Monday, September 14, 2009

Obma to Wall Street: "Act Responsibly!"

On the eve of Pittsburgh's G-20 Summit, the President tells Wall Street to get its act together:
At the same time, we have to recognize that what's needed now goes beyond just the reforms that I've mentioned. For what took place one year ago was not merely a failure of regulation or legislation; it wasn't just a failure of oversight or foresight. It was also a failure of responsibility -- it was fundamentally a failure of responsibility -- that allowed Washington to become a place where problems -- including structural problems in our financial system -- were ignored rather than solved. It was a failure of responsibility that led homebuyers and derivative traders alike to take reckless risks that they couldn't afford to take. It was a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street, and across America that led to the near-collapse of our financial system one year ago.

So restoring a willingness to take responsibility -- even when it's hard to do -- is at the heart of what we must do. Here on Wall Street, you have a responsibility. The reforms I've laid out will pass and these changes will become law. But one of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than it was before is to rebuild trust stronger than before -- and you don't have to wait for a new law to do that. You don't have to wait to use plain language in your dealings with consumers. You don't have to wait for legislation to put the 2009 bonuses of your senior executives up for a shareholder vote. You don't have to wait for a law to overhaul your pay system so that folks are rewarded for long-term performance instead of short-term gains.

The fact is, many of the firms that are now returning to prosperity owe a debt to the American people. They were not the cause of this crisis, and yet American taxpayers, through their government, had to take extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry. They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout -- in lost jobs and lost homes and lost opportunities. It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity.

So I want to urge you to demonstrate that you take this obligation to heart. To put greater effort into helping families who need their mortgages modified under my administration's homeownership plan. To help small business owners who desperately need loans and who are bearing the brunt of the decline in available credit. To help communities that would benefit from the financing you could provide, or the community development institutions you could support. To come up with creative approaches to improve financial education and to bring banking to those who live and work entirely outside of the banking system. And, of course, to embrace serious financial reform, not resist it.

Just as we are asking the private sector to think about the long term, I recognize that Washington has to do so as well. When my administration came through the door, we not only faced a financial crisis and costly recession, we also found waiting a trillion dollar deficit. So yes, we have to take extraordinary action in the wake of an extraordinary economic crisis. But I am absolutely committed to putting this nation on a sound and secure fiscal footing. That's why we're pushing to restore pay-as-you-go rules in Congress, because I will not go along with the old Washington ways which said it was okay to pass spending bills and tax cuts without a plan to pay for it. That's why we're cutting programs that don't work or are out of date. That's why I've insisted that health insurance reform -- as important as it is -- not add a dime to the deficit, now or in the future.

There are those who would suggest that we must choose between markets unfettered by even the most modest of regulations, and markets weighed down by onerous regulations that suppress the spirit of enterprise and innovation. If there is one lesson we can learn from last year, it is that this is a false choice. Common-sense rules of the road don't hinder the market, they make the market stronger. Indeed, they are essential to ensuring that our markets function fairly and freely.
Personally, I favor more than self-regulation...perhaps a special financial-services tax on Wall Street companies and executives, to help repay the bailout...and who knows, maybe it could pay for single-payer health-care, too?