WASHINGTON: Business interests are putting more muscle behind a push to roll back U.S. financial regulations, with a major study just issued by a business lobbying group and some of Wall Street’s top names gathering for a Treasury Department conference on the matter on Tuesday.
The conference being hosted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will include some of the nation’s richest men, including multimillionaire Warren Buffett, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Citigroup Executive Committee Chairman Robert Rubin and General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be a guest, as will JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO James Dimon, for discussions centering on regulation, the accounting industry, legal enforcement and corporate governance.
Touching on some of the same areas, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report on Monday recommending the Securities and Exchange Commission dismantle its front-line watchdog unit and reassign its examiners to the agency’s other divisions.
The chamber also called for an end to quarterly earnings guidance by companies, greater legal protections for auditors that review corporations’ books, optional federal charters for insurers, and new retirement savings initiatives.
In a laundry list of Big Business goals, some old and some new, the chamber — the nation’s largest business lobbying group — said these and other changes are needed because U.S. markets are becoming less globally competitive.
The same theme forms the basis of the Treasury conference, which Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance Robert Steel said keenly interests President George W. Bush.
Although he will be traveling abroad during the conference, Bush will be briefed by Paulson after returning, Steel said.
“The secretary and the president are talking about these issues all the time. I think this president’s quite interested in what we learn” at the conference, Steel said.
Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to speak at a private dinner to open the conference on Monday night.
Duke University Law School Professor James Cox said, “The one area where the Bush administration has not succeeded at deregulation is financial markets ... This is a big push, being made by many of the same people who were busy in early 2002 trying to prevent the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley.”
The post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) has become a target for specific business complaints about government regulation, and for a broader critique that blames government interference generally for a perceived decline in Wall Street’s fortunes versus competing markets in Europe and Asia.
Georgetown University Law School Professor Donald Langevoort said U.S. competitiveness is “a big picture issue with lots of dimensions,” regulation being only one of them.
Asked about likely outcomes of the Treasury conference, Steel said the notoriety and strong views of the participants make it difficult to predict what will result.
“There’s nothing partisan about this,” Steel said.
Paulson last year lent his support to a private-sector committee that issued a report in November urging reduced regulation and less exposure to litigation for companies, also citing U.S. market competitiveness for its recommendations.
In January, Bloomberg and New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer warned that New York will lose its status as the world’s financial capital within a decade if the United States does not change its market and immigration rules.