U.S. News

Emotional Finish to Wall Street Reform Marathon

Tom Braithwaite, Financial Times

At 5.06 am New York time lawmakers voted to name the financial reform bill after Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, the chairmen of the House financial services and Senate banking committees.

Nearing the end of the marathon reform effort, Mr Frank stood, walked over to his partner Jim Ready, embraced him, wiped a tear from his eye and sat down to finish regulating Wall Street.

It had been an emotional 20 hours trapped in a Senate conference room with lawmakers debating legislative text worth billions of dollars for the largest US banks. Not all of those emotions were pleasant or serious.

At 4 am Mr Frank announced that his staff had run out of paper. It was not the most serious threat to financial reform, which has taken over a year and consumed forests of trees, but it was yet another last-ditch hurdle.

Many hours earlier a priest in full clerical garb arrived in the Senate conference room, looking out of place in the suited crowd of government officials and financial lobbyists.

Father Juan Molina, foreign policy advisor to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had not come to pronounce the last rites to the legislation, he told the Financial Times but to check on the progress of an obscure provision that introduces checks on companies trading minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was a calming man and might have been useful at 5 am when Blanche Lincoln, the Senate agriculture chairwoman, leapt from her seat, waving her arms, to berate her fellow Democrats for killing a minor provision sought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which enjoys the protection of her committee.

That is a dawn turf war in Washington DC. The rare public conference committee may not spark a rush of copycats – few who attended the days of sessions to finalize the legislation will argue for a repeat.

And Congress will stick to its preference for private deals. But it did assemble an eclectic cast of characters and forced them to do at least some of their lobbying in public as temperature soared above 80 degrees Fahrenheit when the air conditioning was switched off. Gary Gensler, the lithe chairman of the CFTC, kneeled by Ms Lincoln’s side – feeding lines in the final tense hours of debate.

Federal Reserve lawyers, led by chief counsel Scott Alvarez, scurried around, flicking hurriedly through new versions of texts. On the sidelines Republican aides remonstrated with Michael Barr, the Treasury official supervising the reform as they argued about the form of the $19 billion bank levy.

Neal Wolin, the deputy Treasury secretary, stepped in to say: “It’s fine Michael”, in the manner of a man in a bar dragging his friend away from a fight.