The financial crisis had a profound impact on Americans, who saw a precipitous drop in the values of their college and retirement savings. In the fall of 2008, when we were at the precipice of financial collapse, the government took necessary action to stabilize our financial system and promised the American people that comprehensive regulatory reforms would follow.
Lost in the bickering over politics and process has been the broad agreement over fundamental priorities for reform: an end to taxpayer bailouts, new regulation for complex financial products and better consumer protections.
In December, the House delivered against this pledge by passing the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Now it is time for senators of both parties to do the same.
The House bill first establishes a Systemic Dissolution Authority, responsible for shutting down and unwinding financial companies whose disorderly failure would pose a systemic risk. While the increased oversight contained in this bill will drastically reduce the likelihood that it will be needed, the Systemic Dissolution Authority would dismantle a failing company that poses a systemic risk without market disruption, using first the company's assets and then funds from the financial industry.
Reform opponents have employed patently false attacks and ludicrous rhetoric against this provision, saying it will perpetuate bailouts. Nothing could be less true. This anti-bailout approach would not use taxpayer money to shut down these failing institutions and would mandate the firing of company executives. If this authority had been in place in 2008, it would not have been necessary for taxpayers to provide financial assistance to companies like AIG in order to prevent widespread damage to our economy.
Second, the House addressed the need for oversight of the over-the-counter derivatives market, where many of the problems began. Lacking and lagging regulation of OTC derivatives was a major contributing factor to the 2008 crisis, including the highly leveraged credit-default swaps at AIG that prompted government intervention.
For the first time, this multitrillion-dollar market will be regulated. The House bill struck the right balance by providing transparency and accountability to the derivatives market while preserving the ability of end users, such as Caterpillar or United Airlines, to legitimately hedge their risk to protect their businesses. It is important to note that, contrary to some inaccurate analyses of the legislation, every single derivative trade will be regulated, and every trade involving major financial institutions or swap dealers will be required to maintain necessary capital reserves to mitigate risk.
Finally, establishing robust investor and consumer protections is central to giving Americans peace of mind. The House bill closes loopholes, protects whistle-blowers and provides additional resources and authority to the Securities and Exchange Commission to prevent another Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme. By establishing a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the legislation streamlines consumer protection rulemaking and enforcement. And since the bill preserves the ability of national banks and thrifts to operate under uniform national standards, consumers will have equal protection and enforcement nationwide, without redundant compliance costs.
The House crafted a balanced bill that will preserve American competitiveness while enhancing market stability, transparency and consumer protections.
It is critical that the Senate move forward with the same urgency employed by the House and with the same balanced goals. These important reforms to America's financial regulatory structure will restore market confidence and prevent the kind of systemwide collapse — and subsequent government intervention — that no one wants to see repeated.