The New Agenda For Taking On Wall Street

Isaiah J. Poole

More than 20 progressive organizations representing millions of voters are putting their weight behind a five-point agenda for the next stage of Wall Street reform. What these groups will formally announce Tuesday, in an event featuring Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, sets a high but practical standard for what a candidate would have to embrace to be considered a progressive on reining in the financial sector.

The Take On Wall Street campaign says it intends to ensure that the voices of working people and consumers are heard above the power and influence of Wall Street. The Washington Post reports that Take On Wall Street will combine the efforts of “some of the Democratic parties biggest traditional backers, from the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO to the Communications Workers of America.”

The campaign is pressing five changes that the coalition says would lead to a fair financial system that works for Main Street and working families, not just Wall Street billionaires. Most are embodied in legislation that is currently pending in Congress:

Close the carried interest loophole. That’s the tax code provision that allows hedge fund and private equity managers to pay a lower tax rate on their earnings than what ordinary workers pay on what they earn. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) would end this inequity.

End the CEO bonus loophole. That loophole allows corporations to write off a large share of CEO pay as a tax deduction – by calling it “performance-based” pay. The result is that taxpayers are subsidizing CEO pay to the tune of $5 billion a year. That amount of money would cover Head Start for more than 590,000 children, or pay the health care costs of more than 480,000 military veterans, or fund full scholarships for more than 600,000 college students. The Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (H.R.2103) would end taxpayers subsidizing CEOs and allow those dollars to be used for such priorities as education and health care.

End “too big to fail.” Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, say they agree with the principle that banks that are “too big to fail are too big to exist,” but Clinton is adamantly opposed to the one thing many economists and banking experts believe would help avert the need to bail out a “too big to fail” bank: a legal wall separating consumer banking from high-risk investment and trading activity. The Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2015 (H.R.381) and 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (H.R. 3054) would bring back a version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.

Enact a Wall Street speculation tax. It’s not right that consumers pay a sales tax on most things they buy, but traders don’t pay a sales tax on the stocks they buy. A tiny tax on the sale of Wall Street financial products – like the one envisioned in the Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2015 (H.R.1464) would raise billions of dollars for critical public needs, and could serve as a brake on high-speed computerized speculation that risks destabilizing markets. This tax would go farther than a narrowly targeted tax that Clinton has proposed.

End predatory lending and offer alternatives for the “unbanked.” The coalition is throwing its support behind efforts by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enact tough new regulations against payday and title lenders, which frequently entrap low-income borrowers in a quicksand of debt through sky-high, often three-digit interest rates and exorbitant fees. It also champions such “public option” alternatives as allowing the U.S. Postal Service to offer basic banking services.

All of these ideas have been proffered by progressive financial reformers even as the Dodd-Frank financial reform law squeaked through Congress in 2010. But this promises to be the broadest effort yet to combine these proposals into a singular reform push, and it comes as jockeying begins to shape the Democratic Party platform. As The Post notes, “Unlike previous anti-Wall Street campaigns such as Occupy Wall Street this group hopes to organize a campaign that will span state houses and as well as the halls of Congress, potentially forecasting a big fight on financial reform in 2017.”

It also comes as many in the Wall Street financial community turn to Clinton as the sane alternative to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the general election campaign. These money interests will want Clinton to assure them that her get-tough rhetoric is nothing more than political red meat to assuage an angry populist electorate; their hope is that if the pivot to a centrist posture doesn’t happen in the general election, it will surely happen once she secures the presidency. But broad support for the Take On Wall Street agenda will limit Clinton’s ability to pivot, especially if this agenda helps elect new Senate and House members committed to not allowing Wall Street to keep rigging the economy against the rest of us.

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