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Gargantuan financial reform bill: It's not just for banks

The financial reform bill awaiting final votes in the House and Senate encompasses everything from banking to insurance to African minerals used in high-tech gadgets. Is that a good thing?

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The financial reform bill that's two steps away from President Obama's signature has a gargantuan scope – reaching into banking and mortgages but also into other arenas unrelated to the 2008 financial crisis.

We're talking everything from the use of African minerals in high-tech gadgets to stock brokers' sales pitches.

To some critics, the result is an overbearing mish-mash of legislation that could do more harm than good. To supporters, it's a promising effort to bring America's financial rulebook into the 21st century.

Either way though, this is one big package.

The recently finalized legislation combines bills already passed in the House and Senate into what some financial-policy analysts say will be a roughly 1,500-page measure. The House and Senate need to give the final bill a vote of approval (with the razor-close Senate vote possibly delayed by the death Monday of Sen. Robert Byrd).

"The real strength of the bill is in the breadth of issues that it addresses," says Douglas Elliott, a bank-industry expert at the Brookings Institution, in a written analysis. "The financial crisis revealed flaws in a wide range of activities and this bill, largely shaped by the original Administration proposals, tackles most of them."

Mr. Elliott doesn't like every element of the bill. Probably no one does. But he argues that, although financial crises may not be wholly preventable, the reforms will make future banking troubles less severe.

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