Senator Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2019
Senator Elizabeth Warren participates in the Netroots Nation 2019 presidential forum (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

No more blank checks for you, Wall Street!

That’s the mes­sage Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren says that Con­gress must deliv­er to the nation’s “cap­tains of indus­try”, many of whom are now send­ing their lob­by­ists to Capi­tol Hill to plead for fis­cal aid. The avi­a­tion indus­try, the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try, and oth­ers are all reel­ing from the effects of the rapid­ly wors­en­ing coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, and want tax­pay­er assis­tance to avert catastrophe.

War­ren says it would be irre­spon­si­ble to offer fed­er­al aid with no con­di­tions, as Con­gress unwise­ly did twelve years ago. The bank bailout suc­ceed­ed in sta­bi­liz­ing the banks, and they repaid the Unit­ed States Trea­sury, but the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­pel them to change their behav­ior was squan­dered. Today, the banks are even big­ger and they con­tin­ue to engage in preda­to­ry lend­ing practices.

Les­son learned. Con­gress must insist upon con­di­tions for any bailout pack­age. And since the pres­i­den­cy and the Unit­ed States Sen­ate are cur­rent­ly con­trolled by Repub­li­cans friend­ly to Wall Street, it will assured­ly be up to Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi and her cau­cus to put togeth­er leg­is­la­tion that does­n’t write a blank check.

Here are War­ren’s pro­posed con­di­tions for a bailout pack­age:

We’re not writ­ing blank checks to giant cor­po­ra­tions. Any tax­pay­er dol­lars that go to help big busi­ness­es dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis should come with the fol­low­ing min­i­mum requirements:

  1. Com­pa­nies must main­tain their pay­rolls and use funds to keep peo­ple work­ing or on payroll.
  2. Com­pa­nies must pro­vide a $15 min­i­mum wage with­in one year of the nation­al emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion ending.
  3. Com­pa­nies are per­ma­nent­ly pro­hib­it­ed from engag­ing in share repurchases.
  4. Com­pa­nies are pro­hib­it­ed from pay­ing out div­i­dends or exec­u­tive bonus­es while they are receiv­ing any relief and for three years thereafter.
  5. Com­pa­nies must set aside at least one seat – but poten­tial­ly two or more, as the amount of relief increas­es – on the board of direc­tors for rep­re­sen­ta­tives elect­ed by workers.
  6. Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments should remain in place and should not be reopened or rene­go­ti­at­ed pur­suant to this relief program.
  7. Cor­po­ra­tions must obtain share­hold­er and board approval for all polit­i­cal expenditures.
  8. CEOs must be required to per­son­al­ly cer­ti­fy a com­pa­ny is in com­pli­ance and face crim­i­nal penal­ties for false certifications.

Con­gress must set up an over­sight body, mod­eled on the Con­gres­sion­al Over­sight Pan­el and the SIGTARP pro­gram for the bank bailout, but with real fund­ing & sub­poe­na pow­er. We need real account­abil­i­ty to make sure these con­di­tions are met.

These are great ideas and we’re thrilled to see Sen­a­tor War­ren step­ping up to pro­vide bold pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship in a time of crisis.

In the 1930s, when Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt came into office, he did­n’t just work to sta­bi­lize Amer­i­ca’s soci­ety and and econ­o­my. He worked to imple­ment reforms to pro­tect the coun­try from a future depres­sion or recession.

That’s how we end­ed up with Social Secu­ri­ty, with the Glass-Stea­gall Act, with fed­er­al deposit insur­ance through the FDIC, and with new infra­struc­ture built by the Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion and the Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps.

A cri­sis like this is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build a more inclu­sive, equi­table, and broad­ly pros­per­ous soci­ety, and it must not be squandered.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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