Warren Slams Regulatory Delays, Calls for End of 'Too Big to Fail'

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren sharply criticized regulators on Thursday for failing to meet most of the deadlines of the Dodd-Frank Act and said lawmakers shouldn't wait until that law is fully implemented before taking more action to end "too big to fail."

The Massachusetts Democrat said the delays heighten the need to address the perception that troubled large institutions will be bailed out by the government in the event of another crisis.

"There are many who say, 'Sure, "too big to fail" isn't over yet, but Congress should wait to act further because the agencies still have to issue a bunch of Dodd-Frank's required rules,' " Warren said at an event on the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, hosted by Better Markets and George Washington Law School's Center for Law, Economics, and Finance. "True, there are rules left to be written, but that's because the agencies have missed more than 60% of Dodd-Frank's rulemaking deadlines."

She said she didn't "understand the logic" of that argument.

"Since when does Congress set deadlines, watch regulators miss most of them, and then take that failure as a reason not to act?" she said. "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."

Despite criticizing regulators, she offered them some sympathy in their effort to write thousands of rules based on the Dodd-Frank law, pointing to the role that the banking industry plays in slowing the process.

"[W]e 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," Warren said. "Powerful interests will fight to hang on to every benefit and subsidy they now enjoy. Even after exploiting consumers, larding their books with excessive risk, and making bad bets that brought down the economy and forced taxpayer bailouts, the big Wall Street banks are not chastened. They have fought to delay and hamstring the implementation of financial reform, and they will continue to fight every inch of the way."

The Massachusetts Democrat also pointed to recent remarks by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew — who said in July that "too big to fail" should be addressed if it is not remedied by the end of the year — and she urged other White House officials and regulators to do the same.

"I applaud Secretary Lew for laying out a timeline, and I'd like to see other administration officials and regulators follow suit," she 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."

Warren, meanwhile, continued to drum up support for legislation to bring back a Depression-era law that separated commercial banking from other financial activity, which she argues would provide greater stability to the financial system by encouraging the big banks to shrink and eliminating their ability to use federal deposit insurance to back riskier activities. The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, introduced in July, is sponsored by Warren, along with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Angus King, I-Maine.

"The new Glass-Steagall Act would attack both 'too big' and 'to fail,' " she said. "It would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits and providing stability to the system even in bad times. 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."

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