December 22, 2013

Barney Frank: Free to call Republican senators ‘crybabies’

Doing away with the required 60-vote majority is one of the best things to happen in a long time.

Members of Congress can say outrageous things about virtually anybody in the country – even if they are not true. But the rules of the House prohibit members from saying rude things about each other – even when they are. In other words, we are allowed to lie with no sanction about citizens, but we are prevented from saying unpleasant truths about each other.

There are ways to get around most rules, and on one occasion I made a “Parliamentary Inquiry,” to ask the chairperson if I could call another member a “crybaby.” I was told that I could not.

Since I am no longer a member of Congress, I am freed from that constraint, and I can think of no more accurate term to apply to those Republican senators who are bitterly protesting that the Senate majority used its undoubted constitutional power to prevent the minority from keeping the president from making those appointments to judicial and executive offices to which he is constitutionally entitled.

Until recently, Republicans were using the ability to prevent the majority from acting to keep President Obama from filling three vacancies on the circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Note that the president was not seeking to add judges to that court beyond what is statutorily established; he is simply trying to fill three vacancies, exactly as all of his predecessors had been able to do. The political point is that this is the court that hears all appeals of regulations adopted by executive agencies according to the statutory authority they have been given.

In particular, I have been distressed for the past several years because the court, with those three vacancies, has a conservative majority, and those very activist ideological conservatives have used that majority to hinder the adoption of the rules necessary to carry out the financial reform bill that we passed in 2010 (known as “Dodd-Frank”). For example, when the Commodities Futures Trading Commission under Congressional authority tried to prevent speculation in oil, one of the judges in that circuit decided this was not good economics and invalidated its rule. The rule, by the way, was hardly a radical one – it said that if you only use oil for your salads or in your car, you should not buy up enormous amounts of for the sole purpose of driving up the price and then benefiting from the shortage you have created.

Until Sen. Reid appropriately decided that a majority of the Senate would be allowed to vote to confirm judges, and since several of those judges have been confirmed by very large majorities, we now have a court that will treat these regulations appropriately, and we will be able to go forward with implementing our effort to prevent a recurrence of the financial crisis of a few years ago.

The Republicans have responded to this vindication of the president’s constitutional right to appoint judges, and to their inability in the future to engage in a tactic that will weaken financial reform by cries of outrage.

As I write this, the Republicans are in the process of angrily denouncing the Democrats for this, and threatening to withhold any cooperation whatsoever in doing the necessary business of the government going forward. Some senators have in fact asserted that while they previously had been willing to work with the Democrats on some measures that are important for the welfare of the country, they will refuse to do so because they are so angry that the president gets to appoint judges. And they have complained that the “spirit of the Senate” will be damaged going forward.

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