Commentary: Big money politics revealed in Wall Street reformSenate Republicans argued that their unanimous votes to halt Wall Street reform were necessary to allow “the people” chance to speak their mind. This is curious...
By: Niel Ritchie, League of Rural Voters , Alexandria Echo Press
Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, a Minnesota-based nonprofit dedicated to strengthening rural communities nationwide.
Senate Republicans argued that their unanimous votes to halt Wall Street reform were necessary to allow “the people” chance to speak their mind.
This is curious, given outraged Americans were among the first demanding strict regulations to end years of systematic abuses by the financial industry and three-quarters of the U.S. population supports the bill.
Odder yet: The votes would have opened 30 hours of public debate on the legislation, not shut it down – and would have ended backroom deals going on behind public view.
Top Republican leaders met at least twice with industry insiders in the last months to concoct a strategy to either weaken the bill or kill it outright. In those rooms were representatives from such places as J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, which spent a combined $4 million so far this year in anti-reform efforts.
In other words: The people now setting the agenda are the same ones who created the economic crisis, abetted by a minority of U.S. Senators using procedural tactics to get it done.
This is not only undemocratic it reveals a pattern in which “No” votes backed by Big Money are being used for political gain at the expense of the American people.
It’s happened before.
At the beginning of the health-care debate a year ago three-quarters of Americans supported comprehensive reform. A record $3.47 billion – that’s billion, with a “B” – was spent lobbying Congress last year, much of it to upend that single piece of legislation.
There was a great deal at stake. Profits at the country’s 10 largest publicly traded companies rose 428 percent between 2000 and ’07, but financial reports show ’09 was the banner year, when the top five insurers reaped $12 billion in profits.
And with every dollar spent to preserve that extraordinary windfall, public resolve melted into fear and suspicion, culminating in calls for the bill’s repeal.
Among them were rural voices, despite a broken system that threatens the health of our families, friends and neighbors. The facts are undeniable: Of the 60 million Americans without ready access to primary-care physicians 50 million live in rural areas, home to the nation’s highest rate of uninsured.
Again, there’s a great deal at stake, given financial-sector profits soaring 240 percent year over year, while giving nothing back to taxpayers that bailed them out. In the months following TARP major banks cut lines of credit to small businesses by $11 billion, forcing layoffs that otherwise might have been avoided.
To put those profits into perspective consider this: Fifteen years ago the combined assets of the six largest banks equaled 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product; today it’s 63 percent. Yet only 6 percent of the overall workforce derives a paycheck from the financial industry.
That means a considerable minority now makes a sizable majority of the nation’s money off the idea that money can be made from money, or at least the appearance of money. That is until the whole bankrupt enterprise collapses, as it did two years ago.
That head-spinning reality has been a boon to tycoons receiving hundreds of millions in annual salaries and year-end bonuses. But it’s done nothing for hard-working families facing emptied checking accounts; independent farmers who can’t afford seed this spring, and small-business owners at the mercy of banks deemed “too large to fail” yet did in the waning days of 2008.
Despite overwhelming bipartisan agreement on the Senate bill – which includes roping in the worst “too big” offenders – a unified Republican bloc voted to prevent it from being even formally introduced so public debate could begin. Or end in a final vote.
Just days after the failed Senate votes President Obama toured the Midwest, stopping in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, to talk about issues at the root of our lives: jobs, the economy, financial reforms to help families day-to-day. He sat down with owners of small farms, alternative-energy entrepreneurs and folks only looking for a fair shot when it comes to interest rates on their credit cards.
We’re not always going to agree with the president – or believe that one party has all the answers, but there is one thing we all should recognize: There is huge difference between politics and governance – an important difference that was fully revealed in the last few days.