Crypto implosion hastens push to clamp down

Increased oversight: A cryptocurrency ATM is seen in a convenience store in Miami, Florida. Calls for a legislative fix have grown louder in the United States in the wake of the spectacular crash of TerraUSD. — AFP

WASHINGTON: As a popular digital currency crumbled this month, two unlikely allies in the United States Senate stepped up their campaign to bring regulation to the US$1.3 trillion (RM5.7 trillion) crypto market.

Cynthia Lummis, a conservative Republican from a Wyoming ranching family and Kirsten Gillibrand, a moderate Democrat from Albany, New York, aren’t supposed to get along – let alone work together.

But with Washington riven by deep partisan division, they have bonded over one thing: crypto needing new rules.

The duo are planning to release a draft of their proposal as soon as next week that aims to prevent crises like the recent blowup of the TerraUSD stablecoin and settle some of the bureaucratic turf battles that have hobbled oversight.

It’s a congressional election year in America, so it’s hard to say that a bill will become law, but their plan is already garnering a lot of attention.

Lummis, an enthusiast who first bought bitcoin in 2013 at the urging of her son-in-law, isn’t the obvious choice to lead a clampdown.

But, in a recent interview from her office in the US Capitol complex, she laid out a case for bringing clarity to an industry that’s grown to levels of once unimaginable complexity and risk.

She described her partnership with Gillibrand, a securities lawyer by trade, as crucial to that effort.

“Her enthusiasm and passion for it – plus the fact that, being a New Yorker, she’s from such a significant and important financial centre – made her, like, the perfect partner,” said Lummis, 67.

Washington’s efforts to oversee digital assets date back to the Obama administration but remain scatter-shot, rife with holes and overlapping jurisdictions.

Calls for a legislative fix grew louder this month in the wake of the spectacular crash of TerraUSD, also called UST.

The collapse of the algorithmic stablecoin triggered a week-long sell-off that slashed the value of the overall cryptocurrency market by hundreds of billions of dollars.

“All the ups and downs of the market have confirmed why our regulatory framework is best,” Gillibrand, 55, said of the bill, seated in her private Capitol Hill “hideaway” office, a few steps away from the Senate floor. “Actually, it emphasised the importance of getting this done now.”

Some details remain in flux, but at a high level the senators’ plan would give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission significantly more power than it currently has.

The regulator would directly oversee trading in tokens that meet the definition of a commodity, such as bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency.

Currently its jurisdiction is mainly tied to derivatives.

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would police coins that are used to raise money from the public like a stock offering would.

It’s unclear whether those turf lines will satisfy some crypto diehards who want to free the asset class from the reach of the SEC’s onerous investor protections.

Their plan would also significantly increase oversight of tokens like UST, which currently exist in a regulatory grey area.

The bill would require stablecoins, regardless of their setup, to keep 100% reserves on hand and maintain a one-to-one peg with those assets, according to Gillibrand’s office.

Stablecoins would be primarily overseen by banking regulators.

An advisory body would also be arranged to study and make recommendations for regulating future developments in the crypto market.

The legislation would also exempt people from having to report and pay taxes when they make purchases using cryptocurrency if their resulting capital gains are US$600 (RM2,633) or less.

Some argue that would make it more attractive to actually use digital currencies to pay at a checkout counter. — Bloomberg

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