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Change of Heart?

April 7, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL], who just two weeks ago said that "safety and soundness [of banks] trumps...the consumer finance whatever," is all of a sudden championing a stand-alone Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), the Washington Post reports:

Staff members for Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee, sent a proposal to their Democratic counterparts last week that would create an independent consumer financial protection agency, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

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Derivatives, those obscure financial products built off the value of other assets, have their historical roots in agriculture. Farmers and investors would place bets against the harvest as a way to hedge against the uncertainty involved in making your living off of raising food. The derivatives market is now a several hundred trillion dollar, highly complex financial market, but the congressional agricultural committees still hold legacy jurisdiction over regulating it.

TNR's Noam Scheiber has a great piece on the state of financial reform in the Senate, describing an emerging strategy to put some relatively strong consumer protections in the bill while giving Wall Street much of what they want in areas that the public isn't paying attention to. Derivatives reform -- or the lack therof -- is likely going to be the area where Wall Street gets their biggest win, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is set up to be the driving forces behind delivering it.

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Lincoln, Chambliss Take Over Derivatives Reform

April 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Now that health care is done, the next big issue Congress will take up is reforming regulations of the financial market. Most of the attention paid to financial reform so far has been on two areas -- addressing the problem of too big to fail and consumer protections for financial products. Both important, but there's a lot more to the bill that people aren't talking about.

For example, the bill is expected to at least partially reverse the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 and restore some transparency to the over-the-counter derivatives market. Sounds arcane, but it's actually a really big deal and it goes to the heart of what turned a mortage crisis into a systemic financial crisis in 2008.

 

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When financial reform negotiations broke down a couple weeks ago, Sen. Bob Corker [R, TN] (pictured at right) was the one to stand up and say that a bipartisan bill was still possible. Last week, when the Republicans refused to participate in the mark-up of the bill, Corker called it "a very large strategic mistake," adding that financial reform "is an issue that almost every American wants to see passed." But today he announced that he "absolutely cannot support" the bil.

Senate Democrats, as we know, need to pick off at least one Republican, in addition to holding their own party together, to overcome an inevitable Republican filibuster. They have basically three options -- find a Republican other than Corker who may be willing to vote for the bill, negotiate down some of the provisions to a point that Republicans can support it, or call the Republicans' bluff and just bring the bill to a vote.

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WWGSD

March 17, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Mike Konczal of the excellent Rorty Bomb blog is a former Wall Street financial engineer. He took a look at the recently unveiled Dodd financial reform bill through the galsses of his Wall Street experience to see what Goldman Sachs might be thinking.

I actually read this bill as if I was a Goldman Sachs lobbyist, looking for all the sections that I hated and made a list of what items I needed to lobby hard on to kill or modify.

My final verdict, by the time I got to the end? If I was a Goldman lobbyist, I’d probably shrug and go “eh, pass it.”

 

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Dodd Throws Volcker a Bone

March 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Obama-proposed Volcker Rule, which is designed to prohibit banks from engaging in high-risk speculation that has no societal benefit, was supposed to be "dead on arrival" in the Senate. Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd [D, CT], who is retiring and hopes to pass financial reform as a last boost to his legacy, saw the proposal as a poorly-timed addition to the legislation that could threaten its support from conservative, pro-Wall Street lawmakers.

But from the summary of the bill released today by Dodd, it appears to be included ...just in a watered-down, toothless iteration:

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Summary of the Dodd Financial Reform Bill

March 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Christopher Dodd [D, CT] unveiled his long-awaited financial reform bill this afternoon, calling it the most sweeping reform of Wall Street since the 1930s. It's a 1,336-page document, which you can read in full here (PDF). But in case your not in the mood right now to dive into the details of derivatives reform, consumer financial protection and systemic risk regulation in full legalese, I've converted the 11-page summary from Dodd's office into HTML and posted it here. This is no substitue for a thorough, independent analysis, but it at least gives you a sense of the bill's scope -- what's in it and what isn't.

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Meet Sen. Corker's Payday Lender Friend

March 11, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Last month, when bipartisan financial reform negotiations where breaking down in the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Bob Corker [R, TN] stepped up from out of nowhere and volunteered to take over for Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] on representing the Republicans at the negotiating table. By all accounts, he has in fact managed to keep the bipartisan negotiations alive. He and Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] are reportedly ready to introduce their bill to the full Senate imminently.

The New York Times reported yesterday that one of the concessions Corker has won from Dodd is a special exemption in the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency's (CFPA) enforcement powers for payday lenders and other nonbank credit dealers. These are generally the most predatory of lenders, commonly charging interest rates as high as 400 percent. Corker's exemption would allow the CFPA to create rules to regulate the payday loan industry, but it would't give the agency any power to enforce the rules like it could for banks and mortgage dealers.

Talking Points Memo yesterday ran a profile W. Alan Jones, Bob Corker's payday loan shark/multi-millionaire friend and political supporter, and how he may have influenced Corker's decision to fight for the regulatory exemption for his industry:

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Financial Reform Bill Will Exempt Payday Loans

March 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Some of the most absurd lending and borrowing happens in the payday loan industry. According to the Center for Responsible Lending (.pdf), the average payday loan borrower pays $800 for each $325 they borrow. That's an absolutely absurd interest rate, but according to the New York Times, the senators who are designing financial reform legislation are going to include a special carve-out so the industry can keep on dealing in these abusive loans:

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CFPA Still Languishing In The Senate

February 17, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Republicans and a handful of pro-business Democrats are standing in opposition to an independent consumer financial watchdog agency – a central pillar of President Obama's financial regulation agenda

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Dodd to Push for Quasi-Independent CFPA

February 9, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd's [D, CT] latest version of financial reform legislation includes a partially independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Financial reform advocates seem to think it's good enough. HuffPo has the details.

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State of Play: Senate Financial Reform

February 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

It's been almost two months since the House of Representatives passed their bill to overhaul regulations in the financial markets and implement some of the lessons learned from the financial crisis. The Senate, on the other hand, still hasn't taken up the issue. Since November, the Senate Banking Committee has been working to modify a draft version of a financial reform bill that was submitted by Chairman Chris Dodd [D, CT]. The committee has already missed several deadline for completing the bill and forwarding it to the full Senate, and they're now looking at trying to get it done before the President's Day recess, which begins on Feb. 12.

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Senate Approves Tough Iran Sanctions

January 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

By a voice vote, the Senate this afternoon approved a comprehensive bill to put new, tougher economic sanctions on Iran. Since Iran has almost no oil refining capability and has to import at least 40 percent of its domestic gasoline supply, the most crippling sanctions in the bill would block any company that imports refined petroleum to Iran or works with Iran to build refineries from doing business in the U.S. market.

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The retiring Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd [D, CT] is prepared to cut the Consumer Financial Protection Agency from the regulatory reform bill in order to win Republican support.

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The retirement plans of these two key players in the Senate won't just change things electorally for the Democrats; they will change the environment that the Democrats will be working in this year as they try to complete their legislative agenda.

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