U.S. Senate wants $5 million to study financial crisisThe Senate has agreed to spend $5 million to investigate the cause of the economic crisis as it moves toward passing a $245 million bill that would substantially increase the number of FBI agents and prosecutors working mortgage fraud.
By: By Anne Flaherty, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON — The Senate has agreed to spend $5 million to investigate the cause of the economic crisis as it moves toward passing a $245 million bill that would substantially increase the number of FBI agents and prosecutors working mortgage fraud.
The legislation is aimed at showing voters that lawmakers are serious about getting to the bottom of the nation’s financial woes, even as they struggle to agree on how to improve the economy and prevent it from getting worse.
“We must hold those responsible for this calamity to account,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have vowed to complete an overhaul of the federal regulatory system governing the nation’s financial institutions by the end of the year. Democrats say that had regulations been tighter, banks would not have taken many of the risky bets that ultimately put them in danger of collapsing and requiring a $700 billion government bailout.
But as Republicans and Democrats debate the finer points of that longer-term effort, lawmakers are pitching ways to provide immediate relief to cash-strapped voters.
The $245 million fraud bill is “our chance to authorize the necessary additional resources to detect, fight and deter fraud that robs the American people and American taxpayers of their funds,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
The Senate agreed 92-4 on Wednesday to designate $5 million for a congressionally appointed, independent “Financial Markets Commission.” The panel, which would be modeled after the 9-11 Commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, would be given 18 months to issue its recommendations.
Lawmakers also agreed to create a separate Senate committee focused on the financial meltdown.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she supports the concept of an investigative congressional committee focused on the economy.
Under the Senate bill, $75 million would go toward hiring 160 more special FBI agents and 200 supporting personnel, including forensic analysts, to investigate mortgage fraud.
Currently, the FBI has fewer than 250 special agents assigned to financial fraud cases, despite caseloads having more than doubled in the past three years. According to a report on the bill, the FBI cannot investigate the more than 5,000 fraud allegations received by the Treasury Department each month.
Also under the bill, the Justice Department would receive $90 million to hire 200 more prosecutors and civil enforcement attorneys and 100 supporting personnel.
Other government entities in line to receive money include the Secret Service, Postal Inspection Service and the inspector general for the Housing and Urban Development Department.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., want to add $20 million to the bill for the Securities and Exchange Commission to boost its enforcement capabilities.
The White House supports the bill. In a statement released Monday, the administration said the additional resources would provide “a return on investment through additional fines, penalties, restitution, damages and forfeitures.”