Last year JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon said that "giving debt forgiveness to people that really need it, that's what foreclosure is." These words really stuck with me, in part because it's so insulting. I don't think any reasonable person could describe losing their home as "forgiveness," especially if they must pay off the remainder of their debt. Dimon's statement isn't just an example of just how out-of-touch Wall Street can be. It's also a window into the disturbing mentality at places like JPMorgan, where those who struggle to pay off their mortgages are the the ones to blame for the mess of the past few years. Only in that twisted mindset is a foreclosure an act of mercy. It's been a long time coming, but that type of thinking has finally been mugged by reality this year.
In February, as part of a $25-billion settlement with the federal government and 49 states, the Federal Reserve imposed $766.5 million in fines on the five largest mortgage lenders, including Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Wells Fargo, for illegal foreclosure practices. In March the Fed fined eight more banks for the same reason. In April, my home state of Hawaii filed a lawsuit against Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, HSBC, and their subsidiaries for using "predatory tactics to sign up customers for services they either don't want or don't qualify for." And to cap off this impressive run of lowlights, Dimon's very own JPMorgan announced a $2-billion loss from a risky bet in May.
These reckless practices have got to stop, but they won't without more decisive action from Washington. We have seen over and over again the consequences of letting the banking system continue on without seismic reform. Fines, settlements, and trading losses the size of the GDP of a small nation are all symptoms of a banking system that's not working and bound to fail again. The Dodd-Frank legislation was supposed to address these problems, but Dimon and an army of Wall Street lobbyists have anchored down the implementation process to the point that half of the modest regulations included in it aren't even in place today, including the Volcker Rule, which limits risky trading behavior. Just a month before announcing his firm's $2-billion loss, Dimon went so far as to call the rule's supporters "infantile." Ironically, the Fed has said that the Volcker Rule could have prevented JPMorgan's loss. This is why Washington has got to move faster and go further to protect American consumers and taxpayers from these organizations. But in the coming months we face a stark choice of who we want to represent us there.
If I'm elected to represent Hawaii's Second Congressional District, I promise to support comprehensive banking reform that prevents banks from becoming too big and too precarious to ever again endanger our livelihoods as they did in 2008, and as they continue to do today. Here are three areas of bank reform I'll focus on in Congress:
- Break up the big banks: America's five largest banks -- JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs -- control 56 percent of the U.S. economy. Trouble with any or all of these banks would cause economic armageddon. This is why, if elected, I'll back legislation aimed at capping the size of financial institutions.
- Restore the Glass Steagall Act: This legislation protected the public for decades by separating risky investment banking and commercial banking. Had this common-sense regulation not been repealed, the financial crisis we're just now beginning to recover from may never have happened. In Congress, I'll support all efforts to restore it into law.
- Ban naked credit defaults: These trades have no place in our financial system. They gamble our mortgages and loans for no reason other than to contribute to obscene profits for big banks. I will support any and all legislation to ban them.
I'm under no illusion that these efforts will be easy. Big banks spend more than just about every other sector on lobbying in Washington, after all, and regulatory overhaul of any industry warrants a considerable debate -- one I look forward to having if elected, because of my conviction that this is primarily a moral issue.
We must create a banking system that provides economic opportunity and growth for everyone, not just for Wall Street or massive corporations. All Americans have the right to the piece of mind that the health of their mortgage, retirement plan, or even salary isn't tied to a roll of the dice on Wall Street. It's about ensuring fairness and stability in our financial system.
Even Alan Greenspan, one of the champions of bank deregulation in the 1990s, has said as much. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, he admitted to a congressional committee that he "made a mistake in presuming" that big banks could regulate themselves.
We know they can't. In Congress I'll be a strong voice to reign them back in.
Follow Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tulsigabbard