The past week has been a reminder of why the Democratic Party is a constant disappointment. After giving up on keeping public attention on guns, knowing Congressional Republicans were unlikely to budge, Democrats moved on to what turned out to be a consensus issue. Democrats and Republicans came together to relax banking regulations.
This tone-deaf attempt at restricting Dodd-Frank got enthusiastic support from many Democrats who co-sponsored the bill. The most ardent defenders have been centrist senators from states Trump won, like Donnelly (D-IN), Heitkamp (D-ND), Tester (D-MT) and Manchin (D-WV). Seeing these Democrats, all of whom receive contributions from the financial sector (Donnelly, Heitkamp, Tester, Manchin), line up with Republicans to reduce Fed oversight and liquidity restrictions is not particularly surprising.
The real disappointment is from Democrats in safe seats. They do not necessarily need bankers’ money for their re-elections. And they certainly do not need to appear centrist; their margins of victory are large enough that this vote will not affect their chances. These disappointments are who carried the bill from a majority that brought together centrist Dems and Republicans to a filibuster-proof 67 votes. Who are these disappointing Democrats whose votes are bought and paid for? They include failed Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia and Mark Warner, Virginia’s other Democratic senator. The same is true for Coons and Carper, the Democratic senators from Delaware.
Seventeen members of the Democratic Caucus have shown that Democrats are only progressive by comparison. In politics, talk is cheap. Sending thoughts and prayers is not difficult and has no cost. Taking a legislative stand is harder; it requires giving up campaign contributions from the financial sector. Many Democrats are still the centrist counterpart to the right-wing Republicans when it comes to the critical issue of banking regulation. The increased volatility and risk-taking behavior without oversight, as estimated by the CBO, will remind everyone of the 2008 crash. The financial crisis is fresh in the minds of many, but apparently not many senators.
The only silver lining of this legislative backstab is the 32 Democrats who voted against the legislation. These include virtually every high-level presidential hopeful in the Democratic Party. An optimist would conclude that the Democrats’ direction of travel is toward more progressive politics and power is shifting away from the Kaine and Warner types to the Harris and Warren types. Even Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was against the bill, which would not have been the case at most other points in his career.
But I am no optimist. So rather than expecting the Democrats to settle on a more progressive consensus, I will reiterate once again how campaign finance is at the root of this problem. As long as senators’ votes are on sale, they will be bought, and financial institutions have the resources to buy enough for a filibuster-proof majority. This bill was not a “rare win for bipartisanship,” it was a demonstration that Democrats will remain merely the lesser of two evils as long they rely on big business to fund their campaigns.