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Carl Levin: We can no longer assume Wall St. can police itself

Published 9:09pm Tuesday, July 20, 2010

WASHINGTON — Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, spoke July 14 on the Senate floor in support of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform:

The final Dodd-Frank bill makes important progress.

It sharply limits risky proprietary trading by federally insured banks, which means taxpayers won’t be on the hook for risky bets that go bad.

And non-bank financial firms will face significant capital requirements, reducing the chance that the bets Wall Street firms used to rack up enormous profits will endanger the stability of the financial system if they go bad.

While I wish the bill was more forceful in limiting the size of financial firm investments in hedge funds and private equity funds, the language in this bill will add substantial strength to the stability of the financial system.

In addition, the bill includes language to end the conflicts of interest revealed in our investigation of Goldman Sachs.

No longer will financial firms be able to package and sell asset-backed products to investors, and then bet against those same products.

Those conflicts of interest will end unless the regulators water down our strong language with weak enforcement.

The Dodd-Frank bill contains other much-needed measures as well.

It will bring new transparency and accountability to the shadowy market in derivatives.

It will protect taxpayers from the need to engage in the kind of multibillion-dollar bailouts required in the current crisis by allowing for an orderly resolution of failing financial firms.

It empowers regulators to establish tough new capital requirements that make it harder for firms to become so big that they endanger the stability of the system.

It requires hedge funds to register with the SEC and provide information about their once-hidden operations.

And it strengthens the process for shareholders to select corporate directors and limit excessive executive pay.

We have seen all too clearly the consequences of lax regulation and tepid oversight, the consequences of assuming that Wall Street can police itself.

That attitude has put millions of Americans in unemployment lines, plastered foreclosure signs on millions of American homes and pumped billions of dollars of taxpayer money into Wall Street firms that happily profited from their risky bets, then leaned on the rest of us to bail them out when the bill came due.

I say to those colleagues considering a vote against this bill:  Knowing what our investigation and others have discovered, how can you oppose this effort to erect a wall between Wall Street’s never-ending appetite for reckless risk and the rest of the American economy?

It is time to put the cop back on the beat on Wall Street.  It is time to end Wall Street’s “heads we win, tails you lose” game.

It is time to prevent as best we can the next man-made disaster from threatening our jobs, our homes and our businesses.  It is time to pass this major financial reform legislation.

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