unscrupulous operators. Yet the White House has shown no urgency in reversing the conservative governing ideology at the Postal Service. If nothing else, there’s an economic imperative for the White House to act. They claim to want to reduce inequality through executive action. Postal banking is a major opportunity to do so.
It is a really good idea. I wonder if they'll try?


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