A all-star panel of American business and government leaders pushed Tuesday for a rollback in regulations they say are necessary to keep U.S. financial markets from falling behind the rest of the world.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox moderated panels that included investor Warren Buffett; former Federal Reserve chairmen Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker; New York Stock Exchange CEO John Thain; former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase and General Electric.
The easements being discussed include giving the SEC the authority to exempt some companies, especially smaller firms and overseas companies, from some aspects of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the wake of the accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom.
Most of the early panel participants said they weren't looking for a widespread rollback of the post-Enron rules, but criticized the rules for producing significant costs to companies.
"Most of my friends are not overly happy, but to some degree they've brought it on themselves," said Buffett.
Buffett said that as a CEO "we are doing a lot of things I regard as unnecessary."
The Chamber of Commerce’s proposed blueprint also argues that global companies are choosing to list on overseas markets rather than U.S. exchanges, a trend that poses a risk to the U.S. economy long term.
The chamber proposal also called on corporate America to make changes in the way it does business, including no longer issuing quarterly earnings guidance, in order to move away from a focus on short-term results rather than long-term strategic moves and investments.
It also called for changes in the structure of 401(k) plans and other employer-based investments to make it easier for American workers to invest for retirement.
But the proposals from the chamber did not include any of the corporate governance issues being pushed by some shareholder rights groups such as changes in the way that directors are elected or the ability of shareholders to challenge executive pay or other compensation.
And the chamber's proposal to limit some legal liability for corporations and their outside auditors was quickly attacked Monday by plaintiff lawyers.
The executives on the panel also voiced concern about the role of outside auditors post-Enron and the demands on the audit committees of corporate boards.
"Once upon a time there was a thing called independent auditors and they were relied upon," said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt.
He said that the legal action against former accounting firm Arthur Andersen has made auditors apply rules too strictly without any consideration of what would give the most accurate picture of a company's results.