Wall Street bill nears the finish line in Congress

By @ibtimes on

The broadest overhaul of U.S. financial rules since the Great Depression is likely to clear a crucial hurdle in Congress on Thursday morning, paving the way for President Barack Obama to sign the measure into law.

Democrats are expected to muster the 60 votes they need -- if just barely -- to advance the legislation in a vote scheduled for 11 a.m.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he wanted to hold a final vote later in the day and send the measure to Obama's desk. Republicans who largely oppose the measure could delay a vote until Friday evening, though they are unlikely to do so.

The House of Representatives has already approved the bill, which tightens regulation across the financial industry in an effort to avoid a repeat of the 2007-2009 financial crisis

The legislation would establish new consumer protections, give regulators greater power to dismantle troubled firms and limit a range of risky trading activities in a way that would curb bank profits.

With Republicans poised for big gains in the November congressional elections, Democrats are eager to show voters that they are cracking down on an industry that touched off the worst recession in 70 years.

The bill substantially reduces the risk the financial markets will cause the economy to implode again, and it empowers consumers and small businesses to make better financial choices, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

It is not clear whether voters will give them credit.

Nearly half of those surveyed in a Bloomberg poll released on Tuesday believe the bill will do more to protect the financial industry than consumers, while only 38 percent believe it will protect consumers more.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll also released on Tuesday found 50 percent disapproving of the way Obama has handled financial reform, with 44 percent approving.

The bill has also won Democrats few friends on Wall Street as wealthy donors have started to steer more campaign contributions to Republicans.

FEW CORNERS OF INDUSTRY UNTOUCHED

The Dodd-Frank bill, named for Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, its chief authors, leaves few corners of the financial industry untouched.

Mortgage brokers, student lenders and other financial firms would have to answer to a new consumer-protection authority, though auto dealers will escape scrutiny.

Regulators will have new power to seize and dismantle troubled firms and impose leverage limits on firms that threaten financial stability.

Large banks would face new limits on risky trading activities, and many would have to set aside more capital to help them ride out times of crisis.

Large private-equity and hedge funds will face more scrutiny from federal regulators, and credit-rating agencies could potentially see their entire business model upended.

Much of the $615 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market will be routed through more accountable and transparent channels, and banks would have to spin off the riskiest of their swaps clearing desk operations.

Wall Street deployed an army of lobbyists to derail or weaken the bill, but they were undermined by the industry's tone-deaf decision to award fat bonuses to executives only months after the government put up $700 billion in bailout funds.

SOWING REGULATORY UNCERTAINTY

Most Republicans have firmly opposed the bill, arguing it is an intrusive overreach that fails to address problems in the housing market that spurred the crisis.

But as the moves closer to becoming law, a new criticism has emerged: the 2,300-page bill is not specific enough.

Even after Obama signs the measure into law, financial firms will face years of uncertainty as regulators put it into effect, business groups and Republicans point out.

We just didn't do our work, Republican Senator Bob Corker said on the Senate floor. We don't really know what the outcome of this legislation really is.

The bill mandates 533 new regulations, 60 studies and 94 reports, and financial firms are likely to curtail their lending until they see how they will be affected, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says.

The uncertainty factor even gives some Democrats pause. Senator Ben Nelson, one of the chamber's most conservative Democrats, earlier in the week threatened to withdraw his support for the bill for that reason before relenting.

Dodd said his Senate Banking Committee may hold hearings later this year on regulators' plans for implementing the bill.

I can't legislate competency. All we can do is legislate the structures and hope that good people get appointed, Dodd said on Wednesday evening.

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