The Bush administration on Monday introduced the broadest overhaul of Wall Street regulation since the Great Depression, presenting a 218-page...
The Bush administration on Monday introduced the broadest overhaul of Wall Street regulation since the Great Depression, presenting a 218-page proposal that would, for the first time, create a set of federal regulators with authority over all players in the financial system.
The plan is unlikely to be put in place anytime soon, and in presenting the blueprint, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insisted the changes were intended to address long-term problems with the way the federal government oversees financial markets, rather than a quick fix for the current crisis.
“Some may view these recommendations as a response to the circumstances of the day,” Paulson said. “That is not how they are intended.”
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Still, elements of the plan — including a proposal to expand the authority of the Federal Reserve to examine investment banks and other financial institutions that have previously roamed free of federal oversight — clearly speak to the tumult on Wall Street that has hurt the economy.
And President Bush, through his spokeswoman, urged Congress to quickly approve the proposed changes.
Democratic leaders are already drafting bills to impose tougher supervision over Wall Street, and some say Paulson’s plan does not go far enough toward reining in risky practices among banks.
The administration’s proposal will do almost nothing to regulate the alphabet soup of sophisticated financial products that have fueled the current financial crisis. And it will not control practices linked to the mortgage crisis, like packaging risky loans into securities carrying the highest ratings.
Hedge funds and private-equity firms, which have enjoyed freedom from government oversight for years, would finally fall under federal watch.
But that oversight would be minimal, enabling the government to do little beyond collecting information until a wide-scale financial crisis has already occurred.
The checks and balances in the plan reflect the mind-set of Paulson, its architect, who came to Washington after a long career on Wall Street, including a stint as chief executive of Goldman Sachs.
Paulson has worried that any effort to greatly tighten regulation could hamper the ability of U.S. markets to compete with foreign rivals. The proposal, in fact, stemmed from policy discussions that began well before the tumult that has rocked the nation’s economic underpinnings.
The plan began last year as Paulson sought to streamline the different and sometimes clashing rules for commercial banks, savings and loans and nonbank mortgage lenders.
“This blueprint addresses complex, long-term issues that should not be decided in the midst of stressful situations,” Paulson said Monday. “These long-term ideas require thoughtful discussion and will not be resolved this month or even this year.”
Paulson also deflected blame for the current tumult away from his administration. “I do not believe it is fair or accurate to blame our regulatory structure for the current turmoil,” he said.
Under the plan, the Fed would receive some authority over Wall Street firms, but only when an investment bank’s practices threatened the financial system as a whole.
The Fed would be able to examine internal bookkeeping of brokerage firms, hedge funds, commodity-trading exchanges and any other institution that might pose a risk to the overall financial system.
The plan would also merge the Securities and Exchange Commission with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates exchange-traded futures for oil, grains, currencies and the like.
And the blueprint suggests areas where the SEC should take a lighter approach to its oversight, including allowing stock exchanges greater leeway to regulate themselves.
Some agencies within Washington’s patchwork system of financial regulation would be consolidated.
One new agency, which the Treasury calls a “prudential financial regulator,” would focus on the safety of financial institutions that have explicit government guarantees.
The other watchdog would oversee business conduct to protect public investors and customers of financial firms.
Congress would have to approve almost every element of the proposal.
Democratic leaders are already drafting bills for tougher supervision over Wall Street investment banks, hedge funds and the fast-growing market in derivatives like credit default swaps.
Administration officials acknowledged last week that they did not expect the proposal to become law this year but said they hoped it would help frame a policy debate that would extend well after the elections in November.
Edmund L. Andrews, Nelson D. Schwartz and Floyd Norris of The New York Times contributed to this story.