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Barney, Freddie, and Fannie: Evaluating the Legacy of the Controversial Barney Frank


With the legend to depart Congress, a fresh debate over his oversight of Fannie and Freddie has erupted.


After more than 30 years of service, US Representative Barney Frank announced on Monday that he will leave Congress after his term expires at the end of 2012.

"By the end of next year, I will have been doing this for 45 years with one six-month sabbatical. It's been a privilege to fight for the quality of people's lives, but I'm ready to put a little more quality into my own life" Frank told the New York Times.

In his time in Congress, the legislator has earned a reputation for being a no-holds-barred, sharp-witted liberal lion (both the Huffington Post and the Boston Globe have compiled lists of the most memorable Frank quotes), and he's become one of the most prominent Democrats in the country.

"His name appears in more Republican fund-raising letters than any other Democrat in the country," Dan Payne, Frank's media consultant, told the lobe.

Paradoxically, in a 2009 survey of House members by The Hill, Frank was named one of the most partisan and also one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. The 71-year-old drew the ire of Republicans for many of his socially liberal positions. He was one of the first openly gay members of Congress and was a fierce promoter of equal rights for gays, with a recent key legislative victory being the repeal of "Don't' Ask, Don't Tell."

Frank was also a magnet for controversy. In the 1980s, Frank's live-in partner and housekeeper, Steve Gobie, was discovered to have been operating an escort service from Frank's Washington home. A House Ethics Committee inquiry cleared Frank of wrongdoings, but it reprimanded Frank for helping to fix 33 traffic tickets for Gobie.

Beyond Frank's social-issues leadership and penchant to dish out camera-friendly zingers, the Massachusetts lawmaker will likely go down in history for his legislative work in the financial sector.

Frank's signature legislature is of course the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was signed into law by President Obama last year. Enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis, the bill aims to prevent another similar systemic financial sector failure. It's over 800 pages long and has more than 350 rules that, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, "touch[es] every corner of finance, from ATM cards to Wall Street traders, in the biggest expansion of government power over banking and markets since the Depression."

After its introduction, Dodd-Frank was immediately attacked by critics who said that on the one hand it would create regulatory uncertainty in the market because it was overly complex, and on the other that it did not break up too-big-to-fail banks like Bank of America (BAC), Citi (C), Morgan Stanley (MS), Goldman Sachs (GS) and JPMorgan (JPM). Many said it was too weak to adequately protect consumers or prevent another financial crisis.

With Frank to depart Congress before the bill's largest components have been fully brought to bear on the finance sector, the implementation of Dodd-Frank will not be as smooth-sailing as it might have been.

"We are going to be nervous to the extent that there are going to be efforts to repeal or peel back little layers of bills. We're going to be looking for someone to be that voice. I don't think we have it in the House," one Democratic Capitol Hill staffer told the Washington Post.

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