WASHINGTON — Though the Federal Reserve Board is on the cusp of gaining what every agency craves — more power — it could lose the one characteristic that has made it such a substantial force over the decades: political independence.

The financial crisis has laid bare the need for tougher regulation of firms such as American International Group Inc. and Bear Stearns Cos., whose collapse would be catastrophic for the broader economy. Prominent figures in Congress, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, say the Fed should fill that role.

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