In Brief: House Backs Swaps Bill; Senate in Doubt

Register now

WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday that would shield swaps and other over-the-counter derivatives contracts from federal regulation.

In a statement Friday, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers praised the bill as one that “promotes innovation and the competitiveness of the U.S. financial markets and may help to reduce systemic risk.” He also called for quick Senate passage.

However, the bill is expected to stall in the Senate because of concerns by Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm that its protections would be incomplete.

Rep. Richard H. Baker, chairman of the House Banking subcommittee on capital markets, joined the chorus of critics.

“Protections for swaps are gone,” said the Louisiana Republican in a statement Thursday. “This bill does not create legal certainty for all swap participants. It does not protect banks from duplicate regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The House bill would prohibit only regulation by the CFTC.

He said he hopes Sen. Gramm, who favors explicitly barring the SEC from regulating swaps, will succeed in strengthening the legislation.

Sen. Gramm’s spokeswoman said that Senate Banking staff members are “putting their noses to the grindstone to see if we can come up with a product that we can pass in the Senate and again in the House.” They were scheduled to meet Friday with officials of the Treasury Department, which sources said had lobbied to water down the bill in the House under pressure from some Democrats.

“But there is a lot of work to do,” the Gramm spokeswoman said. “I don’t want to downplay how difficult this is.”

Separately, the Senate is expected this week to vote on controversial House-passed legislation to revamp bankruptcy laws. The effort, which could be stalled by hostile Democrats, is considered only symbolic, because President Clinton has repeatedly vowed he would veto the bill.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.