The writer is U.S. treasury secretary.
We enter 2015 in the United States with a strong and growing economic recovery. Over the course of that recovery, the private sector has created 11.2 million jobs. The federal deficit has gone from 9.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2014. Our stock market closed 2014 at a historic high. Six years after the financial crisis, the U.S. economy is driving the global economy once again. This recovery is not an accident but rather the result of the determination of the American people, the resilience of our businesses and policy choices made by President Obama.
We have also been working to make this growth more sustainable, including by implementing the crucial financial reforms the president fought for and signed into law after the crisis. It has been five years since the administration worked with Congress to pass the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, also known as Dodd-Frank. These reforms have made our financial system safer and more resilient, and consumers, investors and taxpayers are now protected from the types of abuses that helped cause the crisis.
Given how far we have come, and the scars that still linger, it is hard to understand the efforts of some to undermine our ability to protect consumers and taxpayers from excessive risks taken by financial institutions. Taxpayers should never again have to step in to prevent business failures; that is why the Wall Street Reform Act ended “too big to fail” as a matter of law. The reforms also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal watchdog designed to protect consumers of financial products from unfair, abusive and deceptive practices. One of the critical lessons of the financial crisis was that no agency was responsible for monitoring risks across the entire financial system, including the less-regulated parts of the system. This is why the Wall Street Reform Act established the Financial Stability Oversight Council — to watch over the entire financial system and bring together all major financial regulators to make sure they do not operate in silos and possibly miss the worst threats to financial stability.
Opponents who are fighting to repeal these reforms, or impede implementation, make no secret that they are gearing up for a multifront assault to weaken effective oversight of Wall Street and protections for Main Street. Their focus — which includes weakening the newly created and already effective consumer watchdog agency, eroding transparency in the derivatives markets and underfunding the regulators in charge of enforcement and oversight — amounts to an agenda that would take us back to the dangerous conditions that existed before the financial crisis.
Just this week, we saw a bill debated and appropriately defeated on the House floor that would have reduced investor protections and undermined the Wall Street Reform Act in several ways, including by needlessly delaying implementation of the Volcker Rule, which limits speculative trading by banks. We are also prepared to oppose more disguised attacks on financial reform, such as bills that would make it easier for opponents of Wall Street reform to use the courts to stymie the regulatory process when their efforts are unsuccessful in Congress.
There are, however, a number of important issues that we can work on together with Congress. Throughout our history, divided government — and the give-and-take it demands — has been a catalyst for forging lasting, bipartisan solutions to some of our nation’s biggest problems. The arrival of a new Congress in Washington this week provides a fresh opportunity for congressional leaders and the administration to find common ground to get things done, and it is clear there are areas where we can make progress in the weeks and months ahead.
Most Americans and a bipartisan majority of Congress can agree that we need to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges, unlock trade agreements so U.S. businesses can reach new markets and create jobs, and reform our business tax system to eliminate unfair and inefficient loopholes and create a tax code that is more fair, simple and competitive. Equally important, Americans have a right to expect that their representatives will not put our economy in the kind of jeopardy that caused the worst financial crisis and recession of our lifetime only six years ago.
The president has made clear that he is prepared to defend the gains we have made against attempts to water down protections and expose the economy to the risky practices of the past. Too often, lobbyists and special interests have persuaded Congress to deregulate our financial system at moments of economic calm, but we must not weaken the tools we need to protect consumers and taxpayers from excessive risks taken by financial firms. We have come a long way since the financial crisis, but it would be a grave mistake to forget recent history and the importance of effective oversight and enforcement.
With the New Year and a new Congress, let us maintain our resolve to protect consumers, investors and taxpayers, and let us work together in areas where bipartisan consensus can help the American people. By doing so, we will help to continue to propel the economic recovery and secure our economic future.
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