September 27, 2016
WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of senators is pushing to include municipal bonds in bank-safety rules, the latest wrinkle in a continuing fight over how safe—and salable—the debt of states and localities would be in another financial crisis.
Sens. Mark Warner (D., Va.), Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) are set to introduce legislation on municipal bonds this week, according to Senate aides. The bill aims to open the door for big U.S. banks to count municipal bonds as liquid assets under rules completed in 2014 that were designed to ensure Wall Street firms have enough cash during a crisis to fund their operations for 30 days.
The Senate legislation would place municipal bonds on the lowest rung of the “high quality liquid assets” category. That means they would be treated on par with corporate bonds, but not as favorably as under related legislation approved by the House early this year.
“We must ensure a continued and reliable access to capital markets for our local governments,” Mr. Warner said in a written statement. “This legislation represents a compromise that achieves that while appropriately balancing concerns for the long term stability of our financial system.”
The rules, slated to go into effect next year, are aimed at making banks hold more cash or securities that are easy to sell. The Federal Reserve and two other bank regulators had originally decided debt issued by states and localities didn’t make the cut—prompting a backlash from banks, lawmakers and states and localities who warned the move would make the bonds less attractive and raise borrowing costs for municipalities.
The Fed completed amendments in April to allow some investment-grade municipal bonds to qualify. But the two other regulators involved in the rules—the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.—haven’t followed suit.
Aides to Senate lawmakers say their bill was scaled back from the House version to gain broad support for it in the Senate, though it is unclear if there is sufficient time in the remaining year to advance the bill.