The most unnerving part of the debate on financial reform is wondering which of the retiring senators spending time on crafting the legislation are thinking about, or even actively discussing, going to work for one of the Wall Street mega-banks.
One of the great myths in American political theory is that once a politician gets ready to retire, or can't run again because of term limits or other reasons, it makes him or her likely to be a "statesman" because he or she doesn't have to worry about the voters anymore. The presumption that actual voters are unhelpful to getting good legislation passed is profoundly undemocratic because once voters don't matter anymore, other things begin to matter too much: where you will work next, how much you will get paid, what your close friends (many of whom have raised all that money for you over the years) think, what the DC establishment that you will be hanging out with at cocktail parties in your retirement think. Things like that may start to matter a lot more to some retiring Senators than being able to defend the deals you are cutting to voters.
It's not like the kind of thing I'm talking about has never happened. The most obvious case is Billy Tauzin working on the prescription drug bill that was such a sweet deal for Pharma, and then going to work for them as a seven-figure salaried president after he retired. But there are many, many other cases of congresspeople and senators working on legislation affecting an industry the year they retire, then getting a great consulting gig with the industry trade association soon thereafter.
The financial reform bill is way too important to let this happen. All of the senators and House members working on this bill should pledge right now that they will not go to work after they retire for Goldman Sachs, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, any other of the other mega-banks, the American Bankers Association, or any of the other big industry players on this legislation. There are too many rumors swirling around on Capitol Hill right now of major players in this fight who are retiring this year starting to feel out industry players for jobs in 2011. The White House, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid should demand that all the Senators working on this bill take such a pledge to not sell out the American public.
The Dodd bill needs to be strengthened. Democrats need to draw a line in the sand and fight for a bill that really does something to take on the big banks. If the Republicans want to defend Wall Street by filibustering such a bill, God bless them, I'd be delighted to have that fight. But to get the best possible bill, we need the Senators negotiating it to not be preparing to work for the industry.