Defends Eric Cantor’s Revolving Door from
Big, Bad Elizabeth Warren
On September 10th in Business Insider, Former Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner mounted what he’d like readers to believe was a “strange bedfellows” defense of former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor, who recently was ousted by Republican primary voters in his suburban Virginia district, attracted the ire of Senator Elizabeth Warren for his decision to join investment bank Moelis & Company. Weiner took issue with Senator Warren’s critique of Cantor and the revolving door, insisting Warren portrayed Cantor’s move as “more troublesome that it really is.”
But in Weiner’s attempt to debunk Warren, he actually makes the Senator’s point for her.
First, despite Weiner’s reputation as a fiery progressive during his time in the House, his defense of Cantor’s revolving-door path hardly comes as a surprise. Weiner, after all, has enjoyed a lucrative post-Congress career as a corporate consultant in industries ranging from Latin American renewable energy to electronic medical records. He’s also consulted for the law firm Covington & Burling, most prominently known for defending Wall Street and employing former Department of Justice prosecutors. In fact, by Weiner’s own admission to the New York Times, he has learned to become “a good capitalist.”
But aside from perhaps taking Senator Warren’s criticism too personally (he made it a point to say that Warren was “wrong to question Cantor’s expertise”), Weiner is wrong on the nature of Congressional lobbying and what utility Cantor might provide to his future employer.
In his Business Insider piece, Weiner notes (emphasis mine):
“Well, who wants to buy access to Members of Congress anyway? If Congress were a hotbed of lawmaking and problem solving, maybe you can argue that hiring one of their former leaders was a play at getting in that legislative pipeline. But today? Thanks to Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives is the absolute last place to turn if you wanted to accomplish something.”
Weiner is wrong to argue that the goal of Big Business is “accomplish anything” legislatively. Often, the goal is instead to actually obstruct legislation.
The financial industry is the perfect example of this: Even after the Dodd-Frank reform law was passed in 2010, there are continued problems on Wall Street that could be well-served by more public policy intervention.
From scandals ranging from Libor manipulation to foreclosure robo-signing, and with hot button issues raging in the press like high frequency trading, significant issues in the financial industry remain unaddressed by Congress.
Rest assured, part of the reason new laws haven’t been passed to deal with these concerns is because bank lobbyists have urged Congress to remain deadlocked and obstructionist.
Given Weiner’s long, former tenure in Congress, he should know better than to narrow Congress’s role to one of merely legislating. Weiner knows that having influence with the majority party in the House provides countless, unquantifiable benefits beyond his deceptively simplified depiction of Congress. Influence includes things like persuading lawmakers not to create “headline risk” by naming and shaming a particular company during Congressional debate; inveighing upon regulatory agencies not to bring a certain enforcement action against a politically-connected firm; prompting a Congressional Committee to inundate a particular agency with subpoena threats and document requests in order to create a bottleneck that distracts from their normal, regulatory functions; or introducing legislation that has no hopes of actually becoming law in order to intimidate regulators, particularly in cases where lawmakers can hold that regulator’s funding hostage.
Finally, Weiner, with seeming incredulity, says that it’s unfair for Warren to criticize Cantor for “going to work in an industry he once regulated,” because, as the Majority Leader that had a wide portfolio, that would be “true of literally every industry.” Weiner may be right in this regard, but he misses a larger point. Given his credentials and name recognition, Eric Cantor could easily have taken a post-Congressional job as, say, a university professor, like the candidate who defeated him in his Republican primary. Or he could work (and wonk) at a think tank, writing papers to advance his ideology. Or he could even try to start-up an innovative company, much like the swashbuckling “job creators” that he so loved to invoke during his time in Congress. But Cantor chose to enter into a well-connected, well-established, and politically-active industry. For that, he shouldn’t be immune from criticism from Elizabeth Warren – or anybody else, for that matter.