Recently, while waiting to be interviewed by the Huffington Post, I read something that gave me a very odd sensation. I knew what it must have felt like to be an alleged Iraqi weapon of mass destruction: Dick Cheney had lied about us both.
A copy of Cheney’s autobiography was on the table, and I gave it what is known as a “Washington read” – I went to the index and found my name – and read one of the most inaccurate criticisms ever made of my public record. Cheney wrote that in 2003 the Bush administration had sent legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Congress, but “it was killed by Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank.”
That year he led us into war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. And I was not the chairman of the financial service committee in 2003 – or in 2004, 2005 or 2006. A Republican was.
There is a myth put forward by those seeking to absolve the financial industry from blame for the disastrous financial crisis of 2008 that says that liberal Democrat efforts to help poor people caused the crash. There are several problems with that thesis – including the fact that every appointee of the two Bush administrations who dealt with the Community Reinvestment Act, the law that is sometimes blamed, has affirmed that there is no connection between that law and the flood of bad mortgages. But the single biggest hole in that theory is that it blames Democrats – myself included – for the record of the Congress when it was wholly in the control of the Republicans.
Republicans took over both Houses in 1995, and with the exception of a one year period when the Senate was in flux because of Sen. James Jeffords’ switch of parties, they held it through 2006.
In 2003, when Cheney blamed me for killing a bill, the House was tightly controlled by Republicans, with Tom Delay as majority leader. I did not become chairman until January 2007. Only after that did the House finally pass the legislation to control Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that Cheney had been talking about. The story of this is related in “On the Brink” by Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who accurately notes that when he became secretary in the middle of 2006, on the assumption that the Democrats would win the House and I would become the chairman, he began conversations with me in which I pledged to enact that bill as soon as I had the authority to do so as chairman, and that I delivered on my promise.
To be clear, Cheney’s statement that I killed the bill as chairman of the Financial Service Committee in 2003 is not an exaggeration; it is not a misinterpretation; it is not a distortion. It is a lie.
Cheney knows that his party controlled the House in that year, as it did many years before and some after. (I do not think that when he sat on the House rostrum during presidential speeches, he thought he was sitting next to Nancy Pelosi and not Dennis Hastert).
It is possible that he was imputing to me such great power that even from the minority I was able to control the outcome of the House’s decisions. This is easily refuted. If I were secretly controlling Tom DeLay, we would not have gone to war in Iraq, we would not have enacted the Bush tax cuts for the very rich and he would never have gone on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Cheney repeats here a central, wholly dishonest theme in the debate about who caused the crisis.
I had been too sanguine about Fannie Mae in 2003, but I changed my opinion by 2004. In 2005 I worked with the House Republican Chairman, Mike Oxley, to pass a bill to restrain it. What then happened was a serious dispute among Republicans. The bill the Republican House passed to restrain Fannie and Freddie died – in Oxley’s phrase because “President Bush gave me the one-finger salute.”
Not only did the Republican House fail to act on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when Democrats tried to pass legislation restraining irresponsible subprime mortgages in 2004, we were overruled by DeLay who ordered Oxley not to take up any such legislation. It was not until 2007, when I became the chairman after the Democrats took back the House, that the bills were adopted both to restrain subprime mortgages, and to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
As a final demonstration of the right wing’s total rewriting of history on the subject, when our committee did vote out a bill to restrict subprime mortgages, we were attacked in an editorial on Nov. 6, 2007, by The Wall Street Journal for interfering with the free market. In a passage they now must wish they never wrote, the editorialists strongly defended the subprime loans that were a major cause of the crisis: “But for all the demonizing, about 80 percent of even sub-prime loans are being repaid on time and another 10 percent are only 30 days behind. Most of these new homeowners are low-income families, often minorities, who would otherwise not have qualified for a mortgage. In the name of consumer protection, Mr. Frank’s legislation will ensure that far fewer of these loans are issued in the future.”
As to Cheney, I guess I should feel consoled that he simply lied about me, and did not invade my home.
Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.
— Special to the Telegram