Wall Street and its high-priced lobbyists are doing a full-scale beat down on Dodd-Frank.
Following the Republican victory in the mid-term elections and a presidential election in 2016, Wall Street believes that it can take its best shot to gut investor protection as the Republican majority in Congress pushes its agenda of putting profits in the securities business before Mom and Pop investors.
The first salvo fired by Wall Street was in late December 2014 when they inserted in a $1.1 trillion spending bill provision which pared back a Dodd-Frank requirement in the law for banks to “push out” some of the riskiest trading activities into affiliates that aren’t eligible for federal-back stops.
Remember, Dodd-Frank brought the most significant changes to financial regulation since the Great Depression. Republicans despise the law.
Last week, the Republican Congress fell six votes short of gutting a provision in Dodd-Frank that requires banks to sell stakes in certain complex securities.
Democrats objected to a provision which “would have delayed restrictions on bank ownership of certain debt securities,” according to a Wall Street Journal report. “The restrictions, part of the so-called Volcker Rule prohibiting banks from making risky bets with their own money, applies to bank ownership of collateralized loan obligations or CLOs, which are complex securities that bundle together corporate loans as well as bonds.”
Concern over banks holding CLOs is more than warranted; they were one of the financial instruments at the center of the financial collapse of 2008.
And on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill easing certain regulatory requirements and keeping the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating certain private equity firms. Wednesday’s vote was just the latest in a series of efforts made by the new Congress to pull back regulations to protect investors in Dodd-Frank.
A recent column by Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times summed up the Republican strategy when it came to destroying Dodd-Frank. “Here’s the game for lawmakers eager to relax the nation’s already accommodating financial regulations,” she wrote on January 10. “First, seize on complex and esoteric financial activities that few understand. Then, make supposedly minor tweaks to their governing regulations that actually wind up gutting them.”
Morgenson also raised concerns about the change in CLO holdings, as well as the House bill that narrowly failed to pass. That dead bill proposed “changes in derivatives which would reduce transparency and increase risks in this arena by allowing Wall Street firms with commercial businesses – like oil and gas or other commodities operations – to trade derivatives privately and not on clearing houses.”
A consumer advocate cited by Ms. Morgenson succinctly framed the issue. “If we return to the precrisis business as usual, where it’s routine for people to accommodate Wall Street on these technical changes, they’re going to unravel the postcrisis regulation piece by piece. Then, we’ll be right back where we started.”
Standing in the way of Wall Street, almost single-handedly, is Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has made fighting Wall Street her cause célèbre. In a recent speech in Washington, Senator Warren thundered that the U.S. political system is “rigged” in favor of wealthy corporations, at the expense of everyday families and viewed even Democratic politicians as “too friendly to business.”
Dodd- Frank was a carefully drafted and compromised piece of legislation which sought to protect the U.S. and global financial system from another market meltdown. By attempting to dismantle it, Wall Street wants to get back to business as usual. Clearly, they have learned nothing from the financial crisis, which they caused.
Sen. Warren is just one person. Democrats in Congress need to stand shoulder to shoulder with her to keep Dodd-Frank in its current form.