WASHINGTON – Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer got his first bill passed in Congress when it gained House approval on Thursday. But the legislation, which places new restrictions on government entities that determine which of the country’s financial institutions can be restricted because they are essentially “too big to fail,” faces long odds to become law.
The first-term representative came to Washington, like almost all rookies, vowing to get things done. He offered a bill that put the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Office of Financial Research (OFR) that supports the council into an appropriations process that requires both groups to explain and defend their financial plans before Congress in order to spend money. Emmer’s bill also mandates public notice and comment periods on reports and rules before they take effect.
Emmer, a Republican member of the House Financial Services Committee, called the bill “common sense.” But it was controversial from its beginning.
The oversight council includes heads of every major government money agency, most of them presidential appointees. Subjecting these people to increased direction by the House and Senate was not an easy sell.
“I actually sat down with more than a handful of Democrats in the last week and explained to them what it was,” Emmer told the Star Tribune. “I had a good response from them. But then when we got to the floor to debate it, it seemed as though the [Democratic] leadership had made the decision that this was going to be a hill to die on. They were taking the position that this is dismantling [Wall Street reform].”
Emmer’s bill passed the Republican-controlled House, 239-179, on Thursday. It attracted support of just one Democrat, not to mention a White House veto threat.
“Funding FSOC and the OFR through appropriations would subject these entities to political gamesmanship that could hinder their ability to conduct independent research, ask questions, and analyze information about industries, firms, or activities — running the risk of ignoring the next threat to financial stability,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
The bill may never get to President Obama’s desk. It will need more than one Democratic vote in the Senate to get beyond the discussion stage.
Emmer said he is “learning on the job.”
Working in Congress right now is sometimes “analogous to turning a supertanker at sea,” he said. “If you don’t go into it with the attitude that you’re going to work through the entire process, if your life is based on nothing more than instant gratification, you’re going to be very disappointed.”
Emmer is a conservative Republican whose views on government oversight will likely always run counter to those of many of his Democratic colleagues. But he insists that does not mean he has given up on getting along.
“The legislative process is not about running people over,” Emmer said. “It’s about winning them over.”
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123