By Todd Ruger
The first presidential debate Wednesday night stuck mainly to detailed discussions on the economy and health care, but one of the more lively exchanges involved the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
The discussion highlights how the financial services industry — and the many top law firms that represent those banks — could face drastically different futures depending on whether President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins the election.
Romney made clear he would “repeal and replace” the sweeping changes required in Dodd-Frank, but left the door open for some elements of the law to remain, because regulations are “essential” for businesses. “There's some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world,” he said.
But Romney said the ongoing two-year process to implement the law was slowing the economic recovery, and criticized the law for designating five big banks as “too big to fail.”
Romney added that the unclear rules on what defines a qualified mortgage has made banks reluctant to make mortgages. "It's hurt the housing market because Dodd-Frank didn't anticipate putting in place the kinds of regulations you have to have," Romney said. "It's not that Dodd-Frank always was wrong with too much regulation. Sometimes they didn't come out with a clear regulation."
Obama countered by describing how Wall Street’s actions had caused many of the problems with the economy, then, addressing the television cameras, asked if anyone thought that too much regulation of Wall Street helped cause the economic crisis.
"If you do, than Governor Romney is your candidate," Obama said.
Obama also criticized Romney for not providing details regarding exactly how he would replace Dodd-Frank, and touted the law as including the toughest reforms of how Wall Street conducts its business since the 1930s.
The candidates also clashed on how they would deal with partisan gridlock in Congress, which has gotten the blame for stalling judicial nominations and causing high number of vacancies on the federal bench.
Romney said he had been the Republican governor of Massachusetts when the state legislature was 87 percent Democrat. He said he would sit down with leaders from both parties the day after he is elected and on a weekly basis to find common ground.
“We need to have leadership in Washington that will bring people together,” Romney said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”
Obama said his philosophy has been to take ideas from anybody, “as long as they are advancing middle class interests.”
“Ultimately, part of being principled is being able to describe what you’re going to do, not just say, ‘I’ll sit down,’ but to have a plan,” Obama said.
The candidates talked extensively about the Affordable Care Act, which Obama said he was comfortable now being referred to as “Obamacare,” but avoided discussion of the Supreme Court’s extensive decision this year on the topic.