This sounds better in theory than it works in practice. For one thing, many derivatives are customized, so finding a counterbalancing derivative is next to impossible. Another problem, however, is that one counterparty (the firm that has to pay up if money comes due from a derivative) is often riskier than another. That latter problem can be a serious one.
For example, imagine if AIG had cleared all of its credit default swaps. In theory, that means a clearing house would have ensured that the insurer had ample cash (or other collateral) on hand to satisfy their payouts. In reality, however, the clearing house would have likely failed to do so. It would probably not have anticipated the severity of the losses these derivatives would incur and it might not have realized just how weak AIG's capital position was in regard to the losses it would face. So you would get a situation where the clearing house would be forced to pay investors on the other side of that transaction, but it wouldn't have funds from AIG to do so.
Craig Pirrong, a Professor at the University of Houston, has penned a new paper for the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) that explains that this essentially transfers derivative risk from financial institutions to clearing houses. Consequently, he asserts that these clearing houses must be regulated just like other too big to fail firms (CCP ~ clearing house):
It may be the case that a CCP, while solvent, cannot meet immediate demands for the return of clearing member collateral (or other cash calls made on it). Central banks should be aware of this risk and make provision to mitigate it. This could, for instance, include either direct CCP access to central bank funding, or central bank lending to clearing members. To avoid the moral hazard problems that such lending mechanisms can create, it is essential that CCPs be subject to close prudential oversight of the same standard as that which applies to other large systemically important financial institutions. (emphasis by the author)
It's interesting to see ISDA put its name on a paper that makes this argument. This would sort of be like if the American Bankers Association had written a paper in 2005 that argued the largest five investment banks needed tighter regulation and access to Federal Reserve funding, because they were too big to fail. That probably would have raised some eyebrows, and this should too.
On one hand, you have to applaud ISDA's transparency and insight. It knows that the new regulatory framework has essentially ensured that clearing houses are too big to fail. In the past, this was a smaller problem, because fewer derivatives were cleared and only large banks really used them, which at the time nobody thought would fail. Now, far more derivatives will be cleared and many counterparties will have much weaker capital cushions. That provides clearing houses much more risk to absorb.