Felix Salmon

Congress approves Basel III before it even exists

By Felix Salmon
July 15, 2010

Assistant Treasury secretary Mike Barr celebrated the passage of the financial reform bill today by phoning me up for a chat. So of course I asked him how much has really been achieved, and how much the really important stuff has been left to the Basel III negotiation process.

Barr said that the reforms passed today “were absolutely essential to the process,” and added something I didn’t know before — which is that they include Congressional authority for regulators to adopt all the Basel III standards. In other words, there’s no risk of Basel III getting caught up in Congressional opposition, as Basel II did. Once it’s agreed in Switzerland, US regulators are free to implement it immediately. “We got all the authority that we needed in this legislation that just passed,” Barr said. “The regulatory community will be ready to implement it in the US.”

As for timing, Barr was still hopeful that Basel III will be done this year; I’ll believe it when I see it. Then the various ratios will be phased in over many years. In terms of the bill which has now passed, different bits of it take effect at different times: resolution authority, for instance, is effective immediately, while the rules on interchange fees take effect in 9 months, and the new Volcker Rule — which has yet to even be defined, and which will surely the the subject of much financial-industry lobbying — becomes law in 18 months.

What I didn’t ask Barr about, sadly, was who he’d like to see head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Shahien Nasiripour says, plausibly enough, that Tim Geithner is opposed to tapping Elizabeth Warren for the job, despite the fact that she’s the obvious choice. I hope he doesn’t get his way. The bureau would never have come into being without Warren pushing it hard; it’s only fair she gets a chance to run it at inception, and shape the way it does business. Even if she has been harsh in her public questioning of Geithner.

Update: Turns out that Geithner does support Warren for the bureau after all. Treasury just sent me this statement:

“Given her strong leadership on consumer protection, Secretary Geithner believes that Elizabeth Warren is exceptionally well qualified to lead the new bureau, and, ultimately, that’s a decision the President will have to make.” – Andrew Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“Even if she has been harsh in her public questioning of Geithner”. Huh? First, regulatory capture…..then, ‘Blogger capture’??

Posted by crocodilechuck | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Warren probably won’t get the post because of the vehement opposition from inside the Administration.

That would be unfortunate because she has been the only person in Washington over the past two years who has consistently been on the side of people who make less than $500k a year with less than a $1M in assets.

Besides, TurboTax Timmy is jealous of the fact that knows how to read memos on tax matters with the ability to actually understand and remember the contents.

Posted by ErnieD | Report as abusive

I think there’s an implicit assumption in Barr’s comments – namely that Basel III will meet the minimum standards (i.e., the Collins amendment) and comply with the other prescriptions (i.e., countercyclical capital charges for systemically risky activities) in the bill.

Should Basel come in weaker than expected, it seems that US regulators would indeed have to reconcile with Dodd-Frank…

Posted by DJT85 | Report as abusive

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