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Bill That Would Gut Financial Regulatory Efforts Delayed

Lest I be described as a Gloomy Gus, let’s point out some good news for a change. Or at least some potentially good news. First, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission decided to appeal a ruling from a federal judge that cancelled the Dodd-Frank regulation on position limits.

By a 3-2 vote, the commission agreed to challenge a district court ruling that vacated the regulator’s efforts to implement a portion of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law setting limits on the amount of positions a trader could hold in various commodities. These position limits are aimed at curbing speculative trading in commodities markets.

“The rule addresses Congress’ concern that that no single trader be permitted to obtain too large a share of the market, and that derivatives markets remain fair and competitive,” said CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler Thursday. “I believe it is critically important that these position limits be established as Congress required. I support the Commission’s continued efforts to put in place position limits on speculative positions by appealing the September ruling.”

This ruling was simply a gift to speculators, and it’s appropriate for CFTC to fight for their rule.

Meanwhile, the SEC delivered its second straight scathing report against credit rating agencies, arguing that they continue to fall short of their own standards and documentation requirements.

In its second-annual report on the nine credit-rating firms registered with the agency, the SEC repeated many of the complaints found in its 2011 review. The SEC’s 2012 report said that Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings don’t always follow their own standards for rating deals. The firms are required by the SEC to disclose and follow their methodologies for assigning ratings to securities so that investors know how deals are being judged […]

All nine rating firms had “poor documentation” and “inaccuracies” in tallying analysts’ votes, the SEC said, which are recorded at secretive committee meetings to decide if an entity will be upgraded or downgraded. “In some instances, there was no rationale recorded for why the final rating recommendation deviated from the original,” the SEC said.

Basically, the rating agencies have not improved their methodologies or oversight despite their responsibility for the financial crisis, rating junk securities based on shoddy mortgages as triple-A products.

The CFTC and SEC are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but in these instances, they’re at least carrying out their missions in the proper manner. A group of Senators wanted to subject financial regulators and other federal agencies to cost-benefit analyses and other reporting requirements so burdensome, that it would put the agencies at the mercy of the White House, delay their rule-writing and strip their independence. Fortunately, the Senate delayed consideration of the bill that would execute this.

It appears that heavy pressure from an unusual coalition of financial regulators and reform advocates has convinced the Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs to delay a vote on a controversial bill, the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act (S. 3468), that would give the White House unprecedented power to frustrate independent regulatory agencies trying to make new rules, including rules meant to prevent another financial crisis.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) reportedly had planned to push the bill out of committee on Thursday for a quick vote on the Senate floor. But it is not on the agenda now, according to a Lieberman spokeswoman. The bill is not dead, however; it has merely been delayed. And other, potentially more dangerous, bills designed to gut financial reform are still lurking in Congress.

“I would expect them to keep pushing it,” said Marcus Stanley, policy director of Americans for Financial Reform, a nonprofit advocacy group. “But there was a tactical victory won in pushing this timing back.”

Obviously, continued vigilance is needed to finally kill this thing. But if the relatively meager financial reform advocacy community can team up with regulators and push this back, that’s at least good news for the moment.

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David Dayen

David Dayen