The Senate on Thursday voted to impose tighter regulations on credit-rating agencies, which have been criticized for misjudging the risks of debt instruments at the core of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
By a vote of 64 to 35, the Senate added the measure to a sweeping rewrite of financial regulations that could pass next week.
The proposal would set up a government clearinghouse to assign firms like Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings to rate an issuer's debt.
Backers said the clearinghouse could remove the pressure on agencies to produce overly rosy ratings for the firms that currently hire them directly.
"There is a staggering conflict of interest facing the credit rating industry," Democratic Senator Al Franken said on the Senate floor.
The clearinghouse would be mostly comprised of big investors such as pension funds and endowments that rely on the accuracy of ratings for bonds they purchase.
It could give a chance for smaller ratings agencies to challenge the dominance of the top three firms.
The measure passed over the objections of Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, who is overseeing the financial rewrite.
He said the idea had merit but required further study to ensure that it would not have unintended consequences across the financial industry.
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