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The solution to economic malaise: Send financial planners to Congress

September 24, 2013
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So what is your local actuary, financial analyst, homebuilder or former CFO doing these days?

If they’re retired or taking a break from work, you may want to encourage them to run for Congress. Here’s why: They are needed.

If you’re in housing finance or financial services of any variety, the abysmal failure of lawmakers to carry through with signature housing and finance legislation is probably a bit frustrating at this point. They're either over-regulating or not doing anything worthwhile at all.

Despite significant acts ready for consideration —The PATH Act to reform the GSEs and the FHA in the house — and at least two other pieces of housing legislation, no one expects lawmakers will seriously grapple with legacy housing issues in a lasting manner by year's end. Analysts are betting on more delays in getting comprehensive housing and financial reform on the table.

But if you wonder why lawmakers have a hard time getting anything useful done – such as GSE reform, dealing with reps and warranties liabilities, banking reform and dealing with broken financial institutions –  look no further than their job descriptions. Aside from a handful, few members of Congress truly have a financial or business background.

Dodd-Frank showed they know how to draft legislation, but making it work without it becoming too cumbersome or worthless is not their speciality. And with many career attorneys and lifelong politicians in the house, it’s no wonder finance is not their thing.

The problem is when you look at a list of Congressional occupations, very few – less than a handful to be exact – have a background in finance, economics or business management.

The US House – complete with 435 members – contains virtually no former CFOs, financial analysts or other types of finance professionals. 

With this group taxed with the challenge of handling trillions of dollars in revenue, nothing could be more shocking than having little experience on the floor when it comes to finance. Even a company with 100 employees is required to hire a CFO with a background in finance and accounting.

So what do our members of Congress know about finance? The numbers may scare you. When you study their occupations, the U.S. house has only 7 accountants (another two are in the Senate). Aside from those folks and 39 former mayors (29 in the house, 10 in the Senate), the rest of the occupations represented in Congress suggest few lawmakers ever dealt with a budget before hitting the floor.

So who are these reps of yours?

Well, the House has five ordained ministers, 2 radio talk show hosts (Senate has two as well), 15 farmers in the House, 2 almond orchard owners (seriously), 7 social workers, 10 judges, dozens of military and law enforcement members, tons of former congressional staffers (85 in the House alone), two psychologists, six nurses, 2 screenwriters, 81 educators (68 in just the House) and 15 doctors in the House. And let's not forget the two dentists, the one veterinarian and a single ophthalmologist.

So the takeaway is this: if you need the members of Congress to deal with war, bad eyesight, screenwriting, a sick puppy or the kind of issues that plague career politicians, then this is your Congress.

But aside from a handful of accountants, you have very little financial representation on Capitol Hill in the form of real-world experience.

This is just something to consider when you wonder why financial issues are always pushed to the back-burner. Perhaps, they are focusing on what they know, not on what should be a priority.

The most represented occupation is a former Congressional staffer (i.e. -- career politician).

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