Powerful House Financial Services Committee chairman says central bank’s lending powers to be ‘curtailed’
Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), one of the most unabashed liberals in the U.S. House of Representatives, told a Massachusetts town hall recently that Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve bank will clear his chamber by October.
Over half of the House members, most of them Republican, have signed on to the bill, H.R. 1207.
Though Frank disagrees — as many proponents of the bill contend — that the Fed is the cause of the U.S. dollar’s shrinking value, he told a Massachusetts audience that he’s been a proponent of greater transparency at the nation’s central bank for some time.
“Here’s what we plan to do: I want to restrict the powers of the Federal Reserve in a number of ways,” he said. “First of all, they will be the major losers of power if we’re successful, as I believe we will be, setting up that, uh, financial product protection committee.”
The committee Frank mentioned was proposed by President Barack Obama during the campaign, as a way of protecting consumers. It was formally presented to Congress in the President’s financial regulatory reform white papers in July, noted law firm Wiley Rein LLP.
“The Federal Reserve is now charged with protecting consumers,” continued Frank. “They were supposed to do sub-prime mortgage restricted … Congress in 1994 gave the Federal Reserve the power to adopt rules to ban bad sub-prime mortgages. … They have the power to ban credit card abuses. They have the power to do most of it. They, under Greenspan, did nothing.
“Under Bernanke, they started to do things, but only after Congress started, when I became chairman of the [House Financial Services Committee], we began to act on these things: Sub-prime mortgages, credit cards, overdraft … And after we started, the Fed did. So, that’s why one of the reasons why in the new consumer protection agency we will take away from the Federal Reserve the power to do consumer protection.”
Frank added that Congress will reverse an action by the Democratic Congress of 1932 that gives the Fed authority to lend money at will.
“Under section 13.3 of the Federal Reserve Act, they can lend money to whoever they want,” he said. “We are going to curtail that lending power. We are going to put some constraints on it.”
He concluded: “Finally, we are going to subject them to a complete audit. I’ve been working with Ron Paul, the main sponsor of that bill …” Several in the audience applauded. “He believes that we don’t want to have the audit appear as if it is influencing monetary policy because that would be inflationary … One of the things that will show you is what the Federal Reserve buys and sells. That will be made public, but not instantly. If it were instant, you would have a lot of people trading off that and it would have too much impact on the market. Again, Ron agrees with that. So, we will probably have that data released after a time period of several months — enough time so it won’t be market sensitive.”
Danger in transparency?
The pervasive argument against transparency at the nation’s central banking institution was repeated by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during a recent dialog with popular social bookmarking Web site Digg.com.
Geithner said that he’s sure “people understand that you want to keep politics out of monetary policy,” adding that auditing the Fed is “a line that we do not want to cross” because of the possible danger to the U.S. economy.
The argument is strikingly similar to one posed by the Federal Reserve’s legal counsel ina Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Bloomberg News in an attempt to force disclosure of the institutions that received billions in bailout money.
Loretta Preska, chief judge of the Manhattan U.S. District Court, ruled Monday that the Fed had “improperly withheld agency records” in response to the FOIA request, adding that the argument of danger to the economy was based merely on “conjecture” and not evidence.
“[The] risk of looking weak to competitors and shareholders is an inherent risk of market participation; information tending to increase that risk does not make the information privileged or confidential,” she wrote.
Opposition to Fed powers growing
Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former Governor and Attorney General of New York — at one time known as the “sheriff” of Wall Street — has assaulted the bank bailouts as “America’s greatest theft and cover-up ever” and called the Federal Reserve bank a “Ponzi scheme” that must be held accountable for its actions.
Additionally, the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee plans to probe how the Troubled Asset Relief Program’s (TARP) funds were dispersed by the Fed. Expressing his frustration before the Government and Oversight Committee, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) suggested that the Federal Reserve may be paying banks to hoard money and avoid making loans, instead of using the TARP funds to keep people in their homes.
To support his assertion, Kucinich cited a Bloomberg report which noted that “banks’ excess reserves at the Fed rose to a record $877.1 billion daily average in the two weeks ended May 20, from $2 billion a year earlier.
“Excess reserves — money available for lending that banks choose to leave with the Fed instead — averaged $743.9 billion in the first two weeks of this month,” the report continued.
“First, Congress was told that TARP was for the purchase of toxic assets, to help keep people in their homes,” the Congressman said. “Then the Bush Administration switched the program. Next, Congress was told that the TARP funds were instead needed to bail out the banks, in the form of a direct capital infusion, to keep credit markets alive.”
In a media advisory, Kucinich added: “If TARP isn’t about keeping people in their homes or providing credit to businesses, what is it for? I think the vast majority of Americans would be outraged to learn their tax dollars were facilitating hoarding at the Fed and increased profit making for banks.”
Kucinich’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee has also undertaken an investigation on the Fed’s bailout of the Bank of American-Merrill Lynch merger. “Specific documents subpoenaed include emails, notes of conversations and other documents,” his office noted.
“You look at the governing structure of the New York [Federal Reserve], it was run by the very banks that got the money,” said Eliot Spitzer told MSNBC’s Morning Meeting host Dylan Ratigan in late July. “This is a Ponzi scheme, an inside job. It is outrageous, it is time for Congress to say enough of this. And to give them more power now is crazy. The Fed needs to be examined carefully.”
Concluding his answer to the question of auditing the Federal Reserve, Rep. Frank told the Massachusetts audience: “The House will pass [H.R. 1207] probably in October.”
This video was uploaded to YouTube by user VegasBD on August 28, 2009.