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Weekly remarks: President Obama touts Wall Street reform, Rep. Chris Lee calls for more spending cuts

May 15, 2010 |  3:00 am

President Obama

Weekly remarks by President Obama, as prepared by the White House

On Thursday, I paid a visit to a small business in Buffalo, New York, a town that’s been hard hit in recent decades. I heard from folks about the struggles they’ve been facing for longer than they care to remember. And I talked with them about what my administration is doing to help our families, our small businesses, and our economy rebound from this recession.

Jump-starting job creation in the private sector and fostering a climate that encourages businesses to hire again is vitally important – and I’ll continue working hard to make sure that happens. But my responsibility as President isn’t just to help our economy rebound from this recession; it’s to make sure an economic crisis like the one that helped trigger this recession never happens again.

That’s what Wall Street reform will help us do. In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the reform bill currently making its way through Congress. There’s been a lot of discussion about technical aspects of the bill, and a lot of heated – and frankly, sometimes misleading – rhetoric coming from opponents of reform.

All of this has helped obscure what reform would actually mean for you, the American people. So, I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about why every American has a stake in Wall Street reform.

First and foremost, you have a stake in it if you’ve ever been treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print or ended up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before. And you have a stake in it if you’ve ever tried to take out a home loan, a car loan or a student loan, and been targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.

The Wall Street reform bill in Congress represents the strongest consumer financial protections in history. You’ll be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make the choices that are best for you. We’ll help stop predatory practices, and curb unscrupulous lenders, helping secure your family’s financial future.

That’s why families have a stake in it. And our community banks also have a stake in reform. These are banks we count on to provide the capital that lets our small businesses hire and grow.

The way the system is currently set up, these banks are at a disadvantage because while they are often playing by the rules, many of their less scrupulous competitors are not. So, what reform will do is help level the playing field by making sure all our lenders – not just community banks – are subject to tough oversight. That’s good news for our community banks, which is why we’ve received letters from some of these banks in support of reform.

What’s true for our community banks is also true for small businessmen and women like the ones I met in Buffalo. These small businesses were some of the worst victims of the excessive risk-taking on Wall Street that led to this crisis. Their credit dried up. They had to let people go. Some even shut their doors altogether. And unless we put in place real safeguards, we could see it happen all over again.

That’s why Wall Street reform is so important. With reform, we’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy. And we’ll give shareholders more of a say on pay to help change the perverse incentives that encouraged reckless risk-taking in the first place. Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street.

The stories I heard in Buffalo this week were a reminder that, despite the progress we’ve made, we need to keep working hard, so we can build on that progress and rebound from this recession in the short term. But even as we do, we also need to lay a new foundation for growth and shared prosperity over the long term.
Next week, we have a chance to help lay a cornerstone in that foundation.

The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system – no bill could. But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century.


Weekly remarks by Rep. Chris Lee of New York,
as provided by the Republican Leadership Press Office

Hello. I’m Congressman Chris Lee, and I have the great privilege of representing New York’s 26th Congressional District, which includes the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester.

President Obama visited our area this week, and it was my hope that he would listen – really listen – to what the people are saying. I’ve been in Congress 16 months now, but it doesn’t take that long to figure out that Washington does more talking than listening. And it certainly does more spending than saving, often in the name of creating jobs that never seem to come. The trillion-dollar "stimulus" was supposed to keep unemployment below 8%, but joblessness is now near 10%.

The new healthcare bill is faring no better. It was supposed to lower Americans’ healthcare costs, but the Obama administration’s own experts determined that it will actually increase them. It was supposed to help reduce the deficit, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now says the new law will cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion.

And now, after leaving taxpayers on the hook for massive "stimulus" programs and permanent bailouts, Democrats in Washington have no credible plan to put our fiscal house in order. In fact, House Democrats may not even offer a budget this year.Rep. Chris Lee

Families are making tough choices each month in order to live within a budget, and government should be doing the same. One Democratic leader in Congress has called the budget "the most basic responsibility of governing." Another Democratic leader has said, "If you can’t budget, you can’t govern." But now these same Democrats just want to continue spending money we don’t have, and they want to do it without a budget.

This is a remarkable failure of leadership: according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, not passing a budget resolution would be unprecedented in the modern era.

And for you and your families, it means a missed opportunity to provide the fiscal discipline economists say is needed to create jobs and boost the economy. What’s worse, the fewer sacrifices Washington makes now, the more Americans will be asked to give up later in the form of massive job-killing tax hikes.

This is a recipe for economic disaster, and it has to change.

Consider this: since President Obama was sworn into office, our national debt has risen by more than $2 trillion to a record $12.9 trillion. In just two more years, according to the President’s own estimates, our national debt will surpass the size of our entire economy. And unless we change course, our debt will reach levels now being experienced by Greece, whose debt is projected to reach 125% of its economy this year. Greece is already in the process of receiving an international bailout.

We are seeing in Europe today what happens when debt spirals out of control, how it shakes the confidence of consumers, manufacturers, and small businesses, and how it creates an insurmountable obstacle to economic recovery. We’re also seeing in Europe that government is not immune to the same fate that befalls any business or family that recklessly spends more than it earns: you run out of money and you go bankrupt.

So our choice is this: make the tough decisions required to put our fiscal house in order or continue to duck them. That’s why Republicans have proposed several initiatives to cut spending now and make Washington do more with less, just as families and small businesses are. We have asked President Obama to use his authority under the law to force Congress to consider spending cuts. We have also imposed an immediate, unilateral earmark ban and called for the savings to be used to reduce the deficit. And we have proposed strict budget caps to limit federal spending on an annual basis. Less spending, more jobs: it’s that simple.

President Obama and Democrats in Washington should listen to the American people, who want us to work together on common-sense solutions to stop the spending spree and focus on helping manufacturers and small businesses create jobs. A responsible budget would be a good place to start. Thank you for listening.


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Photos, from top: Pete Souza / White House; Molly Riley / Reuters; Office of Rep. Chris Lee.