I was honored when Speaker Nancy Pelosi named me as a House negotiator in our marathon effort to seek the Senate’s agreement on how best to make Wall Street and the big financial institutions more accountable. I also knew that achieving true reform would be a difficult fight.
It took us days of negotiation – capped by a 20-hour bargaining session – but, finally, we were able to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act .
As I write these words, the House has approved our bill [237-192], but Senate approval of our reconciled bill is still in doubt. With all due respect to our Senate colleagues, America can no longer afford to wait.
During our conference committee’s long hours of debate, I knew that neither failure nor delay is an option.
For eight years, President Bush and congressional Republicans looked the other way as Wall Street and large financial institutions exploited loopholes and gambled our money on complex schemes.
Our communities and small businesses have paid the price. We have lost an additional 8 million jobs – and as much as $17 trillion in retirement savings and net worth – while millions of our neighbors are in danger of losing their homes.
The time for more oversight and restraint of large financial institutions is at hand.
As a nation, we must put behind us the idea of “too big to fail.” We cannot afford any more taxpayer bailouts.
After the days that we spent in that very difficult series of negotiations, I knew that we could be proud of what we had accomplished. Consider just some of our more important reforms.
Americans deserve an end to the predatory lending practices of our recent past. We need the protection that our new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would provide.
Federal regulators must have the legal tools that would allow the prudent restructuring of “too big to fail” financial organizations before irresponsible behavior could again threaten our entire economy. Those tools should be paid for by the financial industry itself—not by America’s taxpayers.
Our economy can move forward again – but only if we limit the types of risky financial practices that caused the current financial crash. Our approval of a strong “Volcker Rule” will limit excessive speculation by large financial firms.
Wall Street must learn to operate within strengthened oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission, hedge funds must operate in the light of day, and credit rating agencies must operate under far more penetrating oversight.
Shareholders must have a “say on pay” about executive compensation, and small businesses will have expanded protection against unreasonable credit card fees.
Equally important, our legislation will help the millions of Americans who now are in danger of losing their homes because their incomes have been slashed in a sluggish economy.
During the last 15 months, I’ve sponsored four foreclosure prevention seminars, and thousands of distressed Baltimore homeowners have attended. Black, White, and Hispanic Americans – they all were in tears.
As Americans, we must do better than this.
I was gratified that the conference committee accepted my proposal for the creation of a $1 billion fund – underwritten with remaining TARP funds – that would provide low-interest “bridge loans” to homeowners facing foreclosure.
Our committee also approved my provisions requiring lenders to notify borrowers of all the consequences of refinancing or accepting a home equity loan, to disclose their policy regarding partial payments, and to inform borrowers how their escrow payments will be applied.
We are witnessing the harsh economic consequences of the ideologically-driven regulatory failure of our recent past– millions of jobs lost, millions of homes lost, and a multi-trillion dollar decline in retirement savings.
Now, American financial institutions must change.
President Obama once reminded us that his election was the opportunity to work for constructive change. The Congress has been doing that work, and, now, the American people deserve the results of our labor.
Now is the time to enact Wall Street and consumer protection reform.
Our nation has no more time for delay.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.