Vice President Joe Biden empathized with the Occupy Wall Street movement Thursday, and criticized big banks in harsher terms than most people in the Obama administration are typically comfortable with.
At The Atlantic’s Ideas Forum, Biden said he understands what underlies the anti-Wall Street movement, and compared it to the anger driving the Tea Party.
“What is the core of that protest, and why is it increasing in terms of the people it’s attracting — the core is the bargain has been breeched with the American people,” Biden said. “The core is the American people do not think the system is fair or on the level….. That is the core of what you’re seeing on Wall Street. And that’s what started, by the way — there’s a lot in common with the Tea Party. The Tea Party started why? TARP. They thought it was unfair — we were bailing out the big guy.”
The Tea Party arguably didn’t take off until well after TARP, when the Obama administration began considering providing relief to people with underwater mortgages. But to illustrate the sorts of actions that sparked Occupy Wall Street, Biden mentioned the recent decision by Bank of America to institute monthly ATM fees, to make up for profits lost by new rules limiting the “swipe fees” banks can charge retailers for each debt card transaction.
“There’s this overwhelming gut reaction to Bank of america putting in a $5 fee….The American people know — they don’t guess, they know — the reason the CEO of Bank of America or anybody in that business is in the business is because they — that guy making $50,000 — bailed him out,” Biden explained. “At a minimum they’re incredibly tone deaf. And at a maximum they’re not paying their fair share of the bargain here…. That’s a little like saying to my kid ‘here’s the deal now, I don’t want you driving a car when you don’t have a license, and I’ve now caught you and I’m stopping you from doing that.’ And my son says, ‘I can’t do that anymore, now I’ve gotta steal a car.’”
Biden clarified that he didn’t think Bank of America was committing a crime. But it’s still tougher rhetoric than you’ll typically hear from the White House.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.