Politics, Banking and Congressional Gridlock: A Q&A with Barney Frank

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The luckiest thing for me was from that standpoint was I got into a line of work that plays to my strengths and not my weaknesses. Including the district. I'm not a great candidate. I'm a better inside politician than outside politician.

I've won and I'm better at it, but it's not my natural strength. But I'm a good performer. Sunny Bono and I used to talk about similarities between performing comedy and entertaining in politics, in the sense of the centrality of an audience.

You aren't just good with words in totality. You are good with words in that moment. Very few congressman can keep up with you.
I'm lucky. I think quickly. Compensation—I'm now going to be writing a book or two and that's going to be tough. That's one of the reasons that… I was determined to retire when I was still sentient because I want to write. There are things I want to say. I have a great respect for the written word, that's a part of me that I always want to deal with.

[The late Sen.] Pat Moynihan could write books and be a senator at the same time. I can't do that.

As much facility as I have orally, I have none of that when it comes to the written word. I have to really sweat. I work at it. The organization — I always want to say too many things at once.

What was your lowest point during the housing crisis?
The most frustrating part for me was after we got it done, and one angry moment I had with Hank Paulson was his refusal to use the authority to do more mortgage modifications.

I just saw this slipping away, I tried hard and I couldn't do much.

How hard did you have to work to pass Tarp?
The hardest part physically was selling it to the Democrats. I worked very hard. It was going to happen. I was fully supported by Nancy [Pelosi] and others. The Democrats, as I said, there is more bipartisanship with a Republican president and Democratic Congress because we believe in governance.

Now they used to too. Bob Dole certainly did. Dennis Hastert did. Even [Tom] Delay understood it — this crew does not.

You mentioned mortgage modifications. It feels like the Obama administration could have done more than it did.
They could have done more in the very beginning. I was particularly upset. We gave them money to help the unemployed.

But the real problem was where is the money going to come from. We were able to take some Tarp repayment.

I was very disappointed in Shaun Donovan. We gave him like a $1 billion and he spent less than half of it to help the unemployed. Yes, I do think they could have done more.

Not as much more as people think. You had this problem. Look, early on: Obama said in 2008 he was not going to support bankruptcy for primary residences.

Then you have this terrible problem: somebody has got to put up the money. And you couldn't get public money. There was a period where we could have used Tarp money for that — and we lost that.

I think they were afraid of misspending it. I think the whole ACORN thing at that point had hurt them. They were afraid politically so they overdid the safety bit.

Talking about Dodd-Frank, what do you feel were the best decisions made as you drafted that?
The best thing in that bill was risk retention. The absolute stunner of a change was people could lend money and not be responsible if nobody paid it back.

The independent consumer bureau is very important, but from the systemic standpoint, I think risk retention is the deal.

We could give them capital standards and other things. Lenders, through securitization and no risk retention, came up with a way to take risks and have no consequences if the risks go bad.

And risk retention puts that back in. I think that's the single biggest thing.

The other is the regulation of swaps and derivatives, which the problem wasn't so much deregulation as it was non-regulation.

Are there items you don't like?
I wanted to do more on preemption. We got most of it.

Ideally — if I had a magic wand — we would have merged the CFTC and the SEC [Frank subsequently introduced a bill to merge the CFTC and SEC, but it did not pass.] It's the great irrationality of the American financial regulation—there is nothing I could do about it. I didn't have jurisdiction.

The SEC and CFTC have overlapping jurisdictions but they represent such a deep cultural divide in America between the Midwest and the agriculture people and… you couldn't change that.

Those two are reflections of deep political currents in America.

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Comments (2)
Frank as senator? NOT!
Barney Frank has built his career and "personal" life on the misery of twelve million Americans who now face foreclosure.
Frank's only regret is that he didn't rip off enough from middle-class taxpayers.
Frank's philosophy is from the "we'll get ours" school of thought.
There is nothing warm and fuzzy about a crooked Marxist who created the real estate housing mess and whose goal was to disenfranchise the American middle class.
Massachusetts voters are sick of the Champagne Socialism Frank represents. As a representative, Frank refers to his constituents as "nobodies" who are "pieces of furniture."
The twelve million Americans who are facing foreclosure want to know when Frank is going to be convicted.
If Frank had the guts to visit the people whose homes he has put into foreclosure, they would SPIT on him.
Posted by libertyfreedom | Saturday, December 22 2012 at 4:55AM ET
The root of the problem is that politicians confuse "shelter" with housing, then seen mortgage finance as a tool to address shelter issues. That bankrupted savings and loans a generation ago and when lending then moved to the capital markets it bankrupted them as well, including Fannie and Freddie.
Posted by kvillani | Wednesday, December 26 2012 at 10:46AM ET
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