Calls for Crypto, Regulatory Reform Intensify in DC
Crypto is top of mind in a number of discussions on Capitol Hill despite the looming Christmas recess. Some of this is political theater played for the cameras, but the foundation of crypto regulation going forward is being laid out at this time, especially given the added political pressure of the public reactions to the FTX collapse.
Coindesk has the best summary of events so far this week.
The crypto industry is calling for U.S. regulations as the epic failures of FTX drag at the sector and most regulators say they can’t do the job without more powers from Congress. So far, a sound-and-fury campaign from lawmakers hasn’t yet signified a path forward.
The path will almost certainly depend on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, who concluded an FTX hearing Wednesday with a pointed question:
“Do you think crypto platforms could mostly comply with actual regulations?” he asked of witness Hilary Allen, a professor at American University’s law school who is a critic of the digital assets industry.
“No, I don’t,” she said. “And I think when they’re calling for regulator clarity, what they’re asking for actually is bespoke regulation that they can comply with.”
“Good answer,” he said.
Brown and other lawmakers in the hearing settled into the lanes the parties have established in the wake of FTX: Condemnation and suspicion of cryptocurrencies from Democrats, and an insistence from Republicans that the technology is innocent. But the hearing did little to signal what they might do about the industry next year, when crypto legislation is expected to really get rolling.
The chairman hinted that one priority may be in going after the structure of the big crypto firms, which routinely combine exchange, lending, custody and investing functions all under the same roof in ways that would be outlawed in the more closely regulated U.S. financial industry.
“If we are going to learn from FTX’s meltdown, we must look closely at the risks from conflicts at crypto platforms that combine multiple functions,” he said. “We can look to existing banking and securities laws for time-tested approaches.”
But Sen. Brown and other top regulators, such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have argued that the answer has to be a wider effort across the federal government. Such a legislative solution would likely involve debates in several committees next year and may take months to make significant progress.
Any action from the Democrat-controlled Senate will also have to mesh with the views of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives over the next two years. While the industry has enjoyed a period of some bipartisan sentiment, the drama around FTX may have widened the rift a bit, with committee members such as Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) questioning whether establishing regulations would give the industry too much credibility.
A number of Republican senators were no-shows at the FTX hearing, and the crypto views of Sen. Tim Scott, (R-S.C.), who is set to serve as the committee’s ranking Republican in the next congressional session, remain an open question. He’s replacing Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in that role, and Toomey has been one of the industry’s most reliable defenders on Capitol Hill.
Toomey, who is retiring from the Senate in the next couple of weeks, said the actions inside FTX seem to have been illegal and Bankman-Fried’s arrest in The Bahamas was no surprise to anybody, “with the possible exception of Mr. Bankman-Fried.” But he argued against blaming digital assets.
“There’s nothing intrinsically good or evil about software,” he said. “FTX and cryptocurrencies are not the same.”