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Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307700162
ISBN-10: 030770016X
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At the height of the financial crisis of 2008, public distrust of Congress was nearly as great as its distrust of the Wall Street bankers behind the collapse. Still, Congress had to set aside enormous egos, political considerations, and fear of blame to pass legislation in record time to stave off a collapse. For 18 months, Washington Post reporter Kaiser was granted unprecedented access to the major figures behind the recovery legislation, most notably the colorful, irascible congressman Barney Frank and cautious senator Christopher Dodd, the men for whom the final legislation was named. In this riveting account, Kaiser details the 15-day roller-coaster drama behind the law that rescued the banking system and instituted new safeguards. Beyond the major players, Kaiser also focuses on the staffs, often the real brains behind legislation because congressmen lack expertise in or understanding of the complex issues about which they legislate. What unfolds is high drama of ill-considered symbolic actions, political posturing, number crunching, speechifying, and deal-making. Beyond the financial crisis, Kaiser offers an insightful primer on how laws are made, from conception to passage, as well as the characters and culture of the U.S. Congress, observed from an astonishing perspective most citizens never see. --Vanessa Bush

From Bookforum

If there is an animating force behind Act of Congress—the newest book from longtime Washington Post reporter and editor Robert G. Kaiser—it's an attempt to explain this contradiction: How can the most productive Congress since the 1970s also stand as the most dysfunctional in more than a century? His case study is the successful two-year effort to pass financial reform and deal with the regulatory aftermath of the economic crisis. —Jamelle Bouie

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030770016X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700162
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
You should know that I have known Bob Kaiser for 40 years. But I feel I that what I'm writing about his book is objective.

There are lots of books about how bills become laws in Congress. I've read some and thought I knew a lot about the subject. I was wrong; in today's Congress, much of what's described in (for example) Robert Caro's excellent books on Lyndon Johnson has gone out the window.

The strength of this book is that Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd gave the author quite extraordinary access to their work as they drafted what turned out to be the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. Kaiser, by then a retired journalist, sat in on confidential meetings, but promised to write nothing until the bill passed (or did not).

The result is unsettling. This most important law (as described) was written and edited almost entirely by staff. There was strikingly little detailed attention by members, except for Barney Frank. When members sought to amend the bill, it was almost always at the instigation of a staffer with a hobbyhorse.

Unsurprisingly, the book goes into sad detail about the lack of co-operation between Democrats and Republicans. The subject, banking reform, was one both parties had expressed concern about and one might have expected co-operation. There was none. The book is frankly partisan; Kaiser, spending hours with Dodd and Frank and their staffs, tends to adopt their views.

It is also detailed; I found the detail fascinating and I think most students of government will feel as I did. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an advanced course on how Washington works (or does not). It is outstanding, highly original reporting. I wish I could tell you it will leave you feeling better about your government. It won't. But you'll know a lot more.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I'm among the 90% of Americans who find nothing to approve about the US Congress, I found this experienced reporter's detailed description of the process that produced the Dodd-Franks Financial Reform Act of 2010 enlightening and very much worth reading.

He had unlimited access to Representative Frank and Senator Dodd, the respective financial committee chairman and their staff members, as well as interviews with administration and treasury officials, banking organization lobbyists, and consumer advocates. He is persuasive in concluding that although this bill might have been improved in an ideal world, the result is a major piece of legislation that should prevent a future financial meltdown like that of 2008.

Perhaps the most disheartening revelation in this book is the author's estimation that less than ten percent of the members of Congress understand the US financial system and components such as derivative trading that bankers abused and regulators neglected to control. Examples of Congressional ignorance would be unbelievable if they weren't specific -- the member during debate who claimed that government takeover of banking gave it control over 18% of our economy, health care another 18% -- for a total of 48% -- and the energy industry another 8% for a total 54% of our economy. Yes, you read those figures right. Even a fourth grader would have better math skills.

Kaiser's portrayal of Congressional staff -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- are the good news of this book. Most have impressive abilities and resumes that would reward them far more in the private sector, but they work long hours in the cause of public service.

Kaiser attributes an alignment of the stars to the successful end result.
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Format: Hardcover
Act of Congress, by longtime Washington political reporter Robert G. Kaiser, is an intelligent, insightful, and thorough study of how the enormous Dodd-Frank financial reform bill made it through the House and Senate and became the law of the land. Kaiser begins in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers crashed and AIG got saved, then step-by-step he follows the slow zig-zag path to a reform of financial regulation that, hopefully, could save the national economy from another disaster. The issues, politics, and personalities are complex, and Kaiser manages to describe them all in detail while keeping his narrative moving suspensefully forward. Reading Act of Congress, I felt I was learning on every page, seeing behind the headlines and seeing through partisan hype. While Kaiser paints many participants with small brains and big egos, Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd, and many Congressmen and staff members come though Kaiser's prose as capable, hard-working men and women doing their best to curb Wall Street excesses for the good of the country. If you read Kaiser's book, you'll read every new story of lobbyists, partisan wrangling, and spotlit investigative hearings with new and deepened understanding.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the book is the story of how financial services reform became law, it reads like a novel, capturing the moods, personalities and behind the scenes deals that characterized the response of policy makers to the Nation's 2008 financial crisis. A must read for anyone interested in the inner workings of Congress and how it's still possible to get things done.
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