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Weekly remarks: Obama wants more financial regulations, Boehner no on healthcare vote

March 20, 2010 |  3:00 am

Democrat president Barack Obama relaxes at his Oval Office desk

Remarks by President Obama as provided by the White House

On Monday, the Banking Committee of the United States Senate will debate a proposal to address the abuse and excess that led to the worst financial crisis in generations.  These reforms are essential.  As I’ve urged over the past year, we need common-sense rules that will our allow markets to function fairly and freely while reining in the worst practices of the financial industry.  That’s the central lesson of this crisis.  And we fail to heed that lesson at our peril.

Of course, there were many causes of the economic turmoil that ripped through our country over the past two years.  But it was a crisis that began in our financial system.  Large banks engaged in reckless financial speculation without regard for the consequences – and without tough oversight.  Financial firms invented and sold complicated financial products to escape scrutiny and conceal enormous risks.  And there were some who engaged in the rampant exploitation of consumers to turn a quick profit no matter who was hurt in the process. 

Now, I have long been a vigorous defender of free markets.  And I believe we need a strong and vibrant financial sector so that businesses can get loans; families can afford mortgages; entrepreneurs can find the capital to start a new company, sell a new....

...product, offer a new service.  But what we have seen over the past two years is that without reasonable and clear rules to check abuse and protect families, markets don’t function freely.  In fact, it was just the opposite.  In the absence of such rules, our financial markets spun out of control, credit markets froze, and our economy nearly plummeted into a second Great Depression.

That’s why financial reform is so necessary.  And after months of bipartisan work, Senator Chris Dodd and his committee have offered a strong foundation for reform, in line with the proposal I previously laid out, and in line with the reform bill passed by the House. 

It would provide greater scrutiny of large financial firms to prevent any one company from threatening the entire financial system – and it would update the rules so that complicated financial products like derivatives are no longer bought and sold without oversight.  It would prevent banks from engaging in risky dealings through their own hedge funds – while finally giving shareholders a say on executive salaries and bonuses.  And through new tools to break up failing financial firms, it would help ensure that taxpayers are never again forced to bail out a big bank because it is “too big to fail.”

Finally, these reforms include a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to prevent predatory loan practices and other abuses to ensure that consumers get clear information about loans and other financial products before they sign on the dotted line.  Because this financial crisis wasn’t just the result of decisions made by large financial firms; it was also the result of decisions made by ordinary Americans to open credit cards and take on mortgages.  And while there were many who took out loans they knew they couldn’t afford, there were also millions of people who signed contracts they didn’t fully understand offered by lenders who didn’t always tell the truth.

This is in part because the job of protecting consumers is spread across seven different federal agencies, none of which has the interests of ordinary Americans as its principal concern.  This diffusion of responsibility has made it easier for credit card companies to lure customers with attractive offers then punish them in the fine print; for payday lenders and others who charge outrageous interest to operate without much oversight; and for mortgage brokers to entice homebuyers with low initial rates only to trap them with ballooning payments down the line. 

For these banking reforms to be complete – for these reforms to meet the measure of the crisis we’ve just been through – we need a consumer agency to advocate for ordinary Americans and help enforce the rules that protect them.  That’s why I won’t accept any attempts to undermine the independence of this agency.  And I won’t accept efforts to create loopholes for the most egregious abusers of consumers, from payday lenders to auto finance companies to credit card companies. 

Unsurprisingly, this proposal has been a source of contention with financial firms who like things just the way they are.  In fact, the Republican leader in the House reportedly met with a top executive of one of America’s largest banks and made thwarting reform a key part of his party’s pitch for campaign contributions.  And this week, the allies of banks and consumer finance companies launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign to fight against the proposal.  You might call this ‘air support’ for the army of lobbyists already arm twisting members of the committee to reject these reforms and block this consumer agency.  Perhaps that’s why, after months of working with Democrats, Republicans walked away from this proposal.  I regret that and urge them to reconsider.

The fact is, it’s now been well over a year since the near collapse of the entire financial system – a crisis that helped wipe out more than 8 million jobs and that continues to exact a terrible toll throughout our economy.  Yet today the very same system that allowed this turmoil remains in place.  No one disputes that.  No one denies that reform is needed.  So the question we have to answer is very simple: Will we learn from this crisis, or will we condemn ourselves to repeat it?  That’s what’s at stake.

I urge those in the Senate who support these reforms to remain strong, to resist the pressure from those who would preserve the status quo, to stand up for their constituents and our country.   And I promise to use every tool at my disposal to see these reforms enacted: to ensure that the bill I sign into law reflects not the special interests of Wall Street, but the best interests of the American people. Thank you.

Capitol Hill

Remarks by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, as provided by the Republican National Committee

Hello, I’m House Republican Leader John Boehner. I’m speaking to you from the Capitol, where in a matter of hours, the House of Representatives will vote on health care legislation sure to have a drastic effect on our economy and our lives.

It was here fourteen months ago that President Obama took the oath of office with a promise to govern from the center. Republicans stood ready to work with our new president and find common ground to address the issues Americans care about.  

Unfortunately, President Obama and Democrats in Washington chose a partisan path and a costly, big-government agenda. 

The trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ isn’t working as struggling families continue to ask: ‘where are the jobs?’  And taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being spent so fast that two trillion dollars has been added to the national debt on President Obama’s watch. 

Now Democrats want the federal government to take over health care, which represents one-sixth of our economy.

From the beginning, the one thing the American people wanted out of health care reform was lower costs.  That’s why Republicans proposed a bill based on common-sense reforms that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce premiums for families and small businesses by up to 10 percent.  Our bill achieves these goals without cutting Medicare or raising taxes.  All of the details are available at .
healthcare.gov

The Democrats’ bill, which runs more than 2,300 pages, actually raises premiums and ushers in a massive expansion of government – with roughly 160 new boards, bureaus, and commissions.  
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio
Instead of finding a responsible way to pay for all this, Democrats impose more than half-a-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts and more than half-a-trillion dollars in tax hikes. 

In fact, this bill requires 10 years of tax increases and 10 years of Medicare cuts just to pay for six years of supposed benefits, many of which don’t even go into effect until 2014. That’s not reform.

It’s clear where the American people stand. They want no part of this bill, and they haven’t been shy about saying so. We’ve seen standing room only crowds at town hall meetings. Rallies in towns and cities around the country. And now, jammed phone lines on Capitol Hill. All of this coming from citizens yelling ‘stop’ at the top of their lungs. 

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Leaders are too blinded by their ‘Washington knows best’ attitude, too out-of-touch with the concerns of working families, to listen.

Instead of trying to do better, Democrats have packed this bill full of kickbacks, payoffs, and sweetheart deals in order to buy the support of lawmakers and Washington special interest groups. 

Democrats are so afraid of the public’s outrage that they have devised a strategy that would allow them to force this massive bill through Congress without even voting on it.  It’s outrageous, and it’s an affront to the principles of representative democracy.

We were elected to make tough choices, not run from them.  And this vote is certainly one of the toughest.

With that in mind, I asked Speaker Pelosi to have the final health care votes recorded by a ‘call of the roll.’  Under this procedure, each lawmaker will have to stand before the American people and announce his or her vote. 

The stakes are too high, and this bill is too controversial, for anything less than complete transparency and accountability.  It’s time to stand up and be counted.

Don’t let Democrats in Washington take this debate away from you. Don’t let them make this about arm-twisting and backroom deals. 

And don’t let President Obama get away with asking his fellow Democrats to vote for this bill to save his presidency. 

Because this vote isn’t about saving a presidency or a politician. It’s about doing the right thing for our kids and grandkids. It’s about ensuring that freedom and opportunity remain the birthright of our people.  And it’s about listening to the hard-working taxpayers who sent us here.

That’s why the only responsible course of action is to scrap this health care bill.  Let’s start over with a clean sheet of paper. Let’s work together on a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs for families and small businesses. 

Republicans can’t beat this bill, but the American people can. It’s not too late to make your voice heard.
Thank you for listening.    ###

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Photos: Pete Souza / White House; Cliff Owen / Associated Press; Associated Press (Boehner).

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