The Downside of Barney Frank

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Dec/10/2009
Barney Frank

There are few who will argue that Democratic Congressman Barney Frank has been great for the online gambling sector.  While Frank has shifted his attempts to life online gambling prohibition by now focusing exclusively on Internet poker, other aspects of the industry should still benefit, sports betting included.

But with just about any politician there is a downside.

Victoria McGrane of Politico.com gets right to the point in an article published on Thursday.  "Barney Frank blows up at people, it's what he does."

She cited a rally for healthcare reform that took place over the summer where he told a town hall attendee who compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler that "trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table.".

He's gotten into heated fights with Fox News' Bill O'Reiley, has walked off the set of CNBC and recently abruptly cancelled an interview with Newsweek.

"I've always found Barney Frank to be open and readily available," says Jenny Woo, Senior International Correspondent of the Gambling911.com website who has interviewed the Congressman on numerous occasions.  "Not everyone likes his temperament or his position on things but there is little arguing he's a workhorse in Congress."

Frank, in fact, was instrumental in have banking policy implementations for the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) delayed from December 1, 2009 for another 6 months to July 1.  During this time he hopes to have the online gambling prohibition abolished.

Over the last year, Frank has wielded great power with his majority constituents in Congress.  But that may soon change, McGrane warns.

Frank's trademark flashes of anger and impatience have gained a new prominence in the past year as Frank himself has grown in importance. He's now chairman of one of the most influential House committees, which takes up financial reform legislation starting Wednesday that is both a political and policy imperative for the Obama administration.

But now financial lobbyists - Democrats and Republicans - say privately that Frank's actions on regulatory reform have grown as volatile as his moods. Even some of his most ardent defenders acknowledge Frank has a thin skin. And they say the usually measured policymaker is being forced into an usual position: making calculations based on political pressure from fellow Democrats in ways he never needed to in the past.

Ironically, McGrane points to Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul's co-sponsored bill to reign in the Federal Reserve.  It was just two years ago that both Congressmen came together to co-sponsor a measure that would eliminated the UIGEA.  The Politico.com report suggests that Frank could have easily quashed the bill, which President Obama vehemently opposes.  But with more than 300 co-sponsors and some support among Democrats, Barney Frank allowed  the amendment to come for a vote in committee.

"I wouldn't exactly call that a bad thing," says Woo.  "It shows Barney Frank is willing to work with both parties."

Not all Republicans see things that way.

"He really does lash out at people who criticize what he's doing with a lot of partisan attacks, that are not based really in fact. They are really just very angry kind of anti-Bush, anti-Republican charges," said Peter Wallison, a former Reagan administration official who is now co-director of financial policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Added one financial services lobbyist: "Normally, in the past, he's been very sort of balanced. He would measure his response, and you could count on him for a thoughtful response. Now it seems politics is driving this rather than substance."

And his critics are not limited to members of Congress and lobbyists.  Representatives in the online gambling community have quietly questioned his ability to get things done.

"It's good to have a powerful champion in Washington, but what if he does more harm than good when he opens his mouth?" said one industry analyst who wished to have his identity concealed. 

Frank has also been criticized for his changing positions.  He has had to amend his original legislation to abolish online gambling prohibition by removing any language associated with sports betting, much of which comes from pressure by the National Football League (see Delaware's attempt to legalize sports betting in that state). 

But Frank argues that compromise is important in order to get legislation pushed through and that is exactly what he hopes to accomplish with his bill to get rid of the UIGEA.

"I haven't changed my personal positions. I changed after listening to the members and counting what I thought was doable," he said.

"It's a constant process of testing. As to what I would like to do and how close you can come to it, depends on trying to get a majority of votes at all times. You make a trade-off. If you're an individual member, you can do whatever you want, but you may not get it made into law. If you become the chairman, you have much greater authority to get things done, but only if you accept some constraint on your personal choices."

Some conservatives, including Ron Paul and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, have a good relationship with Congressman Frank.

McGrane points out that quite a few conservative Republicans consider Barney Frank a skilled policymaker and a pragmatic one.

A Tuesday email sent out by Frank illustrates how difficult it might be for him to make new allies on the other side.  In that email here referred to the Republican party members as "hostile" and as "having learned nothing from the current economic crisis."

McGrane writes: "Frank is unapologetic. And by and large, his personality - and the eruptions that it produces - have endeared him to his supporters both at home in Massachusetts and on the left more broadly."

Christopher Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher

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