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Will GOP Block Wall Street Fix?

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As the Senate turns to financial reform this week, the big question is whether any Republicans will join in, or whether the party will stick to its new political doctrine of Maximum Feasible Obstruction.

This doctrine is predicated on the idea that Barack Obama, elected with nearly 53 percent of the vote, is a dangerous radical bent on extinguishing American liberties and importing Euro-style social democracy. It's an idea so crazy on its face that many progressives are convinced that racism must lurk behind it.

Maybe, but some conservatives also convinced themselves that Bill Clinton maintained a secret airport in Arkansas to import narcotics from Central America. The right's feral attacks on Clinton led a sympathetic Toni Morrison to dub him in a figurative sense "America's first black president."

Whether or not race is a factor, Republicans have evidently calculated that there is no political cost in withholding cooperation from Obama, at least on domestic issues. That may have been true of health care, which lost public support as the debate wore on. But fixing Wall Street is another matter.

The Pew Center for Research reported yesterday that Americans overwhelmingly favor (by 61-31) reform of financial rules, even as they evince growing skepticism of government activism. It's pretty clear the public takes a "never again" stance toward bailing out Wall Street bankers, speculators and bonus babies.

That's why Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate leader, latched onto the theme that the bill crafted by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) would actually make future bailouts more likely. President Obama blasted that "cynical and deceptive assertion" over the weekend, and McConnell yesterday seemed to back down.

Still, Democrats need Republican votes to bring a bill to the floor. The Washington Post reports this morning that Democrats are targeting Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Bucking his party's sullenly oppositionist temper, Corker has worked constructively with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) to offer sensible improvements to the Dodd bill.

That bill is snagged on GOP opposition to a new regulatory body, to be independent but lodged in the Federal Reserve, that would protect consumers of credit cards, mortgages and other loans from deceptive or predatory practices. Dodd has signaled a willingness to compromise on another controversial provision, an industry-financed $50 billion fund to liquidate bankrupt firms. And the New York Times reports today financial sector lobbyists have lavished contributions on members of the Agriculture Committee, which is grappling with a key provision to regulate derivatives.

During the health care debate, Republicans did not appear to be moved by the plight of Americans with no medical insurance. But financial reform involves something Republicans traditionally care deeply about - money. Where are the sobersided conservatives of yesteryear, who understood that the safety and soundness of our financial system is fundamental to America's economic health? Striking the right balance between regulation and innovation, security and risk, is an urgent national priority that ought to engage responsible leaders in both parties.

If Republicans aren't willing to set aside reflexive partisanship long enough to stand up for American capitalism, we really are in a world of political hurt.

This item is cross-posted at Progressive Fix.