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Thursday, July 25, 2013 03:28 pm

The ‘helping hands’ helping themselves

The word “help” is so uplifting, conveying our best humanitarian values. How odd, then, to see it used in this New York Times headline: “Banks’ Lobbyists Help in Drafting Financial Bills.”

I’ll bet they did! We all know how altruistic, beneficent and kindhearted Wall Street lobbyists are – when it comes to helping themselves, that is. The article explains that a small army of high-dollar influence-peddlers are not merely asking our lawmakers to free big banks from pesky rules that limit their reckless greed, but instead the lobbyists are helping to write the laws themselves.

There’s that word again. In this case, “helping to write” is a euphemism for “dictating” the language, turning the members of Congress into obedient stenographers.

For example, one key bill that zipped out of the House finance committee in May is essentially a do-it-yourself lawmaking product of Citigroup. In a concise 85 lines, it exempts big chunks of dangerously high-risk Wall Street speculation from any bothersome regulation. More than 70 of those 85 lines were penned by Citigroup lobbyists with “help” from other banks. The committee even copied two key paragraphs word for word from the language that Citigroup handed to the members.

This group of DIY bill-writers insists that nothing is amiss here – we’re not trying to gut the Wall Street reform package passed just three years ago, they say, we’re simply trying to reach “a compromise.” I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night! The 2010 reforms were a compromise, and the American people would like to see them made much tougher, not weaker.

Wall Street, of course, feels entitled to snake inside, assume the role of lawmaker and pervert the public will. As one lobbyist puts it, “We will provide input if we see a bill we have interest in.” After all, they just want to help.

But why are our elected solons so willing to buddy up with such self-serving helpers? Here’s one member of Congress who finds the whole relationship distressing: “It’s appalling,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., talking about the money that special interests stuff in the pockets of lawmakers. “It’s disgusting ... and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption,” he added.

So, naturally, he promptly joined the disgusting system that has turned our Capitol into a wide-open bazaar for buying and selling legislative favors.

“It’s unfortunately the world we live in,” the Connecticut Democrat shrugged. Even though Himes is only in his third term, he’s become an aggressive trader in this bazaar, heading up fundraising for his fellow Democrats in the U.S. House.

Why him? One, as a member of the committee that oversees Wall Street, he can attract campaign cash like honey attracts flies – especially when big banks are lobbying furiously to get exemptions from legislation that restricts some of their destructive profiteering. Two, Himes has proven to be a trusted ally of the wheeler-dealer bankers, supporting their dereg bills. And three, he is one of them, having been made a millionaire as a Goldman Sachs banker.

 Republicans are totally in Wall Street’s pocket, but Democrats are sinking into it, too. With the admirable exception of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and a handful of other Dems who stood with consumers, most Democrats on the committee joined every Republican member in May to do the bank lobby’s bidding.  

Hey, Democrats, don’t just deplore this corrupt system, stand with us to overthrow it. To learn how, go to PublicCampaign.org.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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