Senate panel OKs Wall Street reform

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

WASHINGTON ( -- A key banking panel took only minutes Monday to approve a sweeping regulatory reform measure aimed at warding off future collapses in the financial system.

With no debate or discussion the Senate Banking Committee voted 13-10 in favor of the bill put forth by panel chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., moving it to the full Senate just after Dodd gaveled the hearing to order at 5 p.m. ET.

However, Dodd and the ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., agreed they have a long road ahead, and plan to work together to find a compromise that draws GOP support before the bill before hits the Senate floor.

"This is going to take more work, obviously, we're not there yet," Dodd said in a press conference after the hearing. "This allows us to buy some time to work on the product we need to present to our colleagues as a whole."

Dodd's proposal would create a new consumer regulator housed inside the Federal Reserve to ensure consumers get a fair shake with mortgages and credit cards. It would also push banks and financial firms to strengthen capital cushions and create a new process for taking down giant failing companies and preventing future Wall Street bailouts.

Unlike in recent weeks, Dodd steered clear of talking about "crunch time" and wouldn't give a timeline as to when the bill might be considered by the full Senate.

Republicans such as Shelby and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., while calling the Monday vote "unorthodox," sounded optimistic that the final bill could garner bipartisan support.

"In this bill, (Dodd) has already incorporated a lot of ideas that we've suggested, so I think we're on the right road now, and we've got to continue on the right road," Shelby said.

The House passed a version of regulatory reform in December.

The bill

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has taken to blasting one section of the Senate bill that would strip the regulatory powers of the central bank from all but the top 50 bank holding companies.

Bernanke said in two speeches last week that regulating regional and state-owned banks is integral to the Fed's role in stabilizing the economy.

"Although it was not the case in the current crisis, instability can be generated by small institutions as well as by large ones, as occurred in the Great Depression or in the thrift crisis, to cite two particularly dramatic examples," Bernanke said Saturday.

Dodd's bill also includes also a version of the controversial rule proposed by former Fed chairman Paul Volcker -- and heralded by President Obama -- aimed at prohibiting financial firms from owning hedge funds or from engaging in proprietary trading on their own accounts.

But the Senate proposal isn't as strong as what Volcker suggested and empowering an oversight panel to set the rules banning proprietary trading.

Dodd wants the banking committee to vote before the next congressional recess, which is scheduled to start Friday. He wants to ensure the regulatory overhaul makes it to the Senate floor before the last week of May, because midterm elections could complicate getting a final agreement.

Consumer protection: The draft would create a consumer financial protection regulator housed inside the Federal Reserve. That differs from the House proposal, which calls for a stand-alone agency -- something Republicans and banks oppose.

The consumer regulator would be led by a director appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and bankrolled by the Fed. It would have the ability to examine and enforce consumer rules at mortgage banks and financial firms at banks and credit unions that have more than $10 billion in assets.

However, when it comes to payday loans and auto loans, the bill gives regulators the choice to review the products and set rules for regulation. Consumer advocates don't like that. Also, consumer protection rules could be vetoed by two-thirds vote of the proposed regulatory oversight panel.

Too big to fail: The bill would steer big financial firms teetering on the brink of collapse toward special bankruptcy proceedings, allowing them to wind down more quickly than under the existing system.

The bill includes a tax on the largest financial firms to create a resolution fund of $50 billion. The fund would be used to pick up part of the tab for banks and financial firms that need help beyond the bankruptcy system. There's also the possibility for additional taxes on large firms after a failed company has tapped the fund.

Early warning system: The Senate, like the House, wants to create a nine-member advisory oversight council of regulators who could sound an alarm before companies are in position to trigger a financial crisis. In this way, the bill would attempt to prevent failures such as those of Lehman Brothers that can deepen financial meltdowns across the globe.

In the Senate, Dodd wants to give the Treasury Secretary a key role leading such oversight, while the House wants the Federal Reserve to take the lead.

Derivatives: With an eye toward preventing future collapse like that of American Insurance Group (AIG, Fortune 500), the Senate will attempt to shine a brighter light on some of the different kinds of complex financial products. It would pass some of these derivatives on to clearinghouses, which would help pinpoint the value of such trades.

However, there's still a lot of disagreement among lawmakers about which derivatives would continue unregulated, such as those traded by big agricultural and airline companies to mitigate risk.

Other changes: The president of the New York Fed would be appointed by the president and would be a permanent member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates. Currently, banks have a big role in choosing who runs the New York Fed.

The bill also requires agencies that rate securities to disclose their methodologies. It also makes these credit rating firms more at risk for lawsuits if they're "reckless" and ignore outside, independent analysis. To top of page

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