Five years ago today

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Five years ago today, I ran as fast as I could out of a Senate hearing, through the halls, down a stairway, and out onto the plaza behind the Senate. I looked around wildly, then Senator Dick Durbin waved me over to his car. I jumped in the back, and he yelled, “Hit it!” to his driver, and we shot off.

I had been testifying on behalf of the Congressional Oversight Panel about the TARP Wall Street bailout – a hearing that happened to be scheduled for the same time the President was signing the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill into law. The timing looked impossible (they lock the doors on Presidential events, so you can’t just slide into your seat a few minutes late). Senator Durbin said he’d get me there, but we needed to RUN! So the minute I finished testifying, that’s exactly what I did.

With seconds to spare, I was tucked into my assigned seat next to legendary former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke next to him. I’d never seen a President sign anything into law, but the ceremony wasn’t what I’d expected. Don’t get me wrong – the President gave a good speech, and both Chris Dodd and Barney Frank showed up, along with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid and lots of other folks, so it was plenty grand. But for me, it was all about the moment. One minute, there was no consumer agency, but when the President finished his signature – a new agency was born. And I’d seen it happen.

The new consumer agency was about leveling the playing field, about making sure that families didn’t get cheated in the fine print on mortgages and credit cards and checking accounts and all other kinds of financial dealings.  

The financial industry had fought us every inch of the way, spending more than a million dollars a day for over a year. Many times, they declared the agency dead. We didn’t have that kind of money to spend on lobbyists and PR firms – heck, we had hardly any money in comparison – but we didn’t give up. We built an organization from the ground up, and we pulled in allies and grassroots activists from all over the country. It was David-versus-Goliath all the way, and in the fight for the consumer agency, David pulled it off.

And the fight was worth it. The agency went operational four years ago today, and it has handled 650,000 complaints since it opened its doors – some with money back and some with an apology. Mortgages have gotten clearer and easier to read. Work on credit cards, student loans, checking accounts, small-dollar loans, and other products is headed in the right direction. And in that four years, the consumer agency has forced the biggest banks in this country to return more than $10 billion directly to people they cheated.

The CFPB has helped level the playing field, and it has given consumers a tough watchdog who is on their side.

Right now, the Republicans are trying to hamstring the CFPB by slashing its funding, reducing its jurisdiction, and restricting its enforcement authority – steps that would undermine the market by taking financial cops off the beat. Republican presidential candidates have said they would repeal it outright. With no cops, big banks could make more money not by offering better products, but by cheating their customers.  

Sure, the big banks and their Republican friends hate it. But the consumer agency is government that works – and it is government worth fighting for.

We got here with your help, and we’ll protect this agency with your help – because together we can build a better future. In fact, we’ve already started.

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Anyone running for President should say loud and clear:

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In Washington, money flows like a river. It rushes everywhere, sweeping along as much as it can and threatening to drown anything – or anyone – that gets in its way.

Money for campaigns and PACs. Money to hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers. Money for PR firms and trade associations. Money for think tanks to give the cover of respectability for genuinely ugly ideas.

And there’s another pot of money – the money that keeps the revolving door spinning. It’s about big bonuses that Wall Street banks pay their executives to spend a little time running our government and about the big payoffs that these banks offer when people leave government and head to Wall Street.  

Sure, laws matter. But it also matters who interprets those laws. Who enforces those laws. Who monitors what’s going on and exercises judgment – judgment to indict a bunch of bankers who break the law or to cut a more civilized deal that lets the bank pay a fine and all the executives take home bonuses?  

It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Personnel is policy.

Wall Street insiders have enough influence in Washington already without locking up one powerful job after another in the Executive Branch of our government. Sure, private sector experience can be valuable – no one ever said otherwise – but there is a point at which the revolving door compromises public interest. And we are way beyond that point.  

We need a government that doesn’t work just for the rich and powerful – we need a government that works for the people.

And this is why I’m writing to you. We have a presidential election coming up. I think anyone running for that job – anyone who wants the power to make every key economic appointment and nomination across the federal government – should say loud and clear that they agree: we don’t run this country for Wall Street and mega corporations. We run it for people.  

No one is disqualified just because they have Wall Street experience, but public service is about more than serving one industry. Anyone who wants to be President should appoint people to key economic positions who have already demonstrated that they can hold giant banks accountable, who have already demonstrated that they embrace the kind of ambitious economic policies that we need to rebuild opportunity and a strong middle class in this country.  

I need your help, Lauren – the country needs your help. The only way that candidates for President – or for any office – will slow down the revolving door and say “enough is enough” is if YOU demand that they say it.

Sign up now to tell the 2016 Presidential candidates: Pledge to stop the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.

We’re running out of time. The middle class in this country has been hacked at, squeezed, and hammered until it’s nearly at the breaking point. We can’t afford to nibble around the edges any more.

We need leadership that is willing to fight for this country, leadership that is willing to make working people a first priority, leadership that recognizes the importance of major, structural change – on everything from Wall Street regulation to tax policy to education to trade. We need leaders to show they understand the urgency of the moment, leaders to show some backbone and ambition.

We get what we fight for – so let’s get out there and fight.

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Let's get real

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Seven years ago, Wall Street’s high-risk bets brought our economy to its knees.

We’ve made progress since then. The Dodd-Frank Act was the strongest financial reform law in three generations, and it gave regulators a number of common-sense tools to prevent future crises.

But let’s get real: Dodd-Frank did not end the “too big to fail” problem – the problem posed by financial institutions that are so large that their failure would threaten the whole economy. Last summer, both the Fed and FDIC reported publicly that eleven of the big banks were still so risky that if any one of them started to fail, they would need a government bailout or they would risk taking down the American economy – again.

That’s not a statistic that should make anyone sleep well tonight.

That’s why I’ve partnered with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King to reintroduce the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, a bill to reduce taxpayers’ risk in the financial system and decrease the likelihood of future financial crises. Sign up now to show your support.

Four years after the 1929 Wall Street crash, Congress passed the original Glass-Steagall Act to build a wall between boring, commercial banking – savings and checking accounts – and riskier investment banking.

The idea was simple: If banks want access to government-provided deposit insurance, they should be limited to boring banking. If the banks want to engage in high-risk trading, they can go for it – but they can’t get access to insured deposits and put the taxpayer on the hook for some of the risk.

The Glass-Steagall Act laid the groundwork for a half century of financial stability that helped create a robust and thriving middle class. But the commercial banks wanted higher profits and the investment banks wanted access to all that cash in checking accounts, so they starting lobbying Washington to end Glass-Steagall. Finally, in the 1980s, regulators began buckling under pressure from the banks and began poking holes in the wall between investment and commercial banking. In 1999, after 12 separate attempts, Congress repealed most of Glass-Steagall. And in 2008, "too big to fail" was born.

The bill we’re reintroducing this week will rebuild the wall between commercial banks and investment banks – with new protections to fill some of the holes punched in the original bill and to cover products that didn’t exist in 1933. It won’t end “too big to fail” all by itself, but it will reduce risk in the system and make financial institutions smaller and safer.

Sign up now to show your support for the bipartisan 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. Let’s make banks choose: Take big risks using investors’ money or be very careful using depositors’ money – but no more mixing the two.

The big banks and their executives have recovered handsomely from the crisis they helped create, while too many other Americans are still scraping to get by.

We weren’t sent to Washington to work for the big banks. It’s time for a banking system that serves the best interests of the American people.

Woo-hoo!

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What a week, everyone!

The Supreme Court affirmed this week what we’ve known all along:

  • The Affordable Care Act gives all Americans access to more affordable, comprehensive health insurance.
  • Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love.

Just for today, let’s start with a little bragging: Massachusetts was the first state in the country to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, and we passed comprehensive health care reform nearly a decade ago. Anyone who wants to see the future should take a look around Massachusetts.

Today’s a day for celebration, but don’t forget: The Republican leadership isn’t giving up. Listen to their presidential candidates: They will never stop fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and many make it clear they won’t accept today’s marriage ruling as final.

We celebrate, but we keep fighting for a world where all people have a chance to get ahead, where all families matter, and where all people feel safe and welcomed and can thrive.

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I need you to make a phone call

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We have one last chance to stop Fast Track on trade – right now! The House has scheduled a vote for Friday, and dozens of members of Congress are still undecided (or undeclared) about which way they will vote.

Will you take a minute right now to call your representative’s office and tell him or her to vote NO on Fast Track?

Click here look up your representative’s phone number.

As a quick recap: Right now, the President is finishing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal covering 40% of the world’s economy. It was negotiated with the help of 28 working groups, but here’s the scary part: 85% of the people in those groups are corporate executives or corporate lobbyists. I’m not against trade – but a tilted process produces a tilted product, and I’m really worried about a trade deal that works for big, multinational corporations and leaves everyone else in the dirt.

We saw what has happened to American jobs under trade deals like NAFTA: a million lost jobs and stagnant wages for decades. President Obama says this time it’s different – but you can’t see the deal. It’s classified. The Administration will release the text to the public onlyafter Congress passes Fast Track.

What does that mean? Before you are allowed to see the giant Asia trade deal, Congress must voluntarily give up its power to offer amendments and sharply reduce its ability to block a bad deal. So, for example, if this TPP deal includes a dangerous ISDS provisions that would let multinational corporations effectively challenge American laws outside of American courts, our hands would be tied.

Also, Fast Track wouldn’t apply to just this one TPP deal. It would apply to ANY trade deal cut by ANY President for the next six years. So if one of the anti-worker, climate-change-denying, Wall-Street accountability-hating Republicans gets elected President, they would have the same Fast Track power to ram bad trade deals that undermine our laws through Congress just 18 months from now.

It’s just plain irresponsible to sign a six-year Fast Track agreement – and to sign away our right to fix the TPP before the public has seen the deal.

It only takes a minute or two to look up your member of Congress, call his or her office, and tell the person who answers the phone: “Hello, I’m (name) from (city), and I’m calling to urge him/her to vote NO on trade Fast Track. Do you know how he/she is planning on voting?”

Can we count on you to make one final call to your representative before Friday’s vote? Click here to look up the phone number now.

P.S. Even though labor unions, environmental groups, human rights groups, legal experts, and many others oppose Fast Track, trade doesn’t fall neatly in a Republican category or Democratic category. Some Democrats will vote for Fast Track – and some Republicans will vote against it. No matter where you live, no matter who represents you, please make your voice heard. Please call your representative now and tell him or her to vote NO on Fast Track.

P.P.S. Think about family, friends, and neighbors who may not get these emails. Think about the folks you know in other states. Ask if they would call. Forward any part of this email – we need the help. This is how online grassroots democracy really works.

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I agree with Hillary Clinton

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I have serious concerns about ISDS – a policy in the new TPP trade agreement that would let foreign companies challenge American laws outside of American courts.

I’ll give you a recent example of how it works: A big mining company wanted to do some blasting off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Canadian government refused to provide permits because it thought the blasting would harm the local environment and scare off fish that local fishermen needed to make a living.

Thanks to an ISDS provision in a past trade agreement, that mining company didn’t have to go to a Canadian court to challenge the permit decision – they went right to a special ISDS panel of corporate lawyers. Last month, the international panel ruled in favor of the mining company, and the decision cannot be challenged in Canadian courts.

Now the Canadian taxpayers may be on the hook for up to $300 million in “damages” to the mining company – all because their government had the gall to stand up for its environment and the economic livelihood of its local fishermen. And the next time a foreign company wants a blasting permit, what will the Canadian government do?

ISDS isn’t a one-time, hypothetical problem – we’ve seen it in past trade agreements. Just in the past few years:

  • A French company sued Egypt after Egypt raised its minimum wage.
  • A Swedish company sued Germany because Germany wanted to phase out nuclear power for safety reasons.
  • A Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czech Republic didn't bail out a bank that the Dutch company partially owned.
  • Philip Morris is using ISDS right now to try to stop countries like Australia and Uruguay from implementing new rules that are intended to cut smoking rates – because the new laws might eat into the tobacco giant’s profits.

The Obama Administration has said that they have fixed all the problems, and nothing like that will happen here. They just won’t show you how.

Let's send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – ISDS and everything else. Sign the petition right now.

I’m not the only one worried about ISDS. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her book last year:

"We should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors."

In March, more than a hundred law professors from all around the country wrote a letter about their concerns about ISDS. And five of the country’s top legal and economic experts – Joseph Stiglitz, Larry Tribe, Judith Resnik, Cruz Reynoso, and H. Lee Sarokin – all agree:

"ISDS weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the legal system and using a system of adjudication with limited accountability and review. It is antithetical to the fair, public, and effective legal system that all Americans expect and deserve. Proponents of ISDS have failed to explain why our legal system is inadequate to the task. For the reasons cited above, we urge you to uphold the best ideals of our legal system and ensure ISDS is excluded from upcoming trade agreements."

This isn't a partisan issue. I don’t often agree with the conservative Cato Institute, and I suspect they don’t often agree with me. But the head of Cato’s trade policy program said:

"[ISDS] raises serious questions about democratic accountability, sovereignty, checks and balances, and the separation of power... Sen. Warren’s perspective on ISDS is one that libertarians and other free market advocates should share."

The Obama Administration says you have nothing to worry about – to trust them that nothing could possibly go wrong. But they won’t release the text of the TPP agreement to the public for you to see it for yourself.

Frankly, "just trust us" isn’t good enough – not for a trade deal that multinational corporations have been working on for years while the public has been kept in the dark.

Tens of thousands of people have already signed our petition: No vote to fast-track trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal – including ISDS. Please sign the petition now.

You can't read this

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Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?

Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.

Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”

If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.

Let’s send a loud message to our trade officials: No vote on a fast-track for trade agreements until the American people can see what’s in this TPP deal. Sign this petition right now to make the TPP agreement public.

The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.

For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.

If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.

Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it. 

Sherrod Brown has been leading this fight, and he points out that TPP isn’t classified military intelligence – it’s a trade agreement among 12 countries that control 40% of the world’s economy. A trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely. It might even affect the new financial rules we put in place after the 2008 crisis. This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.

When giant corporations get to see the details and the American people don’t, we all lose. Let’s level the playing field: No vote on fast-tracking trade until the public can read the TPP deal.

We’ve all seen the tricks and traps that corporations hide in the fine print of contracts. We’ve all seen the provisions they slip into legislation to rig the game in their favor. Now just imagine what they have done working behind closed doors with TPP.

We can’t keep the American people in the dark.

Without rules, financial markets don't work

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For too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast the debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp. They generally put Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second.  

But that so-called “choice” gets it all wrong.  

Rules are not the enemy of markets. Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking skyrockets, and markets fall apart. Rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

Republicans claim – loudly and repeatedly – that they support competitive markets, but their approach to financial regulation is pure crony capitalism. It helps the rich and the powerful protect and expand their wealth and their power – and leaves everyone else behind.  

This week, I gave a big policy speech where I presented ways we can promote competition, innovation, and safety in financial markets. The speech was long and wonky, but it really boils down to two principles:

  • First, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to cheat people. Markets work only if people can see and understand the products they are buying, only if people can reasonably compare one product to another, only if people can’t get fooled into taking on far more risk than they realize just so that some fly-by-night company can turn a quick profit and move on. That’s true for families buying mortgages and for pension plans buying complex financial instruments.
  • Second, financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to get the taxpayers to pick up their risks. That’s true for using insured deposits for high-risk trading, and it’s true for letting Too-Big-to-Fail banks get a wink-and-a-nod guarantee of a government bailout.

We know what changes we need to make financial markets work better. Strengthen the rules to prevent cheating. Make the cops do their jobs. Cut the banks down to size.  Change the tax code to promote more long-term investment. Tackle shadow-banking done by non-bank firms and subsidiaries.  

Changes like these can make a real difference. They can help protect hard-working families from cheats and liars. They can help rein in the lawless practices that are still too common on Wall Street. They can end Too Big to Fail.

The secret to better markets isn’t turning loose the biggest banks to do whatever they want. The secret is smarter, more structural regulation that forces everyone to play by the same rules and doesn’t let anyone put the entire economy at risk.

The key steps aren’t hard. It just takes political courage – and a strong demand from people like you – to complete the unfinished business of financial reform.

Wall Street isn’t happy with us

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In 2008, the financial sector collapsed and nearly brought down our whole economy. What were the ingredients behind that crash? Recklessness on Wall Street and a willingness in Washington to play along with whatever the big banks wanted.  

Years have passed since the crisis and the bailout, but the big banks still swagger around town. And when Citigroup and the others don’t quite get their way or Washington doesn’t feel quite cozy enough, they quickly move to loud, public threats. Their latest move is a stunner. According to Reuters:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.

JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said.

That’s right, the biggest banks on Wall Street have made it clear that they expect a return on their investment in Washington. Forget making the markets safer (where they can still make plenty of money) and forget the $700 billion taxpayer bailout that saved them and forget the need to build a strong economy for all Americans. Forget it all. The big banks want a Washington that works only for them and that puts their interests first – and they would like to get a little public fanny-kissing for their money too.

Well forget it. They can threaten or bully or say whatever they want, but we aren’t going to change our game plan. We do, however, need to respond.

According to this breaking news, our 2016 Democratic Senate candidates could lose at least $30,000 because of this decision. Can you help us raise $30,000 to match Wall Street’s money right now – and keep fighting for a Democratic Senate that will work for people instead of big banks?

Now let’s be clear: $30,000 is a drop in the bucket to JPMorgan and Citigroup. Heck, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon makes more than $30,000 in just a few hours.

The big banks have thrown around money for years, spending more than a $1 million a day to hold off Dodd-Frank and the consumer agency. But they are moving out of the shadows. They have reached a new level of brazenness, demanding that Senate Democrats grovel before them.  

That kind of swagger is a warning shot. They want a showy way to tell Democrats across the country to be scared of speaking out, to be timid about standing up, and to stay away from fighting for what’s right.

Ok, they have taken their shot, but it will not work.

I’m not going to stop talking about the unprecedented grasp that Citigroup has on our government’s economic policymaking apparatus. I’m not going to stop talking about the settlement agreements that JPMorgan makes with our Justice Department that are so weak, the bank celebrates by giving their executives a raise. And I’m not going to pretend the work of financial reform is done, when the so-called “too big to fail” banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008.

The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back. It’s up to us to fight back against a financial system that allows those who broke our economy to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while ordinary Americans continue to struggle. It’s up to us to fight back against a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists – and their friends in Congress – that our regulators forget who they’re working for.

Let’s send the biggest banks on Wall Street our own message: We’re going to keep fighting, and your swagger and your threats won’t stop us. Help us match their $30,000 right now.

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