Sharp-tongued retiring Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., had characteristically caustic words for his soon-to-be-former place of employment on Sunday, saying that Congress is “much worse” than when he was first elected 21 years ago. He placed the blame largely on Republicans.
“I believe that the results of the election of 2010 were to put people in charge of the House of Representatives who are the most extreme, rigidly ideological group to control one of the major political parties since the Democrats in the South before the Civil War,” he said on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers.
He added: “I would regard the election of the Republicans [this fall] as a great disaster for everything that's motivated me to get into politics."
In the House, Frank blames tea party Republicans. In the Senate, he said the problem is bipartisan abuse of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to stop debate and move to a vote on a bill.
“I am afraid that one of these days, there's a fire that's gonna break out in the Senate and they're gonna suffocate from the smoke because they won't get 60 votes to adjourn," he said. "The degree to which that Senate filibuster has locked them down, that's very debilitating.”
Frank said that upcoming elections could make or break the upcoming lame duck session of Congress, during which lawmakers will have to work on a number of contentious issues, including raising the debt ceiling and extending various tax breaks.
While Frank said there’s an “overwhelming likelihood” that Congress will resolve those issues, he cautioned that success would depend on the outcome of the election. “If they get a majority in November that's sticking with [the Republican] position, then I am not optimistic at all,” he said.
Frank, the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, also defended his landmark financial regulation, the Dodd-Frank law. The recent loss of roughly $3 billion by banking giant JPMorgan Chase has had some, like Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, calling for a reprisal of the Glass-Steagal Act, legislation passed in the 1930s that curtailed speculation among banks that was repealed in 1999. But Frank said that Glass-Steagall doesn’t do enough to prevent risky trades.
“I think two of the most important pieces of the legislation we passed – very strict rules for trading in derivatives and requiring that anybody who securitizes loans retains some of the risk – Glass-Steagall didn't touch them,” he said. Frank added that Dodd-Frank was what kept JPMorgan’s loss from having a catastrophic effect on the economy, a position that has been disputed by some Republicans.
“I think the fact that [the JPMorgan loss] was able to be absorbed by the economy without a great deal of negatives – although the stock market is certainly taking a hit from it, which hurts people – that's partly a reflection of what we've already done to beef up financial institutions and allay the fear that this could lead to collapses,” he said.
And while the JPMorgan loss has renewed a call for restructuring some of those banks that are considered "too big to fail," Frank said that now is not the time. "That kind of major surgery on important financial institutions in the middle of ... a recession, I dont think people would think well of that," he said. "We are still in an economy which is getting some traction, but not enough. Diverting everybody's attention into a total restructuring of your bank system, this isn't the right time to do it, even if we wanted to do it later."