Congressional Republicans had two goals in mind when they decided to string out the health-care fight as long as possible: They wanted the public to become sick and tired of the process, and they hoped the Democrats would eventually give up and walk away. While they’ve been successful to a degree, ultimate victory will depend on what happens over the next few days.
However, the strategy also produced a third important benefit for the GOP: It has diverted public attention from topics in which the GOP faces a significant political disadvantage.
One way or the other, that’s about to change.
Take, for example, the issue of Wall Street and the banks, which represent Ground Zero in the collapse of the American economy.
For the past few months, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have been crafting legislation to tighten banking oversight. Among other proposals, they want to put the financial burden on the banking industry, not on taxpayers, for bailing out institutions that in the future might be deemed “too big to fail.” No more TARP, in other words. Another provision would give corporate stockholders — the actual owners of the company — a greater voice in selection of boards of directors.
Senate Republicans have been fighting those efforts tooth and nail. In an echo of the health-care debate, repeated efforts at compromise by Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd have been rejected by Republicans who refuse to give the legislation bipartisan support. They want another fight, or at least they think they do.
In an speech Wednesday to the American Bankers Association, House Minority Leader John Boehner rallied those poor downtrodden bankers, encouraging them not to “let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves.” According to MarketWatch, “ABA President Edward Yingling told bankers that the longer that Senate lawmakers can’t come to an agreement on the bank-reform bill, the more leverage Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the banking committee’s ranking member, has to prompt concessions.”
I think that’s a gross misreading of both the timing and the politics of the situation. In fact, I’d bet the Democrats would be quite pleased to see this particular fight out drag out for months in Congress. That way, when voters go to the polls in November, the image freshest in their minds will be that of Republicans filibustering on behalf of the banksters, not of Democrats bickering over a health care issue that was resolved nine months earlier.
In the months to come, it will also be interesting to watch the Republicans try to justify their stalwart defense of Wall Street to their Tea Party contingent, which isn’t exactly thrilled with those pinstriped bonus babies.
Nor are most of their fellow Americans. While the most recent numbers I could find on the issue date back to February, I doubt the sentiment has changed much.
Pew Research asked: “… do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business?”
Fifty-nine percent said it was a good idea; just 33 percent thought it was a bad idea.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll produced equally compelling numbers. Asked “do you support or oppose stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business?”, 62 percent supported tougher regulation; just 34 percent opposed it.
The Democrats seem to sense their opportunity. In a speech Thursday at the National Press Club, White House economic adviser Larry Summers responded directly to Boehner’s comment.
“I do not think of the people who work on this project as ‘little punk staffers’,” Summers said. “I do not think that those who want to address these issues are ‘little punk staffers’ who need to be stood up to. And at a time when industry has hired – has spent $1 million on lobbyists per member of Congress, at a moment when there are four lobbyists per member of the House and Senate working on this issue, we in the administration do not believe that the prominent issue is allowing bankers to stand up for themselves.”
When even Larry Summers, a former Harvard president, can come off sounding like a man of the people, you know you’ve got something.
In his own appearance before the bankers association, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told the group that he and his fellow Democrats had made bank reform a priority and expected to have a bank bill passed by October.
October? Hmmm. Interesting schedule there.
Isn’t that the month just before November?