In their U.S. Senate careers, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell heretofore have differentiated themselves, at least among media and political followers of such things, as being focused (in Murray's case) on bringing federal bacon to the homefolks and (in Cantwell's) on environmental and hi-tech issues. Cantwell, however, jumped into two issues this week which show her in a new, leadership light.
On a big national issue, financial reform, Cantwell joined Sen. John McCain in introducing legislation which would reinstate barriers between commercial and investment banking. The Cantwell-McCain initiative would in effect bring back Glass-Steagall legislation enacted during the Great Depression but repealed during the deregulation phase of the Clinton administration.
If it becomes law, Cantwell-McCain would, for instance, force J.P. Morgan Chase to shed its Bear Stearns trading operations, acquired earlier this year during the big-bank shakeout; or to operate its retail-banking operations separately. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would be re-separated. Citigroup would have to get rid of its commercial-banking operations.
Neither the Senate nor House versions of financial-reform legislation presently includes such a provision. If the Senate bill, being crafted by Sen. Chris Dodd, does not include their proposal when it reaches the floor of the Senate, Cantwell and McCain say they will offer their bill as an amendment.
This was a gutsy, and highly appropriate, initiative by Cantwell. It demonstrated her willingness to challenge her own party's senior leaders on a timely and big issue. She is right and they are wrong. At a minimum, her proposal will change the terms of reference on financial reform.
Then, on a local level, Cantwell stepped up to challenge Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and officials of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over NOAA's decision to move its Pacific research fleet and facility from Seattle to Newport, Oregon.
The Port of Bellngham has challenged the NOAA decision on the basis that NOAA knew, beforehand, that the Newport location was in violation of federal floodplain regulations. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has supported the Bellingham challenge and also has ordered NOAA to pay Bellingham's legal costs associated with the challenge. Bellingham is the only site to have challenged the Newport move and, thus, is likely to be the site of the facility if the Newport decision is reversed.
Crosscut contributor Bob Simmons notes that Cantwell has been joined in a letter to NOAA, warning the agency not to shift the Newport siting, ex post facto, by Murray and all members of the state's congressional delegation except Reps. Adam Smith, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, and Doc Hastings. The absence of the Smith, Rodgers, and Hastings signatures was perplexing. In another political time, such a letter would have received unanimous support by the state's delegation.
It is almost as perplexing as Locke's apparent ignorance of the decision — and the process by which NOAA reached it — even though it moved an important facility out of his home state.