WASHINGTON - Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday released an economic plan that includes initiatives to bolster individual savings, crack down on abusive lenders, and increase access to basic banking services among underserved populations.
In a campaign stop in Cleveland, Mr. Gore pledged to double to 66 million the number of families with $50,000 or more in savings by 2010. As an incentive to save, he renewed his call for Retirement Savings Plus Accounts, into which the government would deposit funds - as much as three times more than an individual contributes.
But aside from the proposal to increase savings, the Gore plan left the banking industry distinctly underwhelmed. Bank trade groups criticized it as short on detail, despite its 191 pages.
"Everything I have read so far is pretty vague," said Joe Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association. "By its own admission it is a set of goals and promises, but it is a little sketchy on how you get there."
Floyd E. Stoner, deputy executive director for government relations at the American Bankers Association, said, "It is very difficult to tell, from the language used here, whether or not this would require new mandates and new regulatory burden."
Mr. Gore promised to "aggressively enforce" the Community Reinvestment Act. While acknowledging that banks have made progress in meeting the law's lending requirement, the Gore plan implies that banks have not been as successful in satisfying requirements that they invest and provide services in poor communities.
"The regulators are already actively enforcing CRA," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm called the plan's CRA proposal hypocritical. "I passed a bill which requires that where money is spent in these communities be made public. They don't want to enforce it," he said.
Mr. Gore's plan promises to "take new action" to crack down on predatory lending, leading some industry observers to worry that legitimate lenders could be caught in the same net as lawbreakers.
Mr. Stoner of the ABA warned that most predatory practices are already prohibited by state or federal law, and said the Gore plan is the first step on a very slippery slope. "It could quickly mutate into a focus on subprime lending. That is where you run into a conflict with attempts to get banks to work with all segments of the market," he said. "We think the implications need to be considered very carefully.
Mr. Gore also called for expanded access to "low-cost, easy-to-use" financial services, raising the question of whether banks would be required to offer a specific kind of account.
Sen. Gramm objected. "We have welfare programs to help poor people," the Texas Republican said. "I am not for giving away services."
Related Content Online:
- Al Gore's 192-page economic plan "Prosperity for America's Families" in Adobe Acrobat (Source: AlGore.com, official campaign site)
- Bush-Cheney official campaign site: news releases, response to Mr. Gore's plan (Source: GeorgeWBush.com)
- Statement by Consumer Bankers Association President Joe Belew On the Gore-Lieberman Economic Plan (Source: Consumer Bankers Association)