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27th May, 2008

Bill Clinton, Glass-Steagall and the Current Foreclosure and Financial Crisis, Part Three

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billclintonsignsglasssteagallrepeal
Photo: Justin Lane, New York Times
Bill Clinton Signs the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Act

It used to be that to find the records of a Congressional debate you had to travel to one of the designated regional federal records repositories, and then wander down long, deserted rows of bound volumes until you found the right one. For me, the movies were not far off the mark in their lending an element of suspense to this lonely walk, as if you were entering a dark, unknown alley at night. After lugging the hefty book back to your seat, you then leafed through often dusty pages that gave off the smell of history.

Rather than finding it funereal, I always felt that smell was full of promise, for although the voices in those pages might be long dead, they carried with them the possibility of rebirth. When the past comes alive, it has the power to not only alter the present, but also the future as it shatters the very foundations we stand upon.

The House debate over the repeal of Glass-Steagall has that power. Reading it, you understand the high drama surrounding the issue, why people at the time felt so strongly about it, and why their rhetorical eloquence deserves to be remembered today. By citing some of the most important opposition statements, I hope to give rebirth to those voices, who although in the minority surely rate a place alongside their colleagues in John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, which tells the story of those whose principled stands were vindicated by history.

THE DEBATE OVER THE REPEAL OF GLASS-STEAGALL

What follows are the words of those who spoke in opposition to the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The complete debate can be found in the online pages of the Congressional Record.

Edward Markey, Mass

No one should vote for this bill. It is a fatally flawed bill. We should be able to deal with this issue simultaneously with letting the big boys get all they need. We should take care of what ordinary people
need for their families as well.

David Obey, Wis

Madam Speaker, this bill is consumer fraud masquerading as financial reform. There is nothing wrong with modernizing financial institutions. It is nice to see that my colleagues are going to try to
set up one-stop shopping services for financial services. But returning 1999 to 1929 is not reform in my book.
.

Maxine Waters, California

Madam Speaker, I have spent hours on this bill. I served on the conference committee. I am the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy of the Committee on Banking and Financial Services. I have spent hours on this bill, and I am absolutely surprised that the Members of this House can support a bill that would do what this bill is about to do to working people and poor people.

This is a one-man vendetta that took place on the conference committee. We should never have negotiated with them, but the negotiations took place in the back room, not in public.

Carrie Meek, Florida

Madam Speaker, I am sure that those of my colleagues who have come to the floor and applauded this bill have tunnel vision, and their vision is directed toward the large banking institutions. Because their blindness does not let them see to the right and left of them, they do not really see the people that are being affected by this bill most. I am opposed to this bill, that this bill brings in a strong element of discrimination, particularly in fair housing.

Marcy. Kaptur, Ohio

This bill is pro megabank and it is against consumers. And I would say to the people listening tonight, Are you tired of calling banks and getting lost in the automated phone system, never locating a breathing human being? This bill will make it worse.

Are you fed up with rising ATM fees and service fees that now average over $200 a year per account holder? This bill will make it worse.

Are you skeptical about banks that used to be dedicated to safety and soundness and savings but are now switching to pushing stocks and insurance and debt? This bill will make it worse.

Are you tired of the megafinancial conglomerates and mergers that have made your community a branch economy of financial centers located far away, whose officers you never know, who never come to your community? This bill will make it worse.

Maurice Hinchey, NY

We have 1 hour to debate the most comprehensive change in financial services legislation in the Nation in the last 65 years. This is one of the most important bills to come before this Congress in decades, and we are going to spend 1 hour this evening debating here on the floor of the House of Representatives.

And that 1 hour is divided thusly: two-thirds of that hour go to the people who are for the bill; only one-third of the hour goes to the people who are opposed to it. That is wholly consistent with the objectivity and fairness contained within the bill itself.

This is a farce, it is a mistake, it is a day that we will rue. We are constructing here an apparatus that will come back and bite us severely.

THE FINAL TALLY

The final vote was 339 for, 79 against, and 20 not voting. The “nays” include names well-known today: Dennis Kucinich, John Dingell, Nancy Pelosi, and John Lewis. Kucinich spoke only briefly to enter an article against the bill into the record. Dingell, Pelosi and Lewis did not speak.

Current Presidential candidates who voted “yea” are John Edwards and Joe Biden. As the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd did not vote on the bill, but you can see him in the signing picture above. The article Kucinich entered into the record particularly singled out Dodd’s campaign contributors.

Two significant observations need to be made about the debate. First, it is noteworthy that women and people of color were among the strongest speakers in opposition. A major theme in the book The Strange Death of Liberal America is how women and people of color raised objections when Liberal America’s belief in the level playing field came under fire from both parties.

Second, as one commenter has noted, there were enough votes to override a veto. But we need to remember that party members usually support their President. Had Clinton opposed the bill and threatened to veto it, the outcome might have been different. But “what-ifs” don’t matter. Moral courage does. As Gandhi said:

In human society, all violence can be traced back to these seven recurrent blunders: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, and politics without principles.

The final paragraph of the article by Robert Scheer that Dennis Kucinich entered into the record reads:

The leading presidential candidates in both parties–Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley and Republican George W. Bush–all have obtained massive contributions from the financial industry. This issue is the best litmus test of whether any of them can muster the gumption to bite the hand that feeds them. If they can’t, when it comes to the most decisive consumer issues, it doesn’t really matter which one becomes president.

When Scheer wrote his article, no one could have predicted 9/11 and the Iraq War, yet reading his words as we find ourselves in the third Presidential contest since he wrote them and Representative Hinchey’s warning echoes through our current financial crisis, somehow Scheer’s point seems even more relevant now than then. Maybe it’s because of that one phrase:

This issue is the best litmus test of whether any of them can muster the gumption to bite the hand that feeds them.

We are still waiting for an answer.

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Responses

I feel that is an enchanting aspect, it made me think a bit. Thank you for sparking my thinking cap. Infrequently I am getting such a lot in a rut that I just really feel like a record.

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