Tag Archives: House Financial Services

What Are You (Or Barney Frank) Going To Do About It?

At a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday, Barney Frank nicely summarized where we are with regard to re-regulation of our largest financial institutions: some of them are definitely “too big to fail”, with the potential to present the authorities with what Larry Summers calls the “collapse or bailout” choice, but what exactly should be done about it?

On a five-person panel, I had the middle seat (as usual) and found myself agreeing with points made both to my left and to my right.  Alice Rivlin is correct that we need to control leverage as well as increase capital requirements, and the Fed’s tools vis-à-vis leverage need modernization – your grandparents’ margin requirements would not suffice.  Peter Wallison, a member of the new financial crisis investigation commission, stresses that capital requirements should be higher for larger banks.  Paul Mahoney wants to change the bankruptcy code, to make it easier for courts to handle large financial firms in quick time; recent CIT Group events suggest this is a good idea.

And Mark Zandi was persuasive on the point that households had no idea what they were signing up to with option ARMs – even he has trouble with those spreadsheets.  Effective consumer protection – including a new consumer safety commission – would definitely contribute to financial system stability.

What will Barney Frank and his committee do?  There will be no “Tier 1 Holding Company” category of firms, if Frank has anything to do with it; this is too much like creating an implicit government guarantee. Frank is clearly drawn towards higher capital requirements or more insurance payments from firms that pose more system risk.  I suggested total assets of 1% of GDP as a threshold, but we agree this should be essentially a progressive drag on profits – creating the strong market-based incentive for the biggest firms to downsize.

Other than that, watch this space.

My written testimony submitted to the committee is below. Continue reading

Can The US Save The World? (House Testimony)

Yesterday I testified to the House Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade (part of the House Financial Services Committee).  The hearing’s title was “Implications of the G-20 Leaders Summit for Low Income Countries and the Global Economy,” and the main topic was whether Congress should support an extra $100bn for the IMF that the Obama Administration agreed at the G20 summit in early April (witness list, webcast, and written testimony).

The committee was mostly in favor of the US continuing to play a leading role in supporting the IMF, but pressed the witnesses to explain whether the IMF could lose this money (highly unlikely), how this would protect American jobs (definitely, but hard to quantify precisely), and if the broader package of IMF reform should also be supported (e.g., the proposed gold sales are being reassessed, to see they could generate more resources for aid to developing countries).

Politico is reporting that US funding for the IMF is likely to be attached to the war supplemental spending bill.  The subcommittee’s chairman, Gregory Meeks, seemed positive – as did all the Democrats who spoke, along with Gary Miller, the Ranking Member/Senior Republican.  But, based on remarks made by at least two Republican members of the subcommittee, there is likely to be a big public fight at some point.  My guess is that the Democratic side will press hard for President Obama to more publicly explain why supporting the IMF (and the G20) is very much in the US interest.

The main points from my written testimony are below.  While Treasury represents the US vis-a-vis the IMF and traditionally has considerable scope for action, the views of Congress on IMF details are very important as both guidance and constraints.  In our advice on the wide range of IMF-related issues below, both I and the other witnesses laid out broadly similar views with varying emphasis – there was actually much more disagreement among committee members than at the witness table. Continue reading

Vote For (Or Against) The IMF

The Washington Post is widely read on Capitol Hill and the reception among key people to The Hearing blog (run by us and the Post) has been generally very positive.   Members of Congress and their staff want to get you more involved in their discussions around economic policy, and we’re experimenting with ways that will help your opinions – whatever they are – get across at a time and in a manner that increases their impact.

To that end, we’re developing on-line polls in which you can register your views on questions that are currently being debated – either in general terms or as specific legislation – on the Hill (of course, longer comments are also welcome; it’s a blog, after all).  Today’s question is about whether the United States should provide an additional $100bn to the IMF, as was agreed at and immediately after the recent G20 summit; this is for a hearing held by a subcommittee of House Financial Services, which starts at 10am. Continue reading