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Mark Warner: Every Virginian has a stake in Wall Street reforms

Our nation will take an important step forward today to bring greater accountability to Wall Street and provide greater security to folks on Main Street. Every Virginian has a stake in the comprehensive financial reform legislation that becomes law today.

Eighteen months ago, our nation was on the verge of an economic catastrophe. Many families became over-extended and a lot of businesses got overleveraged, triggering a financial storm that also hurt many Virginians who were playing by the rules: retirement savings and college saving funds were devastated, home values plummeted, and many of our small businesses had to close their doors.

But modern new financial rules of the road that become law today will help create a 21st century financial system that works for all Americans – not just the big banks.

More importantly, we have created a framework for economic recovery and growth.

As a new member of the Senate Banking Committee, I was proud to be asked to help lead a bipartisan effort to address how we could better monitor, and disentangle, complex and interconnected financial companies that get themselves into trouble.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear the words “too big to fail” ever again.

So we have designed several new tools that should allow regulators to recognize when one of these financial firms is on the verge of failure. They will have the ability to impose tough new capital and leverage requirements that actually make it undesirable for any financial firm to get too big.

The legislation creates an “early warning” council of regulators who will be empowered to compare notes and identify and address systemic risks posed by these companies, their products, or their activities before they can threaten the stability of our overall economy.

These financial companies must periodically submit “funeral plans” with a roadmap for their own rapid and orderly shutdown should the company go under.

These new tripwires will allow us to “unwind” these failing corporations through an orderly bankruptcy process, and all of this will occur at the expense of the financial industry – not the American taxpayers.

That means company executives, members of their board and their investors will pay the price for their company’s financial mistakes. These failing companies will be put out-of-business. They will not be propped-up by the taxpayers, like we saw with AIG and CitiGroup.

In addition, these new reforms put an end to many predatory and deceptive lending practices. Every consumer will be empowered by access to clear and concise information they need to make the financial decisions that are right for them.

The bill creates an independent consumer watchdog at the Federal Reserve, with the authority to ensure that consumers get the information they need to shop for mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products. Never again will Virginians be treated unfairly because of the “fine print” or hidden bank fees.

Virginia’s smaller, community-based banks and credit unions – local financial companies who followed the rules and did nothing to trigger the 2008 financial catastrophe — are exempted from many of these new requirements.

We also provide tough new rules for transparency and accountability for the Wall Street credit rating agencies. That means investors and shareholders who want to see their companies grow and prosper will have greater access to more relevant information they need to make responsible financial decisions

The legislation takes responsible steps to stop the Wall Street practice of shopping around for the weakest possible regulatory oversight.

It also eliminates loopholes that allowed risky and abusive practices to go unnoticed and unregulated, including loopholes for over-the-counter derivatives, asset-backed securities, hedge funds and mortgage brokers.

I recognize that simply passing this legislation is only half of the challenge: now these new requirements must be implemented in a responsible and rational way.

The legislation does not address the problems and abuses at the federally supported home loan agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After we see more signs of stability in the housing markets, Congress must address those challenges – hopefully next year.

But two years after a financial meltdown, I believe we have acted appropriately to ensure that a similar crisis does not happen again.

We have provided consistent and rational oversight within the financial markets – new rules that will allow our country to compete globally even as we grow our economy locally.

When the American financial system operates on principles of fairness and openness that promote economic growth and stability, we all win.

Mark Warner represents Virginia in the United States Senate.

augusta free press
augusta free press