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Lincoln Amendment or Bust

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It looks like the fate of financial reform will get decided on Friday. There have been so many ups and downs in this effort. We've lost so many battles over crucial parts of the bill. It was never that tough to begin with; there are issues with capitalization requirements; there isn't enough control of leverage; the Franken amendment reforming rating agencies should have never been removed. And the list goes on and on (though apparently we have had some recent victories as well).

Despite all of these losses, I'm ready to take half a loaf ... if - and this is a big if - we get to keep the Lincoln amendment on derivatives. It can't be watered down at all. It has to be the real deal. But if that is still in the bill then I think it would be worth voting for - and a real accomplishment for the Democrats.

I have always maintained that complex derivatives were the primary cause of the financial collapse. It's one thing for one bet to go wrong (the subprime market), it's another to have a hundred bets on top of that original bet all go wrong at the same time.

If the banks can't use depositor money as collateral for their betting and they don't get backed up by taxpayers on those bets, then they are free to win or lose them all they like. I have never cared how much profits or losses the banks had, as long as they didn't get the money from us.

I know the Lincoln amendment isn't perfect either and the rest of the bill doesn't have enough restrictions on derivatives (I would ban naked CDS's all together, like Europe is considering). But I'll take this as good starting point. At least the derivatives trading would be split off from taxpayer backed funds and deposits.

I'm afraid if we don't do real financial reform and in a hurry, we are almost certainly headed toward another economic catastrophe. And I'm not sure this bill alone would help us steer away from it. But if the Lincoln amendment passes at least we have fighting chance. Without it, the bill is a joke meant to placate you until the next collapse.

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