Nine months after he penned a memo laying out the arguments for health care legislation's destruction, Republican message guru Frank Luntz has put together a playbook to help derail financial regulatory reform.
In a 17-page memo titled, "The Language of Financial Reform," Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.
"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the bad decisions and harmful policies by Washington bureaucrats that in many ways led to the economic crash must never be repeated," Luntz wrote. "This is your critical advantage. Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."
Luntz continued: "Ordinarily, calling for a new government program 'to protect consumers' would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times. The American people are not just saying 'no.' They are saying 'hell no' to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests."
In Republican circles Luntz's words, which have helped the party score win the message wars over health care and other legislative battles, are often treated as gospel. Already, some of the advice he's offered on regulatory reform has found its way into the political discourse -- with a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency seemingly on life support under Republican objections.
In addition to tying regulatory reform to a massive government takeover, Luntz's memo includes several other data points and messaging suggestions as a blue print for the legislation's defeat. Opponents, he writes, would be well served to link the package to the financial industry bailout (which, it should be noted, is fundamentally not part of the legislation). According to accompanying polling data, 52 percent of voters said they would be "much less likely" to vote for their member of Congress if they voted for a financial reform bill that contained a fund to bail out banks and Wall Street.
"Public outrage about the bailout of banks and Wall Street is a simmering time bomb set to go off on Election Day," Luntz wrote. "Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout."
Another effective strategy to kill the bill, according to Luntz, is to make the case that it was written in secret by lobbyists.
"The American people are tired of add-ons, earmarks, and backroom deals - but they are mad as hell at 'lobbyist loopholes,'" Luntz wrote. "You must put proponents of the legislation on the defense, forcing them to attempt to justify the 'lobbyist loopholes' and exemptions placed in the bill... Highlight the exemptions. Broadcast them. Remind them, 'The legislation is filled with lobbyist loopholes that exclude certain wealthy, powerful industries from regulations.'"
On the specific issue of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, Luntz argued that opponents should stress the high-cost of creating an additional regulatory body in addition to the damaging effects it will supposedly have on "small business owners" (as opposed to, merely, small businesses).
"Owning a small business is part of the American Dream and Congress should make it easier to be an entrepreneur," wrote Luntz. "But the Financial Reform bill and the creation of the CFPA makes it harder to be a small business owner because it will choke off credit options to small business owners."
These lines or arguments are similar to the ones used by regulatory reform opponents in the past, often with some success. What's telling is that they are being trotted out again in this type of economic environment.
Luntz does seem to acknowledge that the climate makes defeating regulatory reform a bit trickier. At the top of his memo he urges opponents (primarily Republican lawmakers) to "acknowledge the need for reform that ensures this NEVER happens again," He insists that "the status quo is not an option" and that members of Congress, when addressing the crisis, "never forget its impact on your audience." Luntz even advise his audience to promote themselves the agents of change.
But for the sake of winning the debate, he adds, it is vital to insist that such change does not include additional Washington-based regulatory powers.
"Many of the same members of Congress responsible for the legislation that helped create the housing bubble and the Wall Street financial crisis are now attempting to create another new government agency with an unlimited budget and almost unlimited regulatory powers," wrote the GOP wordsith. "I'm sorry to say this but they don't know what they're doing. They have gotten it wrong time and time again..."
"A new agency with new bureaucrats is not change we can believe in," Luntz wrote. "It's not change at all."