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One way Obama is tougher on banks than you know

Not all Europeans
Not all Europeans
Mahr Demokratie/Flickr

If you want a good small example of Democrats being less divided over banking than they're sometimes portrayed, you could do worse than to read this short Financial Times story about the US-EU dispute over whether or not financial services should be included in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) that's being negotiated. But the upshot of the story is that in a low-profile policy arena far from the glares of the cameras, the Obama administration is trying to stick up for tougher bank regulation.

The context is that the US and EU are trying to negotiate a free trade deal.

But since tariffs between the US and EU are already very low, it's not really a free trade deal in the traditional sense. Instead, it's an effort at regulatory harmonization. The idea is, roughly, to get a situation where a car or pill that's considered safe by Washington is also considered safe by Brussels.

European governments — and banks — want to extend this harmonization to the banking sector. The Obama administration doesn't want to because of the dispute over bank capital. Reducing how much money banks are allowed to borrow is a great way to reduce the risk of financial crisis but it also makes banks less profitable. Domestically, the Federal Reserve has pushed for a tougher bank capital standard than global regulators agreed to at the Basel III process. And the White House is trying to keep financial regulation out of TTIP for the sake of preserving that tougher stance.

None of that's to say that there are no intra-party disputes about bank regulation — obviously there are. But it underscores the reality that in a broad directional sense, Obama administration appointees are out there regularly skirmishing against the bank lobby on a variety of fronts.