U.S. regulators considering Plan B if Congress fails to act on crypto

Financial market regulators are considering steps they could take to rein in the crypto market if Congress doesn’t pass legislation, the head of Wall Street’s top derivatives regulator said. 

“In the absence of clear direction from Congress, which I know they’re working on, it’s our responsibility to work together and to come up with solutions to the extent that we’re able to within the authority that we currently have,” Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Rostin Behnam said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg News. 

Crypto firms have been looking for clarity on the regulations they should follow. Many have pushed for the CFTC to take on an expanded role — an idea backed by a recent bipartisan bill introduced in the House.

Rostin Behnam, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Currently, the regulator’s powers are limited to policing derivatives based on bitcoin and ether and investigating fraud or manipulation in underlying crypto markets. Meanwhile, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler has said he thinks most digital assets are securities that are subject to his agency’s rules. 

The two bodies haven’t reached any agreements on their respective roles should Congress fail to step in and draw clear jurisdictional lines, Behnam said. But the staffs are actively talking, he added. 

Tough enough?

Behnam rejected any notion that the CFTC would be friendlier toward the crypto industry than other financial regulators. 

“That is completely false, and that’s a bad narrative,” he said. “I’m as tough as anyone in this city, and our jurisdiction and our authority is as tough as anyone’s as well.”

The number of CFTC enforcement actions and settlements tied to crypto activities has steadily grown over the last several years. Between 2015 and 2021, the regulator filed charges against or settled with at least 30 firms involved in digital assets and levied fines and disgorgements totaling more than $787 million, according to a report from Solidus Labs. 

The CFTC is a “natural fit” to regulate more of the market, given its long track record of enforcement and overseeing crypto derivatives, Behnam said. 

“We have experts at the agency; we have a very robust understanding of the marketplace,” he said.

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