February 1, 2010 4:10 pm

Volcker rule unlikely to move forward in Senate, lawmakers say

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A proposal by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to limit bank’s proprietary trading will be either be dropped or significantly modified in the Senate, lawmakers and staffers told dealReporter.

Senate Banking Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he opposes the so-called Volcker rule and the Obama administration’s call to levy a USD 90bn tax on banks. His comments come as House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) predicted the proposals outlined by President Obama could be law within six months.

Speaking to this news service on Thursday, Shelby said if Democrats push forward with the proposals they risk unravelling much of the bipartisan support already reached regarding the passage of financial regulatory reform in the Senate. Shelby said that the Obama administration risks losing Republican support for the bill if they begin to “politicise” the issue.

However, Shelby said he expects to hold a meeting with Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) regarding the way forward on regulatory reform in two weeks time. A Democratic banking committee staffer confirmed that the meeting between Dodd and Shelby will be critical as Dodd needs to determine the level of bipartisan agreement and the timing of bringing the bill through committee and on the Senate floor.

With the election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate, the Democrats no longer have the necessary 60 votes to force through a Regulatory Reform package, and any bill will need at least some Republican support to pass. A Dodd staffer said the senator is likely to quietly drop or modify many of the recommendations in the Volcker rule to ensure Republican support for regulatory reform.

“Chris is retiring so he wants to end his career with an important regulatory reform bill and he wants to make the bill bipartisan,” the staffer said. “He is not going to risk bipartisan support to make the White House happy.”

The Democratic staffer said there is an ongoing debate among members of the banking committee about whether the Volcker rule would effectively push risk out of regulated markets and thus ultimately create more risk to the financial system.

Dodd told this news service on Thursday that the banking committee will begin mark-up of the financial regulatory bill in the near future and his committee will hold a committee meeting on the Volcker Amendment on Tuesday with Volcker and a follow-up hearing on Thursday.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat on the banking committee from Virginia, also said he has concerns regarding elements of the Volcker rule, many of which are already being dealt with by the committee. He said that one of the problems is in the definition of what constitutes proprietary trading and that regulators should be more proactive in determining what constitutes excessive risk taking by financial players.

Warner also said that the prospective Senate version of the Kanjorski amendment passed by the House also includes using capital adequacy standards to reign in excessive risk taking by financial institutions and that such an approach gives regulators greater flexibility.

A Democrat committee staffer said the Senate committee is loathe to include statutory capital adequacy standards included in the House bill and that such standards should be determing by regulators.

House Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Paul Kanjorski told this news service he is only 80% to 85% in agreement with the Volcker rule and that many issues raised by Volcker are already included in his amendment passed by the House.

Warner blamed much of the political storm connected to regulatory reform on bankers. He called Goldman Sachs’s proposal to lend USD 500m to small businesses over a five-year period derisory, and said banks need to come out in front of the issue regarding compensation.

Warner said he is proposing that US banks set up a USD 1trn fund to invest in US infrastructure projects as a way to avoid the USD 90bn bank levy. A staffer said that Warner is not calling for the banks to place USD 1trn in cash, but to raise such an amount through leverage.

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