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Runaway Credit Card Interest Rates

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, my colleagues and I here in Washington are here to fulfill a sacred public trust, a commitment we made the moment we raised our hands and swore the oath of office. Whether we swore that oath 30 days ago or 30 years ago, that commitment remains very real. We are here to fight for the citizens of our respective States, to represent their concerns and to make sure their voice rings out in the committee hearings and on the floor of this Chamber. That is the obligation we took upon ourselves the moment we entered public service. I know it is something all of us take very seriously.

I call upon my colleagues to rise to the challenge of this pivotal moment. It is time to live up to the promise we made. It is time to stand up for the people we came here to represent, from all 50 States of this Union. It is time to take action on Wall Street reform so we can restore accountability to a system that has spiraled out of control, and cost billions in taxpayers' dollars.

The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that my colleagues and I are accountable to the American people we came here to serve. But because we enjoy a thriving free market system, Wall Street bankers are bound by no such accountability. That is why we used to have strict regulations in place, such as basic capital standards and lending requirements, that laid out the rules of the road by which all financial institutions must operate--not to interfere with the market but to assure that business practices were free and fair.

It used to be that banks, large and small, based their security on the quality of their investments. I worked at a very large bank in those days. The
lending decisions were driven by confidence in the local businesses. Financial institutions sank or swam as a result of the choices they made. This encouraged responsible choices and ensured that banks made smart investments. It kept them accountable to the communities they served and to the businesses in those communities.

I said a moment ago I served as a banker for many years. I helped secure loans for small and large businesses. I fought to keep investing in the local economy because I knew we had a responsibility to those who worked with us. We helped enrich the people with whom we did business. The bank's responsibility is to keep capital and cash flowing.

The bank's responsibility is to keep capital and cash flowing. So we were accountable to our customers. That is what banking used to be. But not anymore. Gradually over the past few decades, tough standards were relaxed, regulations were rolled back, and rules were bent or ignored by some of the country's largest and most trusted financial institutions. Greed replaced accountability as the driving force behind many transactions. Banks made bad loans and then repackaged them with other loans and sold off the risk. They created new types of securities and invented ways to place high-stake bets on investments. These activities have no value of their own. They have nothing to do with our free market economy. They are designed to make easy money for big banks, which pass the risk on to someone else. But they contribute absolutely nothing to the economy. There is no product, no investment in private enterprise that will benefit local communities.

So Wall Street has basically turned into a casino, and it has done so at our expense. These fat-cat bankers were gambling not just with our money but with our economic future. They placed our entire economy at risk, and about 2 years ago their recklessness caught up with them. The bottom fell out. The whole massive scheme began to unravel. The American economy fell apart like a house of cards because that is exactly what Wall Street had become--a giant pile of empty investments that had been passed around between big banks, packaged and repackaged to the point where these investments were supported by little more than the paper on which they were written. These large investment banks tried to make something from nothing, and in their wild pursuit of bigger and bigger profits, they gambled the stability of our entire economy. So it is no wonder these systems came crashing down.

Wall Street dropped the ball, and now they are trying to pass the buck. I refuse to let them do that. I refuse to stand by as these big firms try to take the government bailout money and escape the consequences of their action. What they did was irresponsible and unethical.

My colleagues and I were forced to make difficult decisions to prevent a complete economic collapse. We did what was necessary to stop the bleeding and get America back on the road to recovery.

Now it is time to make sure this can never happen again. It is time we pass financial reform that will make Wall Street accountable again so they cannot make decisions that undermine our economic security. That is why I strongly support the bill introduced by my good friend, the distinguished Senator from Connecticut, Chairman Dodd.

I thank my Republican friends for allowing us to bring it up for debate. I said on this floor yesterday that the ball game had another inning, and it did. I am grateful to our Republican friends who said: Yes, let's put this on the floor and let's debate it.

Let's not debate to debate and then not get on with the business of average American citizens. As we discuss this legislation in this Chamber in front of the American people, I hope to work with my colleagues in both parties to hammer out a comprehensive, bipartisan bill, a bill that ends the days of the Wall Street casino and safeguards every American from the kind of reckless behavior that led to this crisis in the first place. This is the difficult work we swore to do when we came to this Senate. As we take up the issue of Wall Street reform, I intend to work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to see that it gets done.

As I said to the Senator from Rhode Island, I am very interested in his piece of legislation that deals with the credit card interest.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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