Editorials

Credit Brownback's efforts on reform

Two years in the making, Congress' response to the global financial crisis reached President Obama's desk Thursday without much bipartisan support, and with none from Kansas' Republicans in Congress.

That's a regret — one of many about the process and the legislation itself.

Reforms were needed. The economy's fall left too much wreckage in savings and lives to go unaddressed or be left to the free market and failed regulatory status quo.

The push for comprehensive change deserved a bipartisan effort. But it largely fell to Democrats, with House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently characterizing the result as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon" and vowing Thursday to fight for repeal.

There are real concerns about whether the legislation ends up punishing those who weren't part of the problem — such as small community banks in Kansas and elsewhere — without addressing root causes such as federally owned mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But the compelling arguments for a new consumer financial protection bureau prevailed, as did the need for transparency and regulation in the derivatives market and for stronger powers to detect systemic danger points and break up failing investment banks and insurance companies.

At least one of the GOP lawmakers did more than stonewall the legislation, actually shaping it (as he sharply criticized it and voted against it, admittedly).

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., led the fight to exempt auto dealers from the new consumer financial protection bureau, arguing that "auto dealers are a part of Main Street, not Wall Street, and they are not responsible for the financial meltdown."

Brownback's advocacy also led to the welcome inclusion of a provision in the bill targeting "conflict minerals" — minerals used in consumer electronics such as cell phones and laptops whose mining and trading in Congo or neighboring countries have benefited armed groups and fueled violence in Africa.

"'Blood diamonds' have faded away, but we may now be carrying 'blood phones,'" New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof observed last month.

The provision requires publicly traded companies using such minerals to file annual reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission certifying whether the minerals came from Congo and reporting what they're doing to ensure they aren't funding military activities.

When the minerals language was added in May, Brownback expressed hope "that this amendment will bring accountability and transparency to the supply chain of minerals used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices, without placing a disproportionate burden on publicly traded companies."

Wannabe governor Brownback deserves credit for making the financial reform bill better, even though he ultimately judged it unworthy of his vote.

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