I think I've seen something like this on late night TV: Congress has a new bill which overhauls credit card regulations... and they're throwing in relaxed gun control, absolutely free (but only if Obama signs right now)!
Indeed, the latest fiasco out of Washington is a rushed so-called consumer protection plan, which has a second provision allowing loaded firearms to be carried in our national parks. If that's not pork, I don't know what is. In fact, it reinstates a last-minute Bush law that was overturned in March.
On the credit card side of things, it seems fairly reasonable to me - a lot of common sense measures aimed at making penalty information more clear and less surprising. There's some chatter that by making it less profitable to lend, the bill will incentivize credit card companies to hold back credit, exacerbating the liquidity crisis, but that seems overblown to me. Very little in the bill will actually inhibit the ability for credit card companies to profit. The point that comes closest to achieving that would not allow rates to be raised on existing balances, but let's be realistic: if you have an existing balance, your next statement isn't exactly going to get paid right away. Not to worry, the "predatory lenders" will still have their chances. A second measure increasing the notification period before raising rates from 15 days to 45 days makes sense, as it guarantees all consumers one chance to pay off their debt before new rates hit. Under the old system, only half of cardholders would have a billing cycle close before rates could be increased. The impact to the bottom line is probably minimal; the effect on consumer's ability to maneuver their finances is large.
But it's all a bit redundant, seeing as just a few months ago Bernanke put forth "the most comprehensive and sweeping reforms ever adopted by the [Fed] for credit card accounts." Yes, it's nice that now it will be a "law" (a purely semantic difference in this case), and the timetable has been moved up a few months from the Fed's July 2010 rollout, but I don't think Congress should quite be patting themselves on the back for solving anything with new thinking. Oh - I forgot, any chance to stick it to some financial firms is one worth taking.
Turning now to the loaded gun side of things... is this for real? Talk about a hijacked bill! Naturally, our self-serving and desperate-to-get-reelected legislators in the House made sure to hold two separate votes, one for credit cards and one for guns, so that in the future no one would be able to accuse them of voting for the gun bill when they were "really" voting for the credit cards. However, since Democratic party leaders already agreed to swallow the gun law as a cost of getting the credit card measure passed, this was largely a political waste of time.
The stated purpose of the bill is "to protect innocent Americans from violent crime in national parks and refuges." Let's go to the tape, shall we? The Washington Post provides a break down of crime in National Parks through 2006 (if anyone has more recent data, send it along!):
Crime rates are expressed as incidents/100 thousand people, so this chart implies a total crime rate of 1.65 for our national parks. The violent crime rate (just the first 5 lines) was a tiny 0.14. In 2006, New York City's violent crime rate was 637 (yes, a difference of 3 orders of magnitude). The violent crime rate for the United States as a whole was 469 in 2005, which means that violent crime is three thousand and twenty-nine times more likely outside the national parks than in them. We need to allow loaded guns to protect citizens in the parks? Hardly.
Yes, the 11 homicides in 2006 were 11 too many. But the parks are hardly a bastion of violent crime - in fact they are among the safest locations in our country! The parks' violent crime rates are so minuscule that the likelihood of a victim also carrying a gun (presumably, with which to protect themselves) is tiny unless everyone starts carrying a weapon on their park visits.
Chalk this rider up to an "I'll show you!" attitude which is increasingly pervading our politics and dividing our legislators on party lines. I only wish more of our elected officials had the guts to kill it, and I remain fervently hopefully that Obama's promise of "no more pork" will one day take hold.