House, Senate leaders finalize details of sweeping financial overhaul

House, Senate leaders finalize details of sweeping financial overhaul

By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; 11:36 AM

Key House and Senate lawmakers approved far-reaching new financial rules early Friday after weeks of division, delay and frantic last-minute dealmaking. The dawn compromise set up a potential vote in both houses of Congress next week that could send the landmark legislation to President Obama by July 4.

The final and most arduous compromise began to fall into place just after midnight. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) agreed to scale back a controversial provision that would have forced the nation’s biggest banks to spin off their lucrative derivatives-dealing businesses.

The panel also reached accord on the “Volcker rule,” named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. That measure would bar banks from trading with their own money, a practice known as proprietary trading.

Lawmakers pulled an all-nighter, wrapping up their work at 5:39 a.m. — more than 20 messy, mind-numbing hours after they began Thursday morning.

“It’s a great moment. I’m proud to have been here,” said a teary-eyed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee led the effort in the Senate. “No one will know until this is actually in place how it works. But we believe we’ve done something that has been needed for a long time. It took a crisis to bring us to the point where we could actually get this job done.”

Both the House and Senate must approve the compromise legislation before it can go to Obama for his signature.

Despite myriad changes in recent days, Democrats appear poised to deliver a final bill that largely reflects the administration’s original blueprint unveiled almost precisely a year ago. Although it would not fundamentally alter the shape of Wall Street or break up the nation’s largest firms, the legislation would establish broad new oversight of the financial system.

A new consumer protection bureau housed in the Federal Reserve would have independent funding, an independent leader and near-total autonomy to write and enforce rules. The government would have broad new powers to seize and wind down large, failing financial firms and to oversee the $600 trillion derivatives market. In addition, a council of regulators, headed by the Treasury secretary, would monitor the financial landscape for potential systemic risks.

“The finish line is in sight. The bill that has emerged from conference is strong,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said in a statement early Friday. “It will offer families the protections they deserve, help safeguard their financial security and give the businesses of America access to the credit they need to expand and innovate.”

Obama, speaking to reporters before leaving for a meeting of global finance ministers and central bankers in Toronto, said the compromise legislation includes “90 percent of what I proposed when I took up this fight.”

The president said he is committed to a “strong, robust financial sector” but wants to curb abuses and tighten oversight to make the financial system more transparent and safe.

“The reforms making their way through Congress will hold Wall Street accountable,” Obama said, “so we can help prevent another financial crisis like the one that we’re still recovering from.”

On the House side, the final tally was 20 to 11 to approve the conference committee’s report. On the Senate side, it was 7 to 5. The votes fell along party lines, earning no support from Republicans on the two panels.

Asked whether he expected the compromise legislation to pass the full Senate — which on May 20 approved an earlier version, 59-39, with support from four Republicans — Obama replied, “You bet.”

Republican lawmakers who serve on the financial panels blasted the compromise bill. “This legislation is a failure on both counts,” Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said in a statement that denounced the compromise as failing to address “shoddy underwriting practices” or problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “It will not encourage much-needed stability and confidence in our financial markets. It will not significantly reduce systemic risk in our financial sector.”

Lincoln’s provision on derivatives had for months remained a particularly thorny issue for Democrats, causing internal divisions that threatened to derail the massive legislation.

Although consumer advocates and many liberals supported her provision, it encountered stiff opposition from the Obama administration and some regulators, as well as from an influential bloc of moderate Democrats and House Democrats from New York, where much of the financial derivatives industry is concentrated.

Administration officials and Democratic leaders worked fervently to bridge the divide between Lincoln and those House Democrats. Top Treasury officials, including Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin and Michael Barr, an assistant secretary, roamed the Dirksen office building alongside White House economic adviser Diana Farrell, conferring with aides and key lawmakers. Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, worked the committee room throughout Thursday.

Lincoln came and went from the hearing room, meeting with members of the centrist New Democrat Coalition to try to find common ground and huddling with Dodd (D-Conn.); Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee; and other lawmakers.

In the very early morning hours Friday, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and a Lincoln supporter — introduced a proposal that would compel banks to spin off only their riskiest derivatives trades, including particular forms of credit-default swaps, which are complex financial bets that exacerbated the financial crisis.

At the same time, the proposal would allow banks to hold onto certain derivatives trading related to interest rates, currency rates, gold and silver. They also would be allowed to continue trading in derivatives in order to hedge against their own risks.

Under the compromise, the derivatives operations that firms spin out of their federally insured banks could still be retained in a separately capitalized affiliate. In addition, firms would have two years to institute the new rules.

The Senate agreed to the compromise language just after 2:30 a.m.

The cavernous Dirksen 106 conference room remained packed at that hour, but it was a chaotic and cluttered mass of humanity. Lawmakers had stopped trying to conceal their yawns. Aides who had worn down their BlackBerry batteries recharged them for the home stretch. Trash cans spilled over with coffee cups and sandwich wrappers. Empty Fritos bags and plastic Diet Coke bottles littered the room, along with reams of paper — old amendments, new amendments, handwritten amendments, amendments to amendments.

“So much for the paperless society,” Frank quipped at one point.

In reaching a deal on the Volcker rule, negotiators adopted a provision that mirrors language previously offered by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which would ban certain forms of proprietary trading and forbid firms from betting against securities they sell to clients. The Merkley-Levin measure never got a vote on the Senate floor.

“One goal of these limits is to reduce participation in high-risk activity that can cause significant losses at institutions which are central to the financial system,” Dodd said. “A second goal is to end the use of low-cost funds, to which insured depositories have access, from subsidizing high-risk activity.”

Under the agreement, firms would have up to two years to scale back their proprietary trading and investments in hedge funds and private equity funds. Banks also would be barred from betting against their clients on certain investments deals.

Even as they worked to toughen the Volcker language, lawmakers agreed to an exemption at the behest of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), one of the four Republicans who voted for the earlier version of the financial regulation bill.

Brown, whose state is a hub of the asset-management industry, wanted the bill to allow banks to invest at least a small amount of capital in hedge funds and private equity investments. The measure would prohibit a banks from investing more than 3 percent of their capital in private equity or hedge funds. It was one of a number of provisions tailored to hold onto key votes as the bill heads toward final passage.

Lawmakers squared away a handful of other lingering issues late Thursday and early Friday.

They agreed to exempt the nation’s 18,000 auto dealers from oversight by a new consumer financial protection watchdog, a striking legislative victory for one of the nation’s most influential lobbying groups and a blow to consumer advocates and Democratic leaders who had long opposed such a loophole. “It is time for people like myself to concede that the votes are not there to give the consumer regulator any role in this,” Frank said.

Lawmakers also voted to give shareholders more of a say on corporate governance, to place new restrictions on mortgage lending and to levy a risk-based assessment on large financial firms to help pay for the wide-ranging bill, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would cost nearly $20 billion over the next decade.

Weary lawmakers wrapped up their work just after sunrise, only hours before Obama was scheduled to leave for Canada. Both Dodd and Frank said they hoped the passage of the legislation by their committees will help the United States lead the ongoing global effort to harmonize new financial safeguards.

“We’ve put in the hands of the president a very powerful set of tools for him to reassert American leadership in the world,” Frank said.

One of the last motions Friday was to name the bill after the two chairmen, who had shepherded the legislation through the House and the Senate over the past year. At 5:07 a.m., they agreed unanimously that it would be known as the Dodd-Frank bill, and the sound of applause echoed down the empty hallways.

Obamanomics: No Jobs, No Recovery

Obamanomics: No Jobs, No Recovery

Posted on | June 19, 2010 | 2 Comments

Here’s a handy little chart showing the pattern of job losses in recessions since World War II:

That big red line is the current recession, and Scott Stoddard of Investor’s Business Daily explains:

Job recoveries have been increasingly sluggish over the past several recessions and the current downturn looks to be the longest since at least World War II. . . .
Today’s jobs slump, already at 29 months, could last five years or more, analysts say. Employers are expected to stay cautious amid a sluggish economic recovery.
“It would be strange but not inconceivable” for employment to fall short of its pre-recession peak before the next downturn, said Don Rissmiller, chief economist at Strategas Research Partners. . . .

OK, here come the magic words:

Rissmiller and other economists say a double-dip recession is unlikely. Yet hiring remains painfully slow. Excluding temporary hires for the 2010 Census, the economy has added about 500,000 jobs so far in 2010. The U.S. will need to add about 8 million jobs just to get back to the December 2007 peak, when the recession started.
Excluding the soon-to-disappear Census jobs, employers would need to average nearly 300,000 new jobs a month for the next 27 months just to get to the pre-recession peak by the end of 2012. . . .

Read the whole thing. Everybody keeps saying that a double-dip recession — that is, a “W”-shaped recession, instead of a “V” — is “unlikely.” Right, and if trends turn downward again, I’m sure that will happen unexpectedly.

Speaking of which, what about an unexpected debt crisis?

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the U.S. may soon face higher borrowing costs on its swelling debt and called for a “tectonic shift” in fiscal policy to contain borrowing.
“Perceptions of a large U.S. borrowing capacity are misleading,” and current long-term bond yields are masking America’s debt challenge, Greenspan wrote in an opinion piece posted on the Wall Street Journal’s website. “Long-term rate increases can emerge with unexpected suddenness,” such as the 4 percentage point surge over four months in 1979-80, he said. . . .
“The federal government is currently saddled with commitments for the next three decades that it will be unable to meet in real terms,” Greenspan said. The “very severity of the pending crisis and growing analogies to Greece set the stage for a serious response.”

Don’t worry. I’m sure higher interest rates are as “unlikely” as a double-dip recession. Or the bursting of the Australian housing bubble. Wonder what’s up with gold prices?

What took so long?

What took so long?

Thomas Lifson

Times truly have changed. The RNC (!) has come up with a hard-hitting ad holding President Obama accountable for his desultory management of the Gulf crisis. The more Americans who see this, the better.
Video

Obama’s disaster of a disaster speech

Obama’s disaster of a disaster speech

posted at 8:48 am on June 16, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Usually when I catch a political speech after its delivery, I read the speech before reading its reviews.  Yesterday, our Green Room contributor Sarjex came into town with her partner and had dinner with us after a brief appearance on yesterday’s TEMS, so I didn’t get a chance to do any of it until very late last night.  When I did read it, it shocked me at just how bad and tone-deaf Obama’s address was — and when I watched it on video, his delivery was even worse.

Andrew Malcolm has a great review that should be read in full, but here is a key point:

But watching the president and hearing him was a little creepy; that early portion of the address was robotic, lacked real energy, enthusiasm. And worst of all specifics. He was virtually detail-less.

After almost two months of waiting through continuously contradictory reports, an anxious American public wanted to know, HOW are you going to accomplish all this?

Even Obama’s cheerleaders over at MSNBC were complaining. “Where was the How in this speech?”demanded Keith Olbermann. Seriously.

Everyone’s assumed that fixing the leak was a given since Day Four, which was still five days before the Democrat got his big plane and presidential entourage down there. …

Trust me, the president said, tomorrow I’m going to give those BP execs what-for. As CBS’ Mark Knoller notedon his Twitter account, the president has allotted exactly 20 whole minutes this morning — 1,200 fleeting seconds — to his first-ever conversation with the corporation responsible for the disaster.

Then, he’s got an important lunch with Joe “I Witnessed the World Cup’s First Tie” Biden.

This speech was suited for Day 1 of a catastrophe, not Day 57.  It had no answers at all.  None.  It’s as if Rip van Obama awoke after eight weeks of slumber and had been told just that morning about a massive problem in the Gulf of Mexico.  For a man who has repeatedly claimed to be “fully engaged since Day 1,” and who repeated that claim last night, Obama gave every impression of still being in the spitballing stage of crisis management.

Obama didn’t even offer an original thought for spitballing.  In his short presidency, Obama has had two responses to any issue: appoint a czar or create a commission.  The auto industry got a czar, for instance, and the deficit that Obama’s spending has driven out of sight got a commission.  Last night, Obama wanted people to know he was taking this seriously by appointing a czar and a commission, the latter of which had been announced weeks ago.  That was the sum total of his substantive response last night.  Small wonder Obama chose an Oval Office speech rather than face another press conference.

During the 2008 campaign, we repeatedly criticized Obama’s lack of executive experience, but perhaps even Obama’s critics might be surprised to see how badly Obama has performed in this crisis.  He has nothing left to offer; Obama is running on empty.  In the face of a crisis that has unfolded for almost two full months, Obama chose to talk about wind turbines.  A nation waited to see if a leader would emerge from the White House, and instead it got an absent-minded professor desperate to change the subject.

Even Obama’s supporters have begun to see what his critics have long known: Obama is an empty suit.  His sorry performance last night showed just how little he understands his job, the situation, and the expectations of the American people.

Stuck on stupid: Obama’s czar fetish

Michelle Malkin 

Lead Story

Stuck on stupid: Obama’s czar fetish

By Michelle Malkin  •  June 15, 2010 11:25 PM

In his widely-panned, bloodless Oval Office address Tuesday night (did I call this last month or what!?), President Obama tapped his Navy Secretary Ray Mabus as the new oil spill recovery czar. Doesn’t he have enough to do leading the Navy? More to the point, as my latest column below points out, don’t we have enough czars and bureaucrats tripping over each other for Gulf headlines and photo-ops already?

Meanwhile, Mark Knoller reports that Obama is scheduled to finally meet with BP execs tomorrow at 10:15am…for a whopping 20 minutes. Where is the ass-kicking czar?

The speech was a dud, but never fear, Organzing for America is here to exploit the crisis with spam solicitations and a snazzy new green Obama hardhat graphic (soon to be the new oil recover czar’s logo, too?)!

***

Stuck on stupid: Obama’s czar fetish
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2010

Here is the Obama Disaster Management Theory: In times of crisis, you can never have enough unelected, unvetted political appointees hanging around. Nearly two months after the BP oil spill, the White House will now name an oil-spill-restoration point person to oversee recovery efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. Too many czars have already spoiled this administration’s credibility. Might as well pile on another.

The new oil-spill czar is not to be mistaken for the old oil-spill czar, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who was officially designated the “National Incident Commander of the Unified Command for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico” on April 30. Allen was appointed by Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano ten days after the disaster, which Napolitano claimed the administration had been on top of since, um, “Day One.”

Fifty-six days later, President Obama has deemed the leadership skills of Allen, Napolitano, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, environmental czar Carol Browner, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and the rest of his self-declared “all hands on deck” crew insufficient. The new disaster czar also comes on top of the “National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling,” created by executive order on May 22 and “tasked with providing recommendations on how we can prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling.”

As I’ve noted before regarding Obama’s czar-mania, this White House has bypassed the Senate advise-and-consent role and unilaterally created a two-tiered government. It’s fronted by cabinet secretaries able to withstand public scrutiny (some of them just barely) and then managed behind the scenes by shadow secretaries with broad powers beyond congressional reach. Bureaucratic chaos serves as a useful smokescreen to obscure the true source of policy decision-making. While past administrations going back to the Nixon era have designated such “superaides,” none has exploited and extended the concept as widely as Obama has (we’re up to the 40th appointed czar, by Washington-based watchdog group Judicial Watch’s count).

It’s government by proxy and government by press release all rolled into one.

According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, the latest commissar will have the power to oversee government efforts “to increase the health and the vitality of the species there, the wildlife and the natural beauty that we all know is the Gulf of Mexico.” This will make the power-grabbing environmental lobby happy. And the new czar appointment will feed the photo-op-hungry news cycle. But instead of rushing to move “past the cleanup and response phase of this disaster,” shouldn’t this czar-crazy regime concentrate on the immediate mitigation tasks at hand?

Folks in the Gulf don’t need any more Romanov-style apparatchiks or blue-ribbon crony panels to show them the way toward relief. Florida public officials and foreign shippers say the protectionist Jones Act is preventing vessels from abroad from providing clean-up aid. And Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (R) has exposed White House obstructionism and delays in approving the construction of barrier walls to stop the oil spread. After waiting weeks for approval, Jindal received a green light from the White House to put up just five barrier islands — a minuscule amount of his plan. Tired of waiting for approval of the rest of his plan, Jindal this week ordered the National Guard to circumvent the Beltway foot-dragging and start building the walls immediately.

Executive leadership doesn’t need to be outsourced when the executive in office knows how to lead. While Obama squawks, Jindal acts. While Washington appoints more gasbags, the National Guard is dropping sandbags.

The president’s czar fetish is his crisis crutch — a desperate public-relations habit that he can’t break. What 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue needs is a visit from retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the Hurricane Katrina military relief coordinator who offered timeless and timely advice for the disaster-stricken: Don’t get stuck on stupid.

White House Rejects Claim It Skewed Expert Opinion to Justify Drilling Ban

White House Rejects Claim It Skewed Expert Opinion to Justify Drilling Ban

June 11th, 2010 Posted By Pat Dollard.

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Fox News:

White House energy adviser Carol Browner on Friday rejected accusations from a panel of experts who claim the administration misrepresented their views to justify a six-month ban on offshore drilling in response to the BP oil rig disaster.

The denial came after the experts alleged that the Interior Department modified a report in late May that was used as the basis for the sweeping moratorium on existing drilling and new permits.

Though the report claimed the analysts, picked by the National Academy of Engineering, “peer reviewed” the department’s recommendations, the experts say the two paragraphs that called for the moratorium were added only after they signed off on it.

To the contrary, the experts warn that such a moratorium could not only harm the economy but make the situation in the Gulf more dangerous. The April 20 oil rig explosion occurred while the Deepwater Horizon well was being shut down — a move that is much more dangerous than continuing ongoing drilling, they said.

“A blanket moratorium is not the answer,” they wrote in a letter claiming Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar’s report “misrepresents” their position. “A blanket moratorium will have the indirect effect of harming thousands of workers and further impact state and local economies suffering from the spill.”

That’s exactly the argument that Gulf Coast lawmakers and the families of oil rig workers have been making as they fight the administration’s moratorium decision.

“We do not believe that punishing the innocent is the right thing to do. We encourage the secretary of interior to overcome emotion with logic,” the experts wrote.

But while Salazar has acknowledged that the moratorium was his decision, not theirs, Browner argued that the administration did nothing wrong.

“No one’s been deceived or misrepresented,” Browner told Fox News, defending the moratorium as a safety measure. “These experts gave their expert advice, and then a determination was made looking at all of the information, including what these experts provided — that there should be a pause, and that’s exactly what there is. There’s a pause.”

The experts claimed the draft report that they looked at called for a six-month freeze on permits for new exploratory wells 1,000 feet or deeper and a “temporary pause” on current drilling.

Somehow, that was changed to call for a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled using floating rigs and an “immediate halt” to drilling operations on 33 permitted wells.

“None of us actually reviewed the memorandum as it is in the report,” oil expert Ken Arnold told Fox News. “What was in the report at the time it was reviewed was quite a bit different in its impact to what there is now. So we wanted to distance ourselves from that recommendation.”

The experts also faxed a memo to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter to clarify that they do not believe the report justifies the moratorium.

They also said that because the floating rigs are scarce and in high demand worldwide, they will not simply sit in the Gulf idle for six months. The rigs will go to the North Sea and West Africa, possibly preventing the U.S. from being able to resume drilling for years.

They said the best and most advanced rigs will be the first to go, leaving the U.S. with the older and potentially less safe rights operating in the nation’s coastal waters.

Fox News’ William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.

Crisis not ‘wasted’: Obama to nationalize oil companies?

Crisis not ‘wasted’: Obama to nationalize oil companies?

June 7th, 2010

By Drew Zahn, WND

 Will Obama Nationalize Oil?

While management of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has shaken many Americans’ confidence in the current administration, some voices in entertainment, news and academia see the crisis as reason to give the federal government even more power – namely, the ability to take over the oil industry.

The notion is catching on with the public, too. A CBS poll recently tabulated 63 percent of Americans believe the Obama administration should be doing more in response to the spill, and activists working through the SeizeBP.org website are planning protests in 50 cities throughout the week demanding the federal government take over BP, the company that owns and operates the leaking oil drill.

The Seize BP organization is demanding BP assets be nationalized not only to clean up the spill, but also to compensate families affected by what the organization calls “this capitalist-made disaster.”

Since BP’s offshore drill began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico in April, the Obama administration has deferred to the corporation’s expertise in seeking to stop the flow.

But as the ongoing environmental disaster has extended beyond 40 days and counting, entertainer Rosie O’Donnell, political pundit James Carville and former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich have joined those calling for a federal takeover of the situation.

On her “Rosie Radio” program earlier this week, O’Donnell quoted Carville, who told CNN’s John King, “This president needs to tell BP, ‘I’m your daddy, I’m in charge. You’re going to do what we say.’”

“James Carville said the best thing,” O’Donnell affirmed, adding that she’d like to see Obama say, “’I’m signing an executive order and I’m taking over the BP oil spill.’ Like, boom, boom, boom. Someone has to do it.”

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