GOP Budget Cuts Leave Agencies Too Broke To Police Wall Street, Top Regulators Tell Congress

CFTC head Gary Gensler (left) and SEC chief Mary Schapiro

Two of the nation’s top financial regulatory agencies don’t have enough funding to competently regulate the Wall Street banks they oversee, top regulatory officials told the Senate Banking Committee yesterday. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) both took on new regulatory responsibilities under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, but multiple rounds of Republican-led budget cuts aimed at neutering the new law have left them without sufficient funding to carry out those mandates.

As a result, the agencies are “outgunned” by the Wall Street banks they oversee, SEC head Mary Schapiro and CFTC head Gary Gensler told the committee Tuesday, the Huffington Post reports:

We’re way underfunded at the CFTC,” Gensler told lawmakers, after a question on the subject from Senator Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.). “Imagine if, all of a sudden, there are eight times the number of teams on the [football] field, but only seven refs,” Gensler said. “There would be would be mayhem on the field. The fans would lose confidence.”

SEC chief Schapiro echoed the point: “We’ve been asked to take on very significant new responsibilities,” she said. Though the SEC has made progress in hiring new staffers and improving its technological capabilities, Schapiro conceded that, in some areas, the efforts haven’t gone far enough.

As ThinkProgress noted in January, adequately funding the CFTC and SEC is imperative to successfully implementing new regulations and policing Wall Street. Republicans oppose those efforts and have repeatedly pushed for cuts to the agencies’ budgets. “The less we fund those agencies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last June, “the better America will be.”

The SEC is funded by fees paid by banks, not by taxpayers, so cuts to its budget won’t affect the federal deficit. But it is prohibited from collecting more in fees than it is allocated in the budget, so the $225 million cut Republicans pushed last year amounts to a massive giveaway to Wall Street, which will save exactly that amount.

As the 2008 financial crisis demonstrated, failure to police Wall Street can have perilous consequences for American taxpayers and the economy. But when one party’s purpose, as Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) said last year, is to “serve the banks,” preventing another such fiasco is apparently of little matter.