Statement of Congressman Bruce Braley

Committee on Energy and Commerce

Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection

"Hearing on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010"

May 6, 2010

Thank you, Chairman Rush and Ranking Member Whitfield, for holding this important hearing today on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. In 2008, there were more than 37,000 traffic fatalities. While this is a decrease from 2007, this is still far too many American lives and families destroyed. My home county of Black Hawk, Iowa saw 13 traffic fatalities in 2008, which is 13 too many.

Most recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been questioned regarding their response to the problem of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Since 2000, NHTSA has received 2,600 complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. According to NHTSA, in the past decade 34 people have died in crashes alleged to have been caused by sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. These alarming numbers should have spurred NHTSA to aggressively investigate any problems at Toyota. Instead, NHTSA appears to have conducted only preliminary, inadequate, and ineffective investigations. Particularly throughout the last few months, I've been extremely concerned and disappointed by NHTSA's and Toyota's delayed and insufficient responses to this deadly problem. I am concerned that NHTSA did not act early enough and has only gone through the motions on their investigations of this and other situations.

A primary question that we have heard raised in this Committee is whether NHTSA has the resources and capacity to investigate new and complex systems in vehicles, and to evaluate manufacturers' claims about the operations of their vehicles. I'm confident that the Motor Vehicle Safety Act takes meaningful steps to improve auto safety and strengthen NHTSA by (1) increasing the agency's proficiency in vehicle electronics, and requiring new safety standards for cars run largely by electronic systems; (2)

strengthening enforcement; (3) increasing transparency and accountability in vehicle safety; and (4) providing funding to the agency to further ensure auto safety.

This bill takes great strides towards ensuring proper oversight and resources at NHTSA, and I'm glad we're here today working to improve motor vehicle safety in America. Thank you and I yield back the remainder of my time.

WASHINGTON -Chuck Grassley this week continued his efforts to protect those who stand up to blow the whistle on wrong doing, even when it's unpopular, for fear of retaliation.

Grassley and Senator Ben Cardin filed an amendment to the banking bill that would make the employees of Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations - such as Moody's Investor Service, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch Ratings - eligible for protection under whistleblower protections signed into law in the Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility and Transparency Act of 2002.

"People who know of wrong doing should feel comfortable to come forward without fear of retaliation," Grassley said.  "Providing whistleblower protection to credit rating agency employees is another way to shore up public trust in our financial system and help prevent history from repeating itself by ensuring those who know of problems feel free to speak up."

Grassley secured the provisions in the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law after the fall out of several Enron-like scandals led to a crack down on corporate fraud and abuse.  The provisions made federal whistleblower protections available to employees of publicly traded companies for the first time ever.

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The City of Rock Island is preparing for a busy season of road construction projects throughout the city. A total of $7,755,844 will be spent on street construction projects using funding sources such as a Federal stimulus grant, State grant funding, and gaming revenue.

"The past few winters have been very hard on our streets. We ask for patience and understanding as we work to make repairs," stated City Manager John Phillips.

"These are difficult times financially for all cities, however we want our citizens to know that street projects are still a priority. We were able to secure Federal and State funding to help with many projects," stated Mayor Dennis Pauley.

"We understand that barricades and street construction are an inconvenience, but are necessary to fix our streets. We appreciate your patience and caution as repairs are underway," Mayor Pauley continued.

Some of the major street projects include 30th Street resurfacing, 38th Street pavement patching, and Turkey Hollow Road resurfacing.

This is a significant increase in the amount spent on street construction projects this year, mainly due to the additional funding sources from the State and Federal grants. City Council determined that streets were a priority in reviewing the capital budget this year, and the funding was allocated accordingly.

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Measure ensures Iowa's community banks are not required to cover Wall Street's risky bets


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) applauded this morning's passage of an amendment he cosponsored with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)  and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) that changes the way the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) charges banks for deposit insurance to ensure that banks are assessed at a level commensurate with their risk.  The amendment, which passed 98 to 0, will be included in the financial reform bill.

"As we take up legislation to hold Wall Street accountable, it is crucial that we avoid placing an undue burden on Iowa's community banks," said Harkin. "This amendment will help ensure that Iowa's community banks can compete on a level playing field with the largest banks who engage in the most hazardous behavior.  It also provides community banks with additional capital they can loan to Iowa's communities, which will give our local economies a boost."

Under current law, the FDIC charges banks a fee related to their percentage of domestic deposits to cover the cost of winding down a failed bank.  But by only using deposits to calculate the assessment, FDIC assessments neglect the non-deposit assets used by the very large banks to fund the riskiest types of activities that the larger banks engage in that could cause a bank to fail.  The existing system discriminates against community banks, which typically engage in low-risk lending in their local communities, rather than riskier trading carried out by larger banks, which is not calculated in FDIC deposit insurance.  As a result, community banks that serve Main Street across the country pay 30 percent of all FDIC premiums even though they only hold 20 percent of the nation's banking assets.

To change this system, the amendment requires the FDIC to base these fees on the amount of a banks' total assets, not just deposits. This change ensures that FDIC assessments reflect the risks that the largest banks that are engaged in the riskiest activities pose to the Deposit Insurance Fund.  Harkin's history of work in this field goes back to 2009, when the FDIC issued a special assessment and Harkin successfully wrote to the FDIC urging that it be based on the formula established in this amendment.

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German Fest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Date: July 24, 2010 (Day trip)

Time: 7:55 a.m. - 8:50 p.m.
(Bus departs/returns at the German American Heritage Center)

Cost: Nonmembers: Adults: $68; Seniors and Students: $65

Members: Adults: $58; Seniors and Students: $55

Direct from Germany, the German Showcase features an amazing group of entertainers who will be performing every day throughout the grounds! Relax with a beer and sausage in the Beer Garden on the ground's North end - sing along or listen to favorite German drinking songs! Visit the South end of the grounds for carnival games, rides and other activities! Don't leave the festival grounds without trying a "Currywurst," a bratwurst with a decadent curry sauce, or a "Saucisschen," an 18" pork sausage curled and served on a stick!  To reserve your spot for the trip, call 563-322-8844. We encourage you to register soon, as space is limited.






DAVENPORT, IOWA (May 5, 2010) The German American Heritage Center and Museum now includes about 4,000 square feet of state-of-the-art interactive exhibits including a new trivia video game, wired antique party line phones to listen to, and the audio-visual experience, "Step into my Shoes."  At"Step into my Shoes" you step on a set of the footprints, which then triggers a character to appear before them on a screen and talk about their experience as an immigrant. You may also try on clothing that immigrants would have worn during the turn of the century, and enjoy exploring many artifacts on display.The museum also includes two original restored hotel rooms, 1800s period style clothing that visitors may try on, many artifacts on display, and a mini-theater. The new interactive video game lets the visitor choose a character who portrays a German immigrant of the mid-1800s. They answer a set of trivia questions. Clues and answers to the questions can be found throughout the exhibit. When they finish answering the questions they are rewarded with two fun video games to play that simulate activities that were played by boys and girls during the turn of the century. Visitors enjoy an interactive experience as you learn about immigrants' journey by sea, train and foot, to their final destination at the German American Heritage Center building, which was originally a very busy hotel for thousands of immigrants in the 1860s.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from noon - 4 p.m. Admission is as follows: Adults: $5; Seniors: $4; Children: $3 (5 - 17 years old); Family: $12; Free for children under 5; and free for museum members. For more information on all of the museum's exhibits, programs, events, classes, and workshops visit www.gahc.org, facebook, or call 563-322-8844. The German American Heritage Center is located at the foot of Centennial Bridge at 712 West Second Street, Davenport, Iowa. The German American Heritage Center works to preserve and enrich the German immigrant experience and its impact on the American Culture. The museum also partners with other cultural groups to demonstrate the contributions immigrants from many countries and from varied backgrounds have made to the ethnic palette which is the United States.

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WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Senator Ron Wyden, this week filed an amendment to the banking reform bill that would make it even harder for individual senators to secretly obstruct the legislative process.  Grassley and Wyden have led the fight to eliminate secret holds, and in 2007, a modified version of their proposal was included in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.  The amendment offered to the banking reform bill is the same as legislation the Senators introduced on April 27.

"Secret holds have been a staple of the Senate for years, and there's no question that both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current abuses," said Grassley.  "The previous version of our legislation was so watered down in the final version that I stated at the time it was bound to be abused and ignored.  Many of our colleagues have finally taken notice, and have been sharing their thoughts on the Senate floor.  I welcome their involvement and I hope they'll work with us to get this real reform done and make holds transparent and accountable."

The amendment, and legislation, would eliminate a Senator's ability to indefinitely hold legislation in secret by requiring Senators to submit their holds to leadership in writing and to publically disclose all holds within two days whether or not the bill or nomination has been brought to the floor for consideration.  Leadership will only honor holds that they have in writing and that comply with the two day rule.

The current provision requires Senators to disclose their holds after six days, but the holding period has proven too long to be effective.  This requirement is triggered only when the bill is brought to the floor for consideration, so it's possible for Senators to indefinitely block legislation from reaching the floor without ever disclosing their actions.

Grassley has a long-standing practice of making all his holds public by placing a formal statement announcing and explaining the rationale for the hold in the Congressional Record.

Here is a copy of the prepared text of Grassley's floor statement after the ethics bill was signed into law, containing the requirements for disclosing holds.

 

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Secret Holds

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mr. President,

The Ethics Bill has now been signed into law and, as my colleagues are aware, it contains new requirements for "holds."  Senators may be wondering what exactly is required and how it will all work.  Well, as a co-author of the original measure, I have to tell you that I don't know.  The provisions have been rewritten.  I'm not even sure by whom because it was a closed process and Republicans were not invited to participate.  Now I'm trying to understand how these provisions will work.  Let me give a little background.

I have been working for some time, along with Senator Wyden, to end the practice of secret holds though a rules change or standing order.  I don't believe there is any legitimate reason why a single senator should be able to anonymously block a bill or nomination.  If a senator has the guts to place a hold, they ought to have the guts to say who they are and why they have a hold.  If there is a legitimate reason for a hold, then senators should have no fear of it being public.  I'm not talking hypothetically either.  I'm speaking from experience.  I have voluntarily practiced public holds for a decade or more and have had absolutely no cause to regret it.

Through the years, there have been several times where the leaders of the two parties have agreed to work with Senator Wyden and myself to address this issue, albeit in a way different than we proposed.  I have approached these opportunities with optimism only to be disappointed.  In 1999, at the start of the 106th Congress, Majority Leader Lott and Minority Leader Daschle sent a Dear Colleague to all senators outlining a new policy that any senators placing a hold must notify the sponsor of the legislation and the committee of jurisdiction.  It went on to state that written notification of holds should be provided to the respective Leader, and staff holds would not be honored unless accompanied by a written notification.  This policy was quickly forgotten or ignored by senators.

Then, recognizing that the previous Dear Colleague letter was not effective, Leaders Frist and Daschle sent another Dear Colleague in 2003 that purported to have an enforcement mechanism.  The new policy required notification of the legislation's sponsor, IF, and only if, a member of their party, as well as notification of the senior party member on the committee of jurisdiction.  In other words, this new policy required less disclosure than the previous policy since it only affected holds by members of the same party.  Nevertheless, the Leaders promised that if the disclosure was not made, they would disclose the hold.  It also reiterated that staff holds would not be honored unless accompanied by written notification.  That policy had more holes in it than Swiss cheese.  I'm not sure anyone understood the policy, and it had no effect that I can tell on improving transparency.

No longer willing to settle for half-measures that don't end secret holds once and for all, last Congress, Senator Wyden and I offered our standing order to require full public disclosure of all holds as an amendment to the Lobbying Reform Bill.  It was a well thought out measure that was drafted with the help and support of Senators Lott and Byrd, using their insights and knowledge of Senate procedure as former Majority Leaders.  Our standing order passed the Senate by a vote of 84-13.  While that bill did not become law, it became the starting point for the Ethics Bill passed by the Senate this year.  I thought that the Leaders had finally accepted that we would have full disclosure of holds.  In fact, our secret holds provisions remained intact in the version of the Ethics Bill that originally passed by the Senate earlier this year.  Then, even though the secret holds provisions related only to the Senate, and had already passed the Senate, they were rewritten behind closed doors by members of the majority party.  Once again, I feel like half-measures have been substituted for real reform.

Under the rewritten provisions, a senator will only have to disclose a hold "following the objection to a unanimous consent to proceeding to, and, or passage of, a measure or matter on their behalf."  Obviously in this case the hold would already have existed well before any objection.  In fact, most holds never get to this stage because the threat of the hold prevents a unanimous consent request from being made in the first place.  This is particularly true if the senator placing the hold is a member of the majority party.  In that case, the Majority Leader would simply not ask unanimous consent knowing that a member of his party has a hold.

For instance, it is not clear to me what would happen if the Minority Leader asked unanimous consent to proceed to a bill and the Majority Leader objected on his own behalf to protect his prerogative to set the agenda, but also having the effect of honoring the hold of another member of the Majority Leader's caucus.  Or, what if the Majority Leader asks unanimous consent to proceed to a bill, and the Minority Leader objects, but does not specify on whose behalf, even though a member of the minority party has a hold.  Would the minority senator with the hold then be required to disclose the hold?

I asked the office of the Parliamentarian for an opinion about how the new provisions would work in such instances, but with no legislative history for the changes to the Wyden-Grassley measure, the intent of the rewritten provisions was not evident.  Therefore, I wrote to the Senate Rules Committee to provide insight into the intent of the rewritten provisions.  The response referred me to a Section by Section Analysis of the bill in the Congressional Record that essentially restates the provisions, but sheds no light on my specific questions.  Perhaps that's because the answer is a little embarrassing.  Depending on how the new provisions are interpreted, in the first instance I mentioned, it is possible that holds by members of the majority party will never be made public.  In the second instance, a literal interpretation of the provision might indicate that either Leader could choose to keep a hold by a member of their party secret so long as they do not specify publicly that their objection is on behalf of another senator.

The Rules Committee letter claims that the changes were intended to make the provision "workable."  I don't see how the new provisions are any more workable than the original.  On the contrary, they are not only unworkable, but undermine transparency.

Under the changes, not only is disclosure of holds only required after a formal objection has been made to a unanimous consent request, but senators have a full six session days to make their disclosure.  What's more, a new provision was added specifying that holds lasting up to six days may remain secret forever.  What's the justification for that?  Six days is more than enough time to kill a bill at the end of the session.  And we are saying that it is OK for senators to do that in secret?  There are other changes that are puzzling to me.  For instance, our original measure required holds to be submitted in writing in order to be honored to prevent staff from placing holds without the knowledge of the senator.  However, in the rewrite, senators now must give written notice to the respective Leader of their "intent to object" only AFTER the Leader has ALREADY objected on the senator's behalf.  That is not only unworkable, it's absurd.

Mr. President, I have stated repeatedly and emphatically that, as a matter relating to Senate procedure, it would be completely illegitimate to alter in any way the original Senate-passed measure requiring FULL disclosure of holds.  The U.S. Constitution makes clear that, "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings..."  The hold is a unique feature of the Senate, arising out of its own rules and practices with no equivalent in the House of Representatives.  As such, there is no legitimate reason why this provision, having already passed the Senate, should be altered in any way.  Nevertheless, it was altered in a very substantial way.  In fact, it was altered in a way that I fear will allow secrecy to continue in this institution.  Clearly, the so called "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act" was handled by the majority party in a way that is anything but.  Mr. President, I have been frustrated so far in my attempts to find answers about how the rewritten provisions will be applied, but we'll find out soon enough.  I can assure you that I will not give up until I am satisfied that the public's business is being done in public.

 

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The Big Oil Company Bailout Prevention Act raises BP liability cap to $10 billion

Washington, DC - Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced legislation today with Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) that will hold British Petroleum accountable for the oil spill off the Gulf Coast. While BP has indicated they will be responsible for all clean-up costs, The Big Oil Company Bailout Prevention Act goes further to protect taxpayers from paying for effects of the spill.

Currently, the responsible party in an oil spill must pay for all the economic damages up to $75 million, including lost revenues from fishing and tourism, natural resources damages, or lost local tax revenues. This bill would raise the liability cap to $10 billion. It also eliminates the current $500 million cap on natural resource damages.

"With estimates that this could be the most costly oil spill in American history, taxpayers need to rest assured they will not foot the bill," Braley said. "While BP has promised to pay for all clean-up costs, we, in Congress, have an obligation to make sure they follow through, and also take responsibility for other economic damages. This legislation makes sure that if big oil companies are responsible for the disaster, big oil companies pay for the clean-up and damage."

The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act also contains the following provisions:

  • It eliminates the $1 billion per incident cap on claims against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund
    • Allows community responders to access the funds for preparation and mitigation up front, rather than waiting for reimbursement later.
  • If damage claims exceed the amount in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (currently $1.6 billion), it allows claimants to collect from future revenues, with interest.

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WASHINGTON --- Senator Chuck Grassley is working to make greater transparency at the Federal Reserve part of the financial regulation bill under consideration this week in the U.S. Senate.

"During the last two and a-half years, the Fed has gone well beyond what was viewed as its historical authority, and it's happened without any transparency and resulted in very little accountability," Grassley said.  "The Fed's extraordinary power outside of monetary policy should be subject to the light of day.  Trillions of tax dollars have been provided to financial institutions and corporations, and the public has a right to know who has taken the money and how it's been spent."

With Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Grassley has filed an amendment to the banking bill that would require the Federal Reserve to release information about its emergency lending program.  The Federal Reserve is appealing a March ruling by a federal court that required this action.

Grassley has cosponsored a separate amendment with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to allow the investigative arm of Congress - the Government Accountability Office, or GAO - to audit the Federal Reserve.  It's based on legislation introduced last year and would require that a GAO audit be delivered to Congress within the year.

A year ago, Grassley won passage of an amendment he offered to the housing bill that gave the GAO the authority, for the first time, to access information from the Federal Reserve about its stabilization efforts with certain entities.  Grassley said the pending amendment to the banking bill allows independent investigators to review all of the Fed's actions where tax dollars were given to failing private-sector entities.

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Rivermont students not only study history - they make history!  For the first time since 2001, four Rivermont students will compete at the national level of the National History Day contest.  Though Rivermont students have often been named alternates to the event, this year the teams of Christopher & Christine Mbakwe and Meghana Pagadala & Joann Weeks will be among 24 students representing Iowa at the national competition in June!  Each year, more than half a million students participate in the NHD contest.  The program makes history come alive, engaging youth in hands-on discovery of the experiences of the past.  More than five million students have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine, and countless other disciplines where they put into practice what they learned through NHD.

At the state level of the competition, held in Des Moines on April 26th, the team of Christopher & Christine Mbakwe scored perfect marks, earning first place in their category, for their project Innovation of the Assembly Line: Man or Machine? The team of Meghana Pagadala & Joann Weeks won second place, as well as the Judges Choice award for their use of a primary source as media, with their project Picking Cotton and Picking Fights: Eli Whitney's Patent Problems.  Both teams will compete against 2,500 of their peers from across the globe at the University of Maryland in June.  In addition, the students' hard work will benefit their peers at Rivermont.  As a prize for second place in the overall school category, Rivermont was presented with two books for their library!

For additional information on the National History Day program,

visit www.nationalhistoryday.org 

 

For additional information on Rivermont Collegiate contact Cindy Murray at

(563) 359-1366 ext. 302 or murray@rvmt.org 

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