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Week Three: Highlights of the Hill - A Fly On the Wall

A hush falls over the chamber as Chairman Frank knocks his gavel against the table. “The conference will now reconvene,” he says. Sitting a few feet away, I nervously glance towards the TV cameras which, by the request of the conferees, are covering the Conference Committee on Financial Reform. The House and Senate chairs of the Banking and Financial services committees are in conference to debate final points on Wall Street reform. On the docket tonight, the contentious Volker Rule—which would limit banks and other financial companies from betting with either Fed or taxpayer dollars on risky derivatives trading. The House’s version of the bill banned derivatives trading for financial institutions with their own assets—a move which the Senate disagrees with because they believe that it would drive derivatives trading overseas, away from the watchful eyes of US regulators. A few minutes later, Chairman Frank calls yet another recess, stating that the House needs time to review the Senate’s counter-offer on language for the legislation. Staffers hustle about, quiet side conversations fill the air, and I can’t help but eavesdrop. It is a privilege to even be in this room—especially as conference committees are only convened about once every ten years. Flavio pounds away on his Blackberry, flurries of emails flying between him, staffers in the room, and unseen collaborators who are scrambling to reach a consensus on language before the official counting of votes. Around 6:45pm, I pack up and meet Flavio in the hallway and tell him that I am going home. I am exhausted from running back and forth from the House to Senate sides all day for the committee. Although I should have stayed longer—the conference ran well into the wee hours of the morning—I can still say that I was there. I was a fly on the wall in the committee which determined how Wall Street will do business and hopefully stave off another collapse of global financial markets in the future.