Warner Talks Banking Reform, Russia and Cybersecurity on Visit to Roanoke

Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator was in Roanoke recently, touting a bill that has already passed through the Senate and awaits action in the House of Representatives. Mark Warner spoke to employees of Freedom First and other local credit unions about legislation that would tweak the Dodd-Frank act, enacted after the economic crash of 2008, a recession fueled in part by risky banking practices. Some believe, however, that the stringent regulations put in place by Dodd-Frank and geared towards the biggest financial institutions also place unnecessary burdens on smaller credit unions and banks.

That bill is now stalled in the House after some attempts to add a slew of other amendments to it. Speaking after the meeting at the Freedom First location in Roanoke’s West End on Patterson Avenue –  a true community center with a meeting room and a kitchen that local small businesses can use to prepare foods for sale – Warner said, “it makes me feel great, the ability for this community-based institution to help people with financial literacy, the idea that they have a kitchen here that’s used by [local residents]. You wouldn’t see this type of activity from a large Wall Street bank.”

As an original sponsor of the banking reform bill, Warner said Freedom First and other smaller financial institutions have suffered from what he called “regulatory creep” as guidelines crafted to keep larger banks in line wound up impacting smaller concerns.  The bill (also backed by Virginia’s other U.S. Senator, Tim Kaine) keeps Dodd-Frank guidelines in place for larger banks, said Warner, while providing regulatory relief for institutions like Freedom First.

At a town hall style meeting Warner, who made his money as the cell phone industry was getting off the ground, also said he envisions credit unions perhaps being involved with some type of long term retirement benefits package that would be transportable from job to job with more Americans working in the “gig economy.” That would be an alternative to what Warner called the social contract set up decades ago, when many worked for one company their whole life before retiring.

“If they don’t work full time they don’t qualify for benefits [even if working several jobs instead]. That’s not fair and that’s not right. Let’s make sure there’s a portable benefits system. It doesn’t have to be run by the government. Maybe it could be run by community-based institutions, so that every dollar you make, even starting out as a kid, is put aside so that when bad things happen … you have a nest egg to fall back upon.”

Warner also said that the 17 Democrats in the Senate that supported the rollback bill may not continue to do so if there are major changes in the House. “I know the president is ready to sign the legislation as is.”

VA Senator Mark Warner listens to testimony in Washington D.C.

Warner, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, investigating Russian interference in U.S. elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016, offered his take on all of that as well.

For starters, he said he wants social media platforms like Facebook to “fully explain how the Russians used [them] to spread fake news and information. We’ve seen clear evidence that they didn’t stop at the 2016 election.” Warner also said President Trump should allow Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation – also looking at Russian election tampering and any collusion with the Trump campaign. He said it could amount to a “Constitutional crisis,” if Mueller is fired.

As for the Senate investigation, Warner said he would reserve any judgement on collusion until all of the witnesses have been questioned. “I’m proud of the fact that the Senate committee has stayed bipartisan.” Warner also told the Freedom First audience that other countries have had a “free lunch” when it comes to stealing from the U.S. online – saying we “need a cyber doctrine” to fight back.

Gene Marrano




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