03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wall Street: the Real Roadblock to Economic Recovery

President Obama’s bold leadership and the swift action by
congressional leaders last spring likely staved off a global economic
depression. Because of that work, our economy is on the path to growth
and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been saved.

But we are not out of the woods yet. And when I think about what
still needs to be done to build a true economic recovery, I think about
workers such as Maria Guerra.

Maria is a janitor I met last week in Chicago. She worked hard to
buy her own home and before the crash she co-signed a mortgage to help
her brother buy a home for his family. Since then, Maria’s brother was
laid off and his unemployment benefits have run out. Now, he has to
choose between paying his mortgage and scraping up enough money to put
food on the table.

The bank refuses to help them and Maria’s own economic security is in danger; she’s worried about losing her own home.

The sad truth is that nobody is spared from the impact of this
recession. Some of us may still have our jobs or our homes but, like
Maria, we all have a family member or friend barely getting by.

Congress must act on legislation recently introduced to extend
unemployment benefits an additional 14 weeks to help workers like
Maria’s brother. But it’s the architects of our current economic
crisis-big banks and Wall Street-which continue to be the biggest
roadblock to our recovery.

Big banks and Wall Street begged for trillions in taxpayer bailouts
and backstops when they were on the verge of collapse. Now that they’re
back on their feet, they are back to paying out billions in bonuses and
clinging to the same failed policies that created the crisis in the
first place.

Have the banks done anything to help families facing foreclosure?
Have they increased lending to small businesses to create jobs? Have
they helped states and cities close their giant budget shortfalls?

Not a chance.

That’s why Maria and I -- and more than 5,000 other Americans from 20
states -- converged on the American Bankers Association convention in
Chicago. It was the largest mobilization since the economic crisis
began to demand banks stop fighting reforms that would help protect our
families from future crises. And it was the beginning of a national
movement to hold banks and Wall Street accountable for their reckless

Big banks and Wall Street have spent decades rigging the system so
that no matter what they win and workers lose and we must act now to
break the hold they have over our economy.

To build long-term economic progress we must:

  • Create a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency to serve as a watchdog against predatory and reckless banking products;
  • Crackdown on out of control executive pay that rewards short term risks over long term results;
  • End too big to fail once and for all by separating commercial banking from investment banking and raising capital requirements back to levels that promote safe and sound banks;
  • Empower shareholders to act on executive pay and break the excessive power of executive-controlled boards;
  • Force banks to expand lending to small businesses and state and local governments to create jobs and save critical services;
  • Demand banks stop foreclosures and help families keep their homes;
  • Investigate, and if necessary prosecute, the big banks and Wall Street for crashing our economy.

Our current crisis presents us with an historic opportunity to
fundamentally change the way we value work and wealth in our country.
The window to act is closing quickly but I know we are up to the

This post originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.