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Banking regulators and Senate Democrats warn against repeal of financial reform law

In response to Republican efforts to repeal all or some provisions of the Wall Street reform law enacted last year, they say the country can't afford to return to a system that failed to stop the financial crisis.

May 13, 2011|By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — Key banking regulators and Senate Democrats warned against Republican efforts to repeal all or some provisions of the Wall Street reform law enacted last year, saying the country couldn't afford to return to a system that failed to stop the financial crisis.

"It would be very harmful to repeal it," Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., told the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. "There were some very highly important and constructive improvements in the law."

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the new law, known as Dodd-Frank after its two lead sponsors, came after "a long and thoughtful process." It makes regulators look at the entire financial system for signs of risk and gives the government the tools to shut down large firms in danger of failing without risking economic damage or having to bail the firms out.

"It was painfully clear in retrospect that the regulatory system existing during the crisis was insufficient," Bernanke said.

But nearly all congressional Republicans were strongly opposed to the sweeping overhaul of financial rules, which tightened regulations and added new oversight, including an agency to protect consumers. Much of the financial industry also opposed the law and has been fighting to water down or delay hundreds of new rules.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said delays could leave the economy vulnerable.

"Opponents of financial reform may want to use revisionist history, but Americans have not forgotten that the recession was caused, in part, by excessive risk-taking among some of the largest financial firms," he said. "The effective, timely and well-coordinated implementation of these reforms is critical to our economic security."

Republican leaders have supported a full repeal of the law, but that is unlikely given Democratic control of the Senate and strong opposition from President Obama. Instead, opponents have been taking a piecemeal approach.

The House Financial Services Committee, for example, was expected to pass legislation watering down the top job at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also, nearly all Senate Republicans have vowed to block any nominee to the position unless changes are made.

Bernanke said it was important to fill new and existing positions.

"I hope there will not be unnecessary delays and politically motivated blockages that prevent qualified people from doing their duties," he said.

Senate Democrats tried again Thursday to push past one obstacle as the committee voted 12-10 along party lines to approve the nomination of Nobel laureate Peter Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board. Diamond was nominated last year.

It is the third time the committee has approved his nomination, which has been blocked from full Senate confirmation by Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). Shelby voted against the nomination again, and its fate in the full Senate is unclear.

But Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, did not address the regulators. He had to leave Thursday's hearing early, along with his other GOP colleagues, to attend a meeting with President Obama.

The only Republican to question the regulators was Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who urged them to provide more details about the process of developing rules to determine which large non-bank financial firms would fall under new government oversight and allow at least 60 days for public comment.

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