Why Russ Feingold should flip on financial reform
With today’s announcement of Sen. Scott Brown’s support for the conferenced financial reform bill, Democrats find themselves a mere breath away from filibuster-proof passage. All that Democrats are waiting for is the replacement for recently passed Sen. Robert Byrd, or the flip of someone like Sen. Chuck Grassley or Sen. Olympia Snowe.
But the senator who should do the flipping is Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, who has been opposed to the bill pretty much from the outset because it doesn’t go far enough. Some consider Feingold’s opposition to be a principled example that other Democrats would do well to follow. Though, it is worth noting that the hold out of support by Democrats like Feingold and Cantwell have led to concessions on issues like the bank tax and the Volcker rule as Democrats have had to seek support of senators like Brown.
But speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Feingold apparently went so far as to suggest that, “the new rules for Wall Street are so timid that passing them would do more harm than good.” While the bill certainly isn’t everything that advocates from strong reform wanted, it is hard to see how, as Feingold claims, the bill has, “Wall Street’s fingerprints all over it.” Or how it would do more harm than good.
The finger prints on the bill are largely claw marks that have resulted from Democrats’ desperate attempts to secure sufficient support for the bill after it went through a process of being strengthened during debate. It is ironic that senators like Feingold went to all the trouble of pushing to strengthen the bill, only to undermine that strength at the eleventh hour by refusing to support the bill out of conference.
Meanwhile, Feingold is facing a surprisingly challenging race in the upcoming midterms,
The Wisconsin Democrat faces a wealthy political newcomer with early backing from tea party activists in a state that has many independent voters and is known for doing its own thing. The likely GOP nominee, Ron Johnson, is running an outsider’s campaign. “We have to boot professional politicians out of Washington,” he says in his first campaign ad.
Feingold apparently plans to use his sole divergence from Democratic support for the financial reform bill as a selling point to Wisconsin voters, but this strikes me as sell job that no one is going to be buying.
Firstly, over the period of time that Feingold has been opposing the bill, his approval ratings have been on a steady downward slide. In fact, according to the latest polling, Feingold’s unfavourables have not inched just above his favourables.
Feingold’s has been a remarkably precipitous drop and it’s hard to know, without a financial reform feather in his cap, what Feingold might look to use as a means of stemming his bleeding popularity. And, as previously noted, with the numbers strongly behind reform, Feingold’s decision not to help pass the bill could very well wind up being used against him in the course of the midterm race.
A sudden turnaround for Feingold would require some fancy rhetorical foot work given his very vocal opposition of late. But appealing to his better judgment so as to ensure the passage of a set of reforms that Americans are united in their belief about the need for is a narrative that may well prove vital both for Feingold, and the country.