Now Starring on Front Street: Chuck Schumer

While you were alternately laughing at George W. Bush ducking shoes in Iraq and watching in nail-biting anxiety as the Dallas Cowboys string along its fans in  their annual late-season heartbreaking swoon, The NY Times put Sen. Charles Schumer on front street.

An exceptional fund raiser — a “jackhammer,” someone who knows him says, for whom “ ‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes,’ ” — Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.

But in building support, he has embraced the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing some measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

Other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivatives, which are widely seen as catalysts to the crisis.

But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.

He succeeded in limiting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies, for example, sponsored legislation that cut fees paid by Wall Street firms to finance government oversight, pushed to allow banks to have lower capital reserves and called for the revision of regulations to make corporations’ balance sheets more transparent.

Oh, thats not good enough for you?  Try this one on for size:

An exceptional fund raiser — a “jackhammer,” someone who knows him says, for whom “ ‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes,’ ” — Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.

But in building support, he has embraced the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing some measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

Other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivatives, which are widely seen as catalysts to the crisis.

But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.

He succeeded in limiting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies, for example, sponsored legislation that cut fees paid by Wall Street firms to finance government oversight, pushed to allow banks to have lower capital reserves and called for the revision of regulations to make corporations’ balance sheets more transparent.

“On the right, you have those who view any government intervention as a threat to free markets,” one executive recalled Mr. Schumer explaining. “On the left, you have people who choose to view this as a government handout to the rich. In the middle, you have everyone who knows and takes the Treasury secretary seriously and recognizes that if something is not done here, we could be staring into an abyss.”

Still not convinced?  Brace yourself for the punchline:

At times in Congress, Mr. Schumer has teamed up with Republicans, like former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who aggressively promoted a free-market agenda. Mr. Schumer pushed for the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law, passed in November 1999, which knocked down the walls between investment banks and commercial banks and allowed financial supermarkets to flourish. The law also weakened regulatory oversight by fracturing it among different agencies.

In 2001, Mr. Schumer and Mr. Gramm jointly proposed legislation that would cut fees paid by Wall Street firms and others to the S.E.C. in half, or by $14 billion, over the coming decade. Their proposal included some extra money for salaries of commission employees.

But with trading volumes high, Mr. Schumer argued, the government was collecting far too much money from those fees and using it to subsidize other government operations. “It is a tax, an unintended but very real tax, on all sorts of investors,” he said at the time.

But some Democrats, pointing to the recent corporate accounting scandals, argued that the S.E.C. budget should be doubled or tripled so it could more effectively combat fraud that could lead to a major economic collapse.

“We are making a tragic mistake,” Representative John J. LaFalce, Democrat of New York, warned in arguing for a much smaller reduction in S.E.C. fees.

“We give the industry what it asks for unwittingly.”

Mr. Schumer’s argument prevailed, and the fee cut passed overwhelmingly.

So, while you’re cheering the overwhelming Democratic Majority, remember the folk who helped bankroll it and be sure to keep an eye on Mr. Schumer.

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