Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren grilled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday over government policies that she said promote large financial institutions that are “too big to fail.”
Warren also asked whether big banks should repay taxpayers for the billions of dollars they save in borrowing costs because of the credit market's belief that they won't be allowed to fail, repeatedly citing a recent Bloomberg View study estimating that the biggest banks essentially get a government subsidy of $83 billion a year, nearly matching their annual profits.
Warren quizzed Bernanke on that study. “I understand that we’re all trying to get to the end of too big to fail, but my question, Mr. Chairman, is until we do, should those biggest financial institutions be repaying the American taxpayer that $83 billion subsidy that they’re getting?”
Bernanke responded, "The subsidy is coming because of market expectations that the government would bail out these firms if they failed. Those expectations are incorrect.”
After some back and forth, Warren countered, “$83 billion says there really will be a bailout for the largest institutions.”
“That’s the expectation of markets. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it,” Bernanke responded.
Warren insisted that the large banks should pay for the subsidy. “Ordinary folks pay for homeowners’ insurance, ordinary folks pay for car insurance, and these big financial institutions are getting cheaper borrowing to the tune of $83 billion in a single year simply because people believe that the government would step in and bail them out. I’m just saying, if they’re getting it, why shouldn’t they pay for it?” she said.
“I think we should get rid of it,” Bernanke replied.