WASHINGTON -- Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair is pushing back against key pillars of the Obama administration's financial overhaul plan, saying they wouldn't survive in Congress and calling her own alternatives more viable.
Bair said Congress won't approve two major parts of the package: Expanding the Federal Reserve's authority to regulate the largest financial companies and giving a proposed new consumer protection agency examination and enforcement powers over banks.
Such authority now belongs to her agency and other bank regulators. "There's a lot of resistance from a lot of different quarters to a lot of the things the administration has submitted," Bair said Thursday. "That is a reality the administration needs to deal with."
Bair said alternatives she has backed would "provide a framework that can actually get through Congress." Her ideas include empowering a new agency to protect consumers from abusive mortgage and credit card products -- but having bank supervisors enforce those rules. She said she supports "90 percent" of what the administration has proposed. But on giving the new agency enforcement powers, she said, "I just don't think that works."
Bair's statements highlight Treasury's uphill struggle to sell the administration's proposed financial overhaul to Congress and the public. Since the plan was rolled out in June, industry groups have balked at rules they say will burden companies and raise borrowers' costs. Bank industry lobbyists are leading the charge against major parts of the plan.
Congress has objected to concentrating more power in the Fed. Critics say the central bank failed to properly use its consumer protection authority before the crisis erupted. Bair and other federal regulators have voiced their own opposition to parts of the plan.
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has questioned the need to create a consumer financial agency that would strip the central bank of some of its duties. Bernanke has said he thinks oversight of consumer protection should stay with the Fed.
In response to such resistance, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has angrily demanded that regulators line up behind the plan -- even though Treasury has no authority over independent agencies such as the FDIC, the Fed and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Bair says she's raising legitimate policy questions. As head of an independent regulatory agency, she said she has a duty to tell Congress her opinion.