Through their ethics scandals, Republicans in Washington long ago began making the word "conservative" synonymous with the term "corrupt." Surprisingly, though, it is a group of Democrats that is cementing this definitional conversion for good.
In the midst of the housing crisis, a cadre of self-described "conservative" Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition is demanding congressional leaders delay legislation designed to help people trapped in high-interest loans stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. The bill, House Resolution 3609, allows judges to ameliorate the terms of abusive "subprime" mortgages. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is championing it-a gutsy move for a lawmaker whose state domiciles major lenders.
The Blue Dogs say they oppose Miller's initiative out of concern for the integrity of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill-a telling justification. Under that odious law, millionaires can shield their mansions from creditors, and corporate executives (think: Enron guys) can prevent ripped-off shareholders and employees from seizing their holdings. Harvard's Elizabeth Warren notes that the law also "permits people with vacation homes and investment property to rework their mortgages in bankruptcy."
But regular homeowners? Sorry-without Miller's legislation, judges are barred from defending you against the vultures.
Blue Dog Democrats cite the social conservatism of their rural and exurban districts as the reason for such high-profile stands against their party. Somehow, we are expected to believe that their constituents' anti-abortion or pro-gun views mean those same constituents want Congress to help banks throw people out of their homes. But since when did any voters-conservative or otherwise-support that kind of thing?
Since never, of course. "Conservatism" is being used as the cover for corruption.
As National Journal reports, corporate lobbyists "knew exactly who to go to in order to stop the [foreclosure relief] bill in its tracks: the Blue Dog Coalition." These lawmakers are the mercenaries' go-to crew not because of any principled ideology, but because they have been big recipients of campaign cash from the finance and real estate industries.
Of course, this is only the most recent example of pay-to-play shenanigans on banking issues.
In 2005, 20 "New" Democrats-another group billed as "conservative"-signed a letter demanding the passage of the original Bankruptcy Bill. Those Democrats had pocketed a combined $750,000 from the financial industry.
That same year, the Senate cast a "conservative" vote defeating a bill limiting credit card interest rates to a whopping 30 percent-a modest measure to say the least. Eighteen Republican and Democratic lawmakers voting against the measure had previously voted for a tougher interest cap. What changed? They received about $2 million from the credit card and banking industries in the interim.
Still, this new Blue Dog letter takes the cake for sheer brazenness. Why? Because the current mortgage crisis is especially hitting the kinds of exurban and rural districts these "conservative" Democrats purport to speak for.
The Atlantic Monthly's Matthew Yglesias recently reviewed foreclosure data and found that "the hardest-hit areas are the high-growth fringes of vibrant metro areas"-the exurbs that Blue Dog signatories like Illinois Rep. Melissa Bean (D) represent.
Real Estate magazine reports, "In 500 rural counties, one-third or more of mortgage originations involved high-interest loans." That could spell trouble for districts like the one represented by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga.-another signer. His state has almost 30,000 homes financed by subprime loans.
So, will these faux "conservatives" win? Maybe in this battle over mortgage reform, and in some other upcoming skirmishes like the brouhaha over taxes. National Journal reports that this same group of Democrats is intent on "limiting the scope" of proposals to close the loophole letting billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than the janitors who clean their offices. Apparently, the Blue Dogs would have us believe conservative, working-class constituents are insisting their congressional representatives not only support bank foreclosures, but also help Wall Street barons rob the federal treasury.
Nonetheless, over the long term, those like the Blue Dogs will have an increasingly difficult time succeeding-both legislatively and electorally. The more they attach their "conservative" label to such obscene corruption, the more that label will be indelibly tarnished. Aiding loan sharks and tax cheats may elicit campaign donations and smiles in Washington, but it is no way to win hearts and minds in the rest of America.
David Sirota is the bestselling author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network-both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at www.credoaction.com/sirota.
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