WASHINGTON Sen. Elizabeth Warren rallied supporters on Tuesday to help end "too big to fail" and back her bill to separate commercial banking from riskier activities, in a fiery speech before consumer advocates.
The Massachusetts Democrat, a longtime critic of Wall Street, expressed frustration that three years after the Dodd-Frank Act the biggest banks continue to grow, regulators keep missing their statutory deadlines and the problem of "too big to fail" remains.
"I add that up, and it's clear to me: it's time to act," she said at a Wall Street reform event hosted by Americans for Financial Reform and the Roosevelt Institute in Washington, DC. "Since when does Congress set deadlines, watch regulators miss most of them, and then take that failure as a reason not to act? I thought that if the regulators failed, it was time for Congress to step in. That's what oversight means. And that's certainly a principle that would have served our country well prior to the crisis."
She pointed to her legislation with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Angus King, I-Maine, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to bring back the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act to "wall off" depository institutions from other businesses like swaps dealing and investment banking, in an effort to bring stability back into the market.
"In other words, the new Glass-Steagall Act would attack both 'too big' and 'to fail.' It would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits and providing stability to the system even in bad times," she said. "And it would reduce 'too big' by dismantling the behemoths, so that big banks would still be big but not too big to fail or, for that matter, too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big for trial, or too big for jail."
She contrasted the success of the industry and its lobbying power with the struggles of average families, arguing that the country needs "a system that recognizes we don't grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class."
"We should not accept a financial system that allows the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while working Americans continue to struggle," Warren said. "And we should not accept a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists for the big banks that it takes years to deliver rules and then the rules that are delivered are often watered-down and ineffective."
She acknowledged that her bill was just one way to solve the problem, however, and noted there were other approaches as well. The key, she said, was moving quickly and decisively.
"What I want to know is this: how much longer should Congress wait for regulators to fix this problem?" she asked. "Another three months? Another three years? Until the next big bank comes crashing down?"
She praised Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for saying the administration would consider other options if "too big to fail" was not solved by the end of the year, and urged others to follow his lead.
"I applaud Secretary Lew for laying out a timeline, and I'd like to see other administration officials and regulators follow suit," Warren said. "If Dodd-Frank gives the regulators the tools to end 'Too Big to Fail,' great end 'Too Big to Fail.' But if the regulators won't end 'Too Big to Fail,' then Congress must act to protect our economy and prevent future crises."