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Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, I am pleased to join the distinguished Senator from Louisiana in supporting this small business legislation. There is a growing chorus in Washington of national leaders and advocacy groups, concerned citizens who have all come together to call for financial reform. Across America, folks are demanding a return to accountability, commonsense regulations, and fair business practices.
Each of us has been touched by this economic recession. Every Member of this body has heard from countless businesses and families back home who have had to tighten their belts and brace for the worst. We have all seen the raw numbers. We have heard the statistics over and over. Too often, we forget what is behind the numbers--real folks experiencing real pain. This economic crisis is far from abstract. It has touched millions of American lives. It has made people wonder when or even if our economic future will be secure again. It has shaken us to the core.
Things are finally starting to look a bit better. Thanks to bold steps taken at the national level, America is back on the road to recovery. Key economic indicators are turning around. But we are not out of the woods yet. The national unemployment rate stands at almost 10 percent. Our economy is growing but more slowly than we had hoped. Some people, especially the elderly and racial and ethnic minorities, remain especially vulnerable. Their pain is real. That is why, as the Senate considers financial reform legislation, we need to make sure they are protected. We need to make sure recovery continues along the right path and, at the same time, to stand up for these folks and prevent this from happening again.
That is why we need to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a strong advocate standing squarely on the side of the ordinary American, defending them from abuse at the hands of large corporations. This new bureau must be at the center of the financial reform package. It must be empowered to set and enforce strict consumer protection rules.
We should start with the mortgage industry. For years, banks have been allowed to relax their standards. They have made bad loans to people who were never able to make the payments. As a result, foreclosures skyrocketed.
Almost no community in America was immune to the subprime lending crisis, but minority populations were hit the hardest. At the height of the subprime boom, 54 percent of the loans made to African Americans were high-priced loans. The recession has caused these borrowers to come under severe stress, and as a result the Black home ownership rate has decreased.
We need to stop this kind of predatory lending and restore basic principles of fair play to the mortgage industry. That is why our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would take a hard look at the way the mortgage brokers operate. It would ensure borrowers have access to loans they can afford. It would shut down scam operations, end abusive practices, and keep all brokers honest.
But it doesn't stop there. I believe we should extend many of these same protections to the student loan industry.
Today's young people represent the best America has to offer. They are our future, and we need to invest in their education, so we can make sure they have the tools that will help them succeed in the global marketplace. That is why our Consumer Protection Bureau would have the authority to set basic rules of the road, to make sure students are empowered to make smart choices.
The bureau would provide assistance to borrowers and institutions alike, increasing the flow of information and breathing transparency back into this complicated system. This would provide significant benefits to young people across America. But it would have the strongest impact on minority households, 49 percent of which currently have installment loans, including student loans.
Finally, we must task our new bureau with increasing financial literacy among consumers. Today, far too many Americans get caught up in the fine print, trapped by the deceptive practices of major financial institutions. So if we pass financial reform that includes a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these folks will have access to clear information in plain English. If they are still confused, they will be able to call a consumer hotline. This will connect them directly with experts at an office of financial literacy, so they can get their questions answered and make sure they are getting a fair deal.
This will empower consumers to make smart choices and will prevent big financial institutions from taking advantage of ordinary Americans. It would ensure that we stay on the road to recovery and extend a helping hand to regular folks who need it--especially the disadvantaged communities that have felt the worst effects of this crisis.
Most importantly, a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will help prevent this kind of crisis from ever happening again. We must never forget that cold statistics and Wall Street balance sheets do not tell the complete story of this financial meltdown. It is important to think of the real human beings--individuals and families--who are behind these numbers: the ordinary folks who continue to suffer.
I believe it is time to stand up for these folks. That is why I am glad a Consumer Financial Protection Agency is at the center of our Wall Street reform bill.
I yield the floor.
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