Senator Sherrod Brown. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has for years battled to break up “too-big-to-fail” banks, arguing, “American taxpayers don’t want us to wait until another crisis develops. They want us to ensure that Wall Street megabanks will never again monopolize our nation’s wealth or gamble away the American Dream.”
Now, as the US Senate looks to reshuffle its most powerful posts following the 2014 election, Brown is a serious contender to take over as chair of the Senate Banking Committee.
If Democrats retain control of the chamber, a senator who has proudly tangled with Wall Street and the nation’s biggest banks might actually be given the authority to investigate and regulate what the populists and progressives of a century ago referred to as “the money power.”
That’s a very big deal, as Brown is not merely an outspoken critic of oversized banks. The Ohio Democrat has built bipartisan support for break-up-the-banks legislation, and he has a populist eye for issues that highlight the struggle to end the excesses of Wall Street and the banks. Just last week, he secured a unanimous Senate vote for a resolution to end federal subsidies for the biggest banks.
So how could Brown, who is just starting his second term, become chairman of the powerful Banking Committee?
The current chair, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, will retire after the 2014 election. That puts Senator Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, in line to chair the committee; but Reed is also in line to chair the powerful Armed Services Committee, and it is widely believed he prefers that position.
Next in line is New York’s Chuck Schumer. But Schumer hopes to eventually replace Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. And that makes his decision complicated.
Because Schumer is broadly seen as being close to Wall Street, the big bankers would love to see the New Yorker take the committee chairmanship. And he may well do so—if only to block Brown. But Schumer is savvy enough to know that doing so could damage his long-term prospects as a contender for a leadership post. Why? Because the Senate’s burgeoning progressive caucus—which will be a factor in any leadership race—wants to get tougher with the banks. And because a stint as Banking Committee chair, especially if it is characterized by compromises with the industry’s biggest players, could tarnish Schumer’s image and make him a less attractive leadership prospect.