1 of 3 | President Barack Obama speaks during his State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 24, 2012. UPI/Saul Loeb/Pool | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama said federal department and agencies should delete ineffective regulations but he won't "back down" from ensuring the public is protected.
Obama noted in his State of the Union Tuesday his administration has announced more than 500 reforms, estimating just a fraction of them will save businesses and citizens more than $10 billion during the next five years.
"But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf (of Mexico) two years ago. I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean," Obama told the joint session of Congress. "I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men."
He said he wouldn't return to the days "when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules," saying the new financial reform package should help restore the financial system's core purpose of helping to fund entrepreneurs and lending money to families wanting to buy a home, start a business or send a child to college.
"So if you're a big bank or financial institution, you are no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers' deposits," Obama said. "You're required to write out a 'living will' that details exactly how you'll pay the bills if you fail -- because the rest of us aren't bailing you out ever again."
He warned mortgage and payday lenders and credit card companies the days of "signing people up for products they can't afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices are over. Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray with one job: To look out for them."
A financial crimes unit will be established to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people's investments, he said, noting that some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws "because there's no real penalty for being a repeat offender."
"So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count," he urged lawmakers.
He said he was asking Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and state attorneys general to expand investigations into the abusive lending and bundling of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.
The new unit "will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," Obama said.