Regulators battered by Dodd-Frank deadlines

It's not easy being a regulator these days, especially in the foamy wake of the Dodd-Frank Act's tsunami crashing ashore at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (we island dwellers are authorized to use maritime analogies). Congress (remember them?) told the CFTC to create scores of new rules by July 16 (two days after the hang-over from Bastille Day, by the way). That is exactly 360 days after the 200+ page tome was enacted (I will leave it to numerologists to explain that).

Setting aside the fact that the deadline confirms Congress' oblivion to the amount of work involved, our legislators delayed the necessary funding and, for distraction, ran a virtual shuttle service between the CFTC and various Hill hearing rooms to grill CFTC leaders relentlessly on why more was not being accomplished. Or why the CFTC was not heeding fully the wisdom of banks, hedge funds and swap users that saw Armageddon in each rule proposal.

When it became obvious many weeks ago that the July 16 drop-dead date was an impossibility, a one-line amendment to Dodd-Frank extending the deadline would have been a solution that any fifth-grade civics student might suggest. Instead, a crisis was manufactured that required the CFTC to use its own wits.

Which it has. In a twist of irony, the agency has concluded that the lack of rules means that key parts of the new law would be jibberish without, say, rules defining key terms. Why, we won't know what a "swap" is until the CFTC finishes defining it. Implementing a registration regime for "swap dealers" without clarifying the first term, for instance, could subsume unintended targets - even the Congress itself (just let them try to deny that they swap and deal all the time!).

But muddle through we must, and will. It is a very steep climb, thanks to Congress. After all, the place is not called "the Hill" for nothing.

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