Himes: A Wall Street Democrat’s Take on OWS, Compromise

There’s just three weeks to go for the supercommitee in Congress to come up with a debt-cutting deal or trigger $1.5 trillion in automatic cuts beginning in 2013.  

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT4) is among at least 100 members of the House – both Democrats and Republicans – who are still making a push for an even bigger deal. In a letter the lawmakers will release today, they’re calling for the supercommittee to slash $4 trillion from the federal debt over ten years with both new tax revenue and changes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

A New Centrist Coalition?

Talking to The Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday, Himes called it an answer to the “uncompromising rhetoric” of the budget battles over the last year. It’s also an answer to the polls, which have shown an overwhelming and deep sense of frustration with Washington.

The point is, you’ve actually got more people here on Capitol Hill willing to compromise than maybe you might believe if you just watched cable news...Anybody who is listening to their constituents knows that is what the American people want. The activist wings of the two parties don’t want that. They want just to be uncompromising, to fight. However, I think the vast bulk of Americans are saying, guys, you’ve got to come together. We’ve got a crisis.

And after all the studies and task forces and proposals, Himes said now is the time for backup. Because while President Obama continues to tour the country to press his message about how legislative action can’t wait, Himes said simple civics dictates that the decision-making – and political risks – will be taken by the twelve lawmakers on the supercommittee.

The reality is that right now, the president of the United States does not hold nearly as much power with respect to where we go in the next ten years than the twelve members of the supercommittee do.

On Occupy Wall Street and Obama

A former Goldman Sachs banker and member of the House Financial Services Committee, Himes is also giving a little backup to the politically unpopular banks, which he acknowledged, “may be the one group of people out there with lower approval than the United States Congress.”

If I can sort of set aside the rhetoric and the anger to remind people that we need a safe and vibrant financial services industry, that’s what I try to do day to day, and that’s where I keep my focus.

And that puts him at odds with the Occupy Wall Street protesters – at least in part.

It’s hard to know what they want. If they want more regulation of the derivatives market, and frankly I haven’t heard that on Occupy Wall Street, I’m with them 100 percent on that. if they want less exploitation of consumers through credit cards and shady loans, 100 percent. If their answer is that Wall Street should simply go away, and that we shouldn’t have a competitive financial services industry in this country – and I don’t know that they’re saying that either – I don’t agree with that.

But if the primary demand is to put new limits on the influence of money in American elections and to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Himes said he’s right on board.

Now you’re really into something that I would like to not do any compromise on, which is generally the topic is the permeation of our system with money. It’s corrupting. At best, it’s a horrible waste of time and disruptive. And yes, Citizens United took a bad system where guys like me need to spend an awful lot of time raising money to get reelected, and made it catastrophic.

With the system we have though, Wall Street money matters, and Himes admitted it’s an open question how much President Obama’s more populist positioning, and partial embrace of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, will redirect that money to Republicans.

It is hard to know. It is certainly true that there is less enthusiasm for the president on Wall Street today than there was three years. And so, what that does to money will play out over the next couple of months.

But again, banks continue to provide politicians some comfort, because with Bank of America around, they’re at least not the most tone deaf ones in the room.

Himes reserved his strongest language for BoA’s sense of timing on its now-abandoned plans to charge a new monthly fee for debit cards. “Public relations-wise, a catastrophe,” Himes said. “The new Coke of banking.”