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October 1, 2014

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Reid’s cure for a health reform hangover

As Capitol Hill Democrats try to bail themselves out of political trouble by casting the Republicans as Wall Street enablers and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tries to stimulate his re-election chances by casting his GOP opponents (especially The Woman He Fears Most) as bankophiles, the success of the global strategy may affect the local tactic.

Reid has said he is going to bring the financial regulation reform bill to the floor this week, despite GOP bleating that it is (I can barely stand to say the word) partisan. And as he executes the strategy designed to turn the short-term-memory-deprived electorate into amnesiacs (Wealth care reform? What health care reform?), the battle of talking points has reached an unusually inane level.

Republicans who backed the Bush-era bailouts seem suddenly hostile since the change in presidents, and they think voters will similarly forget which party has happily stood up for Big Business as they brazenly attack Democrats as shilling for banks. And Democrats who rubber-stamped the administration’s bailouts last year suddenly are outraged that the banks might have misbehaved and are rushing to taxpayers’ rescue.

Cue John McEnroe: You can’t be serious!

Reid’s position is especially interesting because he not only hopes financial regulation might cure the Democrats of their health care reform hangover, but he thinks it might also damage Sue Lowden, who has been involved in banking and who Reid has been running against for months even though she still has to escape a 12-way primary. The majority leader’s campaign finds a way to pummel Lowden every day, even when she is not handing them an issue such as trading goats for health care. Indeed, Reid is the one bartering with the electorate in this gambit — I would gladly trade you a Wall Street reform bill today if you will stop being so furious about health care reform and the economy.

Will it work?

No one really knows if the bill will rein in labyrinthine transactions that have led only the knowledgeable few to riches and millions of Americans into bankruptcy and foreclosure. We do know that the original GOP talking points, lifted from a Frank Luntz memo, were debunked this week by one of their own, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, as well as the nonpartisan PolitiFact. This is not, as another of Reid’s opponents, Danny Tarkanian, called it Tuesday, the “Bottomless Bailout” bill. The measure creates a pool for bailouts, but it is funded by the institutions and leads to liquidation, not solvency.

But Tarkanian’s time-lapse on the discredited talking point notwithstanding, he has found his only traction in the GOP primary by pounding Lowden on her “intellectual conversation” with a reporter in which she refused to criticize those who voted for the first round of bailouts. She eventually, ahem, adjusted her position to comport with what most GOP primary voters believe — or her campaign thinks they believe — which is the intellectually enervating simplicity of: no bailouts no how no way.

Reid has piled on, perhaps hoping Tarkanian would take the bait, and connected dots to show Lowden, as an advisory board member of a bank that applied for bailout money (but did not take it), took out a credit line with the institution. The repetition in the news releases is impressive, but I find it to be a bit of a stretch — akin to arguing on a smaller scale if I stick my ATM card in a slot of a bank that took TARP funds, that means I took bailout money, too.

But no matter: Lowden made her own bed on the bailout issue with her metamorphosing position, and her bank board experience muddies the waters for Reid in the general (if she gets there).

Reid, though, is not pristine on this issue. He did shepherd the bailout bill through Congress, calling it “distasteful” in a fundraising missive this week but then pivoting to talk about the new legislation putting banks, not taxpayers, on the hook for bailouts. But arguing the measure will end for all time a practice he supported last year is a little much to take, especially when Reid has gobbled up three quarters of a million dollars since 2005 from securities and investment types, according to opensecrets.org. And I wonder if anyone finds it at all distasteful that the majority leader called bank CEOs to get what amounted to a bailout for MGM Mirage, even though he has argued he was simply doing his job to save jobs.

The clean horses left this barn long ago. And as we already know, here and elsewhere, the battle for Capitol Hill will be won by those who voters think are the least unclean.

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