Is The Senate Financial Reform Bill Any Good?

Pundits grade the just-passed legislation

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Senate Democrats were joined by four Republicans Thursday night to pass a sweeping financial regulatory reform bill. It isn't law quite yet--it still has to be merged with the House bill, which was passed in December, and then signed by President Obama. But the prospects are good. So it's worth asking, how good is this bill?

  • Liberals Not So Happy  The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz assesses, "While this legislation is undoubtedly stronger than many observers anticipated and a major step towards reform, it has also left some progressives with a bitter taste in their mouths -- notably Cantwell and Feingold, who opposed the bill -- but also Senator Ted Kaufman, whose amendment to cap the size of the banks was defeated early."
  • Worth The Compromises  Economist Edmund Andrews approves. "For all its compromises and omissions and special exceptions, this is a strong bill that will make life a lot less free-wheeling and lucrative for the big banks and, with a little perserverence, a lot safer for consumers and  the economy as a whole. This is a victory for the good guys." He urges us to "appreciate how much the Senate bill actually does accomplish and how difficult it is to do anything at all when the full force of the financial industry is against you."
  • The Best We Could Get  The Guardian's Michael Tomasky sighs, "I would have liked to have seen Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman's amendment to break up the banks become part of the law as much as the next liberal. But I also see that 30 years of aggressive deregulation, powered in part by fierce conservative ideological and in another part by millions of dollars the banking industry lavishes on Capitol Hill (and presidential campaigns, very much including the incumbent's) isn't going to be undone in two years."
  • 'Sorta' Fixes Too-Big-To-Fail  The New Republic's Noam Scheiber goes in-depth. The bill misses many hoped-for provisions to limit banks from getting dangerously big. "And yet, perhaps unwittingly, the upshot of financial reform will have been to make it costlier to be a big bank relative to being a small or medium-sized bank—which is to say, it has effectively taxed bigness
One is a provision authored by Blanche Lincoln, Chair of the Agriculture Committee, which would require banks to divest much of their lucrative derivates trading businesses. Regulators across the board have panned this populist step as unfeasible and impractical. But the measure has become the public option of financial reform with progressives rallying to keep it in the final version.

The other two provisions the White House opposes were included in the House version. One sets up a $150 billion fund paid for by new fees on banks that would help pay for the liquidation of financial institutions. A similar $50 billion fund was removed in the Senate bill to smooth over GOP objections that such a fund would only encourage future bailouts. The second provision would exempt auto-dealers from oversight by the newly created consumer protection agency. Republican Senator Sam Brownback offered a similar amendment in the Senate but withdrew it today which also killed an attached amendment by Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin on the “Volcker Rule.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.