Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time Running Out On Financial Reform

Both Obama and Barney Frank want to see financial regulation passed by the end of the year, but the progress so far is not encouraging. Each day that meaningful reform is delayed makes success tougher, as public interest of the issue continues to fade. See the following discussion from Mark Thoma's blog.

Simon Johnson and James Qwak wonder how much political capital the administration is willing to use to meaningfully reform the financial system:

It's Crunch Time: The Fight to Fix the Financial System Comes Down to This, by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, Commentary, Washington Post: The next couple of months will be crucial in determining the shape of the financial system for decades to come. And so far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Obama administration is trying to refocus our attention on regulation, beginning with the president's speech in New York two weeks ago. ... Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says that he still plans to pass a regulatory reform bill before the end of the year.

But in a clear indication of trouble ahead, Frank signaled his intention last week to scale back the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, one of the pillars of the administration's reform proposals. ...

We have criticized the administration's reform proposals, in particular for not going far enough to address the problem of financial institutions that are "too big to fail." But we support much of what was in the original package... The question now is how hard Obama and Geithner will fight for it.

Financial regulation, like health care reform, has entered the phase where speeches and proposals matter less than arm-twisting and horse-trading on Capitol Hill. With health care, President Obama attempted to go over the heads of Congress, directly to the American people. With financial regulation, that is no longer an option, given the extent to which it has faded from public consciousness. Instead, the administration is playing on the home turf of the banking industry and its lobbyists. ... Is Obama up for this fight? ...

Elections have consequences, people used to say. This election brought in a popular Democratic president with reasonably large majorities in both houses of Congress. The financial crisis exposed the worst side of the financial services industry to the bright light of day. If we cannot get meaningful financial regulatory reform this year, we can't blame it all on the banking lobby.

The initial bill needs to be as strong as possible, and I agree that the administration needs to do what it can to prevent the bill from being scaled back. However, the initial legislation won't be as strong as I'd like even if the administration does prevail. But I hope we aren't thinking that we'll take one stab at financial reform and then we'll be done with it. Like climate change and health care, it will require a series of bills to achieve effective reform.

This post has been republished from Mark Thoma's blog, Economist's View.

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