Has financial reform moment passed?

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner participates in a question and answer session at the Time Warner Center in New York City, where he discussed the Obama administration's efforts to repair and strengthen financial systems.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: This is one of those occasions when we can give you tomorrow's news today. Or better yet, we're going to give you Wednesday's news. The president is going to be giving a big speech that day. He's going to lay out his plans for overhauling the financial markets. Plans that Wall Street and Congress have been waiting for for a while now.

Thanks to an opinion piece in the Washington Post this morning, we have a pretty good idea of what he's going to say. The byline in the paper today was Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers. The Treasury secretary and the director of the National Economic Council wrote that the White House wants to beef up the powers of Federal Reserve, wants to rein in hedge funds and derivatives, and create a new regulator to protect consumers. The press is on to move quickly, before the moment for real reform has passed. Although some worry it already has. Our New York bureau chief Amy Scott has the story.


AMY SCOTT: Back in March, Secretary Geithner spoke of plans to overhaul the financial system.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: To address this will require comprehensive reform. Not modest repairs at the margin, but new rules of the game.

Nearly three months later, the administration is close to finalizing its strategy. With the crisis easing, critics say the White House is watering down those plans.

JIM BARTH: It may be a lost opportunity, especially in an environment in which now some people are saying perhaps the worst is behind us.

Jim Barth is a fellow at the pro-market Milken Institute. He was hoping for a more streamlined system. But it looks as though an idea to merge the regulators of securities and commodity futures is off the table.

And the patchwork of agencies that oversee the financial system will remain almost undisturbed. Barth says it may have been too difficult to get members of Congress, regulators and the financial lobby to cede ground.

BARTH: You have all these different individuals and players who are trying to basically either prevent regulatory reform, or what they're trying to do is be sure they still have a seat at the table.

As it is now, financial institutions can shop around for the sleepiest watchdog. Often they chose the Office of Thrift Supervision. It was AIG's main regulator. It's been accused of being weak at best. Fraudulent at worst. It might now be folded into another agency.

Patricia McCoy teaches securities law at the University of Connecticut. She welcomes other steps, like creating a council to watch out for systemic risk and a new agency to oversee products like mortgages and mutual funds.

PATRICIA MCCOY: Those are significant steps. We need more, but I'd be happy for the moment to at least get these things done.

Officials understand the moment for real reform could slip away.

At an event this morning Secretary Geithner said the White House is trying to act quickly before complacency sets back in.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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