Barney Frank’s Unfinished Crusades

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2012 and that he will be retiring from Congress. Frank leaves behind a storied legacy as only the second openly gay member of Congress who has championed numerous progressive caucuses from the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to financial regulation.

In announcing his retirement, Frank said he believes his leverage as a legislator has diminished and that he can better influence Congress as a private citizen and activist. ThinkProgress has assembled a list of Barney Frank’s last crusades — policy struggles that progressives should take up with even more vigor now that the congressman has announced his retirement:

1. Drastically Curtail Military Spending: Last year, Frank assembled a list of budgetary and military experts of every ideology to form the Sustainable Defense Task Force (SDTF). Under Frank’s tutelage, the SDTF laid out a trillion dollars worth of military spending cuts the United States could enact within a decade without undermining its security. More recently, when the super committee failed to reach a deal, Frank said it was “good” because the Defense Department “will take a big share of the cuts” that will automatically be enacted during the mandated sequester process.

2. Defending The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law: Last year, Congress passed into law the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Frank has committed himself to defending this package of financial regulations from Republican attacks, even testifying before his colleagues in the Senate to defend certain parts of the law. With presidential contenders like Mitt Romney promising to repeal the law, it remains under attack.

3. Repealing The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA): Earlier this year, Frank co-sponsored legislation that would repeal DOMA. When Republicans complained that the bill may hurt them politically, Frank remarked, “The fact that we’ve now evolved to the point where the Republicans are complaining about the fact that we introduced this bill because it causes them political problems is a great sign of progress.” In his retirement speech, Frank challenged GOP presidential primary candidate Newt Gingrich to a debate over DOMA, saying that he is an “ideal opponent for us, when we talk about just who it is, is threatening the sanctity of marriage.”

4. Passing The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA): Frank has repeatedly supported and introduced the ENDA bill, which would outlaw discrimination in the workplace against LGBT individuals. In a passionate moment while debating the bill in 2007, Frank, choking back tears, explained that he had “an obligation to fifteen year olds dreading to go to school, because of the torments, to people who are afraid they’ll lose their job at a gas station if someone finds out who they love, I feel obligated to use the status I have been lucky enough to get, to help them.”

5. Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana: Working with his Republican colleague Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Frank introduced a bill that would end federal prohibitions on marijuana and allow states to regulate it themselves. Frank said he was “particularly struck by the hypocrisy of public officials who will themselves talk about smoking marijuana, wink at it, and then make it criminal for other people.”

6. Establishing A Universal Health Care System: While he supported the health care reforms in the Affordable Care Act, Frank was ultimately an outspoken proponent of a single-payer health care system that operates like Medicare for all Americans. During an appearance on the Ed Show, Frank said, “I’m for single payer, which I think Medicare has shown is the best system. I will accept as second best a very good public option which, by the way, when the conservatives say will lead to a total public plan, they are conceding our point, namely that people will find that there is a better level of care.”

Frank was one of the 99 Percent’s best allies in Congress, and with his departure, progressives can honor his legacy by continuing to advocate for the causes of his unfinished crusades.