Financial reform hard to sell as campaign issue 

When President Obama signs a new financial regulatory overhaul bill this week, he'll have a new reform measure to campaign on -- but whether the bill is an electoral asset is far from certain.

Polls show Americans either unclear about what the bill does or doubtful it will do them any good -- creating a ripe environment for the Republicans' message that the bill is a costly jobs-killer.

"Wall Street reform was essential to prevent the kind of disaster that we've seen," White House senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters on a conference call. "This is a huge leap forward for consumers, who will not be at the mercy of unscrupulous purveyors of credit cards."

White House enthusiasm for the measure is wildly out of sync with two new polls showing skepticism and mystery surrounding financial reform.

A Bloomberg National Poll found 79 percent have little or no confidence the bill will prevent or soften a future financial crisis. A 47 percent plurality say it will help the financial sector more than consumers.

And 38 percent in an Ipsos Public Affairs Poll had never heard of the bill, while 33 percent heard of it but knew almost nothing about it.

The wide-ranging bill creates a new consumer protection agency, overhauls the process for getting a mortgage, gives the government new powers to stave off industry collapse, regulates the derivatives market, limits credit card fees and more.

Liberal critics of the bill have said it does not go far enough, and comes short of changing the more problematic culture and methods of Wall Street.

Some Republicans are already fomenting a repeal effort, claiming the bill overreaches and overregulates, while doing little to prevent future massive government bailouts.

A key challenge for the White House will be defining the measure before the voices of opposition do it for them -- in much the same way critics of health care reform beat Obama to the punch last year with claims of death panels and other phantom features.

There is also the problem of big government reform. Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said Obama has a lot of convincing to do before "finreg," as financial regulation is known, is more widely perceived as a virtue.

"The idea of big, federal initiatives is really in question, and public opinion in general thinks the federal government has been too active and too expensive, while running up too much debt," Jillson said.

Obama since coming to office has shown a preference for the big, sweeping reform measure. He pushed for a massive stimulus program, an automakers bailout, a financial sector bailout, health care reform and now financial regulatory reform.

Next up: a massive energy bill and possibly later, comprehensive immigration reform. Obama has said the scope of the problems he faced coming into office demand bold, rather than incremental, action.

"This recession was not the result of your typical economic downturn," he said. "It was the result of recklessness and irresponsibility in certain corners of Wall Street that infected the entire economy."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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