Obama set to unveil ‘too big to fail’ plans

The Obama administration plans to unveil on Monday a new plan for dealing with troubled financial giants, said a senior U.S. lawmaker, who also mentioned potentially big changes for the insurance industry.

Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a chief architect of the financial regulation overhaul, declined on Friday to give details on the administration’s new bill, which would give the government the power to dismantle large financial companies that get into crises.

The new draft bill is expected to take a tougher stance toward troubled financial firms than the administration’s original plan, and may take out some language that would allow for temporary bailouts.

Giving the government “resolution authority” would serve as a rebuttal to the concept that some firms are too big to fail. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday highlighted the need for this authority as well as other measures to reduce the likelihood that one firm could destabilize the financial system.

Frank also said Congress is discussing whether to create an optional federal charter for insurers.

Insurance companies are currently regulated by the states.

“If we do get into national chartering it will be in life insurance … and maybe large commercial entities,” Frank said during remarks to a banking symposium.

He said lawmakers would not likely try to federally regulate property and casualty insurers, however.

Frank’s committee has cranked its efforts to overhaul financial regulation into high gear in recent days.

On Thursday it voted to approve legislation that would create a federal financial consumer watchdog. It has also passed new rules to police over-the-counter derivatives like the credit default swaps that helped fuel the financial crisis, and the full House has approved efforts to curb abusive pay practices.

While Frank’s committee has made significant headway, the reform effort faces an uncertain future in the Senate and may be pushed into next year.

One idea that does seem to be gaining steam in the Senate is the move to consolidate all federal banking supervision into one super agency. Currently, four regulators share responsibility.

Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is a leading advocate of the consolidation, and has said he will push it forward despite regulators’ reservations.

Frank, however, does not think it will pass.

“There is no remote chance of it happening,” he said.

He said lawmakers will likely merge the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, but allow the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp to keep their supervisory roles.

Frank also commented on the rulings of pay czar Kenneth Feinberg, who on Thursday slashed compensation for many of the top earners at seven firms that have received billions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

“I think he did a good job,” he said.

On the same day that Feinberg released his rulings for the seven firms, the Federal Reserve revealed its own pay guidelines to encompass a larger chunk of financial firms.

The Fed’s bank pay guidelines, while not specific, are designed to curb forms of compensation that entice employees to take large risks.

Frank said the Fed’s guidelines should have a large impact and said Congress is working to finalize legislation that would clarify that the Fed does have the authority to closely police pay.