Washington Reveling over a new milestone in his presidency, a triumphant Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the most sweeping overhaul of lending and high-finance rules since the Great Depression, adding safeguards for millions of consumers and aiming to restrain Wall Street excesses that could set off a new recession.
The president’s signing ceremony capped nearly two years of intense and partisan debate over how to avoid a recurrence of the 2008 financial meltdown that buckled the U.S. economy and left sharp, lasting imprints on the nation’s politics and in Americans’ homes.
“Because of this law, the American people will never be asked again to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama said.
In a heated midterm election season that has dented his public support, Obama sought to put the complex law in pocketbook terms. Emphasizing provisions that guard borrowers from abusive lenders, he claimed “the strongest financial protections for consumers in the nation’s history.”
Not everyone agreed. Republicans portrayed the bill as a burden on small banks and the businesses that rely on them and argued that it will cost consumers and impede job growth.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, a member of the House GOP leadership, on Wednesday joined House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio in calling for the law’s repeal.
The law, passed despite nearly unanimous Republican opposition, attempts to catch up to a financial system that has sped ahead of outdated regulation and slackened rules that allowed banks, traders and others to take increased risks.
Wall Street’s near collapse, Obama said, “was a crisis born of a failure of responsibility from certain corners of Wall Street to the halls of power in Washington.”
The new rules, however, are only at a midpoint. Banking and market regulators will have up to two years to write many of the new regulations required by the law, extending uncertainty and ushering in a new phase of lobbying by financial firms.
“Regulators will have to be vigilant,” Obama said.
The president sought to quell public anger over the $700 billion bank rescue fund the government created at the height of the crisis to reassure the markets. While the infusion is credited with providing stability, the public recoiled at the idea of taxpayer money being used to help prop up huge banks.
The law gives regulators new authority to liquidate large, interconnected financial firms that are failing.
The law, however, does permit the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to borrow taxpayer money from the Treasury temporarily to help cover the costs of winding down a large firm. Other large banks would have to pay the Treasury back over time.
Firms have been poring over the massive bill, anxious to assess its most immediate impact. Credit rating firms, for instance, say they will no longer allow the issuers of debt-backed securities to put their ratings for them in public sale documents, wary of a provision in the law that makes it easier to sue ratings agencies.
The law assembles an influential council of regulators to be on the lookout for risks across the finance system. It also creates a powerful independent consumer financial protection bureau within the Federal Reserve to write and enforce new regulations covering lending and credit.