Saturday, October 30, 2010

Feingold, the Democrat, for Wisconsin

Feingold's campaign for good governance and Wall Street Reform earn him another term.

It would be a shame if the voters of Wisconsin, oust a perfectly good senator like Russel Feingold in order to express their contempt at Washington and its cozy relationship with the bankers on Wall Street. The incumbent did not even vote for the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program which his, Ron Johnson, had repeatedly and cynically condemned even as he receives money from the very companies that benefited from the program at taxpayers’ expense.

Their support for the Republican shouldn't come as a surprise since the incumbent senator had voted against the very measures, like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, that the financial companies to get “too big to fail” in the first place. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act removed the firewall prohibiting large investment “banks” from merging with or otherwise selling their high-risk and largely incomprehensible investment derivative products to the very commercial banks that provide loans to small, up-start businesses and potential homeowners.

The Glass-Steagall Act, which this bill repealed, prevented such mergers and such loans so that if and when there was a run on Wall Street it would not have impacted as severely, the loaning industry which fuels the growth in small businesses which provide most Americans their paychecks. Banks would not have tightened their credit lines to small businesses as severely as they did when the market collapsed.

As distasteful as it was, the TARP program which neither candidate supported was needed to prevent a run on the banks that could have forced those banks, in turn, to end their loaning programs altogether, causing businesses big and small to cut their losses by laying off more workers or declare bankruptcy and close. Their failure to support this bill was unfortunate, but had our leaders in Washington listened to Senator Feingold and those who opposed the repeal of Glass-Steagall in the first place, there might have been no TARP program to vote for or against in the first place.

It should be noted that Senator Feingold voted against the finance-backed Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act at a time when the business Democrats were on the rise, when the Larry Summers and the Robert Rubins were viewed as the intellectual giants shepherding this country through a period of economic growth. He was a Cassandra sounding the alarm against a tide of Democrats so intent on re branding themselves “New Democrats,” they voted for business-friendly bills that provided for short-term gains when the stock market rises but very high risks if and when that stock market collapsed.

Since the stock market collapsed, the senator had backed measures designed to reverse the tide on deregulation and restore the regulatory sanity “New Deal” Democrats imposed after a stock market collapse in the 1920s led to that nation’s Great Depression. He backed the McCain-Cantwell bill restoring Glass-Steagall as well as a Cantwell’s amendment to the watered-down Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009. The amendment to the Wall Street Reform Bill was crafted to close a loophole allowing financial institutions to break the new rules established through the act with impunity.

Glass-Steagall was not restored and the Wall Street Reform bill that was signed into law did not include Cantwell’s amendment. Feingold ultimately voted against the bill. His efforts to restore some fiscal sanity to Wall Street’s businesses practices, including his support for an amendment requiring derivatives to be traded in an open market and consequently “cleared” by someone who then would ultimately be responsible for paying for defaulted loans, should earn him Wisconsin voters’ respect.

Senator Feingold’s efforts to reform the way business is done on Wall Street have earned him a fourth six-year term in the senate and Wisconsin’s voters should return him to Washington on that basis alone. Fortunately, the incumbent had been a vociferous defender of good government and a firm advocate for civil liberties in other respects.

He voted for the health care reform bill that will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, and allows parents to keep their children on their children on their plan until they are 26. He voted for the economic stimulus package that spared states from laying off more workers at a time when when that would have led to a further collapse in housing prices and he voted to extend unemployment insurance to those who have lost their job as a result of Wall Street’s reckless financial transactions.

Most prominently, he co-authored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 with Senator McCain. Until significant portions of the law were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this law barred corporations, unions, and any organization designed to advocate on behalf of any particular issue from paying for commercials that mentioned a political candidate 30 or less days before an election.
Though these ads ostensibly are written to urge a candidate to back or oppose one measure or another they are really designed as a way to circumvent laws restricting how much such organizations can donate to a political candidate (and potentially buy their votes). An ad that was designed to sway a senator’s vote would have been aired at the time at which such legislation was being debated before Congress and not when the campaign season was in full swing.

Mr. Feingold’s stalwart defense for our civil rights and liberties is even more impressive. He voted against the misnamed PATRIOT Act which curtails our privacy rights even when most Americans, fearful of another terrorist attack, supported it. He announced his support for gay marriage even though his state’s residents voted for a constitutional amendment that banned civil unions as well as marriages. And though he supports reasonable gun regulations he signed onto a District of Columbia v. Heller brief affirming the right of all Americans to own guns while calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the capital district’s ban on handguns.

His Republican opponent, Ron Johnson, offers the voters with the same tiring Republican talking points on tax cuts, deregulation and “family values” that one can expect from any card-carrying conservative and nothing to reform our broken system. He opposed the TARP bailout and the watered-down Wall Street reform bill but offers no alternative remedy to fix the derivative market. He is running to repeal health care but offers nothing but the same unrealistic “market-based” health care reform bills Sharon Angle supports. He opposes abortion rights and gay equality (across the board).

Senator Feingold has been a vociferous advocate for all hard-working Americans. His main opponent, Ron Johnson does not. Wisconsin’s voters should return Feingold to Washington.

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