Activists Plan Protests to Support Financial Reform

While negotiations on financial reform continue in Washington, activists are preparing to get their voice out against the risky practices on Wall Street.

A series of protests and lobbying efforts for financial reform are being planned this Spring by a coalition of activist groups that includes the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National People's Action, and PICO National Network among others.

The group hopes to ensure through their efforts that big banks are properly monitored by the new legislation and that financial mismanagement will be curbed.

"Folks are really frustrated," George Goehl, executive director of National People's Action, told Roll Call.

The first set of events will begin later this week on tax day, April 15, with protests being held in over 20 cities.

A series of field meeting with Treasury Department officials will also be held on Thursday so that "everyday people can go toe-to-toe with Treasury officials," according to Goehl.

Meanwhile, negotiations on financial regulatory reform continue on Capitol Hill with lawmakers hoping to send a bipartisan-supported bill through the Senate before November.

A major proposal in the discussion centers on establishing a new consumer-protection agency within the Federal Reserve.

The proposed agency, which will operate autonomously from the Fed, is designed to protect consumers who purchase financial services from large institutions, including mortgage-related businesses and banks with over $10 billion in assets.

A recent poll by the Consumer Federation of America shows growing public support for the new agency, with an increase in support from 57 percent in July 2009 to 62 percent this month.

Federal Reserve officials, however, have expressed their discomfort at housing the new entity, as they suspect that the central bank will be held accountable for the agency's mistakes even though they don't hold any direct control over it.

"It's a no-win situation,'' Kevin Petrasic, a banking attorney who formerly worked at the Office of Thrift Supervision, told Bloomberg news.

The Fed's lament has been a private one, however, as the bank's fear of undoing other measures in the bill and alienating lawmakers has made it reluctant to voice any public statements against the new agency.

Other measures in the financial reform bill include the establishment of a new oversight council that will give the Fed authority to oversee the nation's largest financial institutions, alongside banks.

The Fed will also be given power to break up large companies that pose a "grave threat" to economic stability with the help of a $50 billion liquidation fund.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the Federal Reserve proposals today in a speech on the Senate floor, saying that such measures leave taxpayers vulnerable to abuse.

"The American people have been telling us for nearly two years that any solution must do one thing - it must put an end to taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street banks," McConnell said. "This bill not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks; it institutionalizes them."

He added, "The bill gives the Federal Reserve enhanced emergency lending authority that is far too open to abuse. It also gives the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the Treasury Department broad authority over troubled financial institutions without requiring them to assume real responsibility for their mistakes."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the bill, saying that it is poised to solve the problem of financial groups being "too big to fail."

Geithner also promised that there would be no more tax-payer funded bailouts, but rather a "bankruptcy-like regime where equityholders will be wiped out and the assets will be sold."

"A clear lesson of this crisis is that any strategy that relies on market discipline to compensate for weak regulation and then leaves it to the government to clean up the mess is a strategy for disaster," Geithner said.

Meanwhile, President Obama is scheduled to meet with Senate and House leaders on Wednesday to garner bipartisan support for the bill's passage.

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