House Set to Pass Bill That Rips Up Post-Crisis Bank Rules

House Republicans are poised to make headway on President Donald Trump’s pledge to dismantle post-crisis financial rules by passing a sweeping bill Thursday that rips up major aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act.

But the legislation — called the Financial Choice Act — has little chance of winning approval in the Senate in its current form.

Senate Democrats, whose votes will probably be needed to pass the bill, have repeatedly said they have little interest in revisiting Obama-era constraints on Wall Street that were meant to make the financial system safer. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell laid out the difficult task ahead by saying he’s pessimistic Congress will revamp Dodd-Frank anytime soon.

The bill, sponsored by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, represents Republicans’ most aggressive effort to ease regulations that the president blames for stifling lending and economic growth.

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The legislation is part of the deregulatory agenda that has swept through Washington since Trump’s election win. In the coming days, the Treasury Department is expected to release a report that will add to the push by laying out recommendations for cutting back what Republicans see as red tape that was wrapped around banks after the 2008 crash.

At a press conference yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called Hensarling’s bill “the crown jewel” of Republican efforts to revamp regulations toward a goal of “creating good-paying jobs and getting back to real economic growth.”

But the Senate presents a formidable hurdle. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, said in an interview Thursday that he plans to craft his own legislation, and will seek input from the Trump administration and Senate Democrats.

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“The Choice Act is a very solid piece of legislation that will also be a part of what we consider,” Crapo said.

Democratic Criticism

The Senate Banking Committee’s top Democrat, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, has struck a more critical tone. In a statement yesterday, he called Hensarling’s legislation a dangerous plan that will “put taxpayers back on the hook for Wall Street’s greed and recklessness.” 

Brown’s opposition likely means any deal Crapo can strike with Democrats won’t include some of the most ambitious elements of the House bill, like gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog created to shield consumers from lending abuses. Instead, making small tweaks to Dodd-Frank, such as providing relief for community banks, is more probable.

Hensarling, speaking to reporters in Washington Thursday, said Crapo could try to attach changes to Dodd-Frank to a must-pass bill, such as legislation that funds the government. Hensarling, a Texas Republican, said another option is breaking his legislation up and trying to pass specific provisions independently.

Bank Resistance

Ironically, one group that isn’t a fan of everything in Hensarling’s bill is Wall Street. To be freed from some rules, the legislation requires banks to raise hundreds of billions of dollars in new capital.

Hensarling also wants to do away with what’s known as Dodd-Frank’s orderly liquidation authority, which empowers regulators to wind down banks should they run into trouble. While Republicans argue that that part of the law didn’t resolve the fact that some Wall Street lenders remain too-big-to-fail, investors appreciate that it laid out a plan to prevent a collapsed bank from spreading contagion through out the financial system.

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Aspects of Hensarling’s bill that do have financial-industry backing: Its reduction in the frequency of burdensome exams that test whether banks can endure another crisis and its repeal of the Volcker Rule, which restricted banks from making speculative market bets with their own capital. The legislation also scraps the so-called fiduciary rule, which imposes tough standards on brokers by requiring them to put their customers’ interests ahead of their own when handling retirement accounts.

Plan B

Because getting a bill through the Senate is so challenging, some Republicans have discussed trying to revamp Dodd-Frank via a complicated budget process known as reconciliation that doesn’t require support from Democrats.

The strategy, which is already being used to go after Obamacare, requires Republicans to show that provisions in Dodd-Frank are a strain on federal spending. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the 2010 law’s orderly-liquidation authority regulators’ would save the government $14.5 billion.

The bill is H.R. 10.