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Congressman Miller calls for bank reform

dukechronicle.comApr 16, 2012

By Ben Rakestraw

The 2008 financial crisis was caused by a number of failures in both the private and public sectors, and those failings have not been fully addressed, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C. said Thursday.

In a talk organized by Duke Democrats, Miller spoke to a small group of students about Congress’s role in responding to the subprime mortgage and foreclosure crisis. Miller headed the effort to include the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. In his talk, Miller detailed the effects of this law and identified challenges that remain for the economy.

“We have been in a spiral of foreclosures ever since the crisis, and we have not broken it,” Miller said.

Since the housing market collapse, Miller and his colleagues have attempted to curb what Miller sees as inappropriate practices by lenders, including persuading families to take out dangerous adjustable-rate mortgages. The lenders had an incentive to sell mortgages with higher interest rates, even though the mortgages had destructive effects on families, Miller noted.

“People were dealing with the worst possible mortgage because the person they were trusting to explain it to them—to look out for their interests—was getting paid more the worse it was for the homeowner,” Miller said. “That’s just crooked.”

Once homeowners could not afford their mortgages at such high rates, a cycle of declining home values resulted, Miller added. This decline subsequently contributed to the recession, he said.

“Foreclosed homes flooded the market, home values decreased and decreased—and that meant more people were underwater,” Miller said. “The great majority of people’s net worth was the equity they had in their home. Their life savings just disappeared when the value of their homes collapsed.”

Miller noted that Congress was essentially blindsided by the crisis, unaware of financial institutions’ practices that contributed to the problem.

“We never had a hearing on what was going on in the securitization market, on derivatives, on shadow banking,” Miller said. “We didn’t know what those were about. We didn’t find out about any of that until things really hit the fan in the late summer and fall of 2008.”

Miller’s talk attracted students who were concerned about the financial crisis and interested in learning about it from a well-informed source. Attendee Trevor Scott, commercial client manager at BattlePlans Business Planning and Consulting, said he was struck by Miller’s knowledge and passion for financial reform.

“I got the sense that [Miller] genuinely cares about his constituents and Americans in general,” Scott said.

Duke Democrats wished to invite a speaker who could educate and interest students who wanted a solid understanding of the current situation in the financial system, said junior Elena Botella, co-president of the group.

“Financial regulation is something that is really important and also hard to understand,” Botella said. “There is a large shortfall of knowledge at the voter level about how Wall Street works.”

Botella added that Miller was an excellent choice to fill this role due to his experience and position in Congress, as he helped draft many of the recent financial reforms.

“I wanted those who were interested in financial reform or Wall Street in general to have a chance to hear from one of the most influential lawmakers, who happens to be from here in North Carolina,” Botella said.

Moving forward, Congress must realize that it has not done enough to prevent future financial crises like the 2008 collapse, Miller noted. The most important priority for Congress is to eliminate the problem of banks that are “too big to fail,” Miller added.

“Here’s what we haven’t fixed,” Miller said. “Banks are too big.”


Back to April 2012 Archive

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