House panel advances bill to overhaul Dodd-Frank financial reforms

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Washington, D.C.-, May 4, 2017 | comments

After nearly 23 hours of debate, House lawmakers on Thursday advanced one of President Trump's top promises to dismantle the "horrendous" Dodd-Frank financial regulations that were put in place during the Obama administration.

The House Financial Services Committee voted 34 to 26 along party lines, passing the Financial Choice Act, a Republican bill to undo the 2010 financial reform law. GOP lawmakers blame the Dodd-Frank regulations for choking U.S. economic growth and crimping lending by banks.

The bill crafted by Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the panel, cleared the committee despite vehement objections by Democrats to preserve the sweeping law aimed at preventing another financial crisis and protecting American consumers.

Minority lawmakers accused the GOP of having amnesia about the factors that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. They argued Hensarling's bill would gut consumer protections and allow banks to make risky investments that required taxpayers to come to the rescue of the nation's largest financial institutions almost a decade earlier.

"It's an invitation for another Great Recession or worse," Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the panel, said during this week's markup of the bill.

The 2010 law forced U.S. banks to hold much higher capital, craft a plan to unwind safely in the event of failure and to undergo a yearly 'stress test' to ensure they could continue to lend even in the face of a financial meltdown.

Hensarling's bill would create an alternative path for banks to bypass a number of tougher restrictions under the law, if they meet a certain measure of bank capital.

Republicans criticize the Dodd-Frank regulations as the primary driver for anemic economic growth in the U.S. -- a point Democrats repeatedly refuted during the hearing, arguing there is weak evidence to back up the GOP's claim.

"When Dodd-Frank was passed nearly seven years ago, Americans were promised it would lift the economy," said Hensarling. "Instead, we've had the slowest and weakest recovery of our lifetimes."

GOP lawmakers argue the 2010 law enshrines too-big-to-fail, paving the way for future taxpayer bailouts of the country's biggest banks. They also argue the cost of regulations have burdened community banks, resulting in a number of institutions being forced to shutter.

"It's a real problem because those community financial institutions are the backbone of our economy," Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky said during the markup.

Hensarling's bill would give the president the power to fire the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a consumer watchdog agency created under Dodd-Frank, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at any time for any -- or no -- reason.

It also gives Congress purview over the CFPB's budget, meaning lawmakers could de-fund the agency entirely.

The GOP proposal would also bar the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from overseeing the so-called living will process, which requires banks to write up plans on how they would safely be unwound in the event of a collapse. The FDIC and the Fed are the two regulators responsible for overseeing this requirement under the 2010 law.

Democrats introduced 18 amendments to Hensarling's bill, including preserving the consumer watchdog's funding and maintaining the agency's ability to go after predatory lenders that take advantage of customers. None of their amendments were added to the Republican bill.

The bill now goes to the House floor for full consideration. And while it's unlikely the Texas Republican's bill would become law, his plan will likely help shape the regulatory landscape under President Trump.

Trump has pledged to "do a big number" on the post-crisis rules. He's already directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to conduct a review to identify regulations that are burdensome to businesses and stifling economic growth.

Throughout the three-day hearing, Democrats blasted Hensarling's nearly 600-page plan as "immoral," calling it "poisonous" and "a deeply misguided" piece of legislation that would bring harm to American families and come to the rescue of Wall Street.

"The bill is rotten to the core, and simply carries water for Trump and his buddies on Wall Street," said Waters.

Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said the bill would take the American financial system back to the "regulatory Stone Age," adding it is a "middle finger to consumers, regulators, investors and the market," which drew soft gasps from Republican lawmakers in the hearing room.

Republican lawmakers rushed to rebuke Democrat's statements on the bill, referring to them as "hyperbole."

"The real middle finger to the American people is the lack of recovery because of Dodd-Frank," said Bill Huizenga of Michigan. The Republican lawmaker said small businesses have been "stuck between surviving and growing" without access to liquidity in the market.

French Hill, a Republican lawmaker from Arkansas, made the case the GOP bill is "not about deregulation, but about rightsizing regulation" given the number of necessary changes to relieve the regulatory burden on community banks.

Democrats signaled a willingness to work on a bipartisan basis on a community bank relief bill, but asked Hensarling to break up his sweeping legislation to focus on smaller-sized institutions.

"I ask you to focus on small banks and make those improvements," said Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado.

Content originally published by CNN Money on May 4, 2017.
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