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Financial Reform Roundup

April 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The big Wall Street reform bill (S.3217) could hit the Senate floor as soon as next week. The legislative pieces are falling into place, the White House is staking out its position and the Republicans are firming up commitments of opposition from their more moderate members. Here's a roundup of the latest financial reform news out of the Senate.

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Salmon on Lincoln

April 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Yesterday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] surprised just about everyone (including yours truly) by announcing that her derivatives bill was going to be stronger than anything we've seen from Dodd, the House of Representatives, or the White House. Felix Salmon has a helpful post clearing up some confusion between exchange trading and clearing requirements, and outlining what we can expect in her bill, which will officially drop tomorrow:

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Benjamin Sarlin has a great piece at the Daily Beast on the state-of-play of derivatives reform now that it's moving under the jurisdiction of Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and the Agriculture Committee.

He has a Lincoln staffer is on record saying that the derivatives bill she's writing, which will be dropped in the next couple weeks, will at least require all derivatives to be traded publicly on exchanges. That's a relatively big deal in that it tells us where we should be watching for possible derivatives dealer (a.k.a. the big banks) giveaways, namely in clearing exemptions and margin requirements for swaps that are exempt from clearing. We already know that Lincoln is planning to put exemptions for "end-users" in her bill. If it's anything like the House bill, up to half of all swaps could be exempt from clearing.

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Which Senators are Flush with Finance Cash?

April 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

"The banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place." - Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL].

In a few weeks, the banks' "ownership" of Congress will be put to the test. The Senate is going to take up comprehensive financial regulatory reform legislation in May -- this is the main bill the banks are spending their political capital on to fight, and the Senate is where they are hoping to use their influence and make it friendlier to their business.

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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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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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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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