The financial services reform bill is on the Senate floor this week. The recently announced criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs, the bumbling testimony of Goldman's "Fabulous Fab" and the rocking Wall Street protest last Thursday show that momentum is with reformers.
This bill could codify the "doom loop" of a "boom and bail" economy or it could set us on the path to a more sustainable future. The good news is that a group of Senators has stepped forward to champion a critical set of issues worth getting excited about. Send a message to your Senator in support of these "too big to fail" amendments at BanksterUSA.org.
Fed up with the Wall Street casino, Senator Blanche Lincoln decided to Rambo Wall Street. As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, she put forward a stunning improvement to the Senate financial reform bill over the hysterical cries of big bank lobbyists and the strong objections of the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration.
This reform bill must end the big bank's ability to gamble on Wall Street while they enjoy implicit and explicit backstop of taxpayer guarantees. Lincoln decided that the best way of doing this was to force the big banks that are responsible for most derivatives trades, to spin off their trading desk into a separate corporate entity. They can continue to gamble, but the taxpayers will not be on the hook for their bad bets.
In one fell swoop, this amendment restores the firewall between Wall Street gambling and Main Street banks, reins in reckless derivatives trading and shrinks the size of behemoth banks. Her amendment has now been rolled into the bill and the fight will be over an amendment to protect Wall Street and take it out. (Which Senator is desperate enough for a job at on Wall Street to offer that amendment?)
Other Senators will be offering similar amendments similar to Lincoln's to protect taxpayers. Sens. Cantwell and McCain's approach is to fully re-institute depression era Glass-Steagall rules and Sens. Merkley and Levin will offer an amendment to strengthen the Volcker Rule provisions in the bill to crack down on proprietary trading. All these approaches have their strengths and should be strongly supported.
Cap the Size of the Too Big To Fail Banks (We Are Coming for you, Jamie Dimon)
There is a big fight between the parties over the issue of "too big to fail." Both groups say that their various policy prescriptions will "end" TBTF. They are both wrong. The only way to put an end to TBTF institutions is to break up the ones that exist now and to prevent them from growing TBTF in the first place. To do this there must be a flat size cap. The size limits now in the bill, apply to mergers and acquisitions only and would allow big banks to literally grow to any size, and swallow the whole economy if they fail.
Sens. Sherrod Brown and Kaufman will offer an amendment to cap the size of TBTF banks. The idea is former IMF economist Simon Johnson's. It would force the break up of the largest institutions now (including BofA/Goldman Sachs/ Morgan Stanley/ JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup) and help prevent any institutions from growing large enough to threaten our entire economy.
Ban Conflict of Interest Trading (Yes, That Means You, Goldman Sachs)
It has been widely reported that some firms kept selling toxic mortgage-backed securities to their clients while betting their own money that the housing market would tank. Phil Angelides, the chairman of the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) has called this practice "selling a car with faulty breaks and taking out insurance on the driver." Recently we learned that some firm were actually designing investment vehicles to fail, cutting the brakes and driving their clients over a cliff. Sens. Merkley and Levin's amendment to strengthen Volcker Rule provisions in the bill would ban this type of conflict of interest trading and crack down on these firms that are "betting against America."
Audit Federal Reserve (Show Us the Money, Ben Bernanke)
According to the Center for Media and Democracy's recent accounting of the bailout, $4.6 trillion was disbursed propping up the financial system and $2 trillion of that is still outstanding mostly in the form of loans from the Federal Reserve. (See Total Wall Street Bailout Cost table). The public still does not know all the institutions these funds went to and the collateral that was given as the basis for these loans. This is why taxpayers deserve a full, and public audit of the secretive Federal Reserve, not the weak audit language that is in the underlying bill that would keep key pieces of information secret for extended periods of time. Even after a federal court ruled that it needed to make public key information on their emergency lending programs, the Fed has failed to comply and is fighting to keep its books in the dark.
Senator Bernie Sanders will offer an amendment that contains Rep. Ron Paul's audit language from the House financial reform bill, plus Sanders will codify the recent federal court decision requiring the Federal Reserve to turn over information about the original bailout recipients.
Other great amendments are in the works, to ban some of the most abusive types of derivatives, to make sure that broker-dealers always act in the best interests of their clients, to put an end to "off book" accounting, to cap credit card interest rates at 15% and more. Stay tuned and get active! Send a message to Congress that you support these strong amendments at BanksterUSA.org.