With the financial sector sure to summon massive amounts of money and resources to battle any criminal or civil prosecutions over its role in the 2008 crisis, a key is how much resources authorities will have at their disposal to battle back.
When New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman appeared before the Congressional Progressive Caucus in late April, he asked the members to help him obtain funding for the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, which he co-chairs. “If you want to help me badger everybody, that’s good,” he said. “I’m a good badger by myself but I know there are some experts in this room.”
Yesterday, Representative Maxine Waters, a member of the caucus, made the first attempt to get the RMBS group funding—and it didn’t work.
She offered an amendment to a large appropriations bill, created by Republicans, that would fund, in part, the Department of Justice. The bill provided only a fraction of the $55 million the DoJ asked for in its budget request for “investigating and prosecuting financial and mortgage fraud.” Waters proposed re-appropriating some money in the bill from the NASA program to fully fund the $55 million request.
“Considering the retirement of the space shuttle program and a shift in NASA’s priorities, I believe we should use the funds in these accounts to help bring justice to defrauded investors, homeowners, and consumers,” she said on the House floor.
Representative Brad Miller also rose in support of Waters’ amendment. Though Miller was turned down for the job of executive director—because, he believes, the working group was afraid of industry blowback—Waters has been circulating a letter, signed by forty members of Congress, asking the working group to hire him anyway.
Miller strongly urged members to fully fund the RMBS investigation. “Every [Wall Street] defendant would have a defense team that would make the O.J. defense team look like a public defender, two years out of law school, handling 100 other cases,” he said. “We would be swamped by the opposition.
“But that is certainly no reason not to pursue those charges,” Miller continued. “In fact it’s all the more reason to go forward and pursue criminal fraud—to assure Americans that you…do not get a get out of jail free card because you are rich and powerful.”
Watch his comments here:
Unfortunately, when put up for a voice vote, the Waters amendment failed in the Republican-dominated chamber. Her case wasn’t helped when Representative Chaka Fattah, also a member of the progressive caucus, spoke in opposition to the amendment, citing concerns about the loss of NASA funding.
This appropriations bill will pass the House without the $55 million the administration has requested for the RMBS working group, but it doesn’t mean the money won’t come—Senate or conference appointees might still insert it. We will be sure to track the developments.