WASHINGTON -- With protests against economic injustice continuing in New York City and spreading across the country, Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he can't blame people for feeling "frustrated" and criticized Bank of America's new debit card fees as the type of "tone deaf" move that the public is angry about.
"You can't blame the American people for feeling an overwhelming sense of frustration at this moment, when they're hanging on by their fingernails, and all of a sudden, [the banks] come along and say, 'Okay, even though we're going to make a healthy profit next year, we think we have to have this additional income coming in,'" said Biden in a speech at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Biden was referring to Bank of America's announcement that it will be charging customers a $5 monthly fee to use their debit cards. The bank argues the move was necessary after Congress passed legislation, championed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), that reduced the amount of money banks could charge businesses each time a debit card is swiped.
"At a minimum, they are incredibly tone deaf. At a minimum," added Biden. "At a maximum, they are not -- they are not -- paying their fair share of the bargain here, and middle class people are getting killed."
Biden also commented on the Occupy Wall Street protests, saying the rallies are happening primarily because the "bargain has been breached with the American people" -- and they have a right to be angry.
"The core is the American people do not think the system is fair or on the level. That is the core of what you're seeing on Wall Street," he said. "There's a lot in common with the Tea Party. The Tea Party started why? TARP. They thought it was unfair, we're bailing out the big guys. What are the people up on the other side of the spectrum saying? The same thing."
Moderator David Gregory, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," asked whether it was justifiable for Bank of America to implement the new fee, since the administration is imposing more regulations on the financial industry and banks still need to figure out a way to make a profit. Biden rejected his assertion, comparing banks to a kid without a license stealing a car.
"That's a little bit like saying to my kid -- I say, 'Here's the deal now. I not only don't want you driving a car when you don't have a license, and I've now caught you and I'm stopping you from doing that.' And my son says, 'Well I can't do that anymore, so now I've got to steal a car. I've got to get around somehow,'" said Biden.
On Wednesday, also speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Wall Street's frosty relationship with and lack of gratitude toward President Obama was "inexplicable," given that the administration implemented policies that saved the financial industry from a crisis of its own creation.
Biden framed the argument a bit differently, saying it's the American people, not the administration, that Wall Street should be thanking and helping to lift up out of tough economic times.
"The American people know ... the reason the CEO of Bank of America or any other body in that business is in the business is because they -- that guy making 50,000 bucks -- bailed him out. Bailed him out. Put his financial security on the line when his government said, 'We're going to come up with a trillion plus dollars to bail him out,'" said Biden.
"Then [the banks] turn around and they say, by the way, we're projected only to make ... $17 billion next year, but you know what? The middle-class folks, these guys with these debit cards, are on their back, and we're going to charge them 5 bucks more to use their debit card."
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