- - Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Senate committee has approved President Obama’s two nominations to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve’s board. But prospects for a quick confirmation in the full Senate are uncertain.

The Senate Banking Committee approved by voice vote the nominations of Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economics professor, and Jerome Powell, an investment banker who served in the George H.W. Bush administration.

Mr. Obama nominated Mr. Stein, a Democrat, and Mr. Powell, a Republican, in hopes that pairing nominees from both parties could overcome Republican objections. The Fed board hasn’t operated with a full seven members since 2006.

But Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, has expressed public opposition, which at least means the Senate won’t vote before its two-week break starts this weekend. Mr. Vitter has criticized efforts by the Fed and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke for keeping interest rates at record lows to encourage borrowing, arguing that the Fed’s actions have raised the risk of inflation and speculative economic bubbles.

“I refuse to provide Chairman Bernanke with two more rubber stamps who approve of the Fed’s activist policies,” he said in a statement.


Obama administration suspends deportations

The Obama administration is temporarily suspending immigration court dockets in four cities in a move Republicans are calling a “backdoor amnesty.”

The dockets in Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, Fla., and Seattle will be suspended while authorities review thousands of cases as part of a plan to indefinitely delay deportation proceedings for many noncriminal illegal immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency previously reviewed 11,682 cases in Baltimore and Denver. Officials recommended suspending more than 1,600 cases in those two cities.

The reviews are part of an Obama administration pledge to focus deportation resources on criminal immigrants and those who pose a national security or public safety threat.


Government loses about $50M on small bank stocks

The government has lost roughly $50 million on its sale of stock in six small banks bailed out in the 2008 financial crisis. But the Treasury Department says the three-year investment was profitable after counting dividends and investments.

The department said Thursday it received $362 million from the first public auction of its preferred stock in small banks. Treasury invested $410.8 million in the six banks.

But Treasury notes that when including $65.4 million in dividends and interest, the return from investment was $427.4 million.

The profits from the investment will help offset losses in the broader financial bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The government has recovered about $334 billion of the $415 billion that was lent to financial institutions and automakers under TARP.

The bulk of the money still owed taxpayers is from big insurer American International Group Inc., around $50 billion; General Motors Co., about $25 billion; and Ally Financial Inc., about $12 billion.

Separately, the government spent more than $150 billion to rescue mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the most expensive bailout of the 2008 financial crisis. It could cost nearly $200 billion more to support the companies through 2014 after subtracting dividend payments, according to the government agency that oversees them.


Mayor-elect seeks court’s help to get him in office

LAS CRUCES — The mayor-elect of a New Mexico border town is turning to the state Supreme Court to help get him into office.

Daniel Salinas’ attorney asked the court Wednesday to direct the 3rd Judicial District Court to revise an order that prevents him from contacting the Sunland Park city clerk.

Under state law, Mr. Salinas must be sworn in by April 5 or forfeit the seat. But the city clerk must administer the oath.

Mr. Salinas faces extortion charges in an alleged plot to force out another mayoral candidate by threatening to release a video of a topless woman dancing for him.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Mr. Salinas’ attorney alleges the court order violates his constitutional rights and amounts to the court indirectly interfering with an election.


U.S. to give Tunisia $100M for debt relief

The Obama administration says it will give $100 million in cash to Tunisia for short-term debt relief as the North African country struggles to improve its economy after the ouster of its longtime authoritarian leader last year.

The move, which will require congressional approval, was announced Thursday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has visited Tunisia twice since its revolution sparked the unrest that is now sweeping the Arab world. Mrs. Clinton said the money would go to pay Tunisia’s debt to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

The assistance will come in addition to a loan guarantee agreement that Washington and Tunis are now negotiating that would see the U.S. provide $30 million in collateral to seek hundreds of millions of dollars from international capital markets.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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