Dim Prospects For Brown-Vitter

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about the bipartisan legislation cracking down on “too big to fail” banks, promoted by the unlikely duo of Sens. Sherrod Brown of OH and David Vitter of LA, I thought it might turn out to be a pretty big deal galvanizing a rare left-right coalition. They had, after all, secured a unanimous Senate vote on a non-binding resolution endorsing an end to government support for big banks, and could draw on exceptional popular anger, across the political and ideological spectrum, towards the behavior of big banks before, during, and after the 2008 financial crisis.

But their bill isn’t exactly gaining support, as Politico Pro reports:

As of Friday, the bill has just two co-sponsors: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who was an initial co-sponsor, took his name off the bill last month, citing a “miscommunication.” And Sessions told POLITICO that he is still deciding whether to remain a co-sponsor because “it’s a complex area and you need to be careful that you first do no harm.”

The bill has apparently put pressure on federal bank regulators to step up scrutiny of the practices of the biggest banks. But that, of course, is an arena that is entirely polarized by party, with even alleged “populist conservative” big-bank-opponents reflexively siding with their corporate-welfare-loving GOP colleagues in seeking to disable regulation as a matter of principle.

The one big beneficiary of the flagging push for Brown-Vitter has been, ironically, lobbyists for big banks, who see Brown-Vitter as a threat to be suffocated in its legislative cradle. As New York‘s Kevin Roose noted last month, Brown-Vitter is drawing more heat from the big bank lobby than Dodd-Frank ever did, because its more categorical effort to rein in banking practices would be harder to unravel in regulatory and judicial battles than has been the case so far with Dodd-Frank.

In any event, it’s interesting that the Great DC Pundits’ Bipartisanship Machine, ever encouraging to Gangs and summits and private dinners and Blue-Ribbon Commissions aimed at legislative initiatives with Democratic and Republican support, hasn’t been willing to touch Brown-Vitter with a ten-foot pole. It seems gridlock is a very good thing it it might tame the passions surrounding abuses of great financial power.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.