Immelt Appointed Chairman of Council on Jobs and Competitiveness; Volcker Resigns
On Friday, President Obama announced that General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt will serve as Chairman of the newly created “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” The Council will advise the President on job creation policies and on the establishment of a long-term growth strategy. Immelt previously served on the board of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). On Thursday, the President also announced the resignation of PERAB Chairman Paul Volcker and dissolution of the PERAB.
SEC Issues New Rules on Asset Backed Securities
On Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved new regulations regarding asset-backed securities. Among a series of new rules which will take effect in 2012, one requires that financial firms that issue asset-backed securities assess and disclose the quality of the underlying assets, including mortgages, credit card debt and student loans. The rule, which the SEC first proposed in October, passed in a 3-2 vote. The agency’s two Republican commissioners, Kathleen Casey and Troy Paredes, opposed the changes. Another new rule requires that banks and other issuers disclose the number of requests they have received to buy back troubled assets. Starting in February 2012, the issuers will have to report how many loans they have repurchased, dating back three years.
Geithner Declines First House Republican TARP Hearing
On Wednesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa invited Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to testify next week before the Committee regarding the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Geithner declined Issa’s invitation but offered to send in his place Tim Massad, an acting Assistant Treasury Secretary. While Issa could have issued Geithner a subpoena, he instead accepted the offer of Massad’s testimony for next week’s hearing.
December Unemployment 9.4%
On Friday, the Labor Department announced that the United States economy ended the year with 9.4% unemployment in December. The agency also revised estimates from October and November saying that 210,000 jobs were created in October instead of 172,000 and 71,000 in November, instead of 39,000.
Obama Appoints Daley, Sperling To Key Posts
On Thursday, President Obama announced that William Daley will serve as his new chief of staff. Daley is the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Daley replaces interim chief of staff Pete Rouse, who will become a Counselor to the President. Rouse replaced Rahm Emanuel, who stepped down to make a run for mayor of Chicago. On Friday, President Barack Obama also announced that Gene Sperling will be the new Director of the National Economic Council replacing Larry Summers. Sperling had previously served as Counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and National Economic Adviser for President Clinton.
Tax Reform Debate Gains Steam
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate Finance Committee would hold hearings on tax reform in the near future. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) followed Reid’s comment by saying that he also welcomed discussions about how to improve the country’s tax code. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also said that tax reform was one issue that he believes could garner bipartisan support and hopes the President addresses it in the State of the Union at the end of the month. While tax reform was initially thought to be a second or third tier issue, it could now become the next big issue for Congress to tackle this year after the debate on raising the national debt ceiling.
Geithner Trip to India and China
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with top Hong Kong, Beijing, and Indian finance officials during his week long trip through Asia which focused on trade and monetary matters. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Friday that the Chinese government was preparing to announce that it will allow its currency to rise with increased volatility. China’s currency, known as the renminbi or yuan, has been pegged at a nearly fixed rate to the dollar for many years. While an official announcement on China’s currency policy may be delayed, the Times reported that China’s central bank appears to have prevailed within the Chinese governmental leadership for a stronger but more flexible currency. Geithner has refrained from publicly commenting about the currency issue in advance of his meetings in Beijing.
Senate Financial Regulatory Reform Bill
Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) offered to Chairman Chris Dodd a new draft compromise on the consumer protection title of the financial reform bill this week, reflecting a possible shift in the Republican position on the issue. According to sources close to Shelby, the new draft is much closer to the language Dodd and other Democrats have sought, which gives much stronger consumer protection authority to the new agency. However, the new Shelby language is said to also give a new council of regulators the power to veto rules from the agency. Shelby’s proposed compromise may reflect Republicans’ increasing willingness to appear amenable to financial reform.
Senate Financial Regulatory Reform Bill
On Monday, the Senate Banking Committee held its much anticipated markup of Chairman Christopher Dodd’s (D-CT) “Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010.” Republicans declined to offer any of their more than 200 prepared amendments to the financial reform bill because Ranking Republican Richard Shelby (R-AL) believes they will have a better chance of incorporating their suggested changes as the pressure builds on Dodd to bring the bill to the floor and get the measure passed – an effort that will require Republican support. Dodd’s bill was passed out of the Committee on a strict party line vote of 13-10. Following the markup, Dodd indicated he will be reaching out to Republicans off the Committee such as Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and George Voinovich (R-OH). President Obama met with Dodd and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) on Wednesday to discuss the legislation and to develop a strategy following the expected Senate passage of a bill in the near future. The meeting signals the White House’s decision to turn its focus to the financial legislation following the conclusion of the health care debate.
In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Senate Banking Committee member Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) offered a sharp rebuke to the emerging Republican strategy of trying to keep all 41 GOP senators united against the bill in order to change key aspects of the reforms. In a letter to Secretary Geithner on Thursday, Senator Shelby also stated a desire to work toward a bipartisan bill. However, the letter also expresses concern that Chairman Dodd’s current draft fails to end the problem of “too big to fail” and “taxpayer bailouts.”