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Barlow Herget Commentary
Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on State Government Radio at Curtis Media. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Contact him by email.
No time to do nothing
Monday - 4/26/2010, 12:50pm EDT
The Pew Research Center published a survey recently that showed Americans in record percentages do not trust the federal government. No wonder.
The Congress spent almost a year wrangling over the historic national health care reform legislation. President Obama at first tried to fashion a bi-partisan bill, but it became clear that the Republican minority didn't want anything the President proposed.
Now, the Republican leaders in Congress have signaled they will continue that strategy, at least in the short term. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky now repeats his familiar health care mantra to "stop and start over" as his party's position toward the bill to hold reckless Wall Street bankers accountable.
The public has read and heard of story after story about bankers who deceived customers buying very risky mortgage investments while the banks themselves quietly bet the investments would go bust. These were not fly-by-night institutions but the grand names of Wall Street: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Citibank, among others. Some folded and taxpayers bailed out survivors such as Goldman Sachs and Citibank. Executives at these banks gave themselves million-dollar bonuses and golden parachutes. That just poured acid in the public's wounds, especially for those people who lost retirement savings and jobs.
Congress heard testimony two weeks ago about Washington Mutual Bank's wild lending practices on the West Coast. The Bush Administration thrift regulator in charge said he regretted he didn't act sooner to stop the dangerous practices that caused a run on the bank. That precipitated the bank's subsequent failure, the largest ever.
That was the extent of his response to the disaster. He's sorry.
Stalling on bank reform is just one Republican obstruction facing President Obama. The big fight after the financial bill will be the Supreme Court nomination to fill Justice John Paul Stevens' seat when he retires this year.
At first, Senate Republicans were mixed in their attitude toward Mr. Obama selecting another Court nominee. That position has hardened into opposition after shouts and cries from the party's angry, anti-Obama conservatives. With 41 Senate votes, Republicans can stop any nominee. Who believes that won't happen with Justice Stevens' replacement?
President Obama's 2010 agenda includes action on the US-Russian nuclear warheads treaty. That will require 67 Senate votes to adopt or six affirmative Republican votes. What are the chances for that?
Immigration reform and energy conservation come next. These are major issues all.
Senate Republicans have been excessive in their use of the once-rare filibuster. This is not an opinion. In 2009, Senate Republicans filibustered Mr. Obama's bills in that one year alone more times than the Senate invoked the ploy in the combined two decades of the Fifties and Sixties. This from the party that howled when Democrats attempted far fewer filibusters during President George W. Bush's Administration.
Senator McConnell, encouraged by House Minority Leader John "Hell No You Can't" Boehner, promises more.
Doing nothing in a recession leads us nowhere. That's why most Americans today don't trust their government.