Washington Big changes are in store for the financial world from a government crackdown more than a year in the making.
Democratic leaders in the Senate are trying to secure the final votes needed to pass legislation this coming week that would impose the most sweeping rules on banks and Wall Street since the Great Depression. The financial industry and consumers already are anticipating — in some cases bracing for — the impact.
Banks might see their bottom lines suffer. Lenders will have to disclose more information. Borrowers will have to prove their ability to repay. The masters of high finance will find it harder to sidestep regulations. Government watchdogs will be under orders to look more suspiciously at risky behavior.
Not all the changes will occur overnight once Congress gets the legislation to President Barack Obama. Throughout the 2,300-page bill, federal monitors are given one to two years to write the new rules of the road for Wall Street. In some instances, the timing isn’t even specified.
Diana Farrell, deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, says some adjustments already are under way as big banks re-examine their trading business and prepare for a new oversight system that will require them to write their own funeral plans in the event of failure.
“There is some immediate impact,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president at the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry group representing some of the bigger banks in the United States. “But it will take about two years before the full impact is felt, before the uncertainty starts to dwindle.”
“Overall,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, “starting with the consumer regulations, this is landmark legislation.”
Votes on the bill have broken along highly partisan lines. The House passed it June 30 with only three Republicans voting in support.
It needs 60 votes in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delayed a final Senate vote until after the July Fourth holiday because of the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and hesitation from three Republicans who previously had supported the legislation. One of those Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has since announced her endorsement.
A fourth Republican who supported the Senate version — Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa — has reservations about the alternative financing mechanism negotiated by Senate and House Democrats and the White House.
The new method of covering the cost of the bill would use $11 billion generated by ending the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program — the $700 billion bank bailout created in the fall of 2008 at the height of the financial scare.
Democrats also agreed to increase premium rates paid by commercial banks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to insure bank deposits.
Grassley’s spokeswoman, Jill Kozeny, said the senator is concerned using the FDIC fees as a credit to the FDIC and as an offset, and prefers that the remaining bailout money help pay down the debt.
While Obama would have preferred an earlier conclusion for the bill, its passage less than four months from the general election is as good as it can get politically.
The partisan lines will lead Democrats to cast Republicans as the party of Wall Street, exploiting a populist, anti-big bank sentiment among voters. Republicans will portray it as big government overreach.
The legislation is a blend of specific prescriptive remedies that regulators must undertake and broader regulatory guidance.