The polling showing that voters hold negative opinions of the President’s performance in housing policy and Wall Street accountability suggests that Americans have a hungering for a much tougher policy on these issues and will reward candidates who reflect that, according to the pollster who did the survey.
Jim Williams of Public Policy Polling, who did the questioning for Campaign for a Fair Settlement, told me in an interview that the polling displays a lot of anxiety about the economy as a whole. “A lot of voters still tie that back to the housing collapse and banking crisis of 2008,” Williams said. “The struggling housing market is continuing to drag down the economy. And so there’s a sense of ‘Why is this happening and who do we blame?’”
The polling, according to Williams, shows that there’s room for President Obama or candidates at the Congressional level to be more strident on bank accountability, and stronger on housing policy. “Our numbers show that people would be very receptive if candidates were to tackle those issues more strongly,” he said.
We’re already seeing this on both sides of the aisle. Congressional candidate Eric Griego in New Mexico became the first this cycle to go out with a direct message in advertising that Wall Street bankers who broke the law should go to jail. It’s quite amazing that this is a novel concept, but politicians often lag. And their bread is often buttered by Wall Street largesse. Griego followed this up with an op-ed hitting on very specific themes for Wall Street accountability:
Fight to increase 20-fold the number of investigators for the financial crimes federal task force led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Right now, this task force only has 55 investigators and prosecutors. The Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s was staffed with over 1,000 investigators, experts and prosecutors. That effort yielded more than 600 convictions and $130 million for taxpayers. One of the first bills I offer will be to increase the funding and staffing for this financial crimes task force [...]
Push the U.S. Justice Department to more aggressively prosecute white-dollar crimes by Wall Street bankers. To this day, not one Wall Street banker who broke the law, tanked the economy and took away people’s homes and savings is in jail. We need to hold them accountable, and members of Congress can exert key leverage with the Justice Department to make investigations and prosecutions happen.
Strengthen the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and close the loophole in the legislation’s “Volcker Rule” that was exploited by JPMorgan recently – when their risky bets lost $2 billion. Many of the legislation’s provisions are designed to go in effect in 2014, so the rules are still being written. Congress can’t allow Wall Street bankers to write their own rules – we need Wall Street reform to stay on the agenda in Congress.
This is not isolated. Elizabeth Warren has been capitalizing on the JPMorgan Chase “Fail Whale” trade by seeking a reinstitution of the Glass-Steagall Act. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka endorsed that yesterday, saying “We need a bright line to separate speculative trading from the traditional role of banks as lenders. Anything less will place our economy at risk of yet another financial crisis in the years to come.” Consumer advocates have begun to grumble about reforms to mortgage servicing proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden insisted that more indictments were needed of players in the foreclosure crisis and various fraus scandals. “People are angry,” Biden told MSNBC. “Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers and 99 Percenters are all angry that no one has been held accountable for something they know is obviously fraught. And that’s my job as AG.”
Even Republicans have begun to back off their position of repealing Dodd-Frank and “serving” Wall Street. In a somewhat remarkable circumstance, the House GOP abruptly stopped work on bills that would have repealed or gutted derivatives regulation from Dodd-Frank. Frank Lucas, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, which has oversight over derivatives, said that in the wake of the JPMorgan Chase debacle, “this Committee will take the time to gather all relevant information before we proceed to ensure there are no unintended consequences of the legislation that would encourage recklessness in our financial institutions.”
This is where this sea change on housing policy and bank accountability has the potential to roll back on the President. In Karl Rove’s Crossroads big ad buy on Obama’s “broken promises,” the very first promise shown is the one to “help the millions of homeowners facing foreclosure.” The failure of HAMP and the lack of prosecutions of Wall Street crimes could really factor large in the Presidential election, even if Mitt Romney has no plan to shift those policies.
I’m not certain that the Obama campaign takes this seriously, but given the relationship between Wall Street, housing and the economy, it’s bound to be a major topic of discussion and debate. And the President has options if he wants to crack down on Wall Street and provide meaningful housing relief. His failure to do may be the normal outcome of captured government, but it could soon become a political problem as well.