WASHINGTON — The financial crisis that struck in 2008 touched off the worst recession since the 1930s Great Depression, wiping out $11 trillion in U.S. household wealth and leaving about 8 million Americans jobless. More than 5 million families lost their homes to foreclosure. Reckless trading and aggressive practices on Wall Street in the prior boom years were pinned with much of the blame.
In the aftermath, Congress enacted an overhaul of financial rules aimed at preventing another meltdown and multibillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank law gave regulators new oversight powers and tools to shut banks without resorting to bailouts. Risky lending was restricted and a new federal agency was charged with protecting consumers from deceptive marketing of financial products.
Republicans and many in the business community complain that the restrictions have raised costs for banks, especially smaller ones, and other businesses, stifling economic growth. They want the overhaul law repealed.
WHERE THEY STAND
Hillary Clinton says the Dodd-Frank law should be strengthened. She’d slap a new “risk fee” on the biggest banks and financial institutions, and give regulators more power to force high-risk banks to shrink or break apart. That doesn’t go as far as Bernie Sanders’ “Break them up” mantra during his Democratic primary campaign against her.
Donald Trump wants the financial overhaul law to be repealed, or at least mostly dismantled. He embraces the view held by Republicans and business interests that the regulations have increased costs and smothered growth. He calls the law a “disaster” and a “disgrace.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Eight years on, the economy’s recovery from the havoc brought by the financial crisis has been halting and slow.
And popular resentment still smolders over the multibillion-dollar bailout by U.S. taxpayers of Wall Street mega-banks and financial firms in the crisis. It gave a big lift to Sanders’ upstart campaign. It also created some heartburn for Clinton because of her financial connections. She and husband Bill have collected tens of millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street banks, insurance companies and other financial firms. Over her 15-year political career, she’s received tens of millions in campaign donations from people in the finance, insurance and real estate industries.
Beyond their stake as taxpayers, American consumers have an interest in the financial regulations that came in after the meltdown. The Dodd-Frank law set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which expanded regulators’ oversight of mortgage firms, credit card issuers, payday lenders, student loan providers and others.
Debate rages over whether Wall Street banks still are “too big to fail” — with government bailouts inevitable. Critics of Wall Street say bigger banks can mean reduced competition and higher fees for consumers. Several of the banks did get bigger as they absorbed failing institutions during the crisis.
On the other side, defenders say big banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are getting smaller and simpler on their own, mainly by selling off big-chunk assets and businesses. Generally, though, the shrinking that’s occurred isn’t enough to overcome the bulking-up during the crisis.
Reaching further for a solution, liberal Democratic critics of Wall Street like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have pushed for Congress to restore the Depression-era firewall between the more staid commercial side of banking and its risk-taking investment side. Clinton has not. Bringing back the so-called Glass-Steagall law probably would lead to the breakup of major banks.
In a surprise, the Republican Party advocated reviving that law in its platform. For a party that traditionally favors deregulation and hands-off governance, folding the provision into a sharply conservative platform brought double-takes among the political crowd. The move may have been designed to appeal to Sanders supporters who don’t want to vote for Clinton. At any rate, party platforms carry only symbolic weight; they’re not binding on their party’s elected officials.