August 19, 2013

Obama prods regulators to enact Wall Street rules

The top banks today are bigger than they were in 2008, despite legislation intended to prevent institutions that are 'too big to fail.'

Jim Kuhnhenn / The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama met with top banking regulators Monday for a status report as the five-year anniversary of the financial meltdown approaches.

2007 Associated Press File Photo

The rule-making has encountered legal challenges as well. Retailers sued over a rule that set a top limit on the fees that banks could charge vendors for handling purchases made with debit cards. A federal judge agreed with a coalition of retailers who wanted a lower cap and called the rule by the Federal Reserve "a blatant act of policymaking that runs counter to Congress' will." That provision in the law was meant to encourage retailers to permit debit card transactions; banks wanted higher fees to encourage credit card use.

At the same time, other central elements of the law have fallen into place.

The Senate last month confirmed Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the law. Republicans had been blocking his confirmation and demanding broad changes in how the bureau was configured and how it obtained its finances. But a number of Senate Republicans withdrew their opposition, putting Cordray in place and removing one element of uncertainty that had clouded the bureau's work.

The Federal Reserve last month raised the amount of capital that big banks must hold to reduce the threat they might pose to the broader financial system. The requirements, which meet international standards agreed to after the downturn, have met some resistance from financial institutions as being too high, but have also been criticized for not being high enough.

"There is a trade-off between holding capital and the ability to lend," said Scott Talbott, a senior lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable. "Our concern is that as you take a look at all the regulations in totality, you will decrease the banks' ability to help the economy."

The Fed on Monday said that while big banks have made progress in preparing for strains like those brought by the 2008 financial crisis, they also need do a better job determining how much capital they need to cushion against a future crisis. The Fed's report, based on stress tests applied to the banks, coincided with Obama's meeting with regulators.

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