House Passes Financial Reform, Sans Bankruptcy Cram-Downs
The House of Representatives on Friday passed HR 4173, The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, in a 223-202 vote that fell largely along party lines. While 27 House Democrats voted against the bill -- which aims to reform financial regulation, protect both consumers and investors, regulate the $600bn over-the-counter derivatives market -- not a single House Republican voted in favor of it. "House passage of this bill moves us an important step closer to meeting the President's objectives for reform," said Treasury Department secretary Tim Geithner in a statement. "Comprehensive reform must establish clear rules of the road with strong enforcement for our nation's financial institutions and markets; end loopholes that allowed big Wall Street firms to escape supervision; make it clear that no firm is 'too big to fail;' and provide strong consumer and investor protections for American families." The passage of the bill comes after long consideration of multiple amendments to the original draft of the bill. One such amendment, which would allow the "cram-down" or alteration of mortgage terms within bankruptcy proceedings, was not passed. “The American Bankers Association appreciates the decision by the House of Representatives today not to approve an amendment to [HR 4173], that would give bankruptcy judges broad authority to unilaterally modify the terms of mortgages," said ABA CEO and president Edward Yingling in an e-mailed statement. Yingling added: “Both the House and Senate have now voted this year against allowing judges to reduce ('cram down') the amount owed on a mortgage, change interest rates, or stretch out the terms of a loan in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. It is important to defeat measures of this nature as they would bring unnecessary risk and uncertainty to the mortgage market and would make home loans more expensive and less available for consumers.” According to the House Financial Services Committee, the bill as passed establishes an orderly process for shutting down systemic firms, gives shareholders a "say on pay" to reign in executive spending, and strengthens the Securities Exchange Commission's power to regulate securities markets and protect investors. It also outlaws predatory mortgage lending practices and requires the registration of hedge funds. According to the Commercial Mortgage Securities Association (CMSA), the bill includes language that would structure the "retention" or "skin in the game" requirement to account for the differences of commercial mortgage-backed securities. The language bears the potential to allow third-party investors or B-piece buyers to satisfy the bill's retention requirements, according to the CMSA. HR 4173 also includes a measure that requires the Federal Reserve and other financial regulators to study the combined impact of Financial Accounting Standards (FAS) 166 and 167 on credit availability, and to report to Congress with specific recommendations prior to any rule-making on the retention. “A risk retention provision that gives market and financial regulators flexibility in overseeing diverse asset types and structures is essential to support an overall recovery in commercial real estate,” said Patrick Sargent, CMSA president. Write to Diana Golobay.