Lawmakers negotiating this week’s $1.1 trillion spending agreement unwisely denied funding increases to financial regulatory agencies, which need more resources to finish and enforce the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. This stinginess is what Wall Street wanted. But it won’t protect the financial industry from regulation; it will only make the process more frustrating.
Under the 2014 budget, the Securities and Exchange Commission will get $1.35 billion, $324 million below President Obama’s budget request. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission gets $215 million, or $100 million less than what the president sought.
This isn’t fiscal prudence. Both agencies return money to the U.S. Treasury in the form of fines and penalties in excess of what they spend. Presumably, better funding would result in more proficient enforcement and even fatter returns to taxpayers.
Nor will fewer resources mean less vigorous enforcement. Instead, the agencies will have to view alleged violations in black-and-white terms: You’re either in compliance or you’re not. Wall Street firms shouldn’t expect flexibility when they miss deadlines.
There is a better way. Congress could make the SEC and CFTC self-funded by imposing user fees. (The SEC is partially self-funded now.) Congress should ask securities, futures and derivatives traders to pay a small fee when they execute or clear trades. It’s to their benefit, after all, to keep charlatans out of their profession.
Lawmakers have consistently said “no” to self-funding, for fear of losing campaign contributions from Wall Street. But it’s in no one’s interest to have less flexible, less informed and less confident regulators doing a less efficient job.