The Senate ‘Hell No’ Caucus, Fed Up With White House’s Wall Street Tilt

Dave Johnson

Monday’s post, “Is The Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?,” looked at November’s low turnout. Did voters stay away because the Democrats have seemingly turned themselves into a milder Republican neoliberal, pro-Wall Street party instead of pushing hard for the interests of working people? Is a “Hell No” “Open Rebellion” Democrat caucus forming in response?

Democratic voters certainly have tuned out. Only 36.4 percent of potential voters felt there was a reason to bother to register and vote. From Monday’s post:

“Free trade”, anti-union, monopolistic anti-democracy policies have killed wage growth and government programs for regular, working people and regular, working people have responded by turning away from the party that was supposed to be watching out for them.

Enough Is Enough

Several Senate Democrats have apparently had enough. The Obama administration has nominated yet another Wall Street “revolving door” candidate, Antonio Weiss, to be undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic finance and there is opposition from the President’s own party.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren began the fight over Weiss by penning “Enough Is Enough: The President’s Latest Wall Street Nominee” in The Huffington Post on November 19.

I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I’ve generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough.

… So who is Antonio Weiss? He’s the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. … Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury.

[. . .] Lazard isn’t just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club — it’s also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards.

Then Warren makes the larger point, listing just some of the Wall Street people who have gone through the revolving door into the Obama administration, then writing that this has sent the wrong message:

[T]here’s the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party’s, overall economic policymaking apparatus.

[. . .] The over-representation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one — and only one — point of view will dominate economic policymaking. It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first. That’s yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn’t need.

The Last Straw

This nomination appears to be the last straw. It is significant that Warren penned her objections after the disastrous 2014 midterm elections, which saw millions of voters who would usually vote for Democrats choose to just stay home. Many Democrats are concluding that the problem is that the party just has not been delivering for regular people, and the administration’s “Republican-lite,” Wall Street-oriented focus is a big part of the problem.

A number of Democratic senators have joined Warren in opposing this one-too-many nomination. Gaius Publius says we need an “Open Rebellion Caucus,” writing at Naked Capitalism in “An “Open Rebellion Caucus” Forms in the Senate“:

Why rebellion — progressive insurgency — against billionaire-controlled Democrats matters could become an essay in itself, and someday it will. But simply put, it matters for two main reasons. One, because conscience matters — yes, that — and two, because there are already cracks in all three layers of the progressive movement buried within the Democratic Party:

  • Democratic voters have arguably rejected neoliberal, corporate, billionaire-serving Democrats in 2014. The country is ready for change, and the day Democrats offer one, they’ll win elections by the bucketful.
  • Democratic activists and writers are desperate for something better from their party. …
  • Some Democratic insiders are similarly ready to rebel. There are pockets of donors, strategists and office-holders who “get it” …

Publius writes about a “Hell No” caucus led by people like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is reportedly opposing the nomination. Ryan Grimm and Jennifer Bendery report at Huffington Post that “Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are all still reviewing Weiss’ nomination, according to their offices.”

Picture If You Will

What’s next? What would a fed-up caucus of Democrats (and independents) demand next? Imagine government policies that were not designed primarily to benefit the 1 percent and their corporations.

  • Perhaps Democratic Senators will demand a few Main Street-oriented (or, God forbid, even labor-oriented) nominations to the Federal Reserve to argue for full employment and higher wages for working people instead of favors for Wall Street?
  • Why not put a few representatives of labor, consumer, environmental and human rights organizations into our trade policy apparatus? Imagine a trade policy that outlaws instead of encourages employers threatening to close a factory and move a job out of the country when workers demand better working conditions?
  • What if the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department mandated 10-plus percent interest rates for the retirement accounts of people over 50?
  • What if the government served as an example of the kind of employment policies We the People would like to see, and paid 10 percent above prevailing wages with 7 weeks of vacation and full benefit packages?

It is difficult to even imagine a government that worked for regular people instead of Wall Street.

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