By Roland S. Martin
If you told me that I could take billions of dollars in bailout money from the government and shower myself and my comrades on Wall Street with $140 billion in bonuses and only get a tongue-lashing from the president and nothing more, I would want to know where to sign up.
President Barack Obama and his administration have undertaken their latest round of berating Wall Street for its bad ways.
On CBS’ “60 Minutes,” the president bristled at questions about helping the banks, saying, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.”
You didn’t, but you have. In your defense, this economy stinks, and the mess of the Troubled Asset Relief Program left by former President George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, didn’t solve anything; you and your administration have been trying to figure it out to no avail.
“The people on Wall Street still don’t get it,” a frustrated Obama said. “They’re still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks.”
We knew that then, and we know it now. So, Mr. President, what are you prepared to do?
Let me be on the record as saying that unless the president, his administration and Congress go after Wall Street with gusto, not a damn thing will be accomplished by the chat between the president and the top Wall Street bankers. Let me be clear: NOTHING.
President Obama blasts Wall Street for fighting financial reform on Capitol Hill. Uh, Mr. President, that’s what it does! Does anyone with half a brain think that the people who screwed the country by putting us in this financial predicament actually want to see more oversight and regulation? No! So should it come as a shock that they will use their mighty lobbying dollars – no doubt coming as a result of the profits we helped them make by virtue of the bailout dollars – and try to scuttle any change in law?
Mr. President, enough is enough with the rhetoric. You didn’t like the approach of George W. “I’m gonna kick some ass” Bush. Well, on this one, sir, that’s exactly what we need. The American people don’t need Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected. We don’t need a measured response and tone. This is your moment to do what former President Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controllers. He made it clear: Get back to work, or all of you are fired. They said, “Try it.” He did.They got canned. And everyone in Washington learned the lesson pretty quickly: “Don’t mess with Ronnie.”
But again, we have seen this unwillingness to engage for most of the past year.
On my TV One Sunday morning show, “Washington Watch,” I asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan why the White House didn’t mandate that banks that received bailout dollars modify loans of folks heading into foreclosure.
He said that the administration is working with the banks. I pressed him on the point that “working with” has no sense of urgency. As CNN’s Jessica Yellin has reported on many occasions, there are no penalties, no surprise inspections, nothing – just an attempt at a good-faith effort with the banks.
What’s been the result? According to Elizabeth Warren, head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, the $700 billion bailout program has done nothing for lending or stemming foreclosures. Only 4.7 percent of the folks enrolled in three-month trial programs received permanent mortgage modifications.
Let’s be clear: Bankers are selfish me-first SOBs who don’t give a flip about the average American. They are all out to protect their bottom lines and stick it to the consumer. They desperately needed to be bailed out with our money and used it to shore up their bottom lines or buy competitors, but they don’t give a lick about bailing out the American consumer.
We lost lots of leverage against the banks by not putting in mandates for how the money was to be used. That’s why they all are rushing to pay the bailout money back. They don’t want Congress to limit their pay or put any other controls on them. By paying it all back, they are free from Big Brother’s big hand.
Mr. President, get with Congress and make it clear: If the banks don’t follow through with permanent mortgage modifications, you’ll slap a windfall profits tax on them. If the banks don’t change Wall Street compensation, you’ll slap that tax on them. You and Congress should make it rain on Wall Street’s head if it doesn’t agree to those demands.
In regard to every member of Congress who carries the water of Wall Street, expose these miscreants and the money they accept in campaign donations.
Will Wall Street like any of this? No. But, Mr. President, we don’t like how it has treated us, so why should we give a hoot what it thinks?
This is one issue that easily unites Democrats and Republicans. But do you have the willingness to go this far? Sorry, sir, giving another speech does nothing. It’s time for you to kick a little tail. And there is no better place to start than Wall Street.