Barney Frank came to Congress as a liberal and will leave as such—not a perfect progressive on every issue but a steady liberal who served a term as president of the Americans for Democratic Action and whose latest rating from the defenders of New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society programs was a pure 100 percent.
That does not mean that there were not instances where Frank, a former Massachusetts legislator who arrived (to fill former the Rev. Robert Drinan’s seat) in 1980 and who will leave the House at the close of his current term, was always on the right (make that the left) side of the fight. But even where he was forced to accept compromises, he did so as a man of government who argued with passion and certainty that legislators should stand up to bankers, bigots and bloated Pentagon budgets.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, which the Massachusetts congressman played such a pivotal role in crafting and passing, pulled some punches that should have been thrown at the big banks and the Wall Street speculators. But Frank would argue—with some credibility—that as the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, he had to bend at times in order to enact realistic reforms. Just as he may have to bend in order to maintain the complex coalitions that will be required to implement the legislation.
It is the challenge of defending the financial reform legislation that Frank said Monday he hopes to focus on in his last year on Capitol Hill.
“In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, I had tentatively decided to make this my last term. The end of next year will mark 40 years during which time I have held elected office and a period of 45 years since I first went to work in government full time as an aide to Mayor Kevin White in late 1967,” explained Frank, who is 71 and admitted that he was not looking forward to seeking re-election in a reconfigured through still Democratic district. “But with the election of a conservative majority in the House, I decided that my commitment to the public policies for which I have fought for 45 years required me to run for one more term. I was—and am—concerned about right-wing assaults on the financial reform bill, especially since we are now in a very critical period when the bill is in the process of implementation. In addition, recognizing that there is a need for us to do long-term deficit reduction, I was—and am—determined to do everything possible to make sure that substantial reduction in our excessive overseas military commitments forms a significant part of the savings over the next 10 years. But, my concern for these two issues today cuts very much in the opposite direction—namely, in favor of forgoing a year-long full-time election campaign and instead focusing the next year on those two issues in Congress.”
So Frank will wrestle with House Republicans and disappointing Democrats over the next year. And Americans will be lucky to have him in the fight, even if they may get frustrated with some of the compromises that are required.