Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business students that financial regulation legislation now before Congress must be passed in order to protect the financial security of all Americans.
"This is an important and just cause," Geithner said in remarks prepared for delivery. "It requires reform. Not small changes at the margin, but comprehensive change, clear rules with teeth, enforced by people who care."
Geithner, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, was in Milwaukee for a "Middle Class Task Force," designed to lobby in favor of the financial regulation bill.
Geithner said the debate over the bill should not be left "to the banks and their protectors. This is about the business of America. And here at a university that has sent so many Americans out into the world to build great companies, you know how important credit and capital is to the entrepreneur and the innovator. We need a financial system that can finance future investment in real businesses that will make us stronger as a nation."
Geithner told the audience, consisting of UWM business students and area politicians, that the economy was beginning to improve, but said there is still a long way to go.
In his short address, Geithner said the reform bill before Congress "won't satisfy everyone. They won't solve all of our problems. But they will fix what caused this crisis, and they will make future crises less likely and less damaging."
Following Geithner was Biden, who echoed similar themes in support of the legislation. "This is a big deal moment," Biden told the students. "It matters."
New opportunities for Americans, he said, help build the middle class.
Talking about the middle class, Biden said it was important for citizens to be able to live in a decent home, on a quiet street, send your kids to college and be able to retire with a decent standard of living.
"They measure their success based on whether or not their children have an equal or better chance than they had," he said.
Biden called Wall Street "private casinos" in which banks and investors lost a bet that Americans now have to pay for.
The vice president said the financial problems hurt those in the middle class, and prevented them from maintaining their standard of living.
Biden called it a collision between middle-class taxpayers and Wall Street. People used their credit cards to maintain their standard of living and got into debt, he said.
"The next thing you know we have a big international meltdown. We can't let this happen again," he said.
Biden also praised the Troubled Assets Relief Program, used to help banks and other financial institutions. When TARP was first formed, federal officials believed it would cost $700 billion. Instead, the program cost $380 billion, more than half of which has already been paid back, he said.
And American taxpayers, he said, will get their money back.
The proposed legislation, he said, would create a fee for banks to prevent future bailouts.
"Why? Because it's fair," Biden said.