WASHINGTON - The House Energy and Commerce Committee has won an apparent victory over the House Banking Committee in a bruising fight over legislation to strengthen federal regulation of the government securities market.
Whether that victory holds up was to be determined last night when the full House was scheduled to vote on the Energy and Commerce version of the bill, which contains controversial provisions to expand the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the government market. The bill is opposed by the Treasury Department and government securities firms.
The energy panel's victory came Tuesday night after supporters successfully maneuvered to have the rival Banking Committee version set aside.
The energy panel's bill is supported by two influential House leaders, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill. It was approved by Rep. Dingell's committee in July after clearing the telecommunications and finance subcommittee chaired by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
However. the bill ran into bitter opposition from Banking Committee Chairman Henry Gonzalez, D-Tex., who yesterday urged House members in a "Dear Colleague" letter to vote against the measure.
The Banking Committee adopted a rival bill in August that would set up a two-track regulatory regime for the government market, with banker-dealers answering to federal banking agencies and securities firms answering to the SEC.
The Gonzalez version was widely criticized for potentially hampering efforts to produce legislation to overhaul regulation of the government market and creating two sets of rules for market participants.
"It harms Markey's bill, and it impairs prospects for getting it passed," said Betsy Dotson, assistant director of the federal liaison center for the Government Finance Officers Association. The GFOA, along with the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, urged House leaders last week to adopt the Markey bill.
Mr. Gonzalez insisted that his legislation was needed to prevent the SEC from expanding its jurisdiction to bank depository institutions. The move triggered a turf war with Mr. Dingell who, along with Mr. Rostenkowski, persuaded the House leadership to bring the Energy and Commerce version up for a floor vote.
In going along with Mr. Dingell, Mr. Rostenkowski had two noncontroversial amendments added to the legislation. One would make breaking Treasury auction rules a violation of federal law, and the other would require the Treasury to report annually on its public debt operations.
Key provisions in the bill would give the SEC authority to set rules for broker-dealers on record keeping and prevention of fraud and other manipulative practices. The commission would also have back-up authority to disseminate pricing information on the market if GovPX and other similar private systems fail to do the job.
Other provisions would give the Treasury authority to require firms to report on large positions in the market and would allow sales practice rules to be set by the National Association of Securities Dealers.
The Senate has approved a less stringent measure that is favored by the Treasury and government securities firms. The measure calls for the appropriate regulatory agencies to issue sales practice rules and allows the Treasury to veto rules found detrimental to the market.
The Office of Management and Budget repeated its opposition to the House bill in a statement issued Tuesday, citing in particular the proposed authority for SEC price transparency and record-keeping rules.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, in a letter to Mr. Gonzalez made public on Tuesday, said the House bill, "would open the door to unnecessary and costly regulation that could reduce the efficiency and liquidity of the government securities market and increase the burden on the taxpayer of financing the public debt."