Monday, March 23, 2009

Senator Collins introduces legislation to stabilize and reform U.S. financial system

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today introduced “The Financial System Stabilization and Reform Act (FSSRA) of 2009” to fundamentally restructure our nation’s outdated financial regulatory system to strengthen oversight and accountability.
“As a former Maine financial regulator, I believe financial regulatory reform is absolutely essential to restoring public confidence in our financial markets,” said Senator Collins. “America’s consumers, workers, savers, and investors deserve the protection of a new regulatory system that modernizes regulatory agencies, sets safety and soundness requirements for financial institutions to prevent excessive risk-taking, and improves oversight, accountability, and transparency. My legislation will fundamentally restructure our financial regulatory system to help rebuild the confidence of our citizens in our economy and restore stability to our financial markets.”

FSSRA calls for the creation of an independent Financial Stability Council (FSC), composed of representatives from existing federal financial regulators which now have the responsibility to oversee portions of the financial system. The FSC will serve as a “systemic-risk monitor,” and would maintain comprehensive oversight of potential systemic risks to the financial system. It would have the ability to propose changes to regulatory policy, working with existing federal regulatory agencies, when systemic risk could emerge due to regulatory gaps or the emergence of risky new financial products. The FSC would also have the authority to close regulatory “black holes” that pose a systemic risk when risky products or activities fall outside the current authority of federal financial regulators. The FSC would also have the authority to adopt rules that ensure financial institutions do not grow “too big to fail,” by imposing different capital requirements, raising risk premiums, or requiring a larger percentage of debt be held as long-term debt.

Additional provisions in the FSSA would:
• Close the credit default swaps loophole to ensure oversight of a financial instrument that contributed heavily to the current financial crisis and the downfall of AIG. This regulatory gap allowed systemic risk to build in our financial system without the oversight and transparency needed to prevent a collapse;• Impose safety and soundness requirements on new investment banks by requiring them to organize under the Bank Holding Company Act. Under the current system, investment bank firms such as the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were left unregulated with no agency given the authority to examine the full scope of their operations;• Merge the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and Office of the Comptroller Currency (OCC) to consolidate and reduce the number of banking regulators, improving the effectiveness of the entire system. This merger was recommended by many experts, and the Treasury Inspector General recently raised concerns about the objectivity and effectiveness of OTS;• Protect the rights of states to regulate the insurance industry.

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