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Take Action: No More Gambling With Taxpayer Money!

A Very Special Guest Post by Mary Bottari of Reckless swaps and derivatives trading played a critical role in the financial crisis, inflating the domestic housing bubble and turning it into a global economic catastrophe. As the House and Senate conference committee begins final work on the financial services reform bill it is critically important to preserve the strong language cracking down on those “financial weapons of mass destruction” contained in the Senate bill. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz makes the case for Senate derivatives chapter plainly" “If [Congress] fails to pass strict oversight of dangerous over-the-counter derivatives and swaps the U.S. economy will continue to be vulnerable to significant financial risk.”

Casino Banking

Currently the five largest banks in the United States have an anti-competitive strangle-hold on 90 percent of the U.S. swaps and derivatives market worth some $300 trillion. The five banks are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. These five bank-dealers can fund their swaps trading units with FDIC-insured deposits. They have access to the Federal Reserve's discount window, which allows them to borrow money for gambling in swaps at near-zero percent interest rates. But these government supports were created to reassure the public that their deposits are safe, and to protect banks from runs on their deposits –- not to help banks finance their own casinos.

Play with Your Own Money, Not Ours

Sec. 716 of the Senate bill contains a ban on federal government assistance to any swap entity. In effect, Sec. 716 will require the five largest banks/swaps dealers to spin off their swaps desks into a separately capitalized affiliate – in other words to Wall off the casino from old fashioned banking. The measure is geared entirely towards preventing a situation in which taxpayers would once again be liable for the bad bets of big banks. Sec. 716 would ensure that private sector institutions alone are responsible for these risky trades.

Don't Believe Bank Spin

This fight is winnable! Politico reports that the banks are downright "queasy" as the final reform deal nears. It is also important to note that contrary to big bank spin, the banks would be able to serve their customers as they always have. Their affiliated swaps desks would be able to sell a full range of financial products and they would be able to hedge their own risk. But they would no longer be gambling with taxpayer money.

Proposal Under Threat

While the Senate derivatives chapter is supported by leading economists and reform advocates including Jospeh Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini, Simon Johnson, Robert Johnson, Dean Baker, advocates like Americans for Financial Reform, small American banks and even a large number of international bank analysts, it is not supported by the Obama administration or Congressional leaders. It is also the top target of the 2,500 bank lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill. Since these powerful provisions are already in the bill, thanks to the efforts of Senate Agriculture Committee chair Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), they will have to be stripped out with a public vote. Democratic leaders like Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) are in the awkward position of needing to gut the reform package that they are touting as the strongest since the New Deal era. They are hoping to do this gracefully and are working on a bad compromise to buy off critics.

Disgraceful not Graceful, Whip the Conferees!

It's time to tell Dodd and Frank that we need to preserve Sec. 716, and strengthen it with meaningful enforcement powers through a technical amendment put forward by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). Tell them it is disgraceful that they are talking about weakening the financial reform package behind the scenes, while touting the bill as a powerful crack down on Wall Street in front of the cameras. Below you will find the whip list of Senate conferees. See if any of them are in your state and call them first, then put in a jingle to Dodd and Frank. Tell them we have their number and we are demanding real reform. 1) The Congressional switchboard can link you up to any member of Congress (202)224-3121 and specific conferee numbers are listed below. 2) Script: “Can you tell me what Senator X's position is on Senator Lincoln's derivatives language? As a taxpayer, I am calling to tell Senator X that I do not want to pay for Wall Street’s reckless gambling. Keep Senator Lincoln’s strong language that will crack down on financial weapons of mass destruction in the final reform bill. We also need Senator Cantwell’s amendment to make sure that these rules are properly enforced. Congress’ focus should be the stability of the financial system not the profitability of big banks.” 3) Tell us what they said! You can post comments to this blog or you can email Tiffiny at [email protected].

Senate Conferees

Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) (202) 224-2823 Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) (202) 224-5842 Jack Reed (D-R.I.) (202) 224-4642 Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (202) 224-6542 Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) (202) 224-5744 Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) (202) 224-3344 Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) (202) 224-6142 Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) (202) 224-3324 Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) tell her to stand strong (202) 224-4843 Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) (202) 224-4242 Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) 202 224-3254 Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) 202 224-3521

House Conferees

Barney Frank (D-MA), (202) 225-5931 Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), (202) 225-6511 Maxine Waters (D-CA), (202) 225-2201 Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), (202) 225-7944 Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), (202) 225-8203 Mel Watt (D-NC), 202-225-1510 Gregory Meeks (D-NY), (202) 225-3461 Dennis Moore, Chair (D-KS), (202)225-2865 Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), (202)225-2015 Gary Peters (D-MI), (202) 225-5802 Collin Peterson (D-MN), (202) 225-2165 Leonard Boswell (D-IA), (202) 225-3806 Henry Waxman (D-CA), (202)225-3976 Bobby Rush (D-IL), (202) 225-4372 John Conyers (D-MI), (202) 225-5126 Howard Berman (D-CA), (202) 225-4695 Edolphus Towns (D-NY), (202) 225-5936 Elijah Cummings (D-MD), (202) 225-4741 Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), (202) 225-2361 Heath Shuler (D-NC), (202) 225-6401