clock menu more-arrow no yes

Hillary Clinton does a better job than Bernie Sanders of explaining the details of his bank breakup plan

Democratic Presidential Candidates Clinton And Sanders Attend Founders Day Dinner In Wisconsin Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images

There are many contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but one important one is the different stance they take toward policy detail: Clinton really loves it, and Sanders really does not.

There's no better way to see this than to look at the respective interviews they gave to the New York Daily News editorial board.

Here is what happened when the board asked Sanders how he plans to break up the major Wall Street banks:

Daily News: How do you go about doing it?

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don't know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, "Now you must do X, Y and Z?"

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.

Many people read this and concluded that Sanders simply has no idea what he's talking about. That's not quite right. Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute, who specializes in financial regulation, was able to reconstruct a specific policy out of Sanders's remarks. When doing this, it's helpful for any journalist to refer back to the Sanders campaign's official written statements, which are pretty clear.

But you can see that on a personal level, what Sanders is interested in is the principle here — a bank that is "too big too fail" should not exist.

But it's not just Konczal or Sanders's staffers who have a clearer explanation of Sanders's bank breakup policy.

In her own Daily News interview, Clinton does a much better job than Sanders of explaining how a president inclined to break up the banks would do so:

Daily News: How do you stop too big to fail? What needs to happen?

Clinton: Well, I have been a strong supporter of Dodd-Frank because it is the most consequential financial reforms since the Great Depression. And I have said many times in debates and in other settings, there is authority in Dodd-Frank to break up banks that pose a grave threat to financial stability.

There are two approaches. There's Section 121, Section 165, and both of them can be used by regulators to either require a bank to sell off businesses, lines of businesses or assets, because of the finding that is made by two-thirds of the financial regulators that the institution poses a grave threat, or if the Fed and the FDIC conclude that the institutions' living will resolution is inadequate and is not going to get any better, there can also be requirements that they do so.

That's what Sanders is talking about, just stated more clearly in terms of specific legislative provisions and what you would actually have to go through to use these tools.

Then Clinton pivots to why this isn't the approach she thinks she would take:

So we've got that structure. Now a lot of people have argued that there need to be some tweaks to it that I would be certainly open to. But my point from the very beginning of this campaign, and it's something that I've said repeatedly: big banks did not cause the Great Recession primarily. They were complicit, but hedge funds; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank; a big insurance company, AIG; mortgage companies like Countrywide, Fannie and Freddie — there were lots of culprits who were contributing to the circumstances that led to the very dangerous financial crisis.

Clinton is correct about all this, and it underscores her larger point that bank breakups are inadequate as a solution to all of America's financial regulation issues.

Now, I suspect a Sanders fan will look at this and say that Clinton is missing the forest for the trees here. Sanders's fundamental conceptual argument is that rather than designating certain institutions as "systematically significant" and in need of heightened scrutiny, the government should make them do whatever they need to do in order to not be systematically significant any more. Clinton has a much more impressive array of detailed points to make about how financial regulation works, but she doesn't have a particularly clear thematic message about why large, highly regulated institutions are better than smaller, less-regulated ones.


How the candidates’ tax plans impact your wallet