Gretchen Ertl / Reuters

Bernie Sanders vows to break up banks during first year in office

Democratic candidate says that if elected he will force the country's biggest financial firms to restructure

Characterizing Wall Street as an industry run on "greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance," Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pledged to break up the country's biggest financial firms within a year, should he become president, in a major policy address on Tuesday.

He coupled that promise with a series of attacks on rival Hillary Clinton, arguing her personal and political ties make her unable to truly take on the financial industry.

"To those on Wall Street who may be listening today, let me be very clear: Greed is not good," said Sanders, in a reference to Oliver Stone's 1980s film, "Wall Street."

"In fact, the greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the very fabric of our nation, and — here is a New Year's resolution that I will keep if elected president — and that is if Wall Street does not end its greed, we will end it for them," said Sanders, as a cheering audience jumped to its feet.

Sanders has made regulating Wall Street a focus of his primary bid, with calls to curb the political influence of "millionaires and billionaires" at the core of his message.

But the attacks on Clinton mark an escalation in his offensive against the Democratic front-runner. Clinton's policies, he said, would do little more than "impose a few more fees and regulations."

"My opponent says that, as a senator, she told bankers to 'cut it out' and end their destructive behavior," he said. "But, in my view, establishment politicians are the ones who need to cut it out," he said.

"The reality is that Congress doesn't regulate Wall Street. Wall Street, its lobbyists and their billions of dollars regulate Congress," Sanders added.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have made tens of millions of dollars in speaking fees from addresses to Wall Street banks, insurance companies and other financial firms.

She also opposes reinstating the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which effectively limited the size of financial companies by prohibiting commercial banks from engaging in investment banking activities. Sanders would re-establish the law, initially repealed during the Clinton administration.

He vowed to create a "too-big-to-fail" list of companies within the first 100 days of his administration whose failure would pose a grave risk to the U.S. economy without a taxpayer bailout. Those firms would be forced to reorganize within a year.

Sanders also promised to take a tougher tact against industry abuses, noting that major financial institutions have been fined only $204 billion since 2009.

"The reality is that fraud is the business model on Wall Street," he said. "It is not the exception to the rule. It is the rule."

And he vowed to cap ATM fees at two dollars and interest rates on credit cards and consumer loans at 15 percent. He would also restructure credit rating agencies and the Federal Reserve.

Clinton's campaign tried to pre-empt Sanders speech on Monday afternoon, putting out a statement from a top aide arguing that Clinton's financial regulation proposals would do more to crack down on industry abuses.

"In his speech tomorrow, Sen. Sanders should go beyond his existing plans for reforming Wall Street and endorse Hillary Clinton's tough, comprehensive proposals to rein in risky behavior within the shadow banking sector," said the statement from Gary Gensler, a top campaign finance official and former chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The Associated Press

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