– The authors is a Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are his own –
By James Pethokoukis
WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Is President Barack Obama losing control of financial reform? It is starting to seem that way. With the bill nearing its finale in the U.S Senate, Democratic legislators — and even some Republicans — seem to be scrambling to out-regulate each other while the White House keeps mum. The Obama administration defied its liberal base on nationalizing the banks last year and breaking them up this year. But as controversial amendments, such as those on derivatives, continue to emerge, it may be time to pipe up.
Of course, Team Obama would understandably prefer to lie low. It doesn’t want to backtrack entirely from the populist, get-tough-on-the-banks line. Arguing forcefully on behalf of letting banks keep their derivatives businesses, in particular, would risk message mismatch. That’s especially true after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs over its involvement in a derivatives deal.
Such a hands-off political strategy might have worked if Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee had agreed to a bipartisan bill capable of quick passage. But they didn’t, leaving room for the impaired legislation to drift and pick up lots of ill-considered amendments now that it is before the full chamber.
Obama needs to prevent this from happening. Lucky for him, he’s been given some political cover by Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. There may be no financial official respected more on both sides of the aisle in Congress, than Bair.