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President Biden Vetoes Bill to Repeal SEC’s SAB 121, Upholding Crypto Regulation Standards



In a striking move that underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to maintaining stringent oversight of the burgeoning cryptocurrency sector, President Joe Biden has exercised his veto power against a bill that sought to nullify the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Staff Accounting Bulletin 121 (SAB 121). This decision comes in the wake of concerted efforts by both chambers of Congress to repeal the contentious guideline, which has been a hot topic of debate within the crypto community and beyond.

SAB 121, introduced by the SEC, has been at the center of controversy primarily because of its implications for how crypto custodial services are managed and accounted for. Specifically, the bulletin mandates that crypto custodial firms must report the digital assets they hold on behalf of clients as liabilities on their balance sheets. This requirement has raised concerns among stakeholders in the crypto industry, who argue that it could significantly deter banks from offering custodial services for cryptocurrencies, thereby stifling innovation and growth within the sector.

Despite these concerns, the SEC has consistently defended SAB 121 as a necessary measure to enhance transparency and protect investors. The Commission describes the bulletin as “non-binding staff guidance” aimed at improving disclosures to customers, thereby bolstering the financial regulatory framework for crypto-assets.

The legislative attempt to repeal SAB 121 garnered notable bipartisan support, with the House of Representatives passing the measure with a 229-183 vote. The Senate followed suit, approving the repeal with a 61-39 vote, signaling a rare moment of cross-party agreement on an issue related to cryptocurrency regulation. Notably, several Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined their Republican colleagues in supporting the motion.

However, President Biden’s veto sends a clear message about his administration’s stance on the regulation of the crypto sector. Addressing the U.S. House of Representatives, President Biden emphasized that his administration would not endorse measures that compromise the well-being of consumers and investors. He stressed the importance of implementing appropriate guardrails to safeguard these stakeholders while still allowing for the innovation and opportunities that crypto-assets can offer.

The White House further articulated its position, stating that limiting the SEC’s ability to regulate crypto-assets effectively would introduce “substantial financial instability and market uncertainty.” This assertion underlines the administration’s belief in the need for a robust regulatory framework to manage the risks associated with the rapidly evolving cryptocurrency market.

The President’s veto raises questions about the possibility of Congress overriding his decision, a scenario that would require a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. While the initial votes suggest substantial support for the repeal, achieving the necessary threshold to overturn a presidential veto presents a formidable challenge.

In the wake of the veto, reactions from the crypto community have been mixed. Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse expressed profound disappointment with the decision, highlighting its significance at a “pivotal time” for the industry. He criticized the administration’s approach to crypto regulation and called for a reevaluation of the leadership within the SEC, specifically targeting Gary Gensler for criticism.

As the debate over SAB 121 and the broader regulation of the crypto sector continues, the implications of President Biden’s veto are far-reaching. It underscores the administration’s commitment to consumer and investor protection in the face of technological innovation and market evolution. However, it also highlights the ongoing tensions between regulatory authorities and the crypto industry, as stakeholders on both sides grapple with finding the right balance between regulation and innovation.

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