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Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, roughly 2 years ago, the American economy stood on the verge of collapse. After years of growth and seemingly endless prosperity, the honeymoon was suddenly over. The bubble burst. The world was plunged into recession. Banks began to fail, foreclosures skyrocketed, businesses struggled, and many Americans lost their jobs. Working families saw their hard-earned economic security evaporate almost overnight. Some of our largest and most respected financial institutions were forced to close their doors and others were in imminent danger.
In Washington, policymakers found themselves face to face with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They took action. They were forced to make some difficult decisions, but they stopped the bleeding and set America back on the road to recovery.
It is well known that reckless actions by large Wall Street firms helped get us into this economic mess. These companies skirted rules and regulations. They gambled with the securities of the entire financial system, and they lost.
But my colleagues knew that if these large institutions collapsed, they would bring down the rest of our economy with them. They had become, as we say on this floor, too big to fail.
In the face of the potential catastrophe, many of my colleagues summoned the kind of political courage that is rare in this town. They bit the bullet and voted to bail out these large firms, not because the firms deserved government help but because it was the only way to stop this recession from turning into a depression.
It must have been a painful decision, but it provided stability at a volatile moment. It propped up ailing markets all over the world and helped pull this country out of an economic tailspin.
Today, our recovery remains fragile, but we are moving in the right direction. Too many Americans remain unemployed, but the economy is starting to grow again. Key indicators are finally turning around.
As this Chamber considers Wall Street reform, I believe it is time to make sure this can never happen again. Let's protect our financial system from the kind of recklessness and abuse that has cost us so much. Let's make sure we never again will be forced to prop up big banks or risk total collapse. Let us end too big to fail.
As a former banker, I have a deep understanding of the role our financial institutions play. Banks help direct investment to local communities. They provide credit to small businesses and security to working families. When they make bad decisions, they deserve to suffer the consequences of those decisions. That is how our free market system works.
When big banks try to get around these responsibilities, when they package these risk investments and sell off the risk to someone else, that is not banking, that is gambling. Without commonsense regulations and vigorous oversight, Wall Street becomes a casino. I heard my distinguished colleague from Nevada mention that Nevada is the gambling capital of the world. But Nevada would not even buy some of these odds in which some of these banks are involved.
Sometimes these companies get lucky and their bets may pay off. But other times they are not so lucky. That is when they look to working families to either bail them out or suffer a second Great Depression.
We need to make sure Americans never have to face this choice again. We have to prevent firms from growing so large and reckless that they threaten our entire economy. That is why I support the bill introduced by Chairman Dodd and say that it is a good bill, it is a strong bill which will end taxpayer bailouts, restore oversight, and set basic rules of the road so we can make sure too big to fail is a thing of the past.
This bill will institute the Volcker rule, which will both restore and modernize some of the key protections of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. I am also cosponsor of an amendment that is coming forward in this regard. I really support us going back to Glass-Steagall, having been a banker during those days when you couldn't invest in insurance companies, you couldn't invest in mortgage banking activity, and you had to be a commercial bank that took in the lending and the security of people's assets and made loans in that regard. So this would help prevent fraud, discourage conflict of interest, and keep banks from growing so large they threaten our economic security.
The bill would also give us the tools to monitor big banks for risky behavior so that we could crack down on the irresponsible practices that caused this mess in the first place.
I urge my colleagues to pass this bill as it will be amended, and I call upon them to join my good friend Senator Boxer in passing her amendment, which will help us bring down large unstable institutions without taxpayer bailouts. Taxpayers aren't going to take it anymore. We aren't going to be bailing out these big institutions only to have them turn around and pay huge bonuses to their top officials.
Over the past 2 years, we have made great strides in helping to turn our economy around. In the last Congress, Members of both parties did what was necessary to stop the recession from deepening. Then, a little more than a year ago, I was proud to join many Members of this body in passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act--a landmark bill that continues to bring prosperity back to communities all across this country. As a result of these bold actions, our economy is finally on the right track.
So let us in this body, at this time, finish this job. Let's pass this Wall Street reform bill, as amended, so that we can establish the basic rules of the road and allow our free markets to thrive again. Let's end too big to fail so no large bank will be able to gamble away our economic security. Let's do it now because the time is now.
I yield the floor.
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