Capitol Hill may be busy both with considering financial reform legislation, as well as dealing with the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they share a common root: human greed.
The Nevada Democrat on Monday sought to connect dots between the Senate’s consideration of a package of new regulation of Wall Street and the environmental disaster unfolding off the coast of Louisiana in an effort to bring the financial reform bill to a final vote in a timely fashion.
Senators have been working through a long series of proposed amendments to the financial reform package for more than two weeks, and Reid signaled he is keen to move the legislation to final passage this week.
The financial reforms under consideration in the Senate would be the most sweeping regulatory overhaul of the financial industry since the Great Depression. The 2008 financial crisis led to a near-collapse of the U.S. economy that drove the nation into the worst recession in decades. Some 8 million Americans lost their jobs, and the typical family lost $100,000 in savings and home equity, Reid notes.
“We all know how Wall Street brought our economy to the brink of collapse nearly two years ago: Our financial system let traders gamble away other people’s money with little risk and large reward,” he says. “The system said to big bankers: If you win, enjoy your jackpot. And if you lose, don’t worry; taxpayers will bail you out. It’s a pretty rewarding deal for Wall Street, but a pretty raw deal for everyone else.”
The Senate’s proposed financial reforms would give consumers enhanced protection and impose new rules on banks and investment firms. Wall Street executives have been vocal in their strenuous opposition to these reforms.
“I appreciate the good work of so many Senators to make a tough Wall Street reform bill even tougher. So far the Senate has voted for amendments to strengthen the bill, and has voted against efforts to weaken it,” he says. “The Senate has voted to reject loopholes for Wall Street lobbyists and denied carve-outs for those who game the system for their own financial gain.
“The message is clear: We must guarantee taxpayers that they will never again be asked to bail out a big bank. We must protect families’ life savings and seniors’ pensions. We must ensure no bank can become too big to fail. And we must make the system more transparent, which will let us rein in risky bets before it’s too late,” Reid adds.
Reid cites the CBS News program 60 Minutes that aired Sunday night, which “reported damning evidence that the roots of this tragedy are in BP executives’ efforts to pad their own wallets.”
“Their greed led to 11 horrific and unnecessary deaths. It has harmed an enormous tourism industry, threatened business at countless fisheries and disrupted life for many along the Gulf Coast. As the pollution grows worse, those consequences will only compound,” Reid says. “It is the responsibility of Congress and the administration to investigate this disaster. And it is the responsibility of BP and anyone else found culpable to pay the price for their damages.”
Sparked by an explosion on an offshore drilling platform that BP leases, the Gulf oil spill continues to leak as much as 100,000 barrels a day into the waters off the coast of Louisiana. The incident is expected to eclipse the 1989 ExxonValdez spill in severity.
Reid used his floor speech also make a case for a separate piece of legislation that would raise the liability of oil companies from its current $75 million, up to $10 billion. Republicans last week blocked a vote on that bill, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act.
“We must make sure oil companies learn their lesson: while they spend record profits on finding more oil, they also must find safer ways to drill for it and handle it. And they must invest in rapidly developing clean domestic alternatives to protect our environment and strengthen our energy security,” Reid says. “Interior Secretary Salazar and the President deserve credit for their continued efforts to clean up the previous administration’s efforts to put oil company profits before people.
“In the meantime, we in the Senate must also learn from the mistakes on Wall Street to the Gulf of Mexico. And we have to work as quickly as possible to protect against them ever happening again,” he adds.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.