Sanders unveils bank breakup legislation

Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPicking longtime fixer as chief of staff proves Clinton hasn't changed The Trail 2016: Wikissues Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress MORE (I-Vt.) on Wednesday unveiled a tough bill targeting Wall Street, reminding liberals pining for a loud voice on the left as a presidential candidate that he is available.

In one of his first legislative moves since announcing his presidential run, Sanders unveiled a bill that takes square aim at the biggest names on Wall Street. His legislation would require federal regulators to determine which financial institutions pose a risk to the economy thanks to their size and complexity, and give those firms a simple message: Break yourselves up, or the government will do it for you.

“If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist, and that is the bottom line,” he said.

The anti-Wall Street message is nothing new from Sanders, who frequently rails against the disproportionate power wielded by the nation’s wealthiest. Sanders acknowledged that his measure faces long odds in a GOP-controlled Congress. But his push also highlighted his efforts to serve as a heavy liberal counterweight to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate Trump losing cash race in final weeks Report: Biden on top of Clinton's short list for secretary of State MORE, while courting liberal backers still eyeing a run from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenEmbattled GOP senator fires back at Warren Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress President Obama’s antitrust enforcement MORE (D-Mass.).

Sanders diligently avoided discussing 2016 politics at his Senate press conference, where he unveiled the bill alongside the lead House sponsor, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). He declined to discuss Hillary Clinton’s record on financial reform or even say if he planned to attend the six planned debates Democrats will hold in the primary.

Nonetheless, it was not hard to see many similarities between Sanders’s message and one frequently aired by a liberal favorite who refuses to run for the White House: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Sanders opened his remarks Wednesday by running down the “grotesque” economic inequality in the United States, noting that most of the recent economic gains have been isolated among the nation’s richest and slamming the financial sector for driving the nation into a recession in 2008.

He closed his remarks by recounting his 20-year history of fighting Wall Street as a Washington lawmaker, perhaps as a reminder to liberal voters that the anti-Wall Street message did not materialize spontaneously when Warren joined the Senate in 2012.

“This position I’m holding today is not new,” he said.

One of Warren’s higher-profile pieces of legislation was a bill that would reimpose the Glass-Steagall Act, which created a firewall between traditional and investment banking. Sanders noted Wednesday that he helped lead opposition to repealing it in the first place.

The overlap between Sanders’s message and the one frequently espoused by Warren was indistinguishable at one point.

“The function of banking should be boring,” said Sanders on Wednesday.

Warren has frequently sung from the “banking should be boring” hymnal, doing so most recently in a speech in April.

“If banks want access to government-provided deposit insurance, they should be limited to boring banking,” she said.

When Sanders launched his presidential campaign earlier this month, he earned plaudits from liberal grassroots groups for his long record on fighting inequality and battling the nation’s most powerful. Many of those same groups also said they were still waiting for Warren to jump into the race.

A CNN poll out Wednesday found Sanders was gaining ground in New Hampshire now that he is an official candidate, pulling in 13 percent support from Democratic primary voters compared to Clinton’s 51 percent. Warren, who has repeatedly ruled out a presidential run, tallied 20 percent.

While Sanders declined to challenge Clinton on Wednesday, he did note that, among his efforts to fight Wall Street as a lawmaker, he pushed back against the efforts of Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers — top financial regulators who served under President Bill ClintonBill ClintonPicking longtime fixer as chief of staff proves Clinton hasn't changed The Trail 2016: Wikissues The Mormons are actually beating progressives on rape advocacy MORE.

That was the group of advisers, Sanders said, “who all told us how wonderful it would be if we deregulate Wall Street.”