Russ Feingold is accustomed to voting against his party. However, the times his dissent brings real consequences are far less frequent. However, the financial reform legislation the White House and the Congressional Democratic leadership is pushing could be a rare example of the progressive maverick bringing the party to its knees publicly.
The conference committee bill now heads to the Senate, where leaders are scrambling to come up with the needed votes following the death of Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a supporter of the legislation. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, reiterated his opposition to the bill this week.
Feingold is the only Wisconsin Democrat voting against the bill. All five of the state's Democratic representatives supported it when it passed the House yesterday. All three Republicans voted nay. Sen. Herb Kohl also supports the bill.
In the Senate, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is the only member of the caucus to join Feingold in opposing the bill. It's surprising that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the self-described Democratic-Socialist, didn't also vote against. However, this is not the first time Sanders has chosen pragmatism over principle. He also voted in favor of a health care bill he believed to be deeply flawed and withdrew his legislation to establish a single payer system when he realized it would be a hindrance to legislation that had a chance at passing.
It really is puzzling that breaking up "Too Big to Fail" banks isn't an easier sell to the American public. You'd think that a crisis in which we saw the CEOs of some of the largest corporations in the country begging the government for assistance, lest the entire economy crash, would make Americans realize that the system we have in place is dangerous and in need of fundamental change.
But that's the paradox of American public opinion. It's completely intransitive. People who oppose bailouts seem to levy all of their blame on the government for the handouts, rather than those who begged for them. For the government to tell somebody on welfare that he/she has to do certain thing (work, get training etc.), is intuitive in the American political psyche. However, for the government to impose tough restrictions on the companies that take money is somehow a subversion of our nation's values.
Politically, this could be a good move on Feingold's part. It demonstrates his willingness to diverge from the party line, which fits into his narrative of being a maverick advocate for the people. Liberals are already giving him props.
At first when I saw Cantwell's name, I figured it made sense Washington is a politically similar state to Wisconsin (a bit more liberal) with a Senate race that should go to the Democrats but under extreme circumstances, could go red. However, it is not Cantwell running for re-election this year, but senior Sen. Patty Murray.
Also note: Four Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Three of them aren't too surprising: Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts. However, the fourth vote was Chuck Grassley, the GOP ranking member on the Financial Services Committee. That is telling.