By Jim Lardner, Americans for Financial Reform
When the two parties adopted their platforms this summer, observers noted that the Democratic platform was possibly the most progressive platform in the recent history, while the Republican platform lurched even further to the right on a number of issues.
But on one topic (you’ll be surprised which), they actually agreed: Breaking up too big to fail banks. Both parties’ platforms include calls to re-instate the Glass Steagall firewall between boring banking (you know, lending money to people and businesses) and risky casino-style investment banking (think “credit default swaps”).
Election day is fast approaching and Congress’s approval rating has barely improved from a few years back when it lagged behind root canals. So you’d think agreement on a major policy — particularly one with broad and deep public support — might be occasion for swift enactment of a bi-partisan bill. Indeed, the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act is championed by both Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, popular leaders in their respective parties. Instead, with Congress set to adjourn this week until after election day, Congressional leaders have yet to take a single step to live up to the words of their platforms.
Organizers of a new campaign to Take on Wall Street decided to do something about it. With strong support from the Daily Kos community and working with allies from labor, netroots, and community partners, we launched a petition to Congressional leaders asking them to back up their rhetoric on Glass Steagall with action. The petitions were gathered by the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, American Family Voices, Americans For Financial Reform, Campaign for America’s Future, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Courage Campaign, CREDO, Daily Kos, EPI Policy Center, Franciscan Action Network, Jobs with Justice, Just Foreign Policy, People for the American Way, Presente.org, Progressive Congress Action Fund, the Nation, and Rootstrikers, generating over 350,000 signatures.
Yesterday we delivered those petitions on Capitol Hill, bringing them directly to the office of Republican Jeb Hensarling, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. As Chair of the Committee that oversees the banks, Hensarling has had ample opportunity to show leadership on the issue. Instead he has spent the past two months advancing legislation that weakens oversight of the financial industry rather than strengthening it. Last week Chairman Hensarling held a vote in his committee on the highly partisan CHOICE Act — an early Christmas present to Wall Street benefactors that repeals many of the regulations established by the Dodd Frank Financial Reform legislation enacted following the financial collapse in 2008. The prior week Hensarling pushed through a vote on the House floor that reduces transparency and disclosure rules for private equity firms.
Representative Hensarling was not in his office when we arrived but in addition to the petitions we delivered, we also brought to his office a reminder of the Republican Party’s platform regarding Glass Steagall — language that is remarkably clear and explicit: “We support re-instating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment.”
To be fair, not all Democrats support reinstating Glass-Steagall either. But Republicans have adopted a party platform that includes “tough on banks” references to Glass-Steagall while actively moving a Wall Street wish list of deregulation. That hypocrisy is egregious even by Washington standards.
Representative Hensarling isn’t likely to change his tune, and as political observers delight in reminding us, the party platforms are not binding. But we should use even the rhetorical support for our agenda to hold elected officials accountable. And in the mean time, judge them by their actions not their words.