Having recently traveled to D.C. a couple of weeks ago to lobby with others from around the country for financial reform and a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency, it has become increasingly difficult to not take the Senate votes personally.
I read the stories on ShametheBanks.org as they come in every day. Stories submitted by people who have been affected by Wall Street gone wild and whose lives have been severely impacted by the lack of regulation that caused the melt down nearly two years ago. Reading these stories makes it even more difficult to understand the reasons behind certain senators voting in favor of amendments that would weaken any chance of real financial reform.
One of my stops in D.C. was to Scott Brown's office, where I talked with his staff about the people in Massachusetts who have been affected by the rampant abuses on Wall Street. I referenced my own mortgage as an example of the fraud that's taken place. I reviewed the two year battle I've had with Ocwen Bank over a mortgage riddled with violations, referencing a 29 page time line as evidence and explained how my wife and I, despite our efforts, have ended up in worse financial shape and owing more money than we did when we bought the house four years ago. So when Scott Brown voted along party lines to approve an amendment that would cripple consumer protection, for me it was one more case of a congressman siding with Wall Street and special interest.
Considering Brown's office has said he supports consumer financial protection, it's concerning that he voted in favor of the Shelby amendment. An amendment that according to a statement prepared by Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director of U.S.PIRG, was a "...dangerous amendment to the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau included in the Senate's Wall Street reform bill. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) was quite simple: the consumer agency would have been given no independence, no funding for enforcement, no enforcement over any banks, and consequently, no authority to protect consumers."
So why, whether they drive a truck or ride in a limo, would someone see this amendment as a good thing for the American people?
In a recent interview with Huffington Post Elizabeth Warren, said, "I'm tired of hearing politicians claim to support families and, at the same time, vote with the big banks on the most important financial reform package in generations. I'm deep-down tired of it."
Warren went on to say, "There were others that thought they could get away with voting for the overall reform package while doing everything they could behind the scenes to hold water for the big banks and earn all those campaign contributions. We're about to find out if any senators want to play those games."
I may not drive a pickup truck, but as a regular guy in the trenches subjected to the abuses of the financial industry, I don't really care if a senator votes strategically in order to gain favor with his or her party. I don't care about the posturing and political ploys that go on in D.C. - I just want to know if I'm being represented. It would appear that in Brown's case, along with most of the GOP, the games have begun.
Recently, Joe S., from Maine submitted his story to Shamethebanks.org. In it he wrote, "My story is probably the same as many of you... I'm a single dad - career military man - a steady member of our community... I don't live a flashy extravagant life, but my bills and mortgage kept going up - to the point where I was afraid I'd start falling behind in my now large mortgage of 1,826.00 per month."
Joe also mentions having written his Senator, Olympia Snowe, who once again departed from the "party of no" caricature and was one of two republicans, along with Chuck Grassley, to vote down the bill and do what makes sense for her constituents.
Snowe also teamed up with Al Franken last week to file an amendment to the bill specifically designed for people pursuing home loan modifications. The amendment proposes a new "Office of the Homeowner Advocate" that would be devoted to solving homeowner's problems with the administration's modification programs.
According to a Propublica article by Paul Kiel, "Under the amendment, all homeowner complaints about servicers would go to this new "Office of the Homeowner Advocate" within the Treasury Department. That would effectively create an appeals process for homeowners who think they've been wrongly denied a modification--something that housing counselors and other consumer advocates have long said is desperately needed."
The article goes on to say that this new office would have the authority to penalize servicers who do not comply with the program's guidelines.
Needless to say, that's going to be a busy office.
I applaud both Snowe and Franken for their efforts and would encourage all members of Congress to read the stories on ShametheBanks.org. There are numerous stories from their constituents who continue to be victimized by banks and servicers who have done little more than game a system that was put in place to help people in need. Maybe some insight into how their constituents are being affected would serve to enlighten them the way Franken and Snowe appear to have been.
As for Brown (and Kerry for that matter) I will be watching how they vote on this and the other dozen or so amendments in the coming weeks.
To me, like many Americans it's simple: It's Wall Street vs. Main Street, and anyone who votes to weaken financial reform should have a limo sent to their office, to take them to their real constituents ... on Wall Street.
MASSPIRG sent a limo to Brown's Massachusetts office a couple of weeks ago to do just that.
I'd even be willing to chip in for gas if it would help get the point across.
You can see more about the votes and track how your senators are voting at www.uspirg.org/amendment-guide. I encourage you to call your senators and tell them how you expect them to vote. Let's see if they listen.
Follow Richard Zombeck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zombeck