Tweaks to Wall Street overhaul law starting to move

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2012 7:38 PM
Tweaks to Wall Street overhaul law starting to move

By Dave Clarke and Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Support is growing in Congress for tweaks to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, a possibility that until recently seemed remote given partisan acrimony over the law, as well as between Republicans and Democrats.

None of the proposed bills would make major changes to the law and they could still become bogged down in the Senate, where even bipartisan legislation can face a gauntlet of challenges.

Still, the increased support from both Republicans and Democrats behind some changes stands in contrast to the partisan sniping that has dominated any discussion of the law since its enactment.

Repealing the law, for instance, has been an applause line on the campaign trail for Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

The shift in momentum comes as many reforms are close to going live, and as regulators uncover technical problems and also struggle to finalize rules while avoiding unintended consequences, such as eroding competitiveness of U.S. companies.

This week bills have moved in the House of Representatives with bipartisan backing and some of the measures have the support of senators from both parties.

On Tuesday the House Financial Services Committee approved legislation that would strip from Dodd-Frank a provision that industry and some federal officials worry could prevent regulators worldwide from sharing information about over-the-counter swaps transactions because of concerns over litigation arising from potential data breaches.

Among those pushing for the change is the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, which operates a data repository for credit derivatives and has plans to expand its data warehouse business further.

Meanwhile, on Monday the House voted by wide margins to pass two bipartisan bills designed to constrain the CFTC as it writes rules mandated by Dodd-Frank to oversee the $700 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market.

One bill, which passed the House 357 to 36, would shield swaps between affiliates of the same company from clearing, execution, capital and margin requirements. The bill would still require the exempted swaps to be reported to a data repository.

Another bill would exempt commercial end users -- such as utilities, manufacturers and airlines -- from posting margin, or cash reserves, on swaps. It passed 370 to 24.

Also on Monday the House passed legislation that would provide greater legal safeguards for information that banks share with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Moving the House bills through the Senate will be more challenging.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson has said he is willing to move "technical" fixes to Dodd-Frank but has warned it will be difficult to do so if they became a magnet for partisan priorities.

"In today's political environment there will need to be broad bipartisan support to get anything approved," he said at a hearing last week.

Also on Tuesday the Financial Services Committee approved a bill to limit the international reach of new U.S. swaps and derivative rules.

The legislation attracted Democratic support but also concerns that it may go too far in limiting regulators' oversight. Democrats promised to seek changes when it is put up for a vote by the full House.

The group Americans for Financial Reform, a strong backer of Dodd-Frank, warned the bill would allow U.S. banks to evade oversight.

"In addition to seriously undermining the basic transparency and accountability requirements in the U.S., such a ‘race to the bottom' would be a serious blow to the entire international effort to make derivatives markets safer," the group said in a statement.

The banking industry strongly supports the bill in part because of concerns that a rule released by bank regulators last year would subject their non-U.S. subsidiaries that do business with foreign institutions to margin requirements while non-U.S. banks doing business with the same companies would not.

The banks contend this puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

(Reporting By Dave Clarke and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)