Tavis: Bob Corker is serving his first term in the U.S. Senate. From Tennessee, the former Chattanooga mayor is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which is at the center of the debate over financial reform legislation. He joins us tonight from wonderful. Senator, good to have you on the program, sir.
Sen. Bob Corker: Tavis, good to talk to you. Thank you.
Tavis: Why is, to your mind, bipartisanship so important on this issue, and is that achievable?
Corker: Well, I’m hoping it’s achievable. It’s looking pretty tough right now, but the reason it is, Tavis, both parties bring something to this debate. This is not one of those ideological kinds of things. I think everybody in this country wants to see appropriate financial reform.
I think everybody in the country wants to see us do everything we can to ensure that we never again talk about any company being too big to fail, that we have appropriate consumer protections and that we make sure that derivatives are cleared as much as possible so we don’t have the same kind of episode again that we had with AIG.
So there are lots of details, lots of technical issues, Tavis, and again, for legislation to stand the test of time, I think having both parties fully at the table making changes, making sure it’s a good bill is very important.
Tavis: If I were to take out the phrase “financial reform” that you’ve just used and replace it with healthcare, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I had people say the same thing to me over the last year and a half that you’ve just said about how everybody knows the system is broken, everybody wants healthcare reform, and look what happened.
So tell me why I should believe any differently now, respectfully, about this particular issue.
Corker: Well, let me say this – I’m becoming somewhat doubtful even on financial regulation that we’re going to be there. I felt the same on healthcare. I wanted a bipartisan bill the same as you just said. I wanted a bipartisan bill, and we very early on – I began a year ago, a year and two or three months ago meeting with Max Baucus, who was chairman of the Finance Committee, and it was pretty evident, Tavis, that as this bill was being put together the accounting mechanisms that were going to be used to pay for it were not things that would stand the test of time.
Candidly, even now after the bill has passed, administration officials both at CMS and other places are saying that the things we said were true, that it won’t stand the test of time. So again, that accounting was what kept us, I think, on healthcare mostly from coming to the table, coming together in the very beginning.
But back to financial regulation, Tavis, what happens in these bills, we’ve been working really hard on both sides of the aisle to get a good bill, and then the political winds kind of take over. When one side sees the advantage over the other, it’s just the way things are here in Washington.
I regret that. I came here to solve problems. You mentioned I was a mayor. I was a businessman. We spent time because we felt like we were going to actually do something in the world that I lived in before. I’ve been negotiating for months with people like Chris Dodd and Mark Warner, who’s been a great partner from Virginia.
But candidly, just as I watch this amendment process that’s taking place, I’m becoming concerned and candidly am feeling doubtful whether this bill is going to really achieve a wide bipartisan margin, which I’d like to see.
Tavis: Do you think the members of your party, the Republican Party, are going to regret not striking some bipartisan agreement when this bill was in committee?
Corker: Well actually, I was the last holdout, Tavis, meaning that I wanted a markup to take place in committee. The chairman and the ranking member over the weekend, before the markup, decided that if we went through the amendment process in committee itself that it was going to harden the two sides against each other, neither of which – that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
It seems to me that in a committee is when you actually fix a bill like this. I think you know that I spent 30 days with Chairman Dodd from February 10th to March 10th, and I feel like we got to the five-yard line.
This was before the committee vote. I felt like we got to the five-yard line and the lights went out, and again, that’s the part I’m talking about, Tavis. These things take on a political life, and if one party sees that it’s possible to make an issue out of this versus people coming together with what I believe is a longer-term solution, sometimes that happens.
I feel that that may be happening right now in financial regulation. We had hoped that before the bill came to the floor that Senator Shelby and Senator Dodd would have a bipartisan template, at least on the consumer issue, the derivatives issue and on the resolution issue, making sure that when firms fail they actually go out of business and taxpayers aren’t holding the tab.
But that didn’t happen, and so again, I want you to know I’ve got a number of amendments I plan to offer that I believe will make the bill better. I’m going to continue to work towards, at least in my heart hoping that we’ll get a bill that’s bipartisan. But I’m not feeling as good about it today as I did two weeks ago.
Tavis: Why everybody in the country, to your earlier point, I think wants to see something done, whatever that something is. There are a number of inquiries on the Hill, as you know, that are going on even as we speak about what happened with this disaster – how it happened, why it happened, who’s to blame for it. How do we write good legislation now without having had all the questions answered about how we got in this mess in the first place?
Corker: Look, I’ve spent a lot of time, Tavis, on this issue, the last year and a half, and I don’t think any senator has spent more time trying to understand the root causes of this problem. Even as we move into this bill the way that we are right now, I still have questions.
So I hear you. I think there’s a lot to be learned, and that’s why I think that we need to take the first steps now, but I think we’re going to need another bite at the apple down the road.
This bill still does not deal with Fannie and Freddie. Obviously, those two entities are a big part of what’s occurred. This bill doesn’t deal with underwriting standards. Maybe there’s a way that we deal with both of those in this bill, but I think there’s going to be additional legislation that has to come down the road.
Would it be better if we had this committee that’s working on this report out all of their findings at the end of December? Yes. On the other hand, there’s a political clock that moves around here, and my sense is the administration is pretty dead-set on this occurring right now.
I think we have enough information to deal with the consumer piece appropriately. I don’t think the Dodd bill does that now. I want to say I think it’s a huge overreach. I think we have enough information to deal with derivatives, and I think we have enough information to deal with that resolution title I was talking about, making sure that if a company fails, it fails.
But I think there are other things, Tavis, that you rightly are pointing to that we may need and want to deal with down the road, and I hope we will if we find additional issues that need to be addressed.
Tavis: Before I lose you, since you’ve referenced it a couple of times now, should there be and are you supporting a consumer protection agency?
Corker: Yes, I am. I do think that the Dodd bill, though, has moved pretty far to the left on it, and the way it’s now constructed I cannot support it because what it does, Tavis, it has the chance to undermine the safety and soundness of our financial institutions the way it’s now constructed.
What I had hoped is that we would seek a balance between consumer protection and those regulators like the OCC, the Fed, the FDIC, that ensure that our banks are safe and sound. That we’d have a balance.
The way this bill is drafted, it’s not in balance. This consumer protection agency I believe has the ability to become something that we never imagined per the way that it’s now drafted. So hopefully again we can get that back in the middle of the road. Certainly consumer protection is something that’s important, but we have to keep that in balance with some of these other factors.
Tavis: Well, I’m sure as this process moves forward we’ll get a chance, I hope at least here on TV and radio, to talk again about how this bill is taking shape with important members on this committee, the Banking Committee, on both sides of the aisle.
But for now, Senator Corker, thank you for your time and your insight. I appreciate it.
Corker: Tavis, thank you, sir.