Herald-Leader Editorial

Barr's dubious distinction: Wall Street advocacy is disconcerting

August 13, 2013 

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington represents Kentucky's 6th District.

It didn't take U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, long to make the front page of the Sunday New York Times.

In office barely half a year and he's already one of the leading recipients of money from the masters of Wall Street.

Barr, the Times explained, is benefitting from his appointment to the Financial Services Committee. That position has given him the distinction of raising more money from financial industry political action committees, or PACs, than any other freshman — $151,000 during the first two quarters of this year.

No one can be confused about why this flood of money would be directed toward an untried congressman. It is, as an industry lobbyist told the Times, "almost like an investment in a first-round draft pick for the NBA or NFL." They are really hoping the investment will pay off.

It remains to be seen how much influence Barr can bring to bear on his colleagues, but so far it seems he's worked fairly hard to prove his worth.

He has pledged to help protect a $500 million tax break for credit unions. Barr also has introduced a bill to remove a federal regulation to prevent banks from making mortgage loans to people who cannot afford to repay them.

Barr invokes the all-purpose mantle of government over-regulation stifling business to criticize rules aimed at preventing the type of mortgage boom and bust that almost brought down our economy in 2008 and 2009.

During the era that preceded that crisis, banks and other lenders pushed buyers into mortgages that far exceeded their ability to pay, resulting in an avalanche of foreclosures, bankruptcies and government bailouts.

Hundreds of thousands of hard working Americans, people about whom Barr spoke frequently on the campaign trail, still struggle with mortgages that are underwater, meaning they owe more than their homes are worth.

The rules Barr considers so burdensome define "qualified mortgages" — those that both lender and borrower expect to be paid off.

Prohibited from this category are things like interest-only loans, negative amortization, balloon payments, loans exceeding 30 years and the "no doc" loans that allowed borrowers to make up income in order to qualify for loans.

It should be noted that these rules don't prohibit loans that don't meet these requirements but they will not have the same protections as qualified mortgages.

Are our memories so short that now, as we still struggle to recover from the Great Recession, anyone is willing to say that Wall Street bankers have our best interests at heart?

Apparently for congressmen like Barr there's an inverse relationship between the amount of money financial industry players provide and the length of their memories.

And Barr seemed eager to forget. The Times notes that even before he took office, Barr hosted a "debt retirement" luncheon in Washington, co-sponsored by a lobbyist representing Bank of America and other financial industry clients. The event generated tens of thousands of dollars to help pay down Barr's campaign debt.

Wouldn't it be nice if Barr's constituents, and others struggling to pay off bloated mortgages they were lured into during headier times, had access to the same kind of generosity?

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