Menendez Opening Statement On Restoring American Financial Stability Act In Banking Committee

Menendez Opening Statement On Restoring American Financial Stability Act In Banking Committee

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Washington - This morning, as the Senate Banking Committee began work on the Restoring American Financial Stability Act to implement accountability on Wall Street, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery (video:

Mr. Chairman, let me join my colleagues in commending you for the hard work you have done, for your perseverance -- holding over 50 hearings the last year alone, and for the bold leadership you have shown on forging a long-overdue, common sense regulatory reform package.

It is time to corral the Wall Street bulls who saw red and ran wild with America's money.

Better accountability and reform of the SEC and other regulatory agencies will finally slap a padlock on the gate to protect American families from another stampede of greed and overindulgence that - in many ways - cost them their jobs and trampled this economy into the ground.

This legislation will prevent that from ever happening again. The creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency would protect consumers from hidden fees, abusive terms, and deceptive practices.

A new independent agency with a board of regulators would be empowered to find abuses in the system before they metasta, and could require companies that threaten the economy to divest some of their holdings. Tough new rules for transparency and accountability from investment advisors, financial brokers, and credit rating agencies that would protect investors and businesses. Provisions that impose new capital and leverage requirements would prevent large, complex financial conglomerates from bringing the system to its knees.

They would require industry to provide its own capital injections, update the Fed's lender-of-last-resort authority, and establish rigorous standards and supervision to protect consumers, investors, and businesses.

All of these provisions send a loud, clear message to struggling families in New Jersey - families who lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their health care, and what little investments they might have had - that someone will be watching out for them. It lets them know that someone is looking out for their interests.

Mr. Chairman, your proposed regulatory reforms do exactly that. They will let families in my state and every state know that there will never be another Bernie Madoff. That it will not take 16 years for regulators to recognize a Ponzi scheme when it is right in front of them. That there will be effective financial regulators and strong independent inspectors. That average hard-working families will not be taken advantage of again.

So many families I have spoken to in New Jersey tell me the same story. They assumed government regulators were on the job when they were told by unscrupulous mortgage lenders:

"Congratulations, you qualify for a mortgage - no money down. We'll get you an adjustable interest rate; but you'll never see the adjustment - the property will appreciate and you'll sell it long before the rate goes up. Just sign here."

And thousands did, Mr. Chairman. They signed on the dotted line believing it had to be legitimate, and the sad truth is that it was - unethical perhaps - but legal and unregulated. Hard-working families with no financial background were - in many cases - unwittingly lured into overextending themselves.

I have heard from so many families that their only thought was: "Isn't it great? They said we qualify."

They assumed they did, that their credit was good enough if the lenders said it was. They assumed the government would not have allowed banks and financial institutions to lend them money if they did not think they could pay it back.

They did not know that their mortgages, their loans were being bundled, sold, and resold to hedge funds and international investment firms with no regard for them, their investment, their ability to pay back their loans or their ability to stay in their homes.

Now those families are facing foreclosure. They're facing bankruptcy. They are struggling in no small part because Wall Street was allowed to take bigger and bigger risks with their money.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Chairman, they see those who bought their mortgages - those deemed "too big to fail" - collect millions in bonuses and billions in bailouts. I say the American people are too big to fail, and it's time we give them the protection they need.

The business of business may be the bottom line, but the business of government is always protecting people, hard-working families who ask nothing more than a level playing field. An essential part of this economic recovery must be the knowledge that the bulls on Wall Street will never be let loose again to run wild on Main Street, that there will be responsibility and accountability in our financial system.

This legislation takes significant steps to do just that. It restores consumer confidence. It strengthens the foundations upon which the economy is built so that we can continue to grow and create jobs. It changes the regulatory culture of benign neglect and the blind-eye, wink-and-a-nod policies of previous administrations that believed all we need to do is get government off of our backs and the private sector will take care of itself.

Well, they were right. The private sector took care of itself at the expense of thousands of families in my state of New Jersey and millions across this nation.

It's time for transparency, Mr. Chairman. It's time to increase the enforcement budget at the SEC. It's time to help innocent victims of fraud and Ponzi schemes recoup their losses through the Security Protection Investor Corporation (SIPC) or other means. It's time for accountability and regulations that protect American families while allowing our market based economy to run smoothly - but not run amok. These are necessary reforms and I believe they are long overdue.

Mr. Chairman, there are some structural and regulatory areas I believe need to be strengthened, as well as additional consumer and investor protections, beyond what this legislation calls for, and I will be offering amendments that I hope will make this legislation even better. I look forward to working with you and members of the Committee to finalize regulatory reform to protect American families. Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your leadership and aggressive action on this issue.