DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The U.S. is destined to endure a new economic crisis that sticks taxpayers with the bill unless Congress tightens oversight of the financial industry, President Barack Obama said Saturday.
The overhaul is the next major piece of legislation that Obama wants to sign into law this year, but solid GOP opposition in the Senate is jeopardizing that goal.
"Every day we don't act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place, with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "And if we don't change what led to the crisis, we'll doom ourselves to repeat it.
"Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again," the president said.
A proposal that Senate Democrats are readying for debate creates a mechanism for liquidating large financial companies to avoid a meltdown.
For the first time, the government would regulate derivatives, those financial instruments whose value depends on an underlying asset, such as mortgages or stocks. Derivatives can help hedge risks. But derivatives can produce steep losses, or huge profits, if the value of their underlying asset sinks.
The proposal also would create a council to detect threats to the financial system and set up a consumer protection agency to police people's dealings with financial institutions.
On Friday, Obama promised to veto the bill if it doesn't regulate the market for derivatives, which contributed to the nation's economic problems after their value plummeted during the housing crisis.
But Democrats haven't agreed on how far such regulation should go, and all Senate Republicans are united against the bill. That opposition complicates Democratic efforts to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome likely GOP procedural roadblocks.
Republicans contend that a provision creating a $50 billion fund for dismantling banks considered "too big to fail" would continue government bailouts of Wall Street. Obama administration officials say such a fund is unnecessary and they want Senate Democrats to remove it.
Obama criticized financial industry interests for opposing the proposed regulations and for waging a "relentless campaign to thwart even basic, commonsense rules." He repeated his call for Republicans and Democrats to work together to overhaul the system but made it clear that Democrats are prepared to go it alone.
"One way or another, we will move forward," he said. "This issue is too important."
In the weekly Republican address, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia took note of the week's April 15 income tax filing deadline and criticized government spending and climbing deficits that he said are driving taxes higher.
Cantor said Obama has enacted 25 tax increases passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress that will cost families and small businesses more than $670 billion over the next decade and create a "bleak future for our kids and grandkids."
He urged a vote for the GOP in the November congressional elections.
"You have to take action so that we can begin to erase our deficits and free our children from our debt," Cantor said. "And rather than putting the squeeze on our nation's job creators and entrepreneurs, we believe in a pro-growth strategy to create jobs and empower the American entrepreneur and small business people to thrive."
There were many causes of the turmoil that ripped through our economy over the past two years. But above all, this crisis was caused by failures in the financial industry. What is clear is that this crisis could have been avoided if Wall Street firms were more accountable, if financial dealings were more transparent, and if consumers and shareholders were given more information and authority to make decisions.
But that did not happen. And that's because special interests have waged a relentless campaign to thwart even basic, common-sense rules - rules to prevent abuse and protect consumers. In fact, the financial industry and its powerful lobby have opposed modest safeguards against the kinds of reckless risks and bad practices that led to this very crisis.
The consequences of this failure of responsibility - from Wall Street to Washington - are all around us: 8 million jobs lost, trillions in savings erased, countless dreams diminished or denied. I believe we have to do everything we can to ensure that no crisis like this ever happens again. That's why I'm fighting so hard to pass a set of Wall Street reforms and consumer protections. A plan for reform is currently moving through Congress.
Here's what this plan would do. First, it would enact the strongest consumer financial protections ever. It would put consumers back in the driver's seat by forcing big banks and credit card companies to provide clear, understandable information so that Americans can make financial decisions that work best for them.
Next, these reforms would bring new transparency to financial dealings. Part of what led to this crisis was firms like AIG and others making huge and risky bets - using things like derivatives - without accountability. Warren Buffett himself once described derivatives bought and sold with little oversight as "financial weapons of mass destruction." That's why through reform we'd help ensure that these kinds of complicated financial transactions take place on an open market. Because, ultimately, it is a marketplace that is open, free, and fair that will allow our economy to flourish.
We would also close loopholes to stop the kind of recklessness and irresponsibility we've seen. It's these loopholes that allowed executives to take risks that not only endangered their companies, but also our entire economy. And we're going to put in place new rules so that big banks and financial institutions will pay for the bad decisions they make - not taxpayers. Simply put, this means no more taxpayer bailouts. Never again will taxpayers be on the hook because a financial company is deemed "too big to fail."
Finally, these reforms hold Wall Street accountable by giving shareholders new power in the financial system. They'll get a say on pay: a vote on the salaries and bonuses awarded to top executives. And the SEC will ensure that shareholders have more power in corporate elections, so that investors and pension holders have a stronger voice in determining what happens with their life savings.
Now, unsurprisingly, these reforms have not exactly been welcomed by the people who profit from the status quo - as well their allies in Washington. This is probably why the special interests have spent a lot of time and money lobbying to kill or weaken the bill. Just the other day, in fact, the Leader of the Senate Republicans and the Chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on this issue.
Lo and behold, when he returned to Washington, the Senate Republican Leader came out against the common-sense reforms we've proposed. In doing so, he made the cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts - when he knows that it would do just the opposite. Every day we don't act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place - with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities. And if we don't change what led to the crisis, we'll doom ourselves to repeat it. That's the truth. Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again.
So my hope is that we can put this kind of politics aside. My hope is that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and move forward together. But this is certain: one way or another, we will move forward. This issue is too important. The costs of inaction are too great. We will hold Wall Street accountable. We will protect and empower consumers in our financial system. That's what reform is all about. That's what we're fighting for. And that's exactly what we're going to achieve.