In a fascinating bit of humbuggery, the US House of Representatives decided last week not to follow the lead of the US Senate and, instead, chose to screw the Federal Reserve rather than the banks who are members of the Federal Reserve System. Of course, both houses of Congress are robbing Peter to pay Paul, his cousin Guido, and their extended family back in Sicily, but that's beside the point. The point is that bank-bashing took a back seat to the realization that next year is an election year, and pissing off bankers might have to take a back seat to fundraising needs until after the first week of November 2016.
Nobody likes the Fed (except when it bails out the world), so messing with that august entity is usually fine and dandy, politically speaking.
The New York Times lays it all out for us.
The banking industry scored a surprise victory on Thursday when the House voted to pay for part of a new highway bill by draining a rainy-day fund at the Federal Reserve rather than cutting federal payments to some of the nation’s largest banks.
The Senate, scrounging for road-building money, voted earlier this year to reduce the Federal Reserve’s annual dividend payments to large commercial banks, saving about $17.1 billion over the next decade. The House was to follow suit, but after loud protests from the big banks, its final version of the highway bill preserves those dividends and instead requires the Fed to provide $59.5 billion over 10 years instead of putting the money into an account intended to cover potential losses.
Now congressional negotiators must decide which to hit, the Fed or the banks.
The Times notes the ultimate injustice of either alternative funding source: funds for highways are supposed to come from the gasoline tax. Naturally, politicians don't want to pass a tax raise that would enrage supporters of both Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson (which covers the political spectrum from coast-to-coast). Moreover, banks are (almost) lower than lawyers in the mind of the average mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging voter, and bending banks over the back of the sofa isn't generally a risky play. So, whether it's the Fed or its member banks that pay the unjust price of this latest boondoggle, the banking system will pay a price.
If the banks pay the price by being shortchanged, considerably, on dividend income from the Fed, that will hurt their bottom lines. Moreover, Fed Chair Janet Yellen is probably correct in her warning that the Fed will lose members. On the other hand, if the Fed is the direct loser, its surplus will take a hit, which is not something that is in the interest of the financial system. The article points out that the surplus is in addition to capital the Fed raises by selling shares and it may not be needed to bail out the Fed if it goes negative over the next few years as it unwinds the stimulus. It also observes that Congress has tapped the surplus in the past. Setting aside the fact that just because you beat up an old lady and steal her Social Security check one month does not justify making it a habit, this would be the first time since the Fed was created that Congress would completely drain the surplus and prevent it from being refilled.
Other commenters, including some members of Congress, also think either choice is a loser.
"They’re both bad," said Aaron Klein, director of financial regulatory reform at the Bipartisan Policy Center, although he noted Congress has a history of tapping the Fed’s reserves.
Even the author of the House plan sounded apologetic. "This is not perfect policy, but it is much better than the alternative," Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican, said on the House floor early Thursday. Mr. Neugebauer said he hoped that future transportation funding "comes from transportation users and not completely unrelated sectors of our economy."
When Porky sprouts wings, Randy.
One silver lining to this dark cloud is that it has upset Maxine ("The Socializer") Waters.
"How many of my colleagues or their constituents have a safe investment that pays this well?" Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, asked on the House floor Thursday morning. "Most of my constituents are lucky to earn a penny a month on their bank accounts."
The fact that the dividend rate paid by the Fed to its members has absolutely nothing to do with the appropriate source of funding for highway construction is beside the point to The Socializer. The money's there, banks are getting it, they're making a better return than me and my friends, the federal government wants the money, so what's the problem? Take it!
I can't wait for either Hillary Clinton or The Greatest Show On Earth (EVER!) to get into the White House in 2017 and set all this right.