WASHINGTON (AP) — The heads of the nation’s largest banks appeared before Congress on Wednesday and offered a bleak view of the U.S. economy, reflecting the financial and economic hardships facing many Americans.

JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser and other top executives said the U.S. consumer is in good shape now, but faces threats from high inflation and rising interest rates.

The meeting took place on the same day The Federal Reserve announced a 3/4 point increase in the base interest rate as the central bank tries to control inflation. When asked by lawmakers, Wall Street CEOs appeared increasingly skeptical that the Fed could achieve its goal of a “soft landing” in which inflation falls without causing widespread damage to the economy.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Dimon said.

“While COVID is behind us, the economic challenges we now face are no less dire,” Fraser said in prepared remarks for the hearing.

The CEOs said the American consumer is currently in good financial shape. Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan said the amount of money in customer accounts is stable. Diman said wages rose while the debt burden fell, and Fraser said consumers were spending at a higher level.

All of that could change as the Fed aggressively raises rates. With inflation rising to 9% this year, the Fed aggressively raised rates from near zero to a range of 3% to 3.25% in a matter of months. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged that households would feel the impact.

“Inflation must be stopped. I wish there was a painless way to do it, but there isn’t,” Powell said at a news conference after the rate hike was announced.

“Under these circumstances, the role banks play in protecting consumers and providing access to affordable credit is critical,” said Maxine Waters, D-Calif. and chair of the House Financial Services Committee.

As well as hearing on day-to-day finances, the CEOs were also swamped with political issues with Washington in the midst of an election year. Democrats have pushed CEOs on issues like racial equality, unionization efforts at banks, and evergreen financial issues like overdraft fees and fraud.

Republicans took the opportunity to push back on the need for the hearings — the third time Democrats have brought Wall Street executives before the committee since taking control of the House in 2019 — as well as high inflation. One of the urgent problems was the sale of weapons in stores. Earlier this month, the major payment networks — Visa, Mastercard and American Express — said they would begin operations classification of gun sales in stores as a separate trade code. It’s a decision that gun control advocates are pushing to potentially help stem spikes in gun sales in the run-up to mass shootings.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, pushed bank executives on whether they would comply with the payment networks’ decision. In response, all six CEOs said they would not stop legal gun sales and would protect consumer privacy.

“We don’t want to tell the American people what to do with their money,” Dimon said.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which specialize in investment banking, did not testify at Wednesday’s hearing. Instead, the CEOs of three new banks were brought in: Andy Sesser of US Bank, William Demchak of PNC Financial and Bill Rogers Jr. of Truist.

Each operates “super regional” banks that are huge in their own right, with thousands of branches and hundreds of billions in assets, but dwarf JPMorgan, BofA, Citi and Wells in size.

Many Americans still remember bailing out the banking industry nearly 15 years ago, so CEOs have also used the platform to sell themselves as a force for good.

“The work we do at JPMorgan Chase matters in good times and in bad times,” Dimon said in his opening remarks. “We finance the ambitions of Americans with loans for homes, cars and small business development, and we provide valuable products and services to more than half of American families.”

Eager to avoid the political headache of being labeled as part of Wall Street, the super-regionals used the hearings to market themselves as a competitive Main Street alternative to Wall Street’s megabanks.

“We’re one-sixth of some of the banks in that group,” said PNC’s Demchak.

Wells Fargo’s chief executive typically faces tough questions from lawmakers over various scandals that have cost the bank billions of dollars in fines and forced it to operate under Federal Reserve supervision.

Wells CEO Charles Scharf said the bank had taken a number of steps to revamp its culture. But Waters was dubious, noting recent reports that the bank was conducting fake interviews with women and that financial regulators had slapped it with additional fines.

The executives will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

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