AFR Statement: The State of Financial Reform

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama reminded the nation that “food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; Wall Street recklessness did.” While he did not linger on the subject, the totality of his remarks made a strong case for measures to make the financial system safer and fairer. We agree about the need for such measures, and we laud the progress that has already been made. But, as we enter the final year of this administration, there is more that needs to be done.

The Dodd Frank Act, to cite one key example, calls for regulations to end bank compensation practices and excessive bonuses that encourage reckless risk-taking. Taxpayers, investors and the wider economy will be much better off once those long-stalled rules are completed. It is also past time for the major financial regulators to follow through on their statutory duty to order the breakup of any big bank that fails to devise a credible contingency plan to go out of business in a safe and orderly fashion, without causing massive economic damage.

Consumers, communities, and working people, especially those working for low wages, have a large stake in the continuation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s important efforts to curb the abuses of predatory lenders. In these and other areas, there is a need for strong implementation as well as strong rules, and, on both counts, for insisting on a demonstrated commitment to the public interest as one of the essential qualifications of a nominee for a regulatory leadership position.

The President spoke of the need for “a growing economy that works for everybody.” To get there, we should make sure that Wall Street pays its fair share of taxes.  One way to do so is through the adoption of a financial transaction tax, which could bring an end to wasteful high-frequency trading and nudge the financial markets away from a fixation on short-term bets. Another is by closing the outrageous carried-interest loophole that allows hedge fund and private equity fund executives to evade billions in taxes.

These are important things that can be done to curb the ability of financial insiders to enrich themselves at the expense of the real economy and the wider society, and to lay the groundwork for a financial system that serves the needs of workers, investors, consumers, businesses, and communities.

Higher education should be accessible to all, the President said, adding that “no hard working student should be stuck in the red.” We strongly agree. As one important step towards that goal, we urge President Obama to ask the Department of Education to accelerate and expand the scope of debt cancellation for thousands of hardworking students in vocational programs, who, through no fault of their own, have been defrauded by predatory for-profit schools who’ve faced years of investigations and lawsuits for their misconduct and illegal acts, as well as do more to prevent future fraud and abuse.