Financial overhaul added to Obama’s list

By Jeannine Aversa

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama isn’t president yet, but his must-do list just got longer.

The newest addition to the lengthy list of tasks after taking office: helping oversee the overhaul of the world’s financial regulatory system. That is one of the assignments to the president-elect from current global leaders after their weekend summit, where they pledged action to avoid a repeat of the financial mess that has caused worldwide economic chaos.

"Obama has a tall order," said Morris Goldstein, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who spent years working at the International Monetary Fund, the world’s financial firefighter.


That will put a lot of pressure on Obama. He did not participate in the emergency two-day summit that concluded Saturday, instead sending representatives to meet with leaders on the sidelines.

After taking the oath of office Jan. 20, Obama will have to figure out in short order how far his administration is willing to go in revamping oversight of financial companies and products, in the United States and abroad, and nailing down the crucial details.

"Obama has an incredible mountain to climb in the way of the economic and financial situation," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

President George W. Bush hosted the summit, where nearly two dozen foreign leaders endorsed broad goals to fend off any future calamities and to revive the global economy.

It will be up to finance ministers to flesh out the details to put such changes in place by the end of March. Leaders plan to hold the next summit by April 30 — just months into Obama’s term.

"I think this puts Obama and a new administration in a very difficult position," said Steven Schrage, a former Bush administration trade official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It’s really going to be up to the next administration to figure, do they breathe life into this? Does this go forward? Do they take it in a different direction?"

All the while, the new president will be under immense pressure to bring relief to millions of Americans who have watched jobs disappear, nest eggs shrink, home values plunge, foreclosures zoom upward and banks — along with storied Wall Street firms — laid low by the financial and economic crises.


The president-elect himself did not weigh in after the summit about whether he agreed with the thrust of the leaders’ broad goals. But he indicated the global gathering was a good idea because "our global economic crisis requires a coordinated global response," he said Saturday.

Translating the leaders’ sweeping principles into specific actions will be difficult. "That’s the rub. That’s where you really see the differences across countries in what you want to do," Goldstein said. "In the coming months, we’ll see to what extent Obama’s agenda will conflict with the Europeans."

Leaders pledged to make the global financial system more accountable to investors and less vulnerable to risky investing. But there are sure to be differences of opinion on exactly how to accomplish that, which could impede progress at the next summit in the spring.

To provide relief from the current woes, the leaders supported the benefits of enacting government spending plans to stimulate their economies. But they stopped short of a commitment for all to act at the same time, as some Europeans had favored.

The Bush administration has reacted coolly to the idea of a second U.S. stimulus plan.

For Wall Street, the leaders’ talk about ways to provide relief probably will be of more importance than efforts to prevent another financial fiasco, experts said. Even without new concrete commitments for government spending, tax cuts or interest rate reductions, the fact that leaders came together to address the crisis and did not let it become a blame game should help bolster some confidence on Wall Street, according to Goldstein, Yamarone and others.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, appearing on CNN’s "Late Edition" on Sunday, warned against the making any new financial rules of the road too restrictive.

"There is an inclination, when you get into problems like this to go to an extreme, to over-regulate, to think that we’re going to have a worldwide compensation system. How is that going to be done? I think we have to be careful, we have to find a balance and we can’t over regulate so that five years from now we’re trying to claw our way back because we overdid it," he said.


And former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who championed deregulation during his years on Capitol Hill, said in an interview published Sunday: "There is this idea afloat that if you had more regulation you would have fewer mistakes. I don’t see any evidence in our history or anybody else’s to substantiate it."

Gramm told The New York Times, "The markets have worked better than you might have thought."

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