As Senate Majority Leader, Lyndon Johnson once said of the Joint Economic Committee, Its as useless as tits on a bull. But as that panels chairman during the 110th Congress, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) seized the opportunity to elevate the traditionally low-profile post to the forefront of shaping policy.
Before anybody understood what a subprime mortgage was, or what the middle-class squeeze would look like, or what energy efficiency meant to economic productivity, he wanted to learn it and make it accessible, not just to other Members of the Senate and of the House, but also to the public, said Israel Klein, Schumers former communications director.
More than a year before the financial sector meltdown occurred, Schumer began hearings on subprime mortgages. When crisis struck, he was well-situated to push in 2008 for several critical elements in the final $700 billion rescue package, including a proposal to divide the money into two installments. And this year, he helped Democrats defeat a resolution that would have blocked release of the second half of the funds.
When he takes an interest in an issue, whatever it is, he is going to end up driving the debate on it, said Klein, who is now a principal at the Podesta Group, a D.C. lobbying firm.
During his two tours as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Schumer helped Democrats regain the Senate majority in 2006 and expand it two years later, giving his party a 60-vote supermajority for the first time in more than 30 years. He bolstered his reputation as a relentless fundraiser he hauled in $121 million in the 2005-06 cycle to the GOPs $89 million and recruited moderates whose ideologies appealed to home-state voters, even if they didnt always fit with those of Democratic interest groups.
I put my all into it, did the best job I could, but frankly it was time for a change and I like legislating, Schumer said. One of the main reasons that I worked so hard at the DSCC was to get a Democratic majority so we could do things to change the country and help average families and people in the middle class. Once we had 60, it made sense to increase my focus on legislating.
Whether its health care, immigration or the war on terrorism, its nearly impossible to find a major piece of legislation moving through Congress that doesnt bear Schumers fingerprints. And given the New York Democrats laser-like focus on the interests of both the middle class and Wall Street, the new proposal to overhaul the nations financial regulatory system is certainly no different.
Schumer, the Senates third-ranking Democratic leader and one of his partys top policy strategists, is a lead supporter of the sweeping plan by Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to consolidate federal authority over banks.
The present regulatory system has been an abysmal failure, said Schumer, who authored two key components of the plan.