In Fact, Sanders Has a Very Clear Plan on How to Break Up Too-Big-to-Fail Banks

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In Fact, Sanders Has a Very Clear Plan on How to Break Up Too-Big-to-Fail Banks

Sanders campaign, analysts counter media frenzy lambasting Daily News interview

A Bernie Sanders mural seen in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo: Eli Christman/flickr/cc)

Following suggestions that he somehow "bungled" when asked about how he would, if elected president, break up Wall Street's largest and most dangerous institutions, the Bernie Sanders campaign on Tuesday offered a detailed explanation of how he would end "too-big-to-fail banks."

Sparking corporate media's "great feeding frenzy" was an interview the presidential candidate had April 1 with the New York Daily News editorial board, the transcript of which was published online Monday.

The Washington Post described it as "pretty close to a disaster," while Jeremy Stahl wrote at Slate that Sanders "appeared to struggle" on the details of how to break up the big banks.

Hillary Clinton also seized on the interview, sending the transcript to supporters in a fundraising email that stated: "even on his signature issue of breaking up the banks, he's unable to answer basic questions about how he'd go about doing it." She also told MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday, "The core of his campaign has been breaking up the banks, and it didn’t seem in reading his answers that he would understand exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank."

But as New York Times finance and business reporter Peter Eavis argued, "taken as a whole, Mr. Sanders's answers seem to make sense. Crucially, his answers mostly track with a reasonably straightforward breakup plan that he introduced to Congress last year."

Sanders told the Daily News, "How you go about [breaking up the dangerously large institutions] is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail," later adding that it'd be the banks' decision "how they want to reconfigure themselves."

"You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up," he said.

His campaign on Tuesday released a statement on how a Sanders administration would take on the issue, also stating that he and rival Clinton "have very different points of view on how to reform Wall Street and the largest financial institutions in this country." The statement reads, in part:

Within the first 100 days of his administration, Sen. Sanders will require the secretary of the Treasury Department to establish a “Too-Big-to Fail” list of commercial banks, shadow banks and insurance companies whose failure would pose a catastrophic risk to the United States economy without a taxpayer bailout.

Within a year, the Sanders administration will work with the Federal Reserve and financial regulators to break these institutions up using the authority of Section 121 of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Sen. Sanders will also fight to enact a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to clearly separate commercial banking, investment banking and insurance services. Secretary Clinton opposes this extremely important measure.

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Glass-Steagall Act into law precisely to prevent Wall Street speculators from causing another Great Depression. And, it worked for more than five decades until Wall Street watered it down under President Reagan and killed it under President Clinton. That is unacceptable and that is why Sen. Sanders will fight to sign the Warren-McCain bill into law.

Like the Times' Eavis, other analysts questioned the dominant media narrative that has emerged since the interview.

The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim charged that, as the interview went on, "it began to appear that the Daily News editors didn't understand the difference between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve."

Grim wrote, "Sanders has also taken a beating for saying he couldn't cite a particular statute that may have been violated by Wall Street bankers during the financial crisis. But, quickly, without searching Google, can you name the particular statute that outlaws murder?"

Economist and Center for Economic and Policy Research co-founder Dean Baker takes issue with that criticism as well, writing in a blog post Thursday:

Knowingly passing off fraudulent mortgages in a mortgage backed security is fraud. Could the Justice Department prove this case against high level bank executives? Who knows, but they obviously didn't try.

And the fact that Sanders didn't know the specific statute, who cares? How many people know the specific statute for someone who puts a bullet in someone's head? That's murder, and if a candidate for office doesn't know the exact title and specific's of her state murder statute, it hardly seems like a big issue.

Baker also wrote:

I certainly would have liked to see more specificity in Sanders' answers, but I'm an economist. And some of the complaints are just silly.

When asked how he would break up the big banks Sanders said he would leave that up to the banks. That's exactly the right answer. The government doesn't know the most efficient way to break up JP Morgan, JP Morgan does. If the point is to downsize the banks, the way to do it is to give them a size cap and let them figure out the best way to reconfigure themselves to get under it.

Baker goes on to contrast the media's treatment of Sanders with that of House Speaker Paul Ryan, touted as a "serious budget wonk [but who] has repeatedly proposed eliminating most of the federal government."

"So there you have it," Baker wrote. "The D.C. press corps that goes nuts because Bernie Sanders doesn't know the name of the statute under which he would prosecute bank fraud thinks a guy who calls for eliminating most of the federal government is a great budget wonk."

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