From Sen. Bernie Sanders -- Sanders vs. Gregg:
Sharply contrasting views of the role of Wall Street in American society were staked out in a Senate floor debate over a major overhaul of financial regulations. In an exchange that extended over two days, Senators Bernie Sanders and Judd Gregg clashed over their competing visions of big banks and federal regulation of the financial industry. The progressive independent and a conservative Republican from neighboring states that share a border shaped by the Connecticut River debated how best to avoid the kind of financial fallout that plunged the economy into a severe recession in the fall of 2008.
In my view, the real and transformational financial reform we need must include the following elements:
Break Up Huge Banks The four major U.S. banks – Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Well-Fargo – issue two-thirds of the credit cards in this country, write half the mortgages and collectively hold $7.4 trillion in assets, about 52 percent of the nation’s estimated total output last year. Incredibly, despite all of them being bailed out during the Wall Street meltdown because they were “too big to fail,” three of them (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) are now bigger than before the bailout. But this is an issue which goes beyond the danger of “too big to fail” and future taxpayer liability. We must break up these behemoths because of the incredible economic power they exert on the economy through their concentration of ownership and enormous competitive advantages.
Financial Institutions Must be Integrated Into the Real Economy At a time when we are in the midst of a major recession, it is insane that our largest financial institutions continue to trade trillions in esoteric financial instruments which makes Wall Street the largest gambling casino in the world. We need to create a financial system which invests in the real economy, and helps create millions of new jobs by providing small and medium businesses with the credit they desperately need. We also need investments to rebuild our manufacturing sector, transform our energy system and create modern transportation and infrastructure systems. We don’t need banks pushing home mortgages on people who can’t afford them. We don’t need huge amounts being “bet” on whether housing securities go up or down or what the price of oil will be six months from now.
National Usury Legislation Major financial institutions have, in many ways, become nothing less than loan-sharking operations. Today, millions of Americans who pay their bills on time are now forced to pay 25 or 30 percent interest rates. That is not only obscene but, according to every major religion, immoral. Banks cannot be allowed to engage in usury and charge outrageous interest rates. We must cap interest rates for private banks at the same level as we do for credit unions – 15 percent except under exceptional circumstances.
Transparency at the Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve cannot continue to operate in almost total secrecy. During the bailout, large financial institutions received trillions of dollars in zero or near-zero interest loans. Who received those loans and under what terms? The Fed isn’t telling. Did some of them turn around and, in a mammoth welfare scam, invest that Fed money in government treasury bonds at 3 percent or 4 percent interest rates? The Fed refuses to say. It’s time we had transparency at the Fed so that the American people know what our central bank is doing.