Controversial Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a gay pioneer in Congress and an extreme Massachusetts liberal, announced his retirement from Congress at the end of his current 16th term (32 years) in the House.
“There are other things I would like to do with my life,” the 71-year-old lawmaker said at his news conference last Monday. It came in the same caustic and annoyed tone that was his trademark during his long career in Washington. Barney Frank hated to be questioned by anyone.
Frank will forever be tied to the Freddie and Fannie housing collapse of 2008 that he headed from the House while liberal Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) captained from the Senate. Dodd retired from his Senate seat in 2010. Between the two of them, their careers traced an arc of early promise to near-career wrecking scandals.
Frank is the 17th Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election in 2012, when Democrats face an uphill battle to gain the 25 seats they need for a House majority. Republicans have announced the retirement of only six lawmakers. Redistricting is suspected to be the prime reason Frank decided to call it quits. After an unusually tight race in 2010, facing a slew of new and unfamiliar voters apparently made his decision easier.
Frank first won his seat in 1980, only to be thrown out two years later. In the next election cycle, he faced a formidable Republican incumbent, Rep. Margaret Heckler who he out polled with 60 percent of the vote and proceeded to extend his stay to 32 years.
Two years after disclosing he was gay in 1987, he was faced with his personal aide, Steven Gobie, and his background as a convicted drug user and male prostitute. Gobie was living in Frank’s apartment at the time. The House Ethics Committee recommended Frank be censured for using his congressional status on behalf of Gobie, even including the fact that he had 33 parking tickets in Washington left unpaid.
“I should have known better. I do now, but it’s a little too late,” Frank later commented. Many Republicans demanded harsher punishment, but the majority-led Democrats vetoed the move and Frank continued his career far outlasting many who had opposed him.
As a longtime member of the House committee that oversaw the banking and housing industries, he was its biggest advocate for the expansion of affordable housing and end redlining, a practice in which banks are accused of imposing onerous lending conditions on residents of inner cities and poor neighborhoods. It was the roots of the soon-to-come 2008 great recession and hundreds of billions in government bailout “loans” to American institutions including banking and automobiles.
Frank remained adamant to his retirement announcement (and beyond) that it was the direct fault of the Bush administration and Republicans, even though he presided as the House chairman of the primary committee responsible during the housing decline and near collapse.
As chairman in 2008 alone, he was the lead Democrat in drafting $700 billion legislation that George W. Bush supported to bail out financial institutions. A year later during the first year of the Obama White House, he advocated a far more reaching bill to overhaul regulations covering the banking and financial industries. The measure passed the House in December, 2009 without one Republican vote while the Democrats enjoyed a majority in both Houses of Congress and the presidency.
It wasn’t until July, 2010, while the Democrats still controlled Congress, that the Senate approved its version of the bill and a 1,300-page compromise was pushed through both houses and signed by Obama.
In the biggest understatement of 2011, Frank commented at his retirement news conference that “I, along with many others, did not see the crisis coming.”
There are many in Washington breathing a sigh of relief that the often irritable and contentious Democrat is soon to be gone. In retrospect, there is no lawmaker prior to, or during the latest financial crisis who is more responsible for the economic climate all Americans face in December, 2011.
Nobody knows that better than retiring Barney Frank.
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