Economic Outlook: Reform bill nears vote

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  May 18, 2010 at 8:15 AM
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called on his colleagues on Capitol Hill to wind down the debate on the financial reform bill.

"The time has come to begin work sending this to conference so we can have a bill go to the president," Reid said, as the Senate concluded several votes on amendments, some with voice votes.

Senators agreed to allow the Federal Trade Commission to continue enforcing consumer protections laws and to coordinate its efforts with the new consumer financial product protection agency. A second vote found approval for a proposal by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to include a numerical credit score with free annual credit report mandated by The Fair Credit Reporting Act.

"This I believe will empower consumers, it will increase the financial literacy in our country. It's a win-win," Udall said.

Udall's amendment would be be applied when credit reports provoked a negative result, such as canceling a job offer or pushing a consumer into higher interest rate on a loan, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Some senators have noticed, meanwhile, the bill has followed a traditional path for financial reform measures, in that no matter what the era in which they appear, they tend to put voters to sleep.

The public's attention can stay with derivatives for only so long. Having hedge funds register with the Securities and Exchange Commission is hard to fit into a sound bite in an election year. It is hard to turn "prohibit proprietary trading" into a catchy slogan.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama said "every American has a stake in Wall Street reform," as he tried to connect the dots between financial reform and personal bank accounts. But it's still hard to make "We need stability" sound like "Damn the torpedoes," especially after a comment on "fat cat bankers" was quickly judged as having gone too far.

Even the handiest political headline of them all, bipartisan bickering, is a tough sell these days. The 1,400-page bill has yet to run into a filibuster or a tabling motion on any amendment, The Washington Post reported.

Retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has turned grandfatherly on the bill, noting he was "going to feel as good watching the Senate function as I will about the product it produced."

But the Post noted Dodd's shirt sleeves were rolled up when he said that.

In international markets Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 in Japan rose 0.07 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 1.36 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 1.17 percent, while the Sensex in India added 0.24 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia gained 0.08 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index added 0.66 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 1.47 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 1.55 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 rose 1.22 percent.

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