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Bill could restrict efforts to regulate Wall Street

WASHINGTON — Financial regulators may face a new obstacle in their efforts to police Wall Street.

Lawmakers are pushing a bill that could curb the influence of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and other regulators, according to congressional staff members and government watchdog groups.

The measure, which the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is planning to debate this month, aims to empower the president in the rule-writing process. The proposal would allow the White House to second-guess major rules and mandate that agencies carefully study the economic effects of new regulation.

Some legal experts say the White House already has ample authority to impose such demands on independent agencies like the SEC. Critics say the bill would stymie financial reform and threaten the autonomy of regulators that operate outside the presidential cabinet. The bill, introduced in the Senate last month, would offer a path to challenge the Dodd-Frank law, the regulatory overhaul passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

The authors of the Senate bill — Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine — say they are not out to kill financial reform.


Collins backed Dodd-Frank, and the lawmakers point to support among several Democrats. Some congressional staff members say it is rapidly gaining steam.

Under the bill, current and future administrations would receive explicit authority to influence the rule-making process at independent agencies, a collection of several dozen government bodies as varied as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Federal Reserve would be exempt.

The president, through an executive order, would be allowed to mandate at the minimum a 13-point test for rule-making. That includes finding ‘‘available alternatives to direct regulation,’’ evaluating the ‘‘costs and the benefits,’’ drafting ‘‘each rule to be simple and easy to understand,’’ and periodically reviewing existing rules to make agencies ‘‘more effective or less burdensome.’’


For more ‘‘significant’’ rules — those that have an annual effect of at least $100 million on the economy — independent agencies would have to submit their proposals to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an arm of the White House that acts as a sort of regulatory referee.