Senator Chris Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, scolded Wall Street representatives at a hearing Thursday for sending "an army of lobbyists whose only mission is to kill the common-sense financial reforms" needed by the public. "The fact is," Dodd said, "I am frustrated, and so are the American people." He charged that Wall Street's intransigence was the reason for Congress's failure to pass any bill to regulate the Street. "The refusal of large financial firms to work constructively with Congress on this effort borders on insulting to the American people who have lost so much in this crisis."
In other words, it isn't Congress's fault. It isn't the Senate Banking Committee's fault. It certainly isn't Dodd's fault. The reason more than a year has passed since the biggest bailout in the history of the world and nothing has been done to prevent a repeat performance - even as the biggest banks are doling out more than $30 billion of bonuses, even as Goldman Sachs is awarding its big traders $16 billion in bonuses (more than the $13 billion Goldman collected from taxpayers via the bailout of AIG), even as AIG itself is handing out bonuses - the reason is ... what, exactly, Senator? Because the Street has sent an army of lobbyists to Capitol Hill?
Call me old fashioned, but I thought Congress was in charge of passing legislation, not Wall Street.
Dodd left out the most telling detail, of course. Wall Street is where the campaign money is. Dodd of all people knows that. He's been on the receiving end of lots of it over the years.
Wall Street firms and their executives have been uniquely generous to both political parties, emerging recently as one of the largest benefactors of the Democratic Party. Between November 2008 and November 2009, Wall Street firms and executives handed out $42 million to lawmakers, mostly to members of the House and Senate banking committees and House and Senate leaders. During the 2008 elections, Wall Street showered Democratic candidates with well over $88 million and Republicans with over $67 million, putting the Street right up there with the insurance industry as among the nation's largest equal-opportunity donors.
Some Democrats are quietly grumbling that all the tough talk emanating from the White House in recent weeks - the President calling the Street's denizens "fat cats" and threatening them with limits on their size and the risks they can take, even waiving a watered-down version of Glass-Steagall in their faces - is making it harder to collect money from the Street this mid-term election year. And the Street is quietly threatening that it may well give Republicans more, if the saber-rattling doesn't stop.
Congress isn't doing a thing about Wall Street because it's in the pocket of Wall Street. Dodd's outburst at the Street is like the alcoholic who screams at a bartender "how dare you give me another drink when all I've done is pleaded with you for one!"
Dodd is right about one thing. The American people are frustrated, and the failure of Congress to pass real financial reform is insulting. But in trying to place responsibility for this appalling failure on Wall Street, Dodd insults us even more.
Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama's transition advisory board. His latest book is Supercapitalism.