Closing Keynote: Making Government Work for Everyone:
Dodd-Frank and the Fight for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Senator Elizabeth Warren
with Intro by Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO, Better Markets
Dodd-Frank Act 10th Anniversary Conference
Tuesday, July 21, 2020, 1-5 p.m.
TRANSCRIPT of Video
Now, we have arrived at our closing keynote address from Senator Elizabeth Warren who is going to talk about “Making Government Work for Everyone: the DFA and the Fight for the CFPB.”
Elizabeth Warren has been a Senator from Massachusetts since 2013, was reelected in 2018, and most recently was a Democratic candidate in the 2020 Presidential election. She may not have won the nomination, but she certainly won the ideas race. Her substantive policies and original and innovative ideas addressing everything from education to health care and racial justice to finance will no doubt be the framework for many laws over the years to come.
That won’t surprise anyone who knows her. Long before she was a Senator, she was fighting for hardworking Americans for decades as a legal scholar and consumer advocate. She labored in the trenches as a law professor specializing in bankruptcy law. That work provided her with ground truth: the lives people actually live, the struggles they have, the challenges the face, and how the financial and legal systems were working for them or against them.
Those lives and stories resonated deeply with her. As she has said, “she grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class,” meaning you worked hard, but were living precariously where even a small setback could send you plunging into near poverty.
That’s why real people, often suffering at the hands of the law and the financial industry, were never far from her mind. Many of those people—decent, hardworking people—were put thru the wringer of bankruptcy, often due to no fault of their own because of medical bills caused by a severe illness, unemployment, divorce and injury. Many others were victims of financial predators.
That’s why she so well understands how the economic, financial and legal systems not only work, but importantly who they work for and who they do not work for and why. That’s why she led the opposition to a bankruptcy law in the late 1990s and early 2000s that was unfair to hardworking Main Street American families. That’s also why she was such a powerful, passionate and effective advocate for strong financial reform following the crash of 2008 and an influential voice during the Dodd-Frank Act debates.
She also served as the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the $700 billion TARP bailout, which, although people forget, was passed during the George W. Bush administration. She was the people’s watchdog of both Wall Street and government officials, making sure that the taxpayers’ money was well spent, properly used and paid back.
She has now taken all that experience and knowledge to the Senate Banking Committee, where she holds public officials, regulators and bankers to account for their actions and pushing them to make sure that they are prioritizing Main Street families.
She is passionate about making sure every American gets a fair shot at the American Dream, not only the wealthy, powerful and well-connected. That’s why most people describe her as fearless—she is. It is my honor to introduce to you Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Thank you very much, Dennis, for that incredibly generous introduction. I’m so delighted to be here with you this evening to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Dodd-frank act with Better Markets.
You know the fallout from the one-two punch of the pandemic and Republican efforts to deregulate our financial institutions has put our economy in great danger, which makes your watchdog efforts more important now than ever. Without the incredible work of Better Markets and all that it’s been doing over the past decade, we would be in a very different place right now so thank you for all you are doing.
I am also especially grateful to mark this monumental achievement with President Obama, a man of courage and determination who embodies the very essence of moral leadership. I also want to offer a very special thank you to Congresswoman Maxine Waters for her tireless leadership in Congress and all across this country to protect and uplift the most vulnerable. And of course, a very special thank you to Chris Dodd and Barney Frank for their leadership that resulted in the laws that bring us here today.
You know ten years ago in the wake of the financial crisis, we were fighting to pass Dodd-Frank and to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Everyone here tonight knows what happened, but it is important that we never forget what brought us to this fight like so many of our nation’s problems. The financial crisis was a toxic mix of racism, corruption and shameless greed. Predatory mortgage lenders started by targeting black and brown communities where they began clawing away at the hard-earned wealth of black and brown families and too few people in power could be relied on to care. Not the investors who were making money hand over fists, not the regulators who were cozy with the banks, not the pundits who blamed the borrowers and not the lenders who were boosting their profits. They didn’t care because it was only happening in certain communities—communities of color.
Imagine living in a community that had to overcome decades of housing discrimination and legalized racism, imagine a community where home ownership opportunities were finally increasing, and more people were starting s to get their piece of the American dream. Imagine young people starting out sometimes working two jobs to buy a home. Imagine working your entire life and building a solid retirement. Think about the power and the pride you’d feel knowing that your work had earned you a measure of security and something to pass on to your children and grandchildren. And now imagine having it stolen from you with no way to get back the life that you thought you were building. That’s what the Great Recession felt like for so many working families.
At its core, the financial crisis was a massive theft of power from millions of Americans, a massive theft of the American dream in the crash of 2008. Millions of people lost their jobs, millions lost their homes, and millions lost their savings and maybe one of the most galling parts was that wall street mega banks whose recklessness helped crash the economy weren’t ashamed. Nope they were just the opposite they took taxpayer handouts and then they turned around and doubled down with armies of lobbyists and lawyers trolling the halls of capitol hill. Spending a million dollars a day to bury Dodd-Frank and kill the consumer financial protection bureau before it was ever signed into law. The pundits all thought we were going to lose that fight after all the big banks had all the money in the world, but we had the people and we got organized.
Advocates jumped in, including unions and consumer groups whose first mission hadn’t been consumer credit individuals, who’d never been in politics, including me, were suddenly knee-deep in working on plans to get us out of the crisis. Now we were blessed to have great leadership in the White House with President Obama standing firm even when some Democratic advisers were telling him just throw the agency overboard. But President Obama did not fight alone. Vice president Joe Biden fought alongside him. He worked at it calling on his relationships in Congress to help get a workable bill and pull it across the finish line. And we did it—with his help and the help of so many others. We made it through the Senate without a single vote to spare. Think about that, it was a real David versus Goliath moment even when the banks spent hundreds of millions of lobbying dollars. We won. For once, American families beat back the big banks.
It was a critical moment for our economy, a moment to decide what kind of rules of the road we would have to protect families and prevent another crash. It was also a critical moment for our democracy. After years and years of Wall Street’s running wild and calling all the shots, people could now plainly see that our elected leaders could and would act boldly on behalf of American families. We built a watchdog capable of looking out for middle-class families; a watchdog that could get rid of tricks and traps; a watchdog that could cut away reams of fine print that took away consumers rights; a watchdog to hold financial institutions accountable when they break the law.
Now on the day that we won, Republicans and bank lobbyists declared it was only halftime. They said they would continue their war against the CFPB and their war against the American consumer, and they were true to their words. They did. Legislation to eliminate the CFPB has been introduced in the House and the Senate in every single Congress since the agency was created in 2011. Republicans have engaged in one hair brain scheme after another to try to undermine the agency’s leadership, and despite the agency’s track record of nonpartisan protection of consumers and despite the agency’s popularity, Republicans have targeted the CFPB’s budget and sought to chop back its enforcement authority.
But here’s the thing: after years of industry attacks and GOP opposition, last month the Supreme Court recognized what we knew all along: the CFPB and the law that created it are constitutional. The little agency is here to stay. So why have Republicans been so dead set against the CFPB? Why have they made repeal of the agency an act of faith? Well, I think deep down they are threatened by the CFPB, deep-down threatened. And here’s why: Donald Trump and Republicans are scared of the CFPB because they’re buddies with the Wall Street banksters that the CFPB stands up to. Back in 2016, then candidate Trump made big promises to drain the swamp, ignore the lobbyists and stand up to Wall Street. He lied. In fact, even before he set foot in the Oval Office, he filled his transition team and the incoming administration with lobbyists, special interests and corporate insiders.
As president, Trump has had so many bankers in his administration that Goldman Sachs could open up a new branch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump isn’t going to drain the swamp. Donald Trump lives in the swamp. The Republicans fight the CFPB because their lobbyist buddies and bank insiders and corporate donors don’t like it. But there’s another reason that Donald Trump and the Republicans are scared of the CFPB. the CFPB is a road map for structural change—big structural change.
The idea of a consumer agency was really pretty simple. A watchdog whose sole purpose would be to bark back at the financial institutions that built their business models cheating American consumers. At the time of the 2008 crash, more than a dozen federal laws already addressed issues involving consumer credit but the responsibility for enforcing those laws was spread out among seven different agencies. Seven, and here’s what really kept me up at night. Each of those agencies could have shut down at least a part of the scam, but they all had some other first job. Not a single one of those agencies had as its primary job protecting consumers from dangerous credit products. Not one. The division of responsibility meant that credit regulation was a mess. It was an afterthought, and enforcement of the rules was spotty at best.
We needed an agency, one agency, that would be responsible for making structural changes to the rules—for changing those rules as lenders changed their practices—and for enforcing those rules. One agency that we could hold responsible when things went wrong. So together, we bent the levers of power in Washington to benefit working families over the wealthy and well-connected. We demonstrated a model that can be used to rewrite the rules of power all across our broken systems—a model for change that would work from our economy to our democracy to our public safety and justice system.
Donald Trump and Republicans really can’t stand Dodd-Frank and the CFPB because it shows that government can be a powerful force for good. Under the faithful and persistent leadership of Rich Cordray, the American people witnessed what’s possible when government is designed to protect and serve the people. In nine years of operation, the CFPB has delivered for American consumers. It’s helped more than 26 million Americans directly. It has forced banks and financial institutions to return more than 12 billion dollars directly to people they cheated. It’s handled more than 2.2 million complaints. It’s put in place common sense protections for American service members and vets, and the part that we could never quite measure is that over the past decade, millions of people have not been cheated because some financial outfit with some sleazy idea looked around and realized there’s a watchdog out there that will bite.
The creation of the CFPB teaches us that we can make government work not just for the wealthy and well-connected, but we can make it work for everyone. Now celebrations like this should happen more often. For almost a century, Democrats have fought for a government that works for everyone, and we’ve made some remarkable progress: social security, the minimum wage, Medicare, unemployment insurance, auto safety, the right to join a union, the FHA and the 30-year mortgage, the end of child labor, the 40-hour work week, health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges for millions of Americans. And in 2010, we added the CFPB to the list of innovations that increased economic security and physical safety for hundreds of millions of people.
Now, we haven’t yet created a perfect union, but we have created more opportunity and more security for Americans—regardless of the color of their skin, where they were born, who they love or how they worship. And where were the Republicans during all of this? Well, they were doing what they have done best for the better part of a century. They were saying no. Expand social security? Republicans said no. Raise the minimum wage? They said no way. The right to join a union? Republicans said, you don’t have one. FHA and the 30-year mortgage? They said no. The end of child labor? Republicans said no, that is socialism. The 40-hour work week? Republicans opposed it. Health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions? Republicans said no, and they’re still fighting that one in the courts today. No, no, no. When it comes to the well-being of the American people, the Republican party has consistently been the party of no. The Republicans have chosen service to their corporate buddies and donors over service to the American people.
The CFPB is just the latest, biggest, structural addition to a long line of democratic innovations that help make America a stronger, fairer country. A long line of changes that have been brought into existence over the loud and incessant objections of the Republicans. So, we’re here tonight in remembrance of a brave and hard-fought and creative response to the 2008 crisis. But there’s more. We are here tonight to celebrate how we have stood with our intellectual and political forbearers to use government as a force for good. We have much work ahead of us and the path will be difficult. Much of the time we will be fighting the Republicans and their wealthy donors—the party of no.
But we will fight on because we know the America we are fighting for. An America: where decisions in Washington are made with compassion, common sense and moral clarity. An America: where a run-in with law enforcement or a turn down the wrong street corner doesn’t cost someone their life because of the color of their skin. An America: where every working person regardless of race sex or economic background is paid a living wage. That’s the America that we will create together when we beat Donald Trump, elect Joe Biden and put Democrats in positions to make changes in 2021.
We know this won’t be an easy fight, but we don’t take on this fight because it is easy. Nothing important ever is. We take on this fight because it is right. And if we stand together, if we fight together, if we persist together, we can build an America that works better for all of our families. Thank you, Dennis.
Thank you, Senator Warren. Your leadership on these key issues have made a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans. They know – and we know – no matter what else is going on in Washington, you are on the front lines fearlessly fighting for them and their economic and financial wellbeing. The country is better off and well-served by you every day. And thank you so much for not only your remarks but your public service.