This week, Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate candidate, has experienced a bit of selective amnesia regarding his often full-throated support for privatizing Social Security. However, on the campaign trail Wednesday he was not at all coy about his support for deregulating derivatives on Wall Street, the very instruments that helped bring down the financial system.
In 2000, former Sen. Phil “mental recession” Gramm (R-TX) attached the Commodity Futures Modernization Act to an unrelated, 11,000 appropriations bill which was passed “on a Friday evening two days after the Supreme Court handed down its Bush v. Gore ruling and as Congress was rushing home for Christmas.” The bill ensured that the growing market in over-the-counter derivatives, including credit default swaps, stayed entirely unregulated, against the advice of people like former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Brooksley Born (who accurately predicted the havoc derivatives would cause).
Toomey — then a member of the House of Representatives — voted for that bill, and said that he would do it again, as “that bill did absolutely nothing to cause the financial crisis”:
“That bill did absolutely nothing to cause the financial crisis, and no credible person has tried to make that argument,” Toomey said…Asked whether he’d vote for it again, he said: “Yes. I think all 377 (House members) would vote for it again.”
Of course, plenty of credible people — including Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz — have pointed to the destruction wrought by the lack of derivatives oversight. By keeping regulators away from the OTC derivatives market — which is several times the size of the entire U.S. economy — the Commodity Futures Modernization Act set the stage for the financial crisis and huge government bailouts of 2008, particularly that of the insurance giant/hedge fund American International Group, as David Min and I explained:
Lehman Brothers Inc. and insurance giant American International Group’s inability to honor their many billions of dollars in credit default swap derivative obligations caused investors to question the value of the many financial instruments tied to credit default swaps, causing a classic run on the bank situation for the unregulated parts of the financial system. It was this run on the so-called “shadow banking system” — which performs the functions of banking but outside the regulatory safeguards in place for banks — that led to the bailout of AIG.
Because of the bill that Toomey backed, this huge market grew and grew entirely out of the view of regulators, and was so opaque that even the financial institutions involved in it were unclear as to what was going on.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that was signed into law this year brings the derivatives market out of the dark and sets up a mechanism for ensuring that financial firms trading derivatives have adequate collateral backing them up. So would Toomey advocate that we dismantle these common sense safeguards?