We Might Have Avoided The Financial Crisis If We'd Listened To John Dingell

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In 1999, then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) spearheaded the effort to repeal the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, greatly contributing to the events that led to the 2008 economic collapse.

The Depression-era banking law was designed to limit and regulate the activities of commercial banks to prevent another economic meltdown.

On Nov. 4, 1999 -- almost a decade before the latest financial crisis -- Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) delivered an urgent, prescient plea, warning of what may happen without the Glass-Steagall firewall.

Dingell, whose father helped pen the 1930s Glass-Steagall Act, said in his 1999 argument against the deregulatory vote:

I think we ought to look at what we are doing here tonight. We are passing a bill which is going to have very little consideration, written in the dark of night, without any real awareness on the part of most of what it contains.

I just want to remind my colleagues about what happened the last time the Committee on Banking brought a bill on the floor which deregulated the savings and loans. It wound up imposing upon the taxpayers of this Nation about a $500 billion liability ...

Having said that, what we are creating now is a group of institutions which are too big to fail. Not only are they going to be big banks, but they are going to be big everything, because they are going to be in securities and insurance, in issuance of stocks and bonds and underwriting, and they are also going to be in banks.

And under this legislation, the whole of the regulatory structure is so obfuscated and so confused that liability in one area is going to fall over into liability in the next. Taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure the failures we are creating tonight, and it is going to cost a lot of money, and it is coming. Just be prepared for those events.

Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) were among those who voted to revoke Glass-Steagall. Years later, after deregulated banking practices and loan standards cost taxpayers more than $700 billion in bank bailouts, many of those lawmakers regretted their actions, including former President Bill Clinton -- who signed the repeal into law -- and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

“The banks had been working on it for 40 -- no, hell no -- since it was enacted, the banks have been trying to get rid of it,” Dingell told Politico in 2008. “They worked like hell. They finally wore this place down. Everybody forgot what happened during the Depression and why Glass-Steagall was passed.”

After nearly 60 years in Congress, Dingell announced his retirement on Monday as the longest-serving member.

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