After more than a year of closed-door negotiations, the President and other Democrats have finally appropriated a Republican phrase by calling for "an up or down vote" on the resulting health reform legislation. Great idea - so great, in fact, that we should do even better on financial reform.
This time, let's have an up-or-down vote on each of the vital policy planks that constitute meaningful reform. Instead of having politicians do their horsetrading in private and leaving the public vote until the end, let's have a public show of hands on the vital economic issues of our time.
So far the Senate's financial reform has been anything but an open-book process. Sen. Chris Dodd is becoming the Max Baucus of financial reform. Baucus used his powerful position to trade away one popular health reform policy after another, allegedly in search of "bipartisan" support. Yet when that support didn't appear, none of those compromises were withdrawn. Funny how that happens.
Now Dodd's playing the Baucus role on financial reform. He teamed up with GOP Senator Bob Corker to cut one deal after another, cutting the heart out of some of reform's most critical provisions in the process. Their deals would leave the American consumer poorly protected and the risk of another catastrophe unacceptably high. Thanks to Dodd and Corker, not one single Senator has been required to cast an "up or down vote" on critical issues like the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, constraints on sleazy and usurious "payday lenders," or the Volcker rule to limit reckless big-bank activity.
The Wall Street Journal reported (behind a paywall, so no link) that "Messrs. Corker and Dodd said they are hoping to attract 80 of the Senate's 100 members to support the bill." Are they kidding? You couldn't get 80 votes for mixed nuts with beer in this Senate! Leaving aside a point that should be obvious - namely that a good policy with fewer votes is better than a bad policy with lots of votes - how's that workin' out for ya?
Here's how: Not only aren't there 80 votes, but even Corker isn't on board. Will Dodd respond to this Republican intransigence by putting back all the good things he stripped from the bill for their support? Nope. As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Dodd said the version of the legislation he introduces on Monday will reflect Corker's input."
Dodd's statement about Corker reads like one of those celebrity divorce announcements: "I have been fortunate to have a strong partner in Senator Corker, and my new proposal will reflect his input ..." And we'll continue to be loving parents to our two beautiful children.
Enough. Too many important policies have been traded away in the Senate in the name of a bipartisanship that never appears. Democrats aren't just failing to deliver the right policies; they're losing on the politics too. They're ceding these to their opponents by refusing to make those opponents -- or their own party members, for that matter - take a public stand.
It's time for the charade to stop. It's time for an "up or down vote" on each one of these critical financial issues:
Consumer Financial Protection Agency: Will we have a strong, independent CFPA capable of protecting the American consumer, or a watered-down agency buried in the bowels of the Federal Reserve - the agency whose oversight led to the last catastrophe? It's time to learn where our Senators stand.
Payday Lenders: The despicable organizations that prey on low-income people need to stop charging 400% annualized interest on loans. That's usury, plain and simple. Vultures like these - and yeah, I'm talking to you, W. Allan Jones! - give Uriah Heep a bad name. Corker managed to get his crony Jones and the other moneylenders exempted from proposed regulation. It's time for an up-or-down vote on bringing these guys under control.
The Volcker Rule: We need to prevent banks from engaging in high-risk "proprietary trading" with the so-called "Volcker rule," and we need to curb the reckless behavior of large firms by forcing them to maintain sufficient capital reserves. New legislation introduced by Sens. Merkley, Levin, Brown, and Kaufman would do exactly that. Dear Sen. Reid: Have you scheduled that "up or down vote" yet?
There's more, of course, but these three items will do for a start. Let's get cracking, Senators! We need to know where you stand on these issues. If these provisions don't pass, by all means start dealing. Then you'll deal with the voters at re-election time. It's time to do what we sent you to Washington to do: Debate the issues, and then vote on them. No more hiding behind the skirts of bipartisanship or the musty cloak of arcane Senate procedure. We need up-or-down votes on each of these policies.
Hey, maybe all of this intransigence can't be explained by bank lobbyists influencing US Senators. Maybe some Senators agree with the Heritage Foundation that banking is a "big government problem" (?!?), so "big government" isn't the solution. Maybe they agree that it's better to have "big banks" running things. Fine: Up or down votes will give these ideologues a chance to make their case before the voters.
The voters - remember them? They deserve to know whether their Senators support these provisions or not. Let's have those up-or-down votes, Senators, so that that you can answer the question that George Clooney asked in Ocean's 11. When it comes to protecting American consumers and preventing another crisis: Are you in or are you out?
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer, is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard blogs at:
Website: Eskow and Associates