A Broader Bully Pulpit

As Congress grapples with solutions for a faltering economy, Barney Frank sits at the center of power.

BY John Gallagher

August 13 2008 12:00 AM ET

By any measure
the housing relief bill that passed Congress and was
signed by President Bush in late July was a remarkable
achievement. The bill, which includes a program to
help hundreds of thousands of families facing
foreclosure, is an unprecedented intervention meant to stop
the free fall of the nation’s housing market.
That it was able to attract bipartisan support and
avoid being vetoed by the president is testament to
the skills of Barney Frank, the openly gay Democrat who
serves as the chairman of the House Committee on
Financial Services.

“He is one
of the giants of the Congress, a real legislator,”
says Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution. “People think of him as this
ideological liberal, but the fact is that Barney Frank
understands what it takes to legislate. He understands what
it takes to lead.”

Currently in his
14th term in Congress, Frank is at the center of Capitol
Hill’s response to the faltering economy. The House
committee that he chairs oversees all aspects of the
financial services industry -- including banking,
insurance, public housing, and real estate as well as
the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, and the Securities
and Exchange Commission -- making the committee one of
the most powerful in Congress. And Frank’s
accomplishments as chairman may establish a broader, more
profound legacy for the politician synonymous with gay
advocacy.

“His
committee is influential, and any person who is chair of it
would have wide-ranging authority,” says Larry
Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the
University of Virginia. What has distinguished Frank
is his ability to cross political lines in order to get
things done, often working with Republicans and
winning praise from representatives who disagree with
him, sometimes strenuously, on gay issues.
“Congressman Frank frequently goes out of his
way to reach across the aisle and work with all
members,” says Texas Republican representative Ron
Paul, the former 2008 presidential candidate who with
Frank cosponsored legislation on online gambling.

At first glance,
sexual orientation would seem beside the point in the
debate about the housing and financial services markets --
except that Frank makes a point of reminding everyone
he works with that he is gay. In the process he
reaches both political circles and the highest echelons
of Wall Street.

Tags: Politics

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