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Dorgan Basically Adding To The Hold On Ben Bernanke

Last night, Byron Dorgan gave his first interview since announcing his retirement, and in that appearance with Ed Schultz, he made two policy vows. First, he said that he would pursue his bill to allow for the safe reimportation of prescription drugs from abroad, and that he would get it passed in 2010:

DORGAN: Well, try as you might, I’m not going to tell you I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to get that amendment passed. That’s $100 billion in savings to the American people. We’re going to get that passed this year. And I tell you, it didn’t get passed in health care for a lot of reasons and a lot of strange bedfellows but I’m going to get it passed this year in the United States Senate and save the American people $100 billion on their pharmaceutical bill because we shouldn’t be paying the highest prices in the world for brand name prescription drugs. That’s outrageous, in my judgment.

This falls under the category of “don’t mourn, organize.” The more Dorgan keeps up the public pressure on what was obviously a crooked deal with the pharmaceutical industry, the more chance there is to reach a critical mass where his bill has to get another hearing in the Senate. With 2009’s calendar not likely to get finished, well, ever, I’m not sure it gets on there by the end of the year, but it’s nice to see Dorgan still committed to it.

The more interesting policy point he made was about Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke and his upcoming confirmation vote:

DORGAN: Well, this is going to be one of the big issues right at the start of this session, is financial reform. And Wall Street’s right back in the same old swamp, doing the same things. And with respect to the Federal Reserve Board, you know for the first time in history they said to the big investment banks, you can come and get direct lending from the Federal Reserve Board. We’re trying to find out from the Fed, who’d you give the money to, how much money did you give? My point is, what did you do with our money? And the Federal Reserve Board says “none of your business.” Well, I tell you what, it is our business, and I’m not going to let the Bernanke nomination to head the Fed for another term go through until he tells, what did he do with our money, the American people’s money? So we’ve got a lot of things to work on here, and as I’ve said before, if you’re too big to fail, you’re too big, in my judgment. Because that’s no-fault capitalism, and we shouldn’t continue with it.

This is not materially different from what the several other Senators who have put a hold on Bernanke’s confirmation have been saying – they would allow a vote only after they get some more transparency, through an audit of the Fed or something else, of the trillions of dollars in lending that it has been doing since the beginning of the financial crisis.

Obviously, there’s not a real difference between one hold and five or six, which is what we’re up to (Bunning, DeMint, Vitter, Sanders, perhaps Kyl, and now Dorgan). But it suggests a bipartisan level of objection to the nomination (you can add in Jeff Merkley) which is growing, if anything. If 41 votes can be massed against Bernanke, under current rules, he would be stopped from another term. I don’t really like the current rules, but that’s the way the Senate works now, and so that’s the threshold for Bernanke.

It has taken months for Harry Reid to move nominations with various holds on them, and still many of them have not received their vote, from TSA Administrator nominee Erroll Southers to OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen. We’ll see if he accords the same level of respect to a now tri-partisan group of Senators objecting to the nomination of Ben Bernanke without transparency from the Federal Reserve.

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David Dayen

David Dayen