CNN's Jessica Yellin talks to TARP Congressional Oversight Chair Elizabeth Warren about the details of her report about to be released to Congress. Warren stressed the need to get legislation passed to give the government resolution authority over these "too-big-to-fail" institutions so the taxpayers aren't put on the hook again when they "mess up". That's a kind way to put it, but she's right.
You've gotta' love Jessica Yellin asking if it's "un-American" to regulate these industries. Unbelievable. I've got to wonder just how much more out of control she thinks they should be allowed to get before it's "American" to do something about it.
YELLIN: Well, the white house plan is just the latest controversy over T.A.R.P. the Congressional oversight committee is about to release a December report, a detailed review of T.A.R.P. to date. Elizabeth Warren is the chair of the T.A.R.P. Congressional oversight committee and joins me now from Washington.
Elizabeth, so good to see you again. The bailout, we know, was unpopular, as the president acknowledged today. But I remember a year ago, the prognosticators were warning of economic calamity. People certainly are hurting today, more than 60 million unemployed. But a second great Congressional didn't happen. So could we argue that the bailout actually worked?
WARREN: Absolutely. One of the things that we conclude in our report, which will be out tomorrow, is that the bailout was part of a larger, strong government response that probably kept this economy from tumbling over the abyss. So in that sense, we have to admit T.A.R.P. did its job. Now, T.A.R.P. was also supposed to do a lot of other things and we should also evaluate along those metrics. But for the number one thing, that is stop the crisis and stop that feeling that it's all tumbling into depression, it did it.
YELLIN: All right. Let's talk about some of the other things. It was supposed to unfreeze credit and make sure credit was flowing. It was supposed to help keep jobs and businesses from laying off employees. It was supposed to help homeowners in some way through a trickle-down effect to keep their homes. How well has it scored on some of those measures?
WARREN: Not well. And that's the bottom line for this report. And we're going to go through each one of those. But you've really hit the key ones. I would only add to it, it was also supposed to help the banks clean up their balance sheets, to put them in a position where they would be more stable over time. And, in fact, remember, it was named the troubled assets relief program. The money has not been used for that. But T.A.R.P. also came with one other piece. That is, it has now created an implicit guarantee, so that we have the notion that if the largest financial institutions, the ones now called too big to fail, get into trouble again, that the American taxpayer will be forced to come to the rescue. So T.A.R.P. did some really good things, but it has really created a different economic environment.
YELLIN: I want to come back to too big to fail in a moment about but let me stick with T.A.R.P. and some of the issues it failed on. You've been an outspoken critic of some of the ways it was monitored, the way -- the lack of transparency. What do you think is the fundamental problem here? Do you think that the officials in the treasury department are too close to Wall Street?
WARREN: You know, it -- the T.A.R.P. program has had the problem from the beginning that it has been really, really good at shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars into the largest financial institutions managed to cut through the paperwork and do that on, you know, two pages in the space of hours that it could make that happen. For homeowners in financial distress, people facing foreclosure, we're a year into this and right now we're just seeing the tiniest little trickle of help go to homeowners. On the jobs front, we've watched the jobs get worse and worse as small businesses have been unable to get credit. So it really is fair to describe this program as saying, the part that put lots of money into really big financial institutions, boy, did they figure out how to make that work in a hurry. And all the rest of it, no one could ever quite seem to get it off the ground.
YELLIN: You can give me a simple yes or no on this. Would Wall Street bonuses be as big as they are this year if it weren't for T.A.R.P.?
YELLIN: So let's talk about the positive, what we could do next, what could change? There is financial regulation moving through Congress right now. I know you're a big advocate for one element in all of that, to change this too big to fail concept. Is it possible for government to end too big to fail? Or is that sort of un-American? Should we not be telling banks how they can run their own business?
WARREN: No. In fact, I think it's just the other way. The American economy, a capitalist economy, a free economy runs on the principle that if you really mess it up, you will be held responsible. You know, every family in America, every business in America, every small bank in America, everyone except the largest financial institutions have to pay the consequences if they get out there and take big risks and end up having a bad business plan, a bad outcome, messing it up.
YELLIN: So have you saying the government should break up big banks?
WARREN: No. What I'm saying is we need to find a way that we can credibly say, believably say to every financial institution, the same as we do to every other business and every other family -- if you mess it up bad enough, you, too, can be liquidated. In order to do that, we can use a combination of what's called resolution authority. I'm of the old school. I call it bankruptcy. And regulation to try to prevent that from happening in the first place. But this is the bill that's now trying to work its way through Congress. Until we get that bill in place, we live in a world where these largest financial institutions can take all the risks they want and you and I are going to be on the hook to pay for it if they mess it up.
YELLIN: Finally there's an idea of creating a new agency designed only to protect consumers, to eliminate credit card tricks and traps, make sure your bank is honest with you. The opponents of this say it's really a back doorway for government to control big business, tell them what kind of credit cards we can or can't get and it would limit innovation. Is this an anti-business measure?
WARREN: No. This is a pro-family measure. What this is really about is saying, we have a credit card market and other consumer market now that's just plain broken. You can't compare credit cards anymore and tell what the real cost is. You can't compare mortgages and tell what the real cost is. This says we're going to have simple product that people can make direct apples to apples comparisons. And when they do that, they will know exactly what costs they're taking on. They will know what risks they're taking on.
And if they can make choices in the marketplace, then the market starts to work for them. We think costs are going to go down and consumer choice ultimately is going to go up. You know, there is nothing that we touch, taste, feel or smell that doesn't have underlying it some basic safety regulations except for consumer credit. That's the area where you can be tricked and you can be trapped by your credit card company, by your mortgage company, by a payday lender and you won't know until after they've already taken the money from you. We can't live in that world anymore. It doesn't work for families. It doesn't work for our economy.
YELLIN: Elizabeth Warren, we'll look forward to reading your report tomorrow. I know there's some news in there. Thank you for joining us.