If further proof is needed that the Occupy Wall Street protests have captured the public’s mind, both President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were asked about them today during unrelated news conferences in Washington D.C. and in Albany.
And both tried to align themselves with the goals of the protests, if not the specifics of the action.
“I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference to promote the American Jobs Act. “That we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.”
Mr. Obama also touted his administration’s own efforts to save the financial system during the crash of 2008, and said that he has pushed for more regulation of the financial system, only to have Republicans block it.
“You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place,” he said. “That does not make sense to the American people. They are frustrated by it. And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system.”
Mr. Obama also said that he understood the protesters calls for there to be more prosecutions of the financial systems bad actors, but said that many of those responsible for the crash were actually following the law.
Up in Albany, Gov. Cuomo, who has resisted calls to impose higher taxes on upper income earner, talked up his own record as attorney general.
“No one has been more aggressive on Wall Street than I have. I was attorney general for four years and I was very aggressive in the cases we brought, the actions we brought, and the theories that we pursued up and down Wall Street,” he said. “At the same time, it is a major economic engine for this state. All told, 20-25 percent of the state’s income comes from Wall Street There has to be a balance from the state perspective. We want fairness, we want justice, certainly and to the extent there were bad acts we want them punished.”
Full Obama remarks below:
Obviously I’ve heard of it. I’ve seen it on television. I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel — that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.
So, yes, I think people are frustrated, and the protestors are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works. Now, keep in mind I have said before and I will continue to repeat, we have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow. And I used up a lot of political capital, and I’ve got the dings and bruises to prove it, in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown, and that banks stayed afloat. And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse.
But what I’ve also said is that for us to have a healthy financial system, that requires that banks and other financial institutions compete on the basis of the best service and the best products and the best price, and it can’t be competing on the basis of hidden fees, deceptive practices, or derivative cocktails that nobody understands and that expose the entire economy to enormous risks. That’s what Dodd-Frank was designed to do. It was designed to make sure that we didn’t have the necessity of taxpayer bailouts; that we said, you know what? We’re going to be able to control these situations so that if these guys get into trouble, we can isolate them, quarantine them, and let them fail. It says that we’re going to have a consumer watchdog on the job, all the time, who’s going to make sure that they are dealing with customers in a fair way, and we’re eliminating hidden fees on credit cards, and mortgage brokers are going to have to — actually have to be straight with people about what they’re purchasing.
And what we’ve seen over the last year is not only did the financial sector — with the Republican Party in Congress — fight us every inch of the way, but now you’ve got these same folks suggesting that we should roll back all those reforms and go back to the way it was before the crisis. Today, my understanding is we’re going to have a hearing on Richard Cordray, who is my nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He would be America’s chief consumer watchdog when it comes to financial products. This is a guy who is well regarded in his home state of Ohio, has been the treasurer of Ohio, the attorney general of Ohio. Republicans and Democrats in Ohio all say that he is a serious person who looks out for consumers. He has a good reputation. And Republicans have threatened not to confirm him not because of anything he’s done, but because they want to roll back the whole notion of having a consumer watchdog.
You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place. That does not make sense to the American people. They are frustrated by it. And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaining the system.
So I’m going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector.
I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers. We need them to be lending. We need them to be lending more to small businesses. We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy. But until the American people see that happening, yes, they are going to continue to express frustrations about what they see as two sets of rules.
Q Do you think Occupy Wall Street has the potential to be a tea party movement in 2012?
THE PRESIDENT: What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream. That’s how you got ahead — the old-fashioned way. And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren’t rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren’t doing the right thing are rewarded.
And that’s going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we’re getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you’re a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Just to follow up on Jackie’s question — one of the reasons why so many of the people of the Occupy Wall Street protests are so angry is because, as you say, so many people on Wall Street did not follow the rules, but your administration hasn’t really been very aggressive in prosecuting. In fact, I don’t think any Wall Street executives have gone to jail despite the rampant corruption and malfeasance that did take place. So I was wondering if you’d comment on that.
And then just as a separate question — as you’re watching the Solyndra and Fast and Furious controversies play out, I’m wondering if it gives you any pause about any of the decision-making going on in your administration — some of the emails that Democrats puts out indicating that people at the Office of Management and Budget were concerned about the Department of Energy; some of the emails going on with the Attorney General saying he didn’t know about the details of Fast and Furious. Are you worried at all about how this is — how your administration is running?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first on the issue of prosecutions on Wall Street, one of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehmans and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole subprime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless. That’s exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank, to prohibit some of these practices.
The financial sector is very creative and they are always looking for ways to make money. That’s their job. And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it. So without commenting on particular prosecutions — obviously that’s not my job; that’s the Attorney General’s job — I think part of people’s frustrations, part of my frustration, was a lot of practices that should not have been allowed weren’t necessarily against the law, but they had a huge destructive impact. And that’s why it was important for us to put in place financial rules that protect the American people from reckless decision-making and irresponsible behavior.
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