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Hullabaloo


Sunday, October 09, 2011

 
Seeing the connections

by digby

Here's an interesting exchange between Howie and Congressman Brad Miller from our Blue America chat yesterday morning:

Howie Klein: Money makes the World Go Round-- And Congress Too. Congressman Miller, as I mentioned in the intro above, Alan Grayson told us that you were one of the only Members of Congress he'd ever met you didn't hesitate to tell a well-connected lobbyist to take a hike. That's admirable-- and it has a lot to do with why you're one of only three House incumbents we've endorsed this year-- but I want to ask you about the House Financial Services Committee on which you serve. That place is notorious as a honeypot for every sleazy banking lobbyist Inside-the-Beltway. Forget the Republicans for a minute; how hard was it for you to be the point person on financial reform among the progressives when the committee was so chock full of Blue Dogs and other lobbyist-friend Democrats? And as a part 2 to that one, what kind of campaign finance legislation is needed to make our government a more effective tool for ordinary working families?


Brad Miller: My mother did try to teach me manners. I am from the South, after all. So whenever I’ve told lobbyists to take a hike I’ve been very polite about it. Okay, maybe a couple of times I wasn’t.

I wonder how Alan even knows about that?

You’re right that the membership of the Financial Services Committee was kind of a problem when we were working on financial reform. Vulnerable new members asked to be on the committee because it was supposed to be good for fundraising, and the leadership generally obliged them. But it’s not good for fundraising unless you’re pretty friendly to the banks’ positions. The Huffington Post wrote a good article about that.

Alan Grayson, of course, was a glaring exception. Alan is a champion fundraiser from the netroots, including Blue America, but it’s hard for most members to attract the kind of national support that Alan gets.

So yeah, it’s a problem. I suspect members of most committees end up too close to the industries interested in the work of those committees. I suspect a lot of members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, all Republicans and some Democrats, are pretty reluctant to cross the fossil fuel industries. I think the Intelligence Committee is too deferential to our intelligence establishment. The Pentagon has a lot of sway with the Armed Services Committee.

I welcome any thoughts you have on how to fix that problem.

Also, so many of the issues were so obscure and dense that there was just about no way to explain the issues to most voters. I’ve never had a constituent ask me about whether derivates should be traded on an exchange or over-the-counter, or what limits there should be on proprietary trading, or how to prevent runs in the repo market, or about a lot of the other issues that really mattered in how effective financial reform was.

That makes it pretty easy for the lobbyists to fuzz over important issues.

I think most voters think that the financial industry had way too much influence over the financial reform legislation, but that some of the legislation was still pretty good, like creating the new CFPB, and as a whole the legislation maybe wasn’t as strong as it needed to be but was still better than the status quo. That’s kind of what I think too.

By the way, most of the vulnerable new members of the Committee ended up raising a lot of money and losing anyway. I think they might have been better off if they’d had less money but voters were convinced they’d worked for tough reform legislation in the face of fierce industry opposition.


Howie Klein: Congressman Miller, thanks for that honest, straight-forward response to a touchy question. I have another one not all Members of Congress want to talk about. I know you're been ultra-outspoken on the mortgage crisis at the heart of our economic difficulties. A friend in Raleigh told me you showed up at the OccupyRaleigh organizing meeting. Are people arware of the connection between the two things?


Brad Miller: Yes, I think people do see the connection. I start more blog posts than I finish, I'm afraid. But I have one started titled "Two roads in an economy diverged"--an obvious reference to the Robert Frost poem. I make the point that the Obama Administration faced a choice between helping homeowners who could afford a mortgage on their home, but not the one they had, and helping the biggest banks pretend to be solvent until they could earn their way back in the game. The two were incompatible: an effective response to the foreclosure crisis would require the banks to recognize losses on their mortgage assets, especially second liens at the biggest banks.

I think we took the wrong road, and that has made all the difference.
He asks what can be done about the cozy relationship between politicians and those they regulate and it's one of the fundamental problems in our democracy. The amount of money in politics is institutionalizing this corruption on a level we haven't seen before in the modern era. I certainly don't have the answer although many smart people are pondering the problem.

One thing I do know. Citizen engagement is absolutely necessary if we care about having a democracy. The only thing a politician cares about more than having enough money is having enough votes. They obsessively follow their local news and pay close attention to any shifts among their constituents. It's far more powerful than we recognize.

Money will always be in politics to some extent. It's like water --- it always finds an outlet. But the dam has burst at the moment and the only thing that can possibly counteract it in the short term is hardcore voter involvement in the process. You decide how to best to do that, whether it's the Occupy movement or writing letters to your congressman or supporting some of the good guys or targeting the bad guys. It's all good and it's all necessary. This flood of money isn't going to stop any time soon.


You can contribute to Brad's campaign here.
Alan Grayson, who served with him on the House Financial Services Committee: "Brad Miller is exactly what people hope that their representatives will be: thoughtful, independent, selfless, smart, and completely committed to their wellbeing. There are very few Members of Congress who are willing to tell a well-connected lobbyist to get lost; Brad is one of them."



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