There's a lot going on in Washington these days. Lawmakers are talking about financial regulatory reform that could change the face of companies such as Goldman Sachs
To gain a pulse on where things are in Congress today, I spoke with Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa. We spoke about financial regulatory reform, President Obama's proposal on health care and the next steps for potential passage of a bill, the status of the political system, and ways to shore up the deficit.
Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Jennifer Schonberger: Since you were a leader in financial regulatory reform in the House, I'd like to get your thoughts on what we're hearing on that front in the Senate. Specifically, what are your thoughts on creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency as part of the Federal Reserve versus an independent agency?
Rep. Paul Kanjorski: I'm not heavily embedded into the consumer-protection agency. I think there's probably a need for one. It could be structured in any number of ways that would be acceptable to me. I'm not sure whether the Senate has made any commitments as to where it should go. But I could make the argument that Treasury houses the comptroller of the currency and does it very well [and] acts as an independent agency. I suspect the same could be done with the FDIC, or over in the Federal Reserve. So I think to a large extent it's a matter of political and personal preference for some of the senators and House members.
Schonberger: What is your position on President Obama's proposal for health care?
Kanjorski: It's never perfect. That's without question. I think you start off with several problem areas. I think we have to get as many people covered as possible. His proposal will cover another 31 million Americans ....
Secondly, let's say you have a limitation as to what they'll cover for you, or you find out that they don't cover pre-existing conditions when you put your effort in to get health care at an existing condition. We can't have those limitations, because they're so restrictive to people in time of absolute need health care. So that's going to be corrected.
Finally, I think it's an economic question. This society is spending 17% of its GDP on health care, and we're not the healthiest nation in the world. We're ranked 29th in the world for quality health care. It seems to me when you're spending 70% more -- that 17% of our GDP is 70% more than the next highest expense expenditure for health care of any nation in the world -- something's wrong. What I say is wrong is the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness. We're not getting adequate treatment. Not everyone is getting treatment. Also, to a large extent, we've allowed ripoffs throughout the system -- whether it's insurance companies, and how they charge and how they profit, or the delivery system and the providers.
So we haven't seen a [final version] of the president's bill, [but] I think we'll beat a lot of these challenges. Again, not perfect. We're going to have to make corrections, but I think it gives us a glimmer of hope ... around doing something good to provide health care for a high proportion of our population.
Schonberger: Do you think we'll have a series of small bills, or do you think the House is up for adopting one large bill?
Kanjorski: Well, I think we're stuck with a couple of things we're going to have to do. We're probably going to have to adopt the Senate bill in the House side -- even though the House side is only going to deal with agreements that further action to change what's in the Senate bill. ... Assuming we pass that, then we'll be moving the reconciliation bill to make those corrections.
Then there are some things we'll have to wait until next year to correct, because we don't have the procedural tools that the Congress needs to establish them right now. But since the bill will not be going into hard effect for another two or three years, we'll have the time to make the corrections and get it done on the right track.
Schonberger: When we look at health care -- the fact that the president is considering reconciliation to get the legislation passed -- when we look at how long it's taking to get financial regulatory reform to get passed, one has to wonder about the political system. Do you think it is broken?
Kanjorski: We're very close to being dysfunctional for adverse political reasons. ... We're so petty as to argue over political considerations and political power has to tie up the role subdivisions, situations, and processes we have in place.
Both parties need to step back and realize there are corrections that we can make and should make -- one of them being we can't have continuation of holds in the Senate. One senator can hold up all kinds of activity, as Senator [Jim] Bunning [R-Ky.] did last week, or Senator [Richard] Shelby [R-Ala.] did several weeks ago. That just can't be allowed anymore.
We've got to get the Senate to change those rules. I think we can stop the filibuster. Now I don't know if we can do away with the filibuster in full -- and actually that would only take us to majority rule, which is really the democratic process. But I can concede that there are some heated moments in history where having a cooling-off mechanism could be used. But you've got to utilize that responsibly. What we've proven now is this Senate hasn't used it responsibly ….
Schonberger: In terms of shoring up the deficit, apparently the president can authorize the Treasury to sell the U.S.'s gold and, by law, the proceeds would have to go to paying down the national debt. Since we've abandoned the gold standard, do you think the U.S. should sell its gold to help shore up the deficit?
Kanjorski: I don't think it will help the problem when you have a huge debt. I think we have to come up with what we did in 1993 under the Clinton administration. We should do that all over again. It's going to take us a decade or two to get on track to solve our problems. ... We need a responsible president and Congress.
As far as selling gold, we're not on the gold standard anymore, as you said, but if the strongest nation in the world completely sold its gold supply, I think [that] psychologically sends a terrible message to the rest of the world that are we preparing for Armageddon … so we don't want to do that.
For our past interviews with Rep. Kanjorski: