WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the Obama administration’s blueprint for financial regulatory reform yesterday, while lawmakers expressed concerns about its provisions for boosting the authority of the Federal Reserve.
Geithner, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, stressed that lawmakers should act quickly to adopt “essential reforms” that address the core causes of the current crisis and help to prevent or contain future crises.
“Every financial crisis of the last generation has sparked some effort at reform,” he said. “But past efforts have begun too late, after the will to act has subsided. We cannot let that happen this time. We may disagree about the details, and we will have to work through those issues. But ordinary Americans have suffered too much; trust in our financial system has been too shaken; our economy has been brought too close to the brink for us to let this moment pass.”
Geithner cited several reasons for granting the Fed additional powers to function as a systemic risk overseer. In short, he said, “We do not believe there is another place in the system better able to handle these responsibilities.”
Creating a new regulator from scratch would risk losing or not having “the necessary experience” during a “significant challenge,” he said. And he rejected calls for a council of regulators to oversee systemic risk, saying: “You don’t convene a committee to put out a fire.”
The question of the Fed’s role sparked protests from panel members. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the Fed already handles monetary policy, bank regulation, holding company regulation, payment systems oversight, international banking regulation, and consumer protection, and serves as a “lender of last resort.”
“I do not believe that we can reasonably expect the Fed or any agency to effectively play so many roles,” he added.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed reluctance at giving the Fed a new role, but said it’s a better solution than creating a new regulator.
“You cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good here, or we end up with less,” he said.
Though Geithner urged swift action on regulatory reform, the priorities of the panel’s top senators were clearly elsewhere yesterday. Soon after the hearing began, committee chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., left quietly to attend a markup on health care reform. Dodd has said that financial regulatory reform will take a back seat to health care reform in the committee.
Geithner was scheduled to make a second appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, but that hearing was postponed.
Meanwhile, House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., released a tentative schedule for his panel’s consideration of financial regulatory reform proposals, with hearings set to begin next Wednesday on consumer issues. The committee will discuss derivatives on July 10 and its capital markets subcommittee will hold hearing on the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 14. The full committee will then vote on the legislation over the course of three sessions on July 23, July 29 and July 30.