WALL STREET BAILOUT REVIVED

ABSTRACT: As you probably know, Congress just rushed to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill that keeps the federal government operating. Such last minute, have-to-pass pieces of legislation are ideal vehicles for enacting laws on unrelated matters that wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of the regular legislative process.

One such provision in this bill repeals a piece of the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulation law entitled “Prohibition against federal government bailouts of swap entities.” The Dodd-Frank law does not prohibit banks from owning these derivatives, but requires them to do so in a separate entity that is not insured by the federal government. Derivatives were a major contributor to the 2008 financial collapse. Repealing this piece of the Dodd-Frank law benefits a very few, very large, very profitable, financial corporations. The actual language of the repeal provision was written by a lobbyist for Citicorp, one of those large financial corporations. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D MA) took the lead in fighting this provision because it raises the risk of another financial collapse and another taxpayer-funded bailout.

Wall Street held the whole federal government’s budget hostage. It, in effect, demanded federal insurance for its gambling with derivatives or the federal government would shut down for lack of a budget. Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts in the early 1900s because they had too much political power and this undermined democracy. We’re at that point again.

Another unrelated provision in the budget bill allows an individual to give almost $800,000 per year to a political party. This would exacerbate the already disproportionate influence these very few, very wealthy individuals have over our elected officials and our government. These individuals are investing and looking forward to a nice return on their investment from the politicians whose elections they supported.

I encourage you to contact your US Representative, your Senators, and the President. Tell them you are outraged by these provisions in the budget bill that undermine our democracy and increase the risk of another financial collapse and another bailout of private, Wall Street corporations with the public’s money.

FULL POST: As you probably know, Congress, having procrastinated until the last hour, just rushed to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill that keeps most of the federal government operating through next September. At least partly by design, such last minute, have-to-pass pieces of legislation are ideal vehicles for enacting laws on unrelated matters that wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of the regular legislative process. In some cases, these tacked on provisions are passed and become law despite the public, and many members of Congress, being unaware of their existence. There are quite a few of them buried in this over 1,000 page budget bill.

One such provision repeals a piece of the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulation law, which was passed after the 2008 financial meltdown and bailout, in an effort to prevent them from happening again. [1] [2] This provision repeals a section of the Dodd-Frank law entitled “Prohibition against federal government bailouts of swap entities,” which prohibits federally insured banks from owning highly speculative financial instruments known as “swaps.” These are one kind of what are called derivatives, which are bets (i.e., gambling) on how certain other financial securities or factors, such as interest rates, will change over time.

The Dodd-Frank law does not prohibit banks from owning these derivatives, but requires them to do so in a separate entity that is not insured by the federal government, which ultimately means insured by the taxpayers. Derivatives were a major contributor to the 2008 financial collapse and to the need for what was ultimately a multi-trillion dollar bailout of large Wall Street corporations.

Repealing this piece of the Dodd-Frank law benefits a very few, very large, very profitable, financial corporations. The actual language of the repeal provision, which was slipped into the bill at the last minute, was written by a lobbyist for Citicorp, one of those large financial corporations.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat from Massachusetts) took the lead in fighting this provision because it raises the risk of another financial collapse and another taxpayer-funded bailout. [3] Somehow this provision made it into this crucial piece of legislation despite apparent, strong bipartisan support for ensuring that we never have to bail out Wall Street again. For example, opposition to the 2008 bailout was a central issue in the rise of the Tea Party movement.

As Senator Warren states, this is all about power and money. There were no public hearings, no debate, and no transparency. This was all inside, backroom, backdoor politics by Wall Street. Warren highlights the extraordinary influence of one of the large, Wall Street financial corporations, Citicorp. She notes that 3 of the last 4 Secretaries of the Treasury have come from Citicorp, along with the Vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve. She identifies at least 5 other senior officials in the executive branch who have worked for Citicorp. She notes that Citicorp has spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, as well as additional, unknown amounts on think tanks and PR campaigns.

These expenditures and the movement of people through the revolving door from Wall Street to government (and often back to Wall Street) has proven to be an investment with a big payoff. Citicorp alone got roughly $500 billion from the bailout and then went right back to making huge profits and paying huge amounts to senior executives. During the development of the Dodd-Frank legislation, there was a proposal to break up Citicorp and the other huge financial corporations because they were too big to fail, and therefore a danger to the economy and likely to receive a bailout with public money if they got in trouble. This proposal was killed by those on Wall Street and their friends at the Treasury Department. Now, these huge financial corporations are even bigger than they were before.

Wall Street held the whole federal government’s budget hostage. It, in effect, demanded federal insurance for its gambling with derivatives or the federal government would shut down for lack of a budget. This is the power that Wall Street has, and it is far too much power. It means we do not have a democracy; we have a corporatocracy.

When Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts in the early 1900s, he did it not primarily because their power was distorting the economy and markets, but because they had too much political power. He stated that this undermined democracy. Well, we’re at that point again, without a doubt.

Underscoring this point, another unrelated provision in the budget bill allows an individual to give almost $800,000 per year to a political party (up from the current limit of just under $100,000). A few hundred people – out of the 300 million in this country – give that kind of money to political campaigns. This would exacerbate the already disproportionate influence these very few, very wealthy individuals have over our elected officials and our government. And these individuals aren’t throwing their money to the wind; they are investing and looking forward to a nice return on their investment from the politicians whose elections they supported.

US Although the budget bill passed Congress on Saturday and will presumably be signed by the President, I encourage you to contact your Representative, your Senators, and the President. Tell them you are outraged by these provisions in the budget bill that undermine our democracy and increase the risk of another financial collapse and another bailout of private, Wall Street corporations with the public’s money.

(You can contact your Representative and Senators by calling the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can find contact information for your US Representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your US Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. You can email the President at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments. You can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414).

[1]       Bierman, N., & Meyers, J., 12/12/14, “A late rush to fund government,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Taylor, A., 12/10/14, “Massive $1.1 trillion spending bill unveiled,” Daily Times Chronicle from the Associated Press

[3]       I encourage you to watch 2 speeches (each less than 10 minutes) that Senator Warren gave in Congress in the past week. They’re on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgsN7ilcWL4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJpTxONxvoo. She very powerfully makes the case that the repeal of this piece of the Dodd-Frank law is unjustifiable, undemocratic, and dangerous special interest law making.

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