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Elizabeth W.
Democrat MA

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 1898

    by Senator Elizabeth Warren

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    WARREN. Mr. President, I came to the floor last week to ask a simple question: Who does this government work for? Does it work only for the billionaires and the biggest corporations or does it work for all of us? I asked that question last week as Congress considered the government funding bill--a bill that included a completely unrelated provision literally written by Citigroup lobbyists that increased the risk of future taxpayer bailouts just so the biggest banks in this country could rake in more profits. Sadly, that bill was just the latest example of how the government works just fine for those who have already made it.

    In the past few years, Federal agencies have entered into a number of major settlement agreements with big banks and other large corporations after those companies have broken the law. These agencies have touted these settlements as being worth millions or in some cases billions of dollars. That sounds like a great deal for taxpayers, but often that sticker price is much higher than the actual value at the settlement. Agencies have often permitted corporations to deduct the cost of the settlement from their taxes, which can cut the actual value of the payment by more than 30 percent. And instead of requiring corporations to actually pay the full settlement amount, agencies often give corporations credits toward the settlement amount for taking certain actions--actions the corporations would have taken even if the settlement had never existed. By structuring the settlements this way, agencies can get credit for being tough on corporate wrongdoers even when the actual deal paints a much different picture.

    In January I introduced a bill with Senator Coburn to shed more light on this kind of backroom dealmaking. This bipartisan bill, the Truth in Settlements Act, is pretty simple. It just requires Federal agencies to publicly disclose certain basic information about the major settlements they enter into with corporations--information such as whether a settlement is going to be tax deductible or whether it lets companies claim credit for things they are already doing. That is pretty much it.

    The idea behind the bill is straightforward. If the government is going to cut deals on behalf of the American people, the American people are entitled to know what kind of a deal they are getting. That is the only way the public can hold agencies accountable.

    The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Truth in Settlements Act in July without any objections from any Democrats or any Republicans. The CBO found the bill wouldn't cost taxpayers a single dime. This is a nonpartisan, commonsense measure that simply brings more transparency to [[Page S6909]] critical actions the government takes on behalf of the public.

    Accordingly, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 566, S. 1898; that the committee-reported substitute amendment be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed; and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.

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