Today the House plans to take up two industry-backed bills dealing with derivatives, the hitherto opaque financial instruments so crucial to the 2008 meltdown, under a procedure usually reserved for noncontroversial matters.
A coalition of labor and consumer groups, Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), believes the bills, which have bipartisan support, should be controversial and is urging lawmakers to oppose them. "Both proposed bills are unnecessary and potentially harmful attempts to micromanage the work of regulators in implementing the Dodd-Frank Act," the groups argued. "They amplify the views of the regulated industries which already have overwhelmingly greater resources to intervene in the process than do any representatives of the public interest."
The first bill, HR 2779, would exempt derivatives known as swaps from Dodd-Frank requirements if they are between affiliates of the same organization. The legislation, which easily cleared the House Agriculture and Financial Services committees, has the strong support of powerhouse industry trade groups such as the American Bankers Association (ABA), which reported spending $8.8 million on federal lobbying last year, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), whose reported lobbying budget was $5.2 million.
In a letter last November to Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, both sponsors of the bill, SIFMA wrote that it would be a mistake to classify such trades as separate transactions and that doing so "will increase the costs of our member firms and customers to manage business risk."
AFR believes that regulatory agencies already have the authority to exempt such swaps when the facts indicate that it should, and that the legislation as written is too broad. The coalition points out that the language defining when swaps are considered to be between affiliates is problematic. As written, the group argues, it would cover affiliates that are only partially owned. As a coalition, AFR does not report lobbying costs; however, member unions such as the AFL-CIO and AFSCME pack lobbying power.
The second bill, H.R. 2682, would provide a break for non-financial companies that use derivatives to manage risk, such as airline companies that hedge against the price of oil, allowing them to avoid requirements to maintain a certain level of margin, a type of collateral, for for swaps that haven't cleared.
The Coalition for Derivatives End Users, which is made up of the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other large trade associations, provides influential backing for the bill.
AFR has fewer objections to this legislation, saying it is more narrowly crafted, but believes that agency regulators are already addressing the industry's concerns.