Rachel Maddow talks to Byron Dorgan who back in 1999 warned about repealing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
Maddow: Did you really foresee that there would be a crisis this big?
Dorgan: Well I'm not necessarily sure I saw this big a crisis but I said at the time to the banks that if you want to gamble go to Las Vegas. I mean this was not about a crystal ball. It was just common sense at the time. You know in the 1930's we saw banks merge with you know real estate and security risks and the whole thing collapsed in the 20's and 30's and so we put in place, I wasn't here, but we put in place laws like Glass-Steagall to prevent all of that and then 1999 we were told that's all old fashioned. Let's strip that away and allow big financial holding companies one stop financial shopping and I thought it was nuts.
I mean how on earth can we forget the lessons that were so important that we learned so well and with such pain about seven decades prior?
Good question Senator. From the article a reminder on just who was right and who was wrong back in 1999:
"I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010," said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. "I wasn't around during the 1930's or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980's when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness."
Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota, said that Congress had "seemed determined to unlearn the lessons from our past mistakes."
"Scores of banks failed in the Great Depression as a result of unsound banking practices, and their failure only deepened the crisis,'' Mr. Wellstone said. ''Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place."
Supporters of the legislation rejected those arguments. They responded that historians and economists have concluded that the Glass-Steagall Act was not the correct response to the banking crisis because it was the failure of the Federal Reserve in carrying out monetary policy, not speculation in the stock market, that caused the collapse of 11,000 banks. If anything, the supporters said, the new law will give financial companies the ability to diversify and therefore reduce their risks. The new law, they said, will also give regulators new tools to supervise shaky institutions.
"The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown," said Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska.
Others said the legislation was essential for the future leadership of the American banking system.
"If we don't pass this bill, we could find London or Frankfurt or years down the road Shanghai becoming the financial capital of the world,'' said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. ''There are many reasons for this bill, but first and foremost is to ensure that U.S. financial firms remain competitive."
But other lawmakers criticized the provisions of the legislation aimed at discouraging community groups from pressing banks to make more loans to the disadvantaged. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, said during the House debate that the legislation was ''mean-spirited in the way it had tried to undermine the Community Reinvestment Act.'' And Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said it was ironic that while the legislation was deregulating financial services, it had begun a new system of onerous regulation on community advocates.
Many experts predict that, even though the legislation has been trailing market trends that have begun to see the cross-ownership of banks, securities firms and insurers, the new law is certain to lead to a wave of large financial mergers.
The White House has estimated the legislation could save consumers as much as $18 billion a year as new financial conglomerates gain economies of scale and cut costs.
Other experts have disputed those estimates as overly optimistic, and said that the bulk of any profits seen from the deregulation of financial services would be returned not to customers but to shareholders.
These are some of the key provisions of the legislation:
*Banks will be able to affiliate with insurance companies and securities concerns with far fewer restrictions than in the past.
*The legislation preserves the regulatory structure in Washington and gives the Federal Reserve and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency roles in regulating new financial conglomerates. The Securities and Exchange Commission will oversee securities operations at any bank, and the states will continue to regulate insurance.
*It will be more difficult for industrial companies to control a bank. The measure closes a loophole that had permitted a number of commercial enterprises to open savings associations known as unitary thrifts.
One Republican Senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, voted against the legislation. He was joined by seven Democrats: Barbara Boxer of California, Richard H. Bryan of Nevada, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Wellstone.
In the House, 155 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for the measure, while 51 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 1 independent opposed it. Fifteen members did not vote.