The great news from the Senate

By Felix Salmon
May 21, 2010
the NYT has the best chart, I think -- and I have to admit that it's much, much better than anything I dared hope for even just a few weeks ago.

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It’s almost enough to restore your faith in government. The details have yet to be worked out — and you can be sure that after letting the Senate deliver its own bill on its own terms, Treasury will be deeply involved in the reconciliation process, trying to marginalize any measures it doesn’t like. But the outlines of financial regulatory reform are now clear — the NYT has the best chart, I think — and I have to admit that it’s much, much better than anything I dared hope for even just a few weeks ago.

Amazingly, and wonderfully, the Volcker Rule has made it through the Senate, and will surely not be opposed by the House, which never got an opportunity to vote on it. While Treasury might weaken or abolish Blanche Lincoln’s amendment forcing banks to spin off their swap desks, it now seems very likely that there will be some kind of legislation attempting to reduce the amount of speculation and gambling that goes on at regulated, too-big-to-fail institutions. While that kind of activity didn’t cause the financial crisis, I like the idea of it taking place at hedge funds and other institutions which tend to be less leveraged than banks and more capable of failing without massive systemic side-effects.

Of course, there are always things we’d like to see and which won’t make it into the final bill: the greatly-lamented part of the consumer protection agency which would force banks to offer plain-vanilla financial products is one, and Treasury will ensure that any limits on size or capital or leverage come out of Basel rather than out of Washington. (Me, I’d like to see a couple of basic rules or principles be put into US legislation, which would serve to backstop Basel.)

But as David Herszenhorn says, with this financial regulation bill joining health-care reform in becoming law, the Obama administration has managed to bag a couple of truly enormous elephants in its first 18 months or so in power. Is there any hope, now, that some sort of climate-change legislation might be next?

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