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More Financial Reform Legislation Hits the Hill

July 22, 2009

The Obama administration blitzed Congress with yet another massive set of reforms for the financial regulatory system today, and is promising more for tomorrow.

On the heels of proposed legislation for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, say-on-pay for shareholders to vote on senior executive compensation, and regulation of credit-rating agencies, the administration is now proposing regulations governing the largest, most interconnected financial firms.

“All financial firms and banks that are found to pose a threat to our economy’s financial stability based on their size, leverage and interconnectedness to the financial system will be subject to strong, consolidated supervision and regulation,” said the Treasury in a fact sheet accompanying the legislation. The legislation would require all “Tier 1” financial holding companies to be well capitalized and well managed on a consolidated basis, significantly raising minimum capital standards for the firms.

Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr said in a conference call with reporters that the administration “wants to create disincentives that you become too big to fail.” Each Tier I financial-holding company would have to maintain a credible plan in the event of distress and would have to report on the plan to their regulator about how the firm would be wound down in the event of stress to the system.

Barr promised to deliver another piece of legislation to create a National Bank Supervisor that would consolidate the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency tomorrow. This would help prevent “arbitrage” by banks and other financial companies that try to organize themselves under one charter or another in order to gain the attention of the coziest regulator. The final piece, he promised, would be legislation to regulate the derivatives market.

The administration is certainly keeping Congress extremely busy these days. As the fate of health insurance reform hangs in the balance and seems to be taking up much of the attention on Capitol Hill, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner have teed up a series of complicated bills that Congress will eventually have to digest. Couple that with the energy legislation that the House has voted on and the Senate is at least perusing, with its complex cap-and-trade system, and there are a lot of pages landing on the legislators’ desks.

Barr promised to send them soon a comprehensive package describing the financial regulatory reform proposals in “excruciating detail” and noted that the Treasury is “pounding out the legislation every day.” If anything, the administration is making sure that the congressional staffers and interns stay occupied, even if they do get some reading material that’s likely to put most citizens to sleep.

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