Would Paul Ryan break up the big banks?

On several occasions, Paul Ryan has suggested he supports breaking up the nation’s largest banks to prevent future bailouts for too-big-to-fail firms. But he's never quite proposed a policy to get there.


Ryan seems to support breaking up big banks. But he's never quite said that. (Photo: Washington Post)

“If you’re a bank and you want to operate like some nonbank entity like a hedge fund, then don’t be a bank. Don’t let banks use their customers’ money to do anything other than traditional banking,” Ryan told constituents at a town hall meeting in Mount Pleasant, Wisc., on May 4.

This implicit support of the Volcker rule— a key feature of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that prohibits banks from making speculative bets for their own profits—is unlikely to sit well with the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. Neither company would comment for this article.

Ryan reiterated his distaste for mega banks in a July interview on CNBC regarding former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weil’s support of breaking up big banks. The congressman, who voted against Dodd-Frank, said the law “will consolidate the system to very large interconnected firms that have political connections.”

He called for replacing the law with a regulatory system that includes greater transparency and “does not put the government in the way of adding more moral hazards to the marketplace and triggering higher likelihood of taxpayer bailouts.”

American Bankers Association chief executive Frank Keating said he hopes Ryan will keep an open mind about financial reform. Keating is encouraged by Ryan’s understanding of “the fiscal cliff, the great fear of national insolvency...the very real challenges facing the American economy.”

Coming out against Dodd-Frank has garnered Ryan some support from the banking industry in the past. In January 2011, lobbying group Clark, Lytle & Geduldig, whose clients include the American Bankers Association and Financial Services Roundtable, hosted  a fundraiser for Ryan’s leadership political action committee, according to research group the Sunlight Foundation.

Romney, for his part, is also in favor of replacing Dodd-Frank with a “streamlined, modern regulatory framework,” according to his campaign Web site. But the presidential candidate falls short of explaining what that framework would entail. Romney has decried Dodd-Frank for going too far, making it hard to imagine that he would support breaking up the banks.

All five of his top campaign contributors hail from the Street, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Together, they have donated roughly $2.5 million to date.

Romney campaign aide Brendan Buck sidestepped questions about the former governor’s support of Ryan’s stance on big banks, but said the pair “favor sensible regulation so the government isn’t in the business of bailing out financial institutions.”

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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