Tester questions Fed chief on jobs, Wall Street reform

Senator uses hearing to highlight concerns from last week’s jobs roundtable tour

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today brought the concerns of Montanans directly to the nation’s top financial watchdog, telling him that the biggest issue facing Montana is jobs.

Tester and his colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing today on whether to confirm Ben Bernanke for a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Tester used the hearing to highlight concerns raised to him by Montanans during five jobs roundtable meetings across the state last week and to question Bernanke on how to encourage lending by local banks to small businesses.

“Local banks play a critical role in job creation,” Tester said.  “If federal regulators are putting the boots to them, a real recovery is going to be slow coming.”

Noting that no Montana banks have failed during the financial crisis, Tester criticized a recommendation that money left over from the Wall Street bailout be used to spur lending.

“Our banks frankly don’t want bailout money,” Tester said.

Tester was the only Senate Democrat to vote against last year’s bailouts of Wall Street and the U.S. automotive industry.

Last week, Tester logged over 1,100 miles in his pickup truck touring the state to meet with local businesses and community leaders and gather input on jobs and the economy.  Tester held listening sessions in Kalispell, Missoula, Billings, Helena and Great Falls.

During today’s hearing, Tester asked for Bernanke’s input on ideas Tester gathered from Montanans, such as a tax credit for businesses that hire new employees and ways to strengthen oversight of Wall Street.

“There’s also a perspective out there that the playing field is tilted to the big guys,” Tester added.  “I’m talking about the big financial institutions.  The little guys that didn’t really create the problem are doing all the suffering and the big guys are back making incredible profits, and that the playing field is tilted towards them.”

“We have an enormous ‘too-big-to-fail’ problem in this country,” Bernanke replied.  The best way to fix it, Bernanke said, is through reforming the regulation of Wall Street.

Tester last month outlined his priorities for reforming Wall Street and creating a level playing field for middle-class Montanans, small businesses and community banks.