Three cheers for Russ Feingold!

We don't always agree, but U.S. Senator Russ Feingold warrants praise for an amendment he proposed to the financial "reform" bill that passed the Senate last week.

The amendment, which of course was defeated (it probably made too much sense to pass), called for restoring the Depression-era protection that separated traditional commercial banks (i.e. Main Street banks) from the "too-big-to-fail" investment banks on Wall Street.

I'm among those who believe the repeal of these protections in the late 1990s contributed our financial meltdown and continues to suppress business activity today via the tight credit that ensued. Senator Feingold understands that the effective repeal of the protections first established in the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, through the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, was but one step on the road to ruin.

To Feingold's credit, he voted against that '99 bill, and even though we've just been through financial heck and back, this latest attempt at reform did not rebuild that firewall. Re-establishing that protective wall would go a long way toward preventing the next financial calamity. As Feingold noted, this safeguard proved itself over time. Naturally, Glass-Steagall, which also established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), was largely gutted by the best Congress that Wall Street lobbyists can buy.

That's not the only problem with this new bill because rather than end too-big-to-fail, the measure practically ensures its survival. Nor does it reform those blood-sucking mortgage programs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yet incumbents on the ballot this fall, especially those who voted for this "reform," wonder why they are being placed on the Endangered Species List.

If America has any hope of getting its financial house in order, we have to stop the madness that got us into this mess. Our failure to do so is what happens when elected officials fail to learn the lessons of history.

It should be noted that while a staunch progressive, Mr. Feingold does possess a nasty streak of fiscal sanity. I appreciate his collaboration with Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan on their bill to create a line-item veto, a move to negate the outrageous practice of earmarks for things like the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.

That puts Feingold one up on his chief Senate tormentor, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican leader whose lax attitude on earmarks is one reason so many Republicans either stayed home or voted for Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

Defenders of this undefendable practice say what's the harm? It's only a few million here, a few million there. Except that it adds up over time to a few billion here and a few billion there. Our debt rises along with it, and sooner or later we'll be asking China, which holds a good amount of our debt, to rescue us from ourselves the same way Greece is dependent on other European nations today.

So give Feingold some credit for demanding that tax dollars actually be spent on things of real value. He faces a tough re-election campaign this fall, in part because he voted for the controversial health care law. If he loses, it will be more because of guilt by association with unpopular party leaders than because he doesn't have some damned fine fiscal instincts.

I hope Feingold keeps fighting the good fight on the restoration of Glass-Steagall protections. A closely watched election campaign is just the forum that he, and hopefully his eventual Republican opponent, can use to educate all of us and get real financial reform done before it's too late.