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Any questions about why financial reform legislation must have strict provisions for enforcement not left up to the discretion of the so-called “regulators” should be cleared up by David Heath’s extensive piece at the Huffington Post about incompetence, corruption, and regulatory capture at Washington Mutual:

“A recent Senate inquiry offered a rare peek into the secret world of bank examiners. What it revealed was that regulators had stopped regulating.

In the case of Washington Mutual, regulators found all sorts of trouble, from lax lending standards to high delinquency rates on loans, and yet failed to prevent the biggest bank failure in history.

Starting in 2003, examiners for the Office of Thrift Supervision found 545 problems at the bank. But the agency left it up to WaMu to track its own compliance with examiners’ recommendations, and took no formal action against the bank until it was too late.

[…]

A central lesson from the failure of Washington Mutual was that a system set up to prevent what happened utterly failed. For all the talk of reform, Congress isn’t addressing the problem of regulators who fail to do their job.

Regulators routinely deferred to bankers and market forces and engaged in petty squabbles over who had authority over the bank. So the question now is: Can Congress fix ineffective regulators themselves?

[…]

OTS’s own fortunes were heavily tied to Washington Mutual’s. The bank paid fees that amounted to 15 percent of OTS’s budget – more than any other financial institution under its watch. So it was in the OTS’s interest to make sure WaMu survived as a thrift, a bank that specializes in home mortgages.”

Can Congress fix it? Yes they can. Will they? Ay, there’s the rub.

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