Apr 19th 2010

Will the Republicans Be Stupid Enough to Filibuster Bill to Hold Wall Street Banks Accountable?

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

The big question in Washington this week is whether the Republican leadership will be stupid enough to filibuster the Senate bill to hold big Wall Street banks accountable.

There are very few things the Republicans could do that would help the Democrats more in their quest to maintain large majorities in the House and Senate. Please Lord…let the Republicans be incompetent enough to filibuster this bill.

When it comes to this issue, Democrats occupy all of the political high ground. Normal Americans - including much of the Republican rank and file - detest the big Wall Street banks, since their recklessness caused the collapse of the economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs.

Why then would the Republicans choose to conduct a defining political battle on this political ground? If Republican leader Mitch McConnell leads his troops into battle in this political valley - surrounded by Democrats on the political hills above -- he will be remembered as the Republican version of General George Custer. In the 1960's there was a popular song called: "Please General Custer, I don't want to go". I would bet there will be more than a few Republican Senators singing that song if McConnell persists in his threat to filibuster a bill to hold the big Wall Street banks accountable.

Frankly, I'm betting that some of McConnell's forces in the Senate will refused to be led onto that political killing field and will end up voting with the Democrats. The only question is whether that will happen early in the game, or after weeks of press focus on the Republican defense of Wall Street.

Right now many Americans still do not fully appreciate the degree to which the Republican leadership is - and has always been -- a tool of Wall Street. A filibuster aimed at stopping the bill to hold the big Wall Street banks accountable would sear that fact into their minds.
For most of the post-Abraham Lincoln period (with the exception of the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt) the Republican Party has been run by and for big industrialists and the barons of Wall Street.

For the last thirty years the Party's dominant pro-Wall Street wing has teamed up with a more populist rank and file that focused mainly on social issues like abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action, and the rights of gun owners. Its modern incarnation is the Tea Party Movement.
As long as the interests of each wing of the Republican coalition did not directly and obviously conflict with the other, the two factions could live in relative harmony under the Republican tent. But a year and a half ago, something unfortunate happened for the future of this marriage: the recklessness and greed of the gang on Wall Street caused the collapse of the World economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs - including the jobs of many of the Republican's own rank and file.

The subsequent Wall Street bailout that, given the lack of Federal regulation, was probably necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into another Great Depression - did not please the Republican rank and file, or frankly any other ordinary American. Less pleasing yet were the outrageous bonuses that top Wall Street CEO's and traders pocketed after the generosity of the American taxpayer had saved their companies from the scrap heap. Politically, these bonuses were stupid things to do… but I guess they just couldn't help themselves from getting theirs while the getting was good.

In response, the new Obama Administration proposed legislation to hold the big Wall Street banks accountable, protect the consumers of financial products like mortgages and credit cards from deception and abuse, and make sure that Wall Street does its business in the light of day, through regulated exchanges, instead of the shadows of back rooms.

Most importantly, the legislation is intended to make sure that the CEO's and traders from big Wall Street banks are required to take responsibility for their actions so that their recklessness can never again cost Americans their jobs. The legislation would positively prevent any future taxpayer bailout for the big Wall Street banks by creating an orderly means of dissolving big financial institutions that get into trouble. The new law would require that if a big Wall Street bank fails, the Big Bank shareholders would be wiped out -- and depositors and the economy would be protected, using money paid in by the big banks themselves instead of the taxpayers.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Not if you're Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership. They went off to New York and got their marching orders (and campaign checks) from Wall Street. Their instructions: delay, weaken and stop this bill.
So, McConnell had the audacity to go to the Senate floor last week and claim that the bill does just the opposite of what it actually does. He argued it was a "bank bailout bill." Why would he make the argument that the bill does its opposite? Because Republican Pollster Frank Luntz found out that when you tell the truth about the bill, pretty much everyone - including the Republican base -- supports it. In other words, the only way to attack it is to lie.

But this smoke screen of an argument simply won't hold up if the Republicans actually try to block this legislation through a filibuster. As Abraham Lincoln famously said: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." That's especially true if this turns into the major - spotlighted, regularly repeated - news item it will become if they filibuster the bill.

Its one thing for Republicans to fabricate fantasies about "death panels." That builds upon the widespread fear among Republicans and some independent voters that Democrats want government that "overreaches" and interferes with their lives.

But it's quite another for them to try to convince Americans that Republicans are standing up against "bank bailouts" when they have always represented the interests of the big Wall Street banks -- and many Americans know it. That simply won't sell. And it really won't sell if Americans watch a protracted battle by Republicans to obstruct passage of a bill designed specifically to hold the big Wall Street banks accountable.

It is critically important for Democratic chances this fall for the voters to focus their anger about the economy on the real culprits who caused the disaster - Wall Street and the Republicans whose policies and philosophy allowed Wall Street recklessness to cost eight million Americans their jobs. Otherwise, the voters will focus their anger on the Democratic President and Congress, who they will blame for failure to completely reinvigorate the economy.

Whenever the electorate is in a "wrong track" state of mind, some "incumbent" is going to lose. Many of those incumbents will be Democrats if we are not capable of focusing voter anger on the incumbents that actually caused the problem - Wall Street and their Republican enablers.
By choosing to filibuster the bill to hold Wall Street accountable, the Republicans would be playing right into Democratic hands. They would create a narrative that we can ride straight into the voting booth November 2nd.

It is true, of course, that if we succeed in passing the legislation to hold Wall Street accountable, we have a whole other narrative to tell in the elections - but that's the topic of another article.
In the meantime, if I were purely partisan, I'd suggest that everyone should call their Republican Senators and urge them to do the Democrats a huge favor and filibuster the bill. But passing this legislation is too important for the country. So call the Republicans and tell them to do themselves a favor and vote yes to hold the Wall Street banks accountable now.

Robert Creamer's recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on  Amazon.com.

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