The Pain of Choice

From his perch at the House Financial Services Committee, Chairman Barney Frank gets to call a lot of shots and wield considerable influence in Congress. But it was clear last week that the Massachusetts Democrat is not fond of all aspects of power.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recommending conferees for the conference committee that is to reconcile the House and Senate reform bills, Frank lamented the pressures on filling the highly coveted posts.

"I enjoy almost all parts of this job as chairman, but I have just come up against one that is distinctly not enjoyable: having to pick members of the committee to recommend to the Speaker to be conferees … ," Frank wrote. "Picking and choosing among the members, many of whom have told me of their interest in being conferees, would be impossible to do on any rational basis, and I would hate to engender any resentment to spoil what I think has been a very good working relationship."

Frank explained that he limited his choices to the current heads of his panel's subcommittees, as well as a former one. (Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., gave up her leadership of the financial institutions subcommittee to be chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee.)

"I therefore combined congressional precedent with my own desire to find a selection method that does not introduce divisiveness into our ranks," Frank said.

Balancing Act

There are no illusions that lawmakers will come to the conference committee totally objective about the bill. They all bring pet issues and various constituencies to the table.

Take Rep. Mel Watt, for example. The North Carolina Democrat, whom Rep. Frank recommended to sit on the special panel, wears many hats. As the chairman of Financial Services' domestic policy subcommittee, Watt helped shape the House bill's final language on auditing the Federal Reserve Board. For years, he has championed anti-predatory-lending measures, which he wants to see preserved in the final bill. On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, Watt has also pressed for more diversity among regulatory agency employees. And, of course, his home state is also home to Bank of America Corp., one of the companies chiefly affected by provisions dealing with derivatives and clamping down on too-big-to-fail.

"There are [a] number of issues that I have been involved in for various reasons," said Watt in an interview last week. "There are reasons I'm involved in certain things because of local considerations. Obviously, some of the important players in this whole equation are based in my congressional district, one for which the 'too-big-to-fail' language has tremendous implications ... . I went down the list of the kinds of angles I'm coming at this from, and I can't really elevate one or more of those things over other issues. All of them are important, and I hope we can get the resolution on all of them, and I hope I can be a constructive player if … my appointment to the conference committee is confirmed."

Words, and Deeds

Sen. Bob Corker proved last week he is not a member of President Obama's fan club.

The Tennessee Republican took Obama to task during a meeting with GOP members and later told reporters that the administration had tried to hijack a bipartisan deal on regulatory reform that Corker had been close to sealing with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd.

Corker said the White House has pledged bipartisanship but that its deeds tell another story. He recounted how Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner considered leaving the country to intervene in negotiations between the two senators.

"I'm on a trip with Chairman Dodd, and the Treasury secretary is trying to come to Central America to ensure that we don't end up with a bipartisan deal," he said. "All I've got to say is, the actions of this administration and the verbiage have been very, very different."

The senator said he aired his concerns directly with President Obama at last week's meeting. "I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what happened with financial regulation," he said.

MBA Lobbying Chief

The Mortgage Bankers Association has hired Bill Killmer to be its chief lobbyist. Killmer is to take the role of senior vice president of legislative and political affairs on July 5. He joins MBA from the National Association of Home Builders where he worked for 20 years and most recently was its executive vice president of advocacy.

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