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Public Statements

Wall Street Reform And Consumer Protection Act--Conference Report

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GREGG. Madam President, I rise to make a point of order that the Senator from Connecticut alluded to. We have rules around here we have set up to discipline ourselves on spending. Unfortunately, we consistently ignore and waive them. That is one of the reasons we have a $13 trillion debt. That is one of the reasons we will have a $1.4 trillion deficit this year alone. This bill violates those rules. This bill violates one of the sections of those rules which says that in any 10-year period, we shall not have more than a $5 billion effect on the deficit in a negative way; that we need to otherwise pay for what we are doing. Therefore, this bill does violate the Budget Act.

If we are going to have any fiscal discipline around here--and we hear a lot of people talking about that--we should be living by the rules we have to assert fiscal discipline. Therefore, I make a point of order that the pending bill violates section 311(b) of S. Con. Res. 70 of the 110th Congress.

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Mr. GREGG. Madam President, let me begin by thanking the Senator from Connecticut and congratulating him. He has been pretty effective in his last year in the Senate. He got a lot of stuff moving and a lot of stuff through. And I have not agreed with all of it, by the way. Most importantly, he has done it in a fair and balanced way, always with a sense of humor and an openness and willingness to listen to those with whom he may not agree entirely and allow us to participate at the table in discussions about the problems at the very beginning of the process in a very substantial way.

So I thank him for his courtesy and for the way he runs the committee and the way he ran the HELP Committee when he succeeded to that leadership on the unfortunate passing of Senator Kennedy. It has been a pleasure to serve with him on this bill and on some very significant issues as we tried to work through them.

I have reservations about this bill--they are more than reservations. I, obviously, believe the bill doesn't get us to where we need to go. When we started on this effort, our purpose was, in the beginning, twofold: First, we wanted to make sure we could do everything we could to build into the system of regulatory atmosphere and the marketplace the brakes and the ability to avoid another systemic meltdown of the type we had in late 2008, which was a traumatic event.

Nobody should underestimate how significant the events of late 2008 were. If action had not been taken under the TARP proposal, and under the leadership of President Bush, Secretary Paulson, and then President Obama and Secretary Geithner, this country would have gone into a much more severe economic situation--probably a depression. Secretary Paulson once estimated the unemployment rate would have gone to 25 percent. The simple fact is the entire banking system would have probably imploded--most likely imploded--and certainly Main Street America would have been put in dire straits.

But action was taken. It was difficult action. We are still hearing about the ramifications of it, but it was the right action, and it has led to a stabilization of the financial industry. But we never want to have to see that happen again. We never want to have to go through that type of trauma again as a nation, where our entire financial community is teetering. So the purpose of this bill should be to put in place a series of initiatives which will hopefully mute that type of potential for another event of a systemic meltdown.

The second purpose of this bill--and it is an equally important purpose--is that we not do something that harms one of the unique strengths and characteristics of our Nation, where if you are an entrepreneur and have an idea and are willing to take a risk and try to create jobs, you can get credit and capital reasonably easily compared to the rest of the world. That has been the engine of the economic prosperity of our Nation--the availability of credit and capital, reasonably priced and reasonably available to entrepreneurs in our Nation.

Those should have been our two goals. If we match this bill to those goals, does it meet the test of meeting those goals? Unfortunately, I don't think it does. There are some very positive things in the bill. The resolution authority is a good product in this bill, and it will, in my opinion--though I know there is a lot of discussion about this--pretty much bring an end to the concept of too big to fail.

If an institution gets overleveraged to a point where it is no longer sustainable, and it is a systemic risk institution, it is going to be collapsed. The stockholders will be wiped out, the unsecured bond holders will be wiped out, and the institution will be resolved under this bill.

That is positive because we do not want to send to the markets a signal that the American taxpayer is going to stand behind institutions which are simply large. That perverts capital in the markets, and it perverts flow of economic activity in the markets when people think there is that sort of guarantee standing behind certain institutions in this country. And I think progress is made in this bill on the issue of resolution.

But, unfortunately, in a number of other areas, the opportunity to do something constructive was not accomplished. In fact, in my opinion, there will be results from this bill which will cause us to see a negative effect from this bill. The most negative effects I think will occur from this bill lie in two areas. First, in the area of the formation of credit.

It is very obvious that under this bill there is going to be a very significant contraction of credit in this country as we head into the next year, 2 years, maybe even 3 years. We are in a tough fiscal time right now. It is still very difficult on Main Street America to get credit. The economy is slow. We should not be passing a bill which is going to significantly dampen down credit, but it will. This bill will. It will for three reasons:

First, the derivatives language in this bill is not well thought out. It just isn't. Most people don't understand what derivatives are, but let's describe them as the grease that gets credit going in this country and everywhere. It is basically insurance products that allow people to do business and make sure they can insure over the risks that they have in a business. This bill creates a new regime for how we handle derivatives in this country.

Our goal should have been to make derivatives more transparent and sounder. That could have been done easily by making sure most derivatives were on over-the-counter exchanges--went through clearinghouses I mean, and had adequate margins behind them, adequate liquidity behind them, and were reported immediately to the credit reporting agencies as to what they were doing. It didn't involve a lot of complications, just changing the rules of the road. Instead of doing that, we have changed the entire process. In changing the entire process, we are basically going to contract significantly the availability of these products to basically fund and to be the engine or the grease or the lubricant for the ability of a lot of American businesses to do business.

End users in this country who use derivatives are going to find it very hard to have an exemption. They are basically going to have to put up capital, put up margin--something they do not do today on commercial derivative products--and that is going to cause them to contract their business. They will have to contract their business or they are going to have to go overseas. Believe me, there is a vibrant market in derivatives overseas. They will go to London, and this business will end up offshore.

Then we have this push to put everything on an exchange. Well, there are a lot of derivatives that obviously should go through clearinghouses but are too customized to go on exchanges, and we are going to end up inevitably with a contraction in the derivatives market as a result.

Then we have the swap desk initiative, which was simply a punitive exercise, in my opinion. It is going to accomplish virtually nothing in the area of making the system sounder or more stable. But what it will do is move a large section of derivative activity--especially the CDS markets--offshore. They will go offshore because they will not be done here any longer. Banks and financial houses which historically have written these instruments are not going to put up the capital to write them because they don't get a return that makes it worth it to them.

I guarantee we are going to see a massive contraction in a number of derivatives markets as a result of this swap desk initiative, which was more a political initiative than a substantive initiative, and which is counterproductive. It is a ``cut off your nose to spite your face'' initiative, and it will move overseas a lot of the products we do here and make it harder for Americans to be competitive--especially for financial services industries to be competitive--in the United States. So that will cause a contraction and a fairly big one.

The estimates are that the contraction may be as high as $ 3/4 trillion. That is a lot of credit taken out of the system. On top of that, there is the issue of the new capital rules in this bill.

It isn't constructive for the Congress to set arbitrary capital rules. That should be left to the regulators. But this bill pretty much does that. As a result, a lot of the regional banks, the middle-sized banks--the larger banks would not be affected too much--will find they are under tremendous pressure as their tier I capital has to be restructured relative to trust preferred stock.

This is not a good idea because, as a practical matter, we will again cause a contraction in the market of capital--of credit. As banks grow their capital, they will have to contract credit. When a bank has to get money back in order to build its capital position up, it doesn't go to its bad loans because the bad loans aren't performing. It goes to its good loans, and it doesn't lend to them. Or it says: We are going to draw down your line of credit, because that is where they can get capital. That is what will happen, and we will see capital contract there.

On top of that, we have the Volcker rule. The concept is a very good idea. We should never have banks using insured deposits to do their proprietary activity. But straightening out what this Volcker rule means will take a while. It may be a year or two before anybody can sort out what it means and before the regulations come down that define it. So there will be a period of uncertainty, and that uncertainty means less credit available.

Of course, this is another situation where the international banks are the winners and the domestic banks are the losers because the international banks will be able to go and do the same business--the proprietary trade--in London, if they are based in London or in Singapore, if they are based in Singapore or Tokyo, if they are based in Tokyo. But the American banks they compete with aren't going to be able to do it. So that makes no sense at all.

But as a practical matter, that is what this bill does. So we will end up again with a tentativeness in the markets as to what they are supposed to be doing and what they can do in the area relative to the Volcker rule, and this will end up creating further credit contractions.

So my guess is, when we add it all together, this bill will lead to a credit contraction of probably $1 trillion or more in our economy. What does that translate into? It translates into fewer jobs and less economic activity. It didn't have to happen this way. This could have been done in a way that would have been clearer, where the clarity would have been greater, and where we would not have had to take arbitrary action which was more political than substantive to address what problems in the industry did exist and should have been addressed.

Another area of concern, of course, is this consumer agency. Consumer protection is critical. We all agree to that. What we proposed on our side of the aisle was that we link consumer protection and safety and soundness at the same level of responsibility and the same level of authority within the entire bank regulatory system so that the prudential regulator--whether it is the Fed or the Office of the Comptroller--when they go out to regulate a bank and check on it for safety and soundness--or the FDIC--they, at the same time, have the same standard of importance placed on making sure that the consumer is being protected in the way that bank deals with the consumers. That is the way it should be done. The two should be linked because the regulator that regulates the bank for safety and soundness is the logical regulator to regulate the bank to make sure it is complying with consumers' needs.

But this bill sets up this brandnew agency, which it calls consumer protection, but it will not be at all, in my opinion. It will be the agency for political correctness or correcting political justice or issues of political justice that somebody is concerned about. It is totally independent of everybody else. It doesn't answer to anyone except on a very limited and narrow way to the systemic risk council. It is a single person with an $850 million unoversighted revenue stream with no appropriations. Basically, the person just gets the money and can go off and do whatever they want.

There is no relationship between this person and the prudential regulator. So what we will have is an individual who may get on a cause of social justice and say that XYZ group isn't getting enough loans, and they go out to the banks and say: You have to send XYZ group more loans.

We might have the bank regulator over here saying to the local banks, the regional banks: You can't lend to XYZ group because we know they are not going to pay you back or they will not pay you back at a rate that is reasonable. So we are going to have this inherent conflict.

Now, what will be the result of that? The banks will probably have to lend to the XYZ group, which means the people borrowing from that bank who pay their loans back will have to pay more because the bank will have to make up for the loss of revenues. As a result, the cost of credit will go up, especially for individuals who are responsible and paying down their debts and paying for their credit--paying back their loans. We are going to end up with layers and layers of conflicting regulation which will cost the banking community money--a significant amount of unnecessary money.

Who pays for that? Well, the consumer pays for it. Clearly, that gets passed through. This is one of those Rube Goldberg ideas that can only come out of a government entity. They used to say: You know, the government produces a camel when it is supposed to be producing a horse.

There is just a disconnect between the reality of what we are supposed to be doing in the area of producing effective regulation relative to protecting consumers and what this bill ends up finally doing.

I would not be here to oversee it or participate in it. In fact, nobody gets to oversee it, by the way. This consumer protection agency is not responsible to the Banking Committee of the Senate or the Banking Committee of the House. It is not responsible to the Fed. This person is a true czar.

The term ``czar'' is thrown around here a lot, but this person is a true czar in the area of consumer activity. I suspect we will see that this agency becomes a very controversial agency, with a very political social justice type agenda, not an agenda which is aimed at primarily protecting consumers.

So that is a big problem with this bill, and there are a lot of other issues with this bill. At the margin, the issue of how we restructure the regulatory regimes is of some concern, the whole question of how stockholders' rights in this bill--and probably not relevant to the banking issue so much--could have been improved on.

The bill overall could have been a much better product. But the primary concern I have goes back to this issue of what was the original purpose--to protect systemic risk in the outyears and make sure we continue to have a strong and vibrant credit market for Americans who want to take risks and create jobs.

Two major issues were totally ignored in the bill which would address that question: What drove the event of this meltdown? What caused this financial downturn? It was the real estate market and the way it was being lent into. Two things were the basic engines of that problem, that were government controlled. There were a lot of things which caused it, but the two things which the government controlled were, No. 1, underwriting standards. Basically we divorced underwriting standards from the issue of whether a person got a loan, so loans were being made on assets which could not cover the cost of the loan. It was presumed the asset was going to appreciate, a home was always going to appreciate in these communities and therefore they could loan at 100 percent of the value of the home or 105 percent of the value and still have a safe loan. That was a foolish assumption, to say the least.

Second, we didn't look at whether the person could pay the loans back when these loans were made at zero interest for a year or 2 years. But then they reset, these loans reset at a fairly reasonable or sometimes very unreasonable interest rate and nobody looked at whether the person could pay them back.

These loans were being made not for the purposes of actually recovering the loans. That was not the reason these loans were being made. These subprime loans were being made because there were fees on the loans and the people making the loans were getting the fees. There was a whole cottage industry of people down in Miami who had just gotten out of prison who figured this out while they were in prison and they developed an entire cottage industry of former prisoners who had been released, legally, and actually went back into the loan business and were making these loans and getting the fees.

Then what aggravated it--first what aggravated it was the underwriting standards, but then it was that these loans got securitized. They got picked up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, with the understanding--it was implicit but it was obvious, as we found out--that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would essentially insure these loans. So if you bought one of these securitized loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be standing behind it even though the loans were not viable.

This bill ignores both those issues. It has very marginal language on the issue of underwriting. It doesn't get us back to standards which would basically protect us from overly aggressive underwriting.

People say Canada did not have a problem, Australia didn't have a problem. Why didn't they have a problem? They didn't have a problem because they required people who were borrowing to put money down and they required that people who were borrowing actually be able to pay the money back. It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to require, but this bill ignores it.

Second, this bill does nothing about Fannie or Freddie--nothing. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room, this is the whole herd of elephants in the room. The American taxpayer today is on the hook for something like $500 billion to $1 trillion. The estimates vary. Some people say it is even higher than that--the American taxpayer, for bad loans, securitized by Fannie and Freddie. This bill says nothing. It is as if this problem doesn't exist. It is as if this problem doesn't exist. Not only was it one of the primary drivers of the financial meltdown but it is one of the biggest problems we have going forward. The administration says we will do it next year. Well, if you do a financial reform bill without Fannie and Freddie, you essentially are not doing a financial reform bill at all. I apply the same to the issue of underwriting.

In my opinion, this bill has some pluses. I know this was worked very hard and I admire the efforts of the Senator from Connecticut and actually the chairman in the House, Congressman Frank from Massachusetts. But the negatives of this bill unfortunately are too significant to ignore, especially in the area of the short-term credit contraction that is going to occur, the poorly structured derivatives language, the Consumer Protection Agency--which I think is going to end up being counterproductive to consumers--and the failure to take up the Freddie and Fannie issue, and the failure to do stronger underwriting standards.

For that reason, I remain opposed to this bill. I understand it is going to pass. I hope some of my concerns do not come to fruition because, if they do, unfortunately this economy is going to be slowed and our Nation will be less viable economically. But I am afraid they will come to fruition.

I yield the floor.

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