Gramm Still Firing
Former senator Phil Gramm resigned from Sen. John McCain's economic team two months ago, but he was still the life of the party last week at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and he was hailed as a hero by many of his ex-colleagues.The Texas Republican lost his official role in helping Sen. McCain after telling the Washington Times that the country is in a "mental recession," and that it has become a "nation of whiners." Sen. Barack Obama used those remarks against the Republicans during his acceptance speech in Denver two weeks ago.
If Sen. Gramm regrets them, however, he was not letting on.
At one of two industry-related parties he attended, a Financial Services Roundtable-sponsored brunch promoting financial literacy, Sen. Gramm joked, "If you're sitting here today, you're not economically illiterate, and you're not a whiner, so I'm not worried about who you're going to vote for."
Though some say his comments to the newspaper disqualified Sen. Gramm from office in a McCain administration, lawmakers at the convention were not so sure.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a protege of Sen. McCain spotted on the convention floor Thursday evening amid his home state of Texas' delegation, praised Mr. Gramm, who now works for UBS AG, as a hero.
"Sen. Gramm is one of the smartest, most dedicated public servants I know," he said. "No one knows how to get this economy moving again like Phil Gramm … and when Democrats talk trash about our economy in Washington, they do bring about partly a 'mental recession,' " prompting businesspeople to think twice about investing.
Sen. Jim Bunning, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, who sat in the front row of the Kentucky delegation during Sen. McCain's acceptance speech, agreed.
"I cannot think of a better Treasury secretary than Phil Gramm" would be, he said.
The two lawmakers also had nice things to say about their presidential nominee.
"If John McCain and Sarah Palin are elected, I think we will have a little more accommodation for the American banking system — hopefully better relief and supervision because I think the Federal Reserve Board has failed us lavishly in their duty to oversee," Sen. Bunning said.
A longtime critic of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, Sen. Bunning went on to take a swipe at Ben Bernanke, the current chairman. Asked if he hopes a president McCain would replace Mr. Bernanke when his term expires in 2010, he replied, "Do I hope it? Dear God, help us — I do!"
Rep. Hensarling said Sen. McCain "has a plan to lower our corporate tax rate, lower [the] capital gains tax — he could bring a trillion dollars off the sidelines to put to work in this economy."
"He understands that in order to have capitalism you have to have capital," he said. "Barack Obama doesn't understand that."
Though the Republican vice presidential nominee, Gov. Palin of Alaska, injected some vitality into the convention Wednesday night, most lobbyists and industry representatives acknowledged the conclave lacked the enthusiasm the Democrats displayed in Denver."For years the Republicans threw better conventions, but the tone for the parties sets the tone for the conventions, and the parties at the Democratic convention had more buzz," said a banking lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Democrats are excited about Barack Obama, and you could feel the energy there."
Some of the Republicans' energy deficit was due to Hurricane Gustav, which cast a pall over the convention's early days — and over the industry-related parties.
The Creative Coalition's party in St. Paul to honor Bank of America Corp. for its commitment to environmental investments, for example, was less flashy than its similar party for the company at the Democratic National Convention. Unrelated political protests nearby sparked arrests, clogging traffic and making it tricky for some guests to make it.
Without Susan Sarandon and Anne Hathaway, the Creative Coalition's celebrity guest roster in St. Paul was more of a B-list group: The brightest star was Richard Schiff of "West Wing" fame. Also attending were Charlene Tilton, who played J.R. Ewing's niece on the 1980s prime-time soap "Dallas," and Wendie Malick of the sitcom "Just Shoot Me."
John Collingwood, the Charlotte company's director of government affairs, accepted the coalition's award but chose to underplay B of A's work and shift attention to those affected by Hurricane Gustav.
In addition, Camden Fine, the head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, decided to head back to Washington before his group's scheduled housing party Tuesday with the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.
Mr. Fine said he and the two associations contemplated canceling the event altogether but decided instead to make it a charity event, collecting funds for hurricane relief. Mr. Fine left the convention early to return to Washington to help his approximately 600 members in Louisiana, Mississippi, and southeastern Texas.
Some Republican lawmakers also had lowered expectations for the election. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said he hoped the GOP managed to hold on to enough seats to keep Democrats in check.
"In the Senate we Republicans need to keep enough seats to keep us relevant," he said.
"I don't think we need to hang on to 49 in order to do that, but I'm hopeful that we can have something north of 45 — that means the Democratic leadership will have to deal with us as a relevant power in the Senate."
The House Financial Services Committee's senior Republican, Rep. Spencer Bachus, hosted a "Sweets Home Alabama" reception on the 50th floor of the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis. True to the party's theme, the hors d'oeuvre stand was laden with desserts like pear crisp, strawberry and apple pie, chocolate cake, and assorted fruits.Among those attending were Alabama delegates, swarms of financial services industry representatives, and other Financial Services committee members, including Reps. Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
In an interview later in the week, Rep. Bachus said he fears an Obama administration would create too many New Deal-era-type reforms, including making it easier for borrowers to discharge debt such as primary mortgages in bankruptcy and overregulating bank fees.
Rep. Bachus said the most crucial thing that Sen. McCain and the Republicans would do to improve the economy and smooth out problems facing the financial services industry is investing in energy independence, particularly nuclear power.
"I do believe energy independence is the most important thing we can do to improve the stability of our financial markets," he said.