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Bill Intro'd to Help You Move Your Money

October 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As big, taxpayer-supported banks jack up fees on their customers, Rep. Brad Miller [D, NC-13] has introduced legislation to ensure that customers can easily close their accounts and mover their money elsewhere. The bill, titled the Freedom and Mobility in Mobile Banking Act, would require banks to allow customers to close their accounts at any time and help them transfer their direct deposits and automatic bill-pay settings to a new bank.

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Will Dodd-Frank Prevent New Megabanks?

August 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform bill didn't directly fix the too-big-to-fail problem that necessitated the 2008 bailouts. Instead, it allowed the big banks to grow even bigger, but gave regulators new authority to require the big banks to report more information to the government and force them to follow stricter rules. It also gave regulators new guidelines to consider when deciding whether or not to allow bank mergers that could create new too-big-to-fail entities. Basically, the bill took a noncommittal approach to addressing issues of bank size and interconnectedness. Congress punted the big decisions off to regulators and made it possible for regulators to take drastic action, but gave them a lot of leeway to maintain the status quo if they so choose.

These provisions of the bill are about to get their first test. Capital One, currently the ninth largest bank-holding company in the U.S., has reached an agreement with the Ducth ING Groep to purchase their U.S. arm, ING Direct. They are planning to then turn around and leverage assets gained in that deal to purchase HSBC's subprime credit card division. The acquisitions would make Capital One the fifth largest bank in the U.S., right behind such infamous too-big-to-fail giants as Bank of America, Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo. It would mean that financial assets and power in the U.S. would become even more concentrated in a small group of top corporations.

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Frank and His Wall Street Buds

June 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Given how extreme the failure of Wall Street was that caused the 2008 crisis, the financial reform bill passed by Congress last year, Dodd-Frank, is pretty weak tea. It's riddled with giant loopholes, defers many of the biggest decisions to the same regulatory agencies who failed us in the first place, and, most significantly, allows the banks that needed a $4.6 trillion bailout because they were "too big to fail" to become even bigger. Dodd-Frank was largely an exercise in passing a bill for the sake of appearing to have done something. Unfortunately, Congress seem to have fooled a lot of people out there, especially those who work for popular newspapers, into believing that they have fixed the problems.

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The Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill that the Democrats passed last year didn't take an aggressive approach to fixing the too-big-and-interconnected-to-fail problem that necessitated the bank bailouts. The Senate rejected an amendment to the bill that would have broke up the biggest banks and, instead, created a "Systemic Risk Council" to determine which banks are too big and interconnected and make them follow tougher capital and leveraging requirements. It's supposed to keep the giant finance companies on a tight leash and avoid the shocks to the financial markets that would be caused by restricting the growth of a Goldman Sachs or Bank of America.

But it's not guaranteed to work, and I'd say the latest comments from Tim Geither, who is going to chair the council, do not inspire much confidence:

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The graphic at right shows, in aggregate, the explosion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet during the financial crisis. Today, thanks to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill (exact provision here), we get to begin learning which companies benefitted from these subsidies, how much they got, when they got it, and what the Fed got/is expected to get in return. The law also asks for "the specific rationale for each such facility or program." Click through for links to dig in yourself or to find the best breaking analysis. 

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Repaying the Favor

October 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The real problem with too-big-to-fail is that in a post-Citizens United world there is virtually no limit to the amount of money these enormous companies can spend on making sure their favorite lawmakers get elected. Too big to fail is primarily a political problem. It's a self-perpetuating cycle whereby huge companies are allowed to grow indefinitely (i.e. not fail organically) because they have the financial muscle to buy-off the lawmakers in a position to protect them from regulation and bail them out when they get into trouble.

Not surprisingly, in this election cycle, companies that have taken money from the 2008 TARP bailout are focusing their political giving on candidates who support the bailout, oppose new financial regulations, and are most likely to be in positions of power in the next session of Congress.

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A strange thing happened in the Senate last week. After years of rejecting the House's attempt to pass the "Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act" that would force states to accept out-of-state notarizations of documents, including electronic notarizations, the bill was suddenly discharged from committee, called up on the Senate floor, and quickly passed under unanimous consent. Even the bill's sponsor, Rep. Robert Aderholt [R, AL-4], said that he was "surprised that it came through at the eleventh hour." Nobody expected the bill to come up for Senate passage, but since it seemed innocuous enough and because senators were itching to get out of D.C. and hit the campaign trails, they passed it without any debate or dissent.

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UPDATE: Senate Passes Financial Reform

July 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: The bill has officially been passed. It now gets sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law this afternoon. Original post below...

As expected, the Senate this afternoon voted 60-38 to end debate on the landmark Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protections Act. The vote on final passage of the bill, whiconly requires a simply majority of 51 "ayes," is expected later this afternoon.

 

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Update on the FinReg Conference

June 9, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The financial reform conference committee kicks off tomorrow. This is where negotiators from the Senate and the House meet to iron out the differences between their versions of the bill and create a final text to be voted on one more time by both chambers.

Though the two versions of the bill are broadly similar (House version, Senate version), when looked at more closely there are dozens of hugely important details that will need to be resolved. For example, will the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency be independent, or will it be housed at the Fed and subject to Fed vetoes? Will there be a pre-funded orderly liquidation fund, or will the funds necessary for liquidating failing big banks be put up by the federal government when the time comes? Will banks be allowed to continue getting government backing for their derivatives trades, or will they be required to spin their derivatives activites off into separate entities without access to the Fed's discount window and FDIC guarantees? 

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Wall Street's Majority Leader

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

If you think the Senate has a pro-Wall Street tilt right now, just wait until the current Majority Leader is defeated and the next in line takes over. The Washington Post is running a piece today on the many reasons why the Senate's current number-three Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY], is the most likely candidate for the position after/if current Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is defeated in the November mid-terms, not the progressive number-two, Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL].

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Dems Win Big Financial Reform Vote

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Having won over Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] and having Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA] back in the chamber to place his vote, the Democrats today found 60 votes and passed cloture on their financial reform bill. That means that a final vote on the bill requiring a simple majority of 51 votes must take place within the next 30 hours.

The bill, called the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010, attempts to fix regulations of derivatives, create new consumer protections for financial products, and set up an orderly liquidation process for winding down failing systemically risky financial institutions to avoid future bailouts, and much more. A summary of the bill as filed (without the dozens of floor amendments that were added) can be found here (pdf).

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As expected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV]has filed for cloture on the financial reform bill, setting up the possibility of a Wednesday vote on ending the debate and forcing an up-or-down vote on passage.

For financial reform advocates, this is mixed news. On the one hand, the bill that Reid is filing cloture on is stronger than what anyone had really expected the Senate to produce. Blanche Lincoln's tough derivatives language is still mostly in tact, strengthening amendments regarding debit fees, ratings agencies and auditing the Fed have been adopted, and every attempt to weaken the bill so far has been beaten back. On the other hand, some of the most important strengthening amendments haven't been voted on yet and may not get voted on if cloture is approved on Wednesday.

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A Failed Vote on Breaking up Banks

May 7, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate last night voted on a financial reform amendment that, although probably never having a real shot at passing, gives us a unique chance to see in the stark relief the divisions in both parties on truly reining in the "too big to fail" banks.

The amendment, a version of the SAFE Banking Act sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown [D, OH] and Ted Kaufman [D, DE], would have placed strict size caps on banks and non-bank financial companies. In practical terms, it would have forced the breaking up of some of the Wall Street corporations. Instead of consolidating like they have been doing for the past 20 years, banks like Bank of America and Chase would have been forced to sell some of their branches off to smaller regional banks over a period of three years.

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Financial Reform Amendment Voting Begins

May 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Remember last week when Senate Republicans filibustered beginning debate of the financial reform bill three times in three days over objections to a liquidation fund that they said would be used in the future for bailouts? Well, the fund was officially removed on Wednesday by a an overwhelming vote of 93-5. That makes everyone happy -- the Republicans who called it a bailout, the banks who didn't want to pay into it, and the Democrats who didn't really care much about it and would rather have Republican cooperation.

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The first amendment the Senate will vote on tomorrow when they start voting on amendments to the financial reform bill will be one from Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] that seeks to ensure that the government will liquidate failing financial firms rather than bailing them out with taxpayer money. If any amendment is going to get wide bipartisan support, it will be this one.

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