Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a gathering of progressive lawmakers Friday that seeing her colleagues vote to advance a Wall Street deregulation bill this week was a “stab in the heart.”
This week, 16 Senate Democrats voted for the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. It’s a cleverly misnamed bill that would peel back regulations on 25 of the 32 largest banks in the country, removing a slew of consumer protections while relaxing stress tests and other reporting requirements for a range of financial institutions that were developed in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Ten of those Democrats co-sponsored it. This morning at the Congressional Progressive Caucus strategy retreat in Baltimore, Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, used her keynote address to call them out.
Speaking about a series of recently lost policy fights — on gun reform, the tax bill, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and more — Warren told the annual gathering of progressive elected officials and advocates, “Just this week we lost the first round in the battle of a bad banking bill — a bill that would take the reins off of Wall Street’s most reckless actors and put as greater risk of another financial crisis. When I saw a handful of my Democratic colleagues vote for it, it felt like a stab in the heart. Not for me, but for all the homeowners who were cheated and all the taxpayers who bailed out those banks. That is wrong.”
While she was angry at Wall Street, she said, she felt most betrayed by her own colleagues. “It is so hard to fight against all the money and all the lobbying. It is so hard to fight when we fight and lose. It’s worse when some of our teammates don’t even show up for the fight,” she said.
While she started off with a nod to teachers mobilizing in West Virginia and Oklahoma, Warren spent most of her address describing how she got involved in politics — interviewing people experiencing bankruptcy for her first book, “As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America,” released in 1989. What Warren learned through that process, she said, was that “this isn’t a story about economics. This is a story about power: about who has it and who doesn’t. In this relationship between lender and borrower, the lender has the power.”
Framed as providing relief to community banks, the bill Warren was referring to this morning would — among other things — exempt banks valued at under $250 billion from abiding by some regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank, intended to help prevent against the kinds of systemic risk that led the last recession to spiral. Countrywide Financial was $200 billion when it collapsed and shook the foundations of the mortgage market. It would further exempt small banks from following the Volcker Rule, while also loosening restrictions on the U.S.-subsidiaries of foreign-based banks. It could also open the door for community banks to discriminate against rural borrowers and people of color.
A few days earlier Warren tweeted out the names of the officials who had voted for the deregulatory measure. “Senate Republicans voted unanimously for the #BankLobbyistAct. But this bill wouldn’t be on the path to becoming law without the support of these Democrats. The Senate just voted to increase the chances your money will be used to bail out big banks again,” she wrote.
The conference falls at an interesting time for progressives in the party. Democrats’ grassroots energy has shifted largely toward the left post-Trump and as a result of banner fights over issues like health care and immigration. And while there’s more support than ever for policies like Medicare for All, bank-friendly measures continue to a source of bipartisan agreement. Perhaps in nod to the party’s ambitions, the organizers of the event — from the Progressive Caucus’s nonprofit arm, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center — invited representatives from a number of European left parties to attend, including members of parliament from Podemos in Spain, the U.K. Labour Party, Syriza in Greece, and Germany’s left party, Die Linke.
The morning’s other keynote address was from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Her address was off the record.
Correction: March 9, 2018, 4:19 p.m.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that banks valued at under $250 million would be exempt from some regulations. It is actually banks valued under $250 billion that would be exempted.