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The Bi-Partisan Origins of the Financial Crisis

Shattering the Glass-Steagall Act

by WILLIAM KAUFMAN

If you’re looking for a major cause of the current banking meltdown, you need seek no farther than the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

The Glass-Steagall Act, passed in 1933, mandated the separation of commercial and investment banking in order to protect depositors from the hazards of risky investment and speculation. It worked fine for fifty years until the banking industry began lobbying for its repeal during the 1980s, the go-go years of Reaganesque market fundamentalism, an outlook embraced wholeheartedly by mainstream Democrats under the rubric "neoliberalism."

The main cheerleader for the repeal was Phil Gramm, the fulsome reactionary who, until he recently shoved his foot even farther into his mouth than usual, was McCain’s chief economic advisor.

But wait . . . as usual, the Democrats were eager to pile on to this reversal of New Deal regulatory progressivism — fully 38 of 45 Senate Democrats voted for the repeal (which passed 90-8), including some famous names commonly associated with "progressive" politics by the easily gulled: Dodd, Kennedy, Kerry, Reid, and Schumer. And, of course, there was the inevitable shout of "yea" from the ever-servile corporate factotum Joseph Biden, Barack Obama’s idea of a tribune of "change"–if by change one means erasing any lingering obstacle to corporate domination of the polity.

This disgraceful bow to the banking industry, eagerly signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1999, bears a major share of responsibility for the current banking crisis. Here’s the complete roll call of shame:

REPUBLICANS FOR (52): Abraham, Allard, Ashcroft, Bennett, Brownback, Bond, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chafee, Cochran, Collins, Coverdell, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Domenici, Enzi, Frist, Gorton, Gramm (Tex.), Grams (Minn.), Grassley, Gregg, Hegel, Hatch, Helms, Hutchinson (Ark.), Hutchison (Tex.), Inhofe, Jeffords, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, Mack, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Roth, Santorum, Sessions, Smith (N.H.), Smith (Ore.), Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Thomas, Thompson, Thurmond, Voinovich and Warner.DEMOCRATS FOR (38): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Breaux, Byrd, Cleland, Conrad, Daschle, Dodd, Durbin, Edwards, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerrey (Neb.), Kerry (Mass.), Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Moynihan, Murray, Reed (R.L), Reid (Nev.), Robb, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Torricelli and Wyden.

REPUBLICANS AGAINST(1): Shelby.

DEMOCRATS AGAINST(7): Boxer, Bryan, Dorgan, Feingold, Harkin, Mikulski and Wellstone.

NOT VOTING: 2 REPUBLICANS (2): Fitzgerald (voted present) and McCain.

The House Democrats were no less enthusiastic in their endorsement of this invitation to plunder–the repeal passed there by a margin of 343-86, with the Donkey Party favoring the measure by a two-to-one margin, 138-69. Current House speaker Nancy Pelosi managed not to register a vote on this one, so great was her fear of offending her party’s corporate paymasters even though she knew passage was a sure thing.

According to Wikipedia, many economists "have criticized the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act as contributing to the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis. The repeal enabled commercial lenders such as Citigroup, the largest U.S. bank by assets, to underwrite and trade instruments such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations and establish so-called structured investment vehicles, or SIVs, that bought those securities. Citigroup played a major part in the repeal. Then called Citicorp, the company merged with Travelers Insurance company the year before using loopholes in Glass-Steagall that allowed for temporary exemptions. With lobbying led by Roger Levy, the ‘finance, insurance and real estate industries together are regularly the largest campaign contributors and biggest spenders on lobbying of all business sectors [in 1999]. They laid out more than $200 million for lobbying in 1998, ‘ according to the Center for Responsive Politics. ‘ These industries succeeded in their two decades long effort to repeal the act. ‘ "

This lust for banking largesse is as wanton among Democrats as Republicans–right up to the current presidential campaign. According to the Phoenix Business Journal,

Obama and McCain . . . have accepted a substantial amount of campaign money from Wall Street bankers, investment and securities firms and their executives during this election cycle.

Investment firms have donated $9.9 million to Obama and $6.9 million to McCain this campaign thus far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Commercial banks have given Obama $2.1 million and McCain $1.9 million. Private equity firms and hedge funds have given Obama $2 million and McCain $1.4 million, according to CFRP.

Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase & Co., UBS and heavyweight law firm DLA Piper are among Obama’s top contributors. JP Morgan acquired Bear Stearns with the federal government taking on as much as $30 billion Bear assets as part of the deal. McCain’s top donor sources include Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Blank Rome and Greenberg Traurig LLP law firms.

So . . . the next time a mass-media-lulled Democrat ridicules Ralph Nader for arguing that there are few significant differences between the two major parties on the truly important issues, you might refer them to this atrocity, along with all the other ones.

WILLIAM KAUFMAN can be reached at kman484@earthlink.net

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