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Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn'tby Robert G Kaiser
Synopses & Reviews
An eye-opening account of how Congress today really works—and doesn’t—that follows the dramatic journey of the sweeping financial reform bill enacted in response to the Great Crash of 2008.
The founding fathers expected Congress to be the most important branch of government and gave it the most power. When Congress is broken—as its justifiably dismal approval ratings suggest—so is our democracy. Here, Robert G. Kaiser, whose long and distinguished career at The Washington Post has made him as keen and knowledgeable an observer of Congress as we have, takes us behind the sound bites to expose the protocols, players, and politics of the House and Senate—revealing both the triumphs of the system and (more often) its fundamental flaws.
Act of Congress tells the story of the Dodd-Frank Act, named for the two men who made it possible: Congressman Barney Frank, brilliant and sometimes abrasive, who mastered the details of financial reform, and Senator Chris Dodd, who worked patiently for months to fulfill his vision of a Senate that could still work on a bipartisan basis. Both Frank and Dodd collaborated with Kaiser throughout their legislative efforts and allowed their staffs to share every step of the drafting and deal making that produced the 1,500-page law that transformed America’s financial sector.
Kaiser explains how lobbying affects a bill—or fails to. We follow staff members more influential than most senators and congressmen. We see how Congress members protect their own turf, often without regard for what might best serve the country—more eager to court television cameras than legislate on complicated issues about which many of them remain ignorant. Kaiser shows how ferocious partisanship regularly overwhelms all other considerations, though occasionally individual integrity prevails.
Act of Congress, as entertaining as it is enlightening, is an indispensable guide to a vital piece of our political system desperately in need of reform.
"A financial reform bill reveals the troubled machinery of American democracy in this intricate, incisive study of law-making. Washington Post correspondent Kaiser (So Damn Much Money) chronicles the journey of the Dodd-Frank act, a complex package of banking and market regulations passed in 2011 that few voters paid attention to. The story's charismatic protagonist is Democratic House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank — but his low-key, diplomatic cosponsor, Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, pulls off the greater political coup by avoiding a threatened filibuster. While the bill was moving through Congress, Kaiser had access to lawmakers of both parties and their staffs, executive-branch officials, and lobbyists; he finds the drama in arcane parliamentary procedure and paints extraordinary fly-on-the-wall scenes of legislative sausage making. ('Okay, Cam, it's just you and me, what's it going to take?' Frank horse-trades, seeking support from bankers in a down-and-dirty meeting with their lobbyist.) Kaiser salutes a landmark bill while laying bare the process dysfunctions that menaced it: partisan intransigence; monkey-wrenching by pols seeking turf and publicity; cynical budgetary shenanigans; general ignorance of finance on the part of legislators; the influence of money and clout — especially auto dealers' clout. His absorbing true-life political saga exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly in Congress. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A fascinating account of the dramatic journey of a financial reform bill in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse that shows us just how Congress really works. Never before has the birth of a major bill been dissected in such vivid detail.
Longtime Washington Post reporter Robert G. Kaiser focuses on two of the major players behind the legislation: colorful, wisecracking congressman Barney Frank, and careful, insightful senator Christopher Dodd, both of whom met regularly with Kaiser during the eighteen months they worked on the bill. In Kaiser's compelling narrative, staff play a critical role, writing the legislation and often making the crucial deals. Kaiser also had regular access to the key Republican actors in this story. This unusual access enables Kaiser to illuminate the often-hidden intricacies of legislative enterprise and shows us the workings of Congress in all of its complexity, a clearer picture than any we have had of how Congress works best--or sometimes doesn't work at all. Smart, incisive, urgent, Act of Congress is a revelatory study of one of America's most misunderstood institutions.
About the Author
ROBERT G. KAISER has been with The Washington Post since 1963. He has reported on the House and Senate; was a correspondent in Saigon and Moscow; served as national editor, then managing editor; and is now associate editor and senior correspondent. He has also written for Esquire, Foreign Affairs, and The New York Review of Books. His books include Russia: The People and the Power; So Damn Much Money; and, with Leonard Downie Jr., The News About the News. He has received an Overseas Press Club award and a National Press Club award, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He has also been a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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