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Opinion: Columnists

Manhattan Moment: Wednesday's debate: Get the candidates' thoughts on Wall Street

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Neither presidential candidate has spoken much about the financial crisis or how to prevent another one. Yet the financial meltdown of four years ago still affects people's lives today. Americans struggle under bubble-era debt. They struggle, too, with poor job growth. The moderator of this week's debate, PBS' Jim Lehrer, should deploy a few pointed questions to encourage the contenders to break their silence.

Questions for President Obama:

If the Dodd-Frank law fixed Wall Street, how would you explain that in May, 52 percent of potential voters told pollsters that they had little confidence in the financial industry -- not much different from the weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed?

The Dodd-Frank financial-reform law was 2,000 pages. Two years after you signed it, experts still can't figure out what it says and how regulators could use the law to wind down a failing financial firm. Why did regulation have to be so complicated on your watch?

This past spring, JPMorgan Chase took a multibillion-dollar loss on some speculative bets. If the loss had been bigger, would your administration have let JPMorgan Chase go bankrupt?

Your opponent wants to eliminate capital gains and dividends taxes for middle-class families. This measure would encourage people to invest in something outside of their houses, by letting them keep the gains. Is that proposal is a good idea?

You've had nearly four years to help people work with mortgage lenders to reduce the amount of money they owe. Why haven't you pursued this strategy? Have you been worried that such debt reductions would cause more losses for banks?

Questions for Gov. Mitt Romney:

You favored a government-funded "managed bankruptcy" for General Motors and Chrysler before Obama took office and took this course. Do you think that large financial firms, too, should have to go through such a "managed bankruptcy" process, with creditors as well as employees taking substantial losses? In other words, is it fair to treat one industry differently from the other?

You say you want to rein in some types of risk-taking on Wall Street. Could you be more specific? Do you favor pushing derivatives instruments onto exchanges and limiting borrowing against derivatives, even though the instruments would be less profitable for large financial firms?

Using your experience in the financial industry, tell us what is the best way to end "too big to fail."

In your convention speech, you implied that it's President Obama's fault that "you'd have to take a big loss on your house" if you sold it. Don't you think the housing market had to fall significantly from 2006 levels, no matter who was president? What would you have done to prevent that from happening?

The president called bankers "fat cats." Do you think bankers whose institutions depend on taxpayer guarantees should be paid as much as they are? Do you understand why Americans are angry at the financial-industry bailouts?

Questions for both candidates:

A lot of people like the Facebook social-media website. But they are upset that Facebook's stock-market listing earlier this year seemed to fall prey to insider manipulation. Do you think the stock market gives all investors a fair shake? If not, how would you fix it?

You've both employed top officials tied to the financial industry. Mr. President, your former chief of staff, Bill Daley, was a top executive at JPMorgan Chase. Gov. Romney, your campaign co-chairman, Tim Pawlenty, just left for the biggest lobbying job on Wall Street. Does Wall Street have too much clout in Washington?

Do you think Americans should have to save up, say, 20 percent, for a down payment before buying a house? Would either of you favor reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even if it meant that many people, including middle-class people, couldn't get mortgages?

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

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