Mortal battle with Wall Street

This week the stakes are high. As the House prepares to vote on the financial reform we’ve been fighting for all year, Wall Street and the big banks are making every attempt to kill it.

We urgently need calls and emails to reps in the House with the message: Vote YES on the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 4173), YES on strengthening amendments, and NO on any amendments that would weaken consumer protections or oversight of the financial industry.

The House Financial Services Committee spent months deliberating, debating, and voting on the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. While some improvements to the bill are needed, Public Citizen and our coalition of more than 200 pro-consumer groups – Americans for Financial Reform – strongly support it.

The House bill will put an end to the unchecked greed and recklessness that has wreaked havoc in our economy and brought hardship to so many hardworking Americans. In particular, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency is critical to fill the regulatory hole that allowed unsafe financial products to put our economy at risk.

But in spite of the strong support for the new watchdog agency, the financial industry had little trouble finding someone in Congress to help kill it.

An amendment by Walter Minnick (D.-Idaho) would strike the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) from the bill altogether. And just how much money has this Wall Street Democrat taken from the financial industry? According to our recent report, Minnick has taken more than $170,453 in this year alone from the very banks and firms he is supposed to oversee as a member of the Financial Services Committee.

Tom Price (D.-Ga.) is attempting to preserve one of the most predatory practices of the financial industry: forced arbitration. Consumers are forced into arbitration and give up their right to hold companies accountable in court just by using a product or service like a credit card or buying a car. He’s introduced a credit card company-friendly amendment to strike the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency to limit or ban the use of forced arbitration.

Melissa Bean (D.-Ill.) is another Wall Street Democrat who is again pushing an amendment to benefit the big banks. We pressured her until she withdrew her amendment in committee, but now she’s back with an amendment to strip the states of the right to enforce the law or state legislatures from enacting new laws that apply to national banks or their subsidiaries. The big banks would love to do all of their business in Washington, where they have enough clout to eliminate or gut oversight of their practices. Not surprisingly, Ms. Bean has taken nearly $400,000 from the financial industry this year.

We must defeat these attempts to kill or gut the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and instead pass amendments that would strengthen it. The ludicrous exemption for auto dealers (the most honest purveyors around, right?), as well as the so-called small bank exemption, should be eliminated. Currently the bill carves out oversight of “small banks” with assets of less than $10 billion from the new consumer agency – that’s 98 percent of banks in the U.S.

Wall Street and the big banks are doing everything within their considerable power to kill this bill. But we can win this one if we all make calls and send emails now.

There should be no exceptions or loopholes. The financial services industry has had its way for too long, making billions in profits and crashing the economy with reckless practices in every sector. They took our tax dollars and now are set to dole out billions in holiday bonuses. Well it may be swell for the execs on Wall Street again, but it’s NOT such a wonderful life for many of us here in the real economy.

Which side is Congress on?

Here are the pro-consumer and pro-accountability positions on a short list of the many amendments being offered:

· OPPOSE the Minnick amendment to eliminate a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) from the bill. It would leave enforcement of consumer protection and civil rights laws in the hands of the same existing regulatory bodies that resoundingly failed to use them.

· OPPOSE the Bean amendment on state preemption. It would prevent state attorneys general from enforcing the law or state legislatures from enacting new laws that apply to national banks or their subsidiaries. Federal law should be a floor, not a ceiling, of protection.

· OPPOSE the Price amendment on forced arbitration. It would strike all authority to limit or ban the use of forced arbitration.

· SUPPORT the Hinchey amendment on derivatives so that states and individuals are not precluded from enforcing their rights under the law.

· SUPPORT the Stupak/DeLauro/Larson/Van Hollen amendment on derivatives. Regulators must have the authority to ban abusive derivatives instruments rather than simply reporting them to Congress, and transactions which violate the law should be considered invalid.

We can win this, but first we have to do mortal battle with the banksters. Our voices really are our best weapons. Ask your member of Congress: Which side are you on? Will it be a wonderful life for all of us?