House/Senate financial reform conference dragging on into early morning

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 24 – Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd (D-CT) reaffirmed his commitment to complete the financial reform bill Thursday night. At 7 pm, he told fellow conferees, “Our intention is to keep working this evening. We have to try to complete this . . . My hope is that sometime late this evening or early in the morning we can complete our work.”

But after two weeks of hard work on the reform bill, the House/Senate conference ran up against the two most contentious issues that had been deliberately left for the last day to give negotiators more time to work out compromises. The working out included pressuring Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) to soften her tough rules requiring near total transparency for the currently unregulated derivatives market. As of 11:30 PM Thursday night, however, there was still no sign of Lincoln softening.

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
at Thursday's financial reform bill conference. Photo: Agri-Pulse.
Also as of 11:30 PM, with both tiredness and tempers barely concealed, debate continued over the second major issue: the Volker rule to strictly limit the ability of commercial banks to invest in private equity firms and hedge funds. Along with debate, there was also confusion thanks to serial compromise amendments leaving members unsure of whether the Volker rule would include a total ban on banks engaging in “proprietary trading” for their own accounts unrelated to customer needs – or whether there are some possible exceptions.

Whenever the conference concludes work on the extensively amended Volker rule, that will leave only Lincoln's Section 716 derivatives provisions. But as Dodd noted early in the long evening, the derivatives work includes considering some 200 amendments.

Approaching midnight, it seems the only certainty is that even if Dodd and House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank (D-MA) manage to craft a final bill sometime Friday morning, the actual contents of the bill will remain open to interpretation and speculation.

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