This story first appeared at The Media Consortium.
More than two years after the collapse of Bear Stearns, the House and Senate finally ironed out their differences on Wall Street reform in the wee, small hours of Friday morning. The bill now goes back to both the House and Senate for final approval, but it’s fate in the Senate is uncertain following the defection of Tea Partier Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
The resulting bill has several things going for it, but largely misses the critical structural lessons of the Great Financial Crash of 2008. As Wall Street continues to score epic profits and grotesque bonuses over the coming months, progressives must be committed to continuing the fight for a fair economy.
As Andy Kroll explains for Mother Jones, the bill essentially lets too-big-to-fail banks off the hook. Megabanks like J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup will not be broken up into smaller institutions that could fail safely, nor will they be required to exit many of their most reckless business ventures. One of the most promising reforms still on the table as Congress moved on the bill was a plan to ban banks from gambling with taxpayer money—and Congressional leaders sabotaged it at the last minute.
As Tim Ferhnolz notes for The American Prospect, instead of strengthening the bill by negotiating with committed reformists like Democratic senators Maria Cantwell, and Russ Feingold, Senate leadership chose to cut a deal with Tea Party favorite Scott Brown. Brown’s price? Allowing banks to gamble by running their own proprietary hedge funds. After Senate negotiators gave Brown what he wanted, he suddenly reversed his support for the bill on Saturday morning.
Derailed by infighting
Essentially, petty interpersonal spats overwhelmed the push for real reform. Cantwell and Feingold’s objections to the legislation were correct so far as policy substance were concerned, and Cantwell always made clear that her vote could be won by simply closing a huge loophole in the bill. But after the two Democrats voted against the bill for being unnecessarily weak on the Senate floor, Senator Chris Dodd simply shut them both out of the negotiation process. This would be funny, if it weren’t true.
Brown had already proved his ability to go back on his word with Senate negotiators just a few weeks prior. He was a committed "yes” vote when the bill went to the Senate floor, but unexpectedly reversed his position at the last minute, causing the legislation to fail the first time it came up for a vote. But instead of trying to cut a deal with progressives, Dodd decided to roll the dice again with Brown, and the legislation now finds itself in limbo, with Senate approval uncertain.
A slight improvement
But despite its unnecessary shortcomings, the Wall Street reform bill is still an improvement over the status quo, as I emphasize on AlterNet. We get a stronger set of consumer protections, along with a thorough audit of the Federal Reserve. The Fed served as the government’s principal bailout engine throughout the crisis, pumping $4 trillion into the nation’s financial system with almost no accountability or oversight. Bringing these massive bailout operations into the light should build momentum for broader reforms, but it’s up to engaged citizens to make that a reality.