Financial Reform Is Floundering

What you missed while health care was center stage

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It should tell you something that Funny or Die's star-studded video of past presidents encouraging Obama to pass financial reform attracted more attention than any one piece of financial commentary in recent days. While health care reform still holds the political spotlight, efforts to clean up Wall Street are withering on the vine. Here's how:

  • Dodd Shoots Down Key Proposal  "Just one day after the Obama administration formally spelled out its proposal for the Volcker Rule," a rule, in essence, banning banks from proprietary trading, "Senator Chris Dodd has basically shot it down," decides Business Insider's John Carney, reviewing the senator's remarks. "The Volcker rule is dead."
  • It Was Already Dead--Financial Reform Itself Is Nearly Dead  "The trouble the Senate is having getting any financial regulation done is very well-known at this point," explains The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio. "The possibility that Banking Committee members would derail the progress they've made by adding in these very controversial changes is pretty unlikely."
  • Obama Proposed It at the Wrong Time, suggests Douglas Elliott at Brookings, speaking of the Volcker Rule. "There was a fair amount of initial consternation [in Congress], since the administration had already passed up several earlier opportunities in 2009 to indicate that such limits were important or even desirable."
  • Financial Reform Merely a Hail Mary  Given the Volcker Rule's lack of support, Reuters's James Pethokoukis wonders why Obama is "pushing it." His answer: "it is about the only part of his agenda with any popular support. Certainly not healthcare or cap-and-trade or the stimulus. Anti-Wall Street populism works, so more anti-Wall Street populism we will get."
  • And a Pretty Half-Hearted Hail Mary at That, adds a distraught Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario. He's still wincing over testimony from Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison, who declared "there is no too big to fail guarantee on the part of the U.S. government." That's just false, thinks Johnson, and the Obama administration is shooting itself in the foot by spreading this version of events: "Should we cry for what this implies about Secretary Geithner's commitment to real reform--if there is no issue with 'too big to fail', then why do you need any new laws that try to address this issue (e.g., such as the Volcker Rules, sent to Congress this week)?" The Nation's Zach Carter is similarly pessimistic, though for different reasons:
President Barack Obama and Congress had three major tasks they had to accomplish with financial reform: End too-big-to-fail, rein in the over-the-counter derivatives market that brought down A.I.G. and put an end to consumer abuses. Obama punted on too-big-to-fail before even submitting a plan to Congress, refusing to break up the big banks into small-enough-to-fail units. In the House, lawmakers effectively sacrificed derivatives to salvage the CFPA. If Dodd proceeds with a gutted version of the CFPA, every aspect of the Wall Street overhaul will have been entirely undermined.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.