Among the many obfuscations of Mitt Romney last night, this was perhaps the biggest laugher of them all:
ROMNEY: Dodd-Frank was passed, and it includes within it a number of provisions that I think have some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. One is it designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they’re effectively guaranteed by the federal government. This is the biggest kiss that’s been given to—to New York banks I’ve ever seen. This is an enormous boon for them. There’s been—22 community and small banks have closed since Dodd-Frank. So there’s one example I wouldn’t designate five banks as too big to fail and give them a blank check. That’s one of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank. It wasn’t thought through properly.
Romney—the private equity veteran running a presidential campaign funded by Wall Street, on a platform that contains a full repeal of every financial regulation over the past four years—positioning himself as an opponent of those big “New York banks” was a historic moment in presidential debate cravenness. (And a real missed opportunity for Obama to wallop his opponent).
So what exactly was Romney talking about? It’s a complicated answer, but understanding it reveals the true perversity of Romney’s posturing.
Dodd-Frank has two provisions regarding too-big-to-fail that Romney is talking about here. The first is the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, created by the legislation, to name financial institutions “systemically significant.” This means they are so big that their failure could threaten the health of the financial sector, and that designation subjects them to heightened regulation and higher capital requirements.
The big banks hate this requirement, for obvious reasons—they come under increased scrutiny and restrictions. So Republicans have been dutifully attacking it. (Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, repeatedly blasted it before joining the ticket). The GOP argument, as you heard Romney deliver it, is that by giving them the “systemically significant label, the government is officially “designating” banks as too-big-to-fail—a very bad-sounding thing indeed!
But this is nonsense—these firms are too big to fail. The FSOC designation doesn’t make them so, and is in no way a “kiss” to the big banks—again, it subjects them to higher regulation. Romney and his party would prefer to repeal this provision, full stop, and thus effectively stick their heads in the sand about too-big-to-fail institutions. It’s like saying a doctor who diagnoses someone with cancer has given it to him.