February 14, 2017

Brown Opening Statement at Hearing on Semiannual Monetary Policy Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing on “The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress.” 

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement:
Hearing on “The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress”
Feb. 14, 2017

Thank you, Chairman Crapo. 

Chair Yellen, thank you for appearing before the Committee.

Since your appearance last June, the economy has improved enough that the Fed raised the federal funds rate in December, for only the second time since the financial crisis.  Businesses continue to create jobs on a slow but steady basis, and there is finally some wage growth.

Yet there are concerns. Too many Americans who want full-time work still can’t find it, and many workers have left the labor force.  And the gains have been uneven.

Foreclosures and job losses hit African American and Latino communities particularly hard during the crisis.  One study found that the average wealth of white families has grown three times as fast as the rate for African-American families and 1.2 times the growth rate for Latino families over the last 30 years. At these rates, it will take hundreds of years for these families to match what white families have today.

For affluent Americans, stock portfolios have recovered nicely since the crisis.  But for most people in Ohio, the story is very different.  The state’s job growth last year was the lowest since 2009, and we actually went backwards 5 out of 12 months.  In many places, one in four homeowners is still underwater. 

For Ohio manufacturers, the strong dollar continues to hurt our exports.

And there is uncertainty.  Can Americans continue to count on having health insurance? Will U.S. manufacturers and exporters have continued access to foreign markets? Will importers have to pay a 20 percent sales tax?  Will immigrants to this country have access to jobs and to our universities—something our economy is dependent on? 

Americans elected the new president based on his promises to “drain the swamp,” “take on Wall Street,” and bring manufacturing jobs back to the industrial heartland.

But I am concerned by what I have seen so far. 

Instead of focusing on infrastructure, real job creation, tax cuts for the middle class, and education and workforce development, we have seen the new Administration target working Americans, further the billionaires’ agenda, and threaten Wall Street reform based on the false premise that banks are not lending.

I think everyone on this dais can agree that there are parts of Wall Street Reform that could be improved and steps that can be taken to help small banks and credit unions.  That’s an ongoing process for both Congress and the regulators.  And I applaud the Fed for its recent decision to remove banks below $250 billion in assets from parts of its CCAR process.

But many of my Republican colleagues are dead-set on going far beyond reasonable adjustments and seeking to repeal reforms that are key to preventing the next devastating financial crisis.      

Working Americans lost trillions of dollars of their retirement savings after large Wall Street firms making risky bets with other people’s money either failed or were bailed out during the crisis.  That’s why Congress put in place higher capital requirements for large banks, mechanisms to identify and regulate risky nonbank companies, and tools to make sure financial firms can fail without bailouts funded by taxpayers. 

Recent statements by top officials in the White House indicate they are specifically targeting these important safeguards, even though these parts of the law were supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Now the administration is putting Wall Street bankers in charge — Steven Mnuchin was confirmed by the Senate just last night to be Secretary of the Treasury.  They are going after the rules that their former employers don’t like, and they are trying to take away the financial regulators’ freedom to make difficult decisions that will keep our financial system stable.

These priorities are wrong.

American voters agree— 80 percent, in one poll—that we need tough rules and stronger penalties on Wall Street. 

I want to take a moment to recognize one person in particular who has been one of the chief architects of the stronger rules that have been put in place over the past several years to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Last week, Governor Dan Tarullo announced that he is leaving the Board of Governors. I want to thank Governor Tarullo for his service to our nation over the last eight years. He is one of a handful of dedicated public servants who have made our financial system safer for a generation to come. 

Chair Yellen, I look forward to hearing more from you about the current state of the economy, the importance of strong rules to guard against economic calamity, and what Congress can do to help grow the economy, create jobs, and make it easier for all Americans to accumulate wealth to buy a home, pay for college, and retire.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.