McCain Embraces Regulation After Many Years of Opposition
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.
Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation's largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end "reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed" on Wall Street.
"Government has a clear responsibility to act in defense of the public interest, and that's exactly what I intend to do," a fiery McCain said at a rally in Tampa yesterday. "In my administration, we're going to hold people on Wall Street responsible. And we're going to enact and enforce reforms to make sure that these outrages never happen in the first place."
McCain hopes to tap into anger among voters who are looking for someone to blame for the economic meltdown that threatens their home values, bank accounts and 401(k) plans. But his past support of congressional deregulation efforts and his arguments against "government interference" in the free market by federal, state and local officials have given Sen. Barack Obama an opening to press the advantage Democrats traditionally have in times of economic trouble.
In 2002, McCain introduced a bill to deregulate the broadband Internet market, warning that "the potential for government interference with market forces is not limited to federal regulation." Three years earlier, McCain had joined with other Republicans to push through landmark legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.), who is now an economic adviser to his campaign. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act aimed to make the country's financial institutions competitive by removing the Depression-era walls between banking, investment and insurance companies.
That bill allowed AIG to participate in the gold rush of a rapidly expanding global banking and investment market. But the legislation also helped pave the way for companies such as AIG and Lehman Brothers to become behemoths laden with bad loans and investments.
McCain now condemns the executives at those companies for pursuing the ambitions that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made possible, saying that "in an endless quest for easy money, they dreamed up investment schemes that they themselves don't even understand."
He said the misconduct was aided by "casual oversight by regulatory agencies in Washington," where he said oversight is "scattered, unfocused and ineffective."
"They haven't been doing their job right," McCain said yesterday, "or else we wouldn't have these massive problems on Wall Street, and that's a fact. At their worst, they've been caught up in Washington turf wars instead of working together to protect investors and the public interest."
Yesterday, Obama seized on what he called McCain's "newfound support for regulation" and accused his rival of backing "a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy."
In a speech in Golden, Colo., Obama blamed the economic crisis on an "economic philosophy" that he said McCain and President Bush supported blindly.
"John McCain has spent decades in Washington supporting financial institutions instead of their customers," he told a crowd of about 2,100 at the Colorado School of Mines. "So let's be clear: What we've seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed."