A dearth of protesters makes for a quieter financial regulation debate
By Perry Bacon Jr.
One of the big differences between the current financial regulatory reform debate on Capitol Hill and the months long fight over health-care reform is what's missing: angry conservatives holding rallies outside of the Capitol and flooding lawmakers with phone calls.
Even as most GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have opposed the current legislation, which no House Republicans supported in a vote in December, conservative activists have not galvanized around the issue. The issue has received scant attention on major conservative blogs compared to health care and has not been a focus of the kind of aggressive opposition from conservative talk radio hosts that helped reshape the debate on last year's economic stimulus bill, which all but three Republicans in Congress also opposed.
A Gallup survey this week showed 35 percent of Republicans backed legislation to "regulate Wall Street banks," while 53 percent were opposed. That contrasts with the much stronger opposition on health care from Republicans. In another Gallup poll, 10 percent of Republicans thought the recently-passed health care law was a "good thing" -- compared to 86 percent who said it was not.
The changed dynamic in part explains the posture of Senate Republicans on the issue, as they have signaled openness to compromise. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who abandoned his role in bipartisan talks on health care last summer as conservative activists in this state threatened to challenge him in a primary if he joined Democrats on the issue, broke with his party yesterday to endorse a Democratic proposal to establish oversight of financial derivatives.
"The base is more motivated by the health care issue because they see it affecting their lives and their liberties," said Curt Anderson, a Republican strategist. "Health care is a far more polarizing issue with a majority of Americans, there is no question about that."
One top GOP aide who opposes the bill said "reg. reform is mostly finance gobbledygook that no one but a few really understand."
And even as Republican leaders have attacked the bill, some conservatives said not enough has been done.
"The base does not understand what is at stake and the GOP leadership has failed to articulate a strong message of opposition," said Erick Erickson, a leading conservative voice who runs the RedState blog.
The issues are of course vastly different, as many Republicans have long been opposed to major government intervention into the health care system, while the party is wary of being cast as defender of Wall Street. At the same time, the polarized vote in the House last year showed a split on how the two parties view the role of government in regulating the financial markets that mirrors the debate on the federal role in health care.
And some conservatives are urging the GOP to take a stronger stand on the issue. Senate Republican have not yet reached an agreement with Democrats, and some in the party said they should not until the bill is fundamentally changed.
Reaching a deal now "will gravely wound the national GOP and with it, the ability to restore balance to the Senate in November, as the current, massive mobilization of the grassroots would watch such a deal and conclude "What's the use, the GOP always sells out in the end," talk radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote on his blog this week.
Perry Bacon Jr.
April 22, 2010; 2:47 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Economy
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