Senate Showdown Over Too Big to Fail

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Sunday, April 18, 2010

Democrats and Republicans disagree on the methods to prevent future emergency bailouts.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

In the wake of a major government fraud case against Goldman Sachs, the Obama administration and Senate Democrats are poised to forge a consensus this week on a sweeping overhaul of financial regulations. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner declared yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Democrats and some Republicans "are very close on this," and suggested that the Securities and Exchange Commission's civil suit last week, charging Goldman Sachs with selling investors a subprime mortgage investment designed to lose value, might provide added impetus for the financial regulatory legislation.

As Senate leaders and the White House attempt to push legislation that responds to the lessons of the global financial crisis, perhaps the single most important question will be whether they can successfully address the potential damage from financial institutions deemed "too big to fail."

It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and near-death of American International Group (AIG) and other major banks and institutions that prompted unprecedented government intervention in the financial markets in the fall of 2008. As Senate negotiators and the administration exchange ideas this week on the final shape of a financial regulatory reform package, Democrats and Republicans agree on the essential goal of preventing future emergency bailouts, but they disagree markedly on the methods.

The Return

This story was originally published by the Washington Post Magazine on Sunday, April 4, 2010, in conjunction with an online discussion.

A stay at home mom attempts to go back to work after nearly two decades. Can she revive her career?

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Amy Beckett put away her reading glasses and file folder and stood up.

It was time. It was almost past time.

She tossed the empty paper cup into the trash and swung open the door to leave the deli on Rhode Island Avenue NW. As Beckett walked into an upscale office lobby, her scarf slipped from around her neck and drifted to the ground. She scooped it up and shoved it into her shoulder bag. She didn't want to arrive late for the job interview.

She handed the security guard a photo ID. Once in the elevator, she looked up at the ceiling and exhaled noisily. "I'm never doing this again," she said, closing her jade-colored eyes for a moment. At the seventh floor, she opened the heavy wooden door to Suite 713, identified in gold lettering as the Law Offices of Stephen H. Marcus. The suite's unique double doors, parquet floor and crown molding signaled its former life as the ticket office for EL AL Airlines. The receptionist looked up from her desk with a smile. She took Beckett's business card and said it would be a few moments until Marcus finished with a client.

With her back straight in a modern brown chair by the door, Beckett folded her hands over the bag on her knees and waited. It was March of last year, three days after she had turned 52 and 17 years since she'd last held a job.

Sue the debt collector

This article was originally published by MSN Money, on Monday, March 29, 2010

Federal law sets clear limits on what debt collectors can do. If their tactics go beyond those limits, you can win money -- and it's a surprisingly easy process.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

If you're overdue on your bills, you may know all too well the headaches of phone calls, letters and threats from creditors.

Now some debtors are hitting back by suing when debt collectors violate their rights.

"People will take a lot of crap until it gets to the point where they're so desperate they feel they have nothing to lose by fighting back," said Steven Katz of Tucson, Ariz. Katz is the founder of Debtorboards, where consumers post their frustrations and successes with the collection industry.

Suing is a surprisingly easy process. Federal law lets individuals receive $1,000 for each abuse of their rights, plus any damages or attorney fees. Sometimes, a single phone call from a collector involves multiple violations.

Consumer Financial Protection Plan Divides Congress

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Thursday, March 25, 2010.

Democrats want a watchdog to protect consumers from reckless practices, but Republicans say regulation would be costly and inefficient.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

When it comes to overhauling financial regulations, Democrats and Republicans have much to fight over: how best to rein in the derivatives market, establish bank takeover procedures, curb executive pay and end government bailouts of mismanaged institutions deemed "too big to fail."

But as the Senate prepares to debate a bill next month aimed at preventing the behavior that led to one of the worst financial crises in U.S. history, perhaps the most contentious measure is one that would create a regulator devoted to protecting consumers from unscrupulous or reckless practices.

President Obama and House and Senate Democratic leaders believe the proposal is a no-brainer. Unless an independent regulator is looking out for consumers, they say, any financial regulatory reform will fail to prevent the kind of risky behavior and predatory business practices that fostered the 2008 financial meltdown.