Wall Street reform also must address the powerful and secretive Federal Reserve. A Government Accountability Office audit that I requested found the central bank provided $16 trillion in revolving, low-interest loans to every major financial institution in this country, multi-national corporations and some of the wealthiest people in the world. The Fed even helped bail out other central banks around the world. When Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the Fed acted boldly. Today, with the middle class collapsing, the Fed must act with equal vigor.
Real unemployment is more than 16 percent. Median family income has declined by $3,600 during the past decade. A record 46 million Americans live in poverty. The gap between the very rich and everyone else — the widest of any major country — is growing wider.
Under emergency provisions already in the law, the Fed has the authority to provide low-interest loans to small businesses that are starving for capital so that they can create the millions of jobs our economy needs. It should do so.
The Fed also has authority to make credit card issuers stop bilking consumers with sky-high fees and interest rates of 30 percent or more. Especially in a recession, working people use credit cards to stretch their paychecks for basic needs. Usury is already regarded as a sin in the eyes of every major religion. It should be a crime. The Fed has the authority to limit interest rates and fees. It should do so.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are shining a light on one of the most serious problems facing the United States: the greed, recklessness and power of Wall Street. Now is the time for the president and Congress to follow that light — and act. The future of our economy is at stake.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the former socialist mayor of Burlington, serves on the Budget; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Veterans’ Affairs; and Joint Economic committees.