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Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight.
Appreciate your time.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES CMTE.: You"re welcome, Rachel. It"s an important set of issues.
MADDOW: What"s your reaction first of all to the Supreme Court ruling?
FRANK: One, you correctly call it radical. You know, the conservatives talk about not having interference with the democratic process. They have overturned more laws, this conservative group led by Scalia now joined by Roberts and Alito and the others, than the liberals have. And in fact this is a--as you documented--a very radical repudiation of dozens of laws passed by Congress. This is judicial striking down of the law.
Fortunately, there is an approach we can take. And as chairman of the committee of financial services, I preside over a committee that has jurisdiction over the laws that govern corporations. Corporations are not natural beings. They only exist by law. That"s why it was so odd that the court found that they had this constitutional right.
What we can do that"s perfectly statutorily possible and constitutionally I believe on the syllable (ph) is to impose restrictions as a matter of corporate law on what corporations can do. They argue special treatment. They have liabilities that are limited. They have all kinds of privileges.
We have traditionally conditioned those privileges on rules. And I talked today to a couple colleagues and when we get back in on--in session I"m going to designate a couple colleagues on the financial services committee to begin working to prepare a package of legislation that will put some restraints on this.
So, yes. In the current absence of--you can"t do the statute the Supreme Court said because they said it. Remember, they are not final because they are infallible. They are infallible because they are final, as one justice once said.
But we can limit what corporations do and we limit it not as a matter of campaign finance regulation per se, but as a matter of corporate law, and we will be pushing very hard, and I hope within the couple months, we"ll have legislation through the House that will put some restraints on this--because otherwise, as you say, democracy doesn"t mean anything.
And, by the way, if you need to have this to have free speech as the right wing majority of the court says, then there"s no free speech anywhere else in the world because no other country that I am aware of, no functioning democracy, allows this unlimited corporate spending in campaigns.
MADDOW: Would you expect the president to also act through some sort of executive order? Would you expect administrative action to try to work on this? The president said today, of course, he"s looking to work with Congress.
FRANK: Yes, he"s a good constitutional lawyer. Unfortunately, it"s probably going to take a statute. I do not think the president can, by executive order, do this. We will be consulting with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
We have the power in the public sector to regulate the behavior of corporations. And, you know, we are going to be ordering them to rein in some of the compensation for example. We"ll have a hearing on that tomorrow over the Republican objection.
We do other things that regulate what corporations can do, but I don"t think it can be done by executive order. We will be cooperating with the Obama administration in drafting the toughest possible constitutional legislation to prevent the drowning of American democracy in corporate dollars. There"s no other way to say it.
MADDOW: On Tuesday night, when Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts, you released a statement on health care saying you thought it was no longer appropriate for the House and Senate to try to merge their health reform bills. You then released a second statement sort of withdrawing parts of the first one.
Why did you change your mind and what do you think is going to happen on health care next?
FRANK: Well, as I said, I overreacted. And when you make a mistake, you acknowledge it. I was obviously disappointed on Tuesday.
I was fearful that some people would be talking about trying to pass a health care bill in ways that would not be appropriate. For example, there was a suggestion, I never thought it had a chance, to hold off on seating Scott Brown, having a vote before he could take his seat. That would have been undemocratic, manipulating the reconciliation procedure. I don"t like the filibuster. I think it should be a great crusade now to try and change that rule which the Senate can do by a majority at the opening of the Senate.
But I was fearful that we were going to look--Democrats--as if we were contemptuous of the whole process. I realized when I made the statement that I overstated it. There are legitimate ways to try and get health care through, getting the votes will be difficult.
So, I put out a second statement making it clear that what I was objecting to was suggestions that we take procedural shortcuts which, A, wouldn"t have succeeded and, B, would have made people angry. We"d have had the worst of both worlds. No bill and more fodder for the right-wingers trying to claim that we were being unfair, and in some cases, some of the tactics would have been unfair. So, I did want to clarify that I am trying to work something out. It"s going to be difficult.
One of the questions we"re going to have to ask is of people like Senator Snowe of Maine, Senator Collins of Maine, who described as moderates--do they want to be in their political careers known as people who are responsible for preventing any reform in health care, for preventing any end of the abuses of the insurance companies? You know, the Republicans were in an easy position, politically, when they were simply criticizing our efforts to resolve the problem. Being responsible for the continuation of the problem unreformed, some of them may not be so happy about that.
So, I am in favor of us working to see what we can do. I happened to speak to the president about it today when I was in the White House on the corporate reforms--the financial reform stuff. But I did on Tuesday night want to caution people and reassure people that we weren"t trying to do anything that was razzle-dazzle or flimflam.
But then I realized that I--I meant to talk about procedure the way I had written. It was Tuesday night and I wasn"t in the best mood I"ve ever been in, and it was late, and I should have waited until the morning. And so, that"s what I did.
MADDOW: Congressman, one last point on that issue of health reform. I keep hearing hope from various members of the Democratic Caucus, both in the House and the Senate, that a Republican or two, some Republicans will decide that they have to follow their conscience and vote for health reform and that"s how we"ll get something done.
I really don"t think that"s going to happen. I think the Republican Party is going to enforce discipline like it never has before, because they felt such political success from saying "no" to absolutely everything. If there are zero Republican votes, does that mean the end of health reform or should this be pursued in a way that can happen with zero Republicans? I think that"s what you"re going to get.
FRANK: Well, I think you have to first try or at least hold out the hope of the Republicans. I agree with you. I"m not optimistic.
I do think that there are people, moderates, independents, who vote for Republicans on the ground that they are moderates. And they ought to be very clear that moderate Republicans, if they allow the health care bill or they try to kill the health care bill unanimously--then let"s say the moderate Republicans are no longer an endangered species, they were an extinct species. They talk one way, but when the pressure comes on their party, they fade.
We are working on how to try to do this. There are complications. There are some easy things to do in the sense of getting large majorities to discipline the insurance companies, but to get them done without there being increases in costs, you want to broaden the insurance pool, and, yes, people are working seriously on this.
So, there were two tracks. One may be a couple of moderate Republicans will rediscover the moderation. I, like you, am skeptical. They have not shown the willingness to stand up to this intense right-wing pressure and the fear of losing to the teabaggers in primaries. And so, we are working on this, but it"s very important--as I said--that we show that we"re doing it in the procedurally appropriate way. There are ways to do this and that"s what"s now being explored.
MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee--thanks for your time, sir. I really appreciate it.
FRANK: You"re welcome.
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