10 Questions for Barney Frank

Retiring but not shy, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on money, the military and the laws that got away

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Eli Meir Kaplan

You're retiring partly because changes in campaign-finance laws mean you have to raise more money. Isn't money a form of speech?

No. When you equate money with speech, you're giving some people the right to speak a hundred, a thousand, a million times more than other people. The equality principle gets eroded.

Why did Wall Street execs give you money even though you tried to impose more-stringent regulations on banks?

Well, one, they gave me less money in 2010, once it became clear that I was serious with this. Two, some people on Wall Street understand the need for sensible reform.

How would you respond to critics who say Dodd-Frank has left the banking and financial industries with such uncertainty that the credit markets have locked up?

That's just nonsense. Credit in the American economy has flowed better than the European economy, where they don't have this bill. Uncertainty is to some extent inevitable, but it is transitional. And part of it is the fault of some who are complaining because they have prolonged it.

How much of Dodd-Frank do you think can be undone if the Dems lose the Senate?

Very little, because it's popular. The Republicans in the House have moved on many occasions to repeal the health bill. But they have made zero efforts to repeal financial reform. What I believe they'll do is try to make it ineffective by appointing people who won't use it and cutting the funding.

You called Paul Ryan's budget a great scam. Why?

It's a scam in that it's not motivated by a desire to cut the deficit. People who are for higher military spending and keeping taxes below what would be economically tolerable on the very wealthy are not serious about deficit reduction.

Your Sustainable Defense Task Force called for a $960 billion cut in military spending. The President says any more than half that will harm national security. Is he wrong?

I think the President gets caught up in this cultural lag that a Democrat must show that he's strong on military or he'll lose. There is, unlike the period from 1941 to 1990, no existential threat to our freedom. We continue to spend, for example, unnecessary billions maintaining a full, three-part ability to fight a thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union.

What one do-over would you like?

I would have voted for the first Iraq War. I voted against it because I was afraid that George Bush the father was going to behave the way George Bush the son behaved. Now I regard the first Iraq War as a very successful and appropriate use of American power.

What about a piece of legislation you had in your grasp but couldn't close the deal on?

Funding the affordable-housing trust fund for low-income rental housing and passing a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. Those are the two big ones that got away from me.

You and Jim Ready just got married. The next step is usually having kids.


Well? Any kids in your future?

No. But now that you ask, it's none of your business.

What do you give Obama on a scale of 1 to 10?

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