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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Consumer Financial Protection a Winning Issue for Dems?

David Corn is on to something, in his Politics Daily column, “Could Financial Protection Bill Be a Secret Weapon for Democrats in 2010?” Corn sees Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to establish a ‘Consumer Financial Protection Agency’ as a potential winner for Dems. He explains where her proposal is now:

…After the subprime crisis led to a global meltdown, her proposal picked up momentum, eventually becoming a centerpiece of President Obama’s financial reform package. In the fall, the House passed a mostly strong version of the CFPA. Now, it’s being considered by the Senate — where Big Finance lobbyists and Republicans are trying to strangle this watchdog in the crib. On Monday, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is scheduled to release his financial reform package, and observers, including Warren, are waiting to see if it will contain a muscular and independent CFPA.
For weeks, Dodd has been negotiating with Republicans, who have objected to setting up the CFPA as a stand-alone agency (they favor shoving it into an existing department), and they do not fancy allowing this new outfit to enforce the safeguards it will establish. That is, they want it to be toothless. These Republicans are in league with an army of banking lobbyists working feverishly to destroy the CFPA. (Warren says that a trade association head recently told her that the financial industry has retained 54 lobbying firms to block the CFPA — and a 55th to coordinate the maneuvers of the others.)…Whatever Dodd unveils next week, GOPers are likely to denounce it and plot to smother the CFPA. (Can you say filibuster?)

Given anger about high unemployment and the bailouts, Corn points out that “voters will be looking for targets…And there are more incumbents with D’s after their names.” He adds,

There may not be much the Democrats can do to escape an electoral tide of anger. But if they can show that the Republicans are protecting the Wall Street players who drove the economy into a ditch, that certainly can’t hurt. To have any shot at this, though, the Dems have to cut through all the political clutter and make a clear case…If the GOPers stand in the way of creating a tough CFPA, the Democrats, led by Obama, ought to go crazy on this. Unlike, say, credit default swaps, this is not complicated. The president will merely have to say something like this: “It’s a simple choice. Which side are you on? The banks or hard-working American families? Congressional Democrats and I are trying to create an agency that will protect you from the sleazy practices of banks and credit card companies. The Republicans are working behind closed doors with the lobbyists. Who do you want to win?”

Corn adds that, to make it work, the President must hang tough for a strong CFPA and embrace Warren’s statement that she would rather see “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor” than a limp CFPA. It’s critically important for Dem candidates to be seen in November as advocates for strong consumer protection against continued abuse by financial corporations.
I think Corn is dead right, if only because many voters unfairly blame Obama and the Democrats for the banking bailouts. Giving Dems cred as champions of consumers against the financial industry’s rapacious practices could help re-target the blame. Even if Dems don’t win a strong bill, Corn points out that “losing a well-defined fight over the CFPA could be a winner for them, if it shows voters that the D’s are battling for them and the R’s are fronting for the banks.”
After HCR is secured, Dem candidates must focus more intensely on job creation. But being seen as champions of a strong CFPA could also help Dems win swing voters, as well as re-energize our base.

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