Christensen

Christensen: Protesters have a friend in Brad Miller

Staff WriterOctober 16, 2011 

Brad Miller may have been the first congressman to attend one of the current round of anti-Wall Street rallies when he made an appearance at a gathering last Sunday in Raleigh's Moore Square.

Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, showed up unannounced and mingled in the crowd to show solidarity with those worried about the growing gap between Wall Street tycoons and the shrinking middle class.

"I am generally sympathetic with their frustrations I feel them, too; their anger about the injustice in the economy in the last several years," Miller, who represents District 13, told me. "I think they sense that the people who were responsible for the financial crisis and the very painful recession from which we have not really recovered have not really suffered at all. They are back right where they were with their bonuses and compensation.

"The people who did suffer were entirely blameless - the people who have lost their jobs, the people who have lost their home through foreclosures," Miller added.

Miller has expressed sympathy with the protesters in recent days as he has made the rounds on TV and radio - Fox Business News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR's "The Take away."

He has plugged a consumer bill that makes it easier for people to change banks.

Miller had the bill in his hip pocket for more than a year, waiting for the right time to introduce it.

With banks announcing plans to end free checking or to charge $5 monthly fees for using debit cards, Miller decided the moment had arrived.

So how hard is it to change banks? Harder than you think, Miller said, especially if you automatically deduct bills from checking accounts. To change banks, he said, you may have to maintain dual accounts for as long as three months.

If it's hard for the middle class, it's even harder for low-income people because they sometimes let their checking accounts go into a negative balance because of overdraft fees, Miller he said. Then they're virtually stuck at the same bank.

"The competition that keeps other businesses honest to the benefit of consumers appears not to be working in consumer banking," he said.

Miller's Freedom and Mobility in Banking Act would allow a consumer to close a bank account by phone or online as well as in person, prohibit fees or charges for closing an account and prohibit banks from black-listing a consumer for failing to satisfy bank-generated fees assessed to an account at the time of closure.

Miller made an appearance at Saturday's Occupy Raleigh event at the Capitol. He said he understands the frustrations.

He said it seems to be a "genuine spontaneous grassroots protest." Like most such protests, he added, it has a grievance, rather than a solution.

Although he doesn't know where the movement is going, Miller said, "it does express the frustration that a great many Americans feel, including me."

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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