Barney Frank On Bailouts, Welfare

Tells <b>60 Minutes</b> An Auto Industry Bailout Would Help People, Not Companies

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Remarks like this explain President Bush's nickname for him: "saber tooth." There are many ways to describe Barney Frank:

"I wanted to read you a sampling of descriptions of you. They kind of come in couplets. We have, 'Impatient and antisocial.' 'Sharp tongued and downright mean,'" Stahl ticks off a list.

"I'm antisocial, there's no question about it. I think that I love this job. But the biggest problem is there are thousands of people in Washington who earn a living by trying to waste my time. They repeat themselves. They ask you stupid questions," he says.

And he can be sharp-tongued: a master of the putdown, and a master of the dress-down. When they sat down, Stahl escaped neither put-down nor dress-down.

"Television is apparently the enemy of nuance. But nuance is essential for a thoughtful discussion," Frank told her.

He also said, "Let me start with that second despicable comment you just made I am surprised at you that you would do something like that."

It's no wonder that when "saber tooth" the liberal took over the committee that oversees banking, Wall Street shuddered. But two years later, even the most hardened Republicans give him good reviews.

"I'm very proud of the fact I think we've shown with the last two years, and we will show going forward, that you can be a liberal Democrat and cooperate in creating the kind of climate that's good for business as well as for everybody else," Frank says.

Frank says he is absolutely pro business.

Listen to what the financial community says: "Here's Henry Paulson on Barney Frank: 'He's a market savvy pragmatist who looks for areas of agreement because he wants to get things done.' Here's a guy from JP Morgan Chase. He said, 'He hasn't veered off into crazyland.' Meaning liberalism. I've heard someone describe you this way. You're liberal on social issues. You're a pragmatist on economic issues," Stahl remarks.

"No! I reject the notion that you're talking about two different things. That's like saying are you more of a cook or are you left handed? I am a liberal. What I'm rejecting is this liberal here, pragmatist there. That's like comparing Tuesday to ice cream. As a liberal, I am morally obligated to be pragmatic. What good do I do poor people, elderly people, people who are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation if I'm not realistic about accomplishing something," Frank says.

And he does accomplish. This week he shuttled from a hearing on the bank rescue package to negotiating and strategizing on the car loans to briefing Tim Geithner, Obama's choice for treasury secretary.

It's been like this ever since the credit crisis hit, and he worked hand in glove with Treasury Secretary Paulson to write the rescue plan for the banks, then pressed and prodded his colleagues in Congress to get it passed.

The relationship between Frank and Paulson has soured lately, since Paulson hasn't spent any of the rescue money to help struggling homeowners. "Secretary Paulson is refusing to use that money that Congress voted to reduce foreclosures. The bill says he's supposed to. He won't do that," Frank says.

"You wrote the bill," Stahl points out. "You're, quote, 'the smartest man in Congress.' How did it happen that you wrote a bill that the secretary of treasury has the power not to fulfill in the way you wanted it fulfilled?"

"Because there's a metaphor that works here: you cannot push on a string. There's no Constitutional way to force them to do things," Frank says.

"But didn't you write the bill in a way that allows him to do this? And you could have written it differently," Stahl remarks.

"No. There's no way you can force people to do things," Frank says.