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Will Weak Wall Street Reforms Wreck the Economy Again?

Fraud was a huge part of the financial crisis-- so why isn't the government going after the fraudsters?

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This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

Zach Carter is an economics editor at AlterNet. He writes a weekly blog on the economy for the Media Consortium and his work has appeared in the Nation, Mother Jones, the American Prospect and Salon.