House Republicans are launching an aggressive effort to undo regulations put in place under President Barack Obama to rein in Wall Street, potentially offering the industry sweeping relief from dozens of rules.
The nearly 600-page draft legislation, known as the Financial Choice Act 2.0, takes aim at several critical portions of 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act, including weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and ditching rules that restrict banks’ ability to make risky financial bets.
“Dodd-Frank failed to keep its promises to the American people, but we will work with President Trump to follow through on his promise to dismantle Dodd-Frank,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.
Hensarling has been working on the legislation for more than a year and initially introduced a version last year. But under the Obama administration the rollback did not have much chance of being signed into law and the effort largely stalled. Now, President Trump has made regulatory relief a priority and has promised several times to “do a number” on Dodd-Frank, giving Hensarling’s legislative efforts new life.
The Financial Services Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the bill next week. While it has a good chance of being approved in the House, it still faces long odds in the Senate, where it would need to gain the support of some Democrats.
“The American people believe that Congress should do more to rein in Wall Street, but Chairman Hensarling’s new bill shows House Republicans are not listening,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement. “The special interests and their lobbyists who are hell-bent on rewriting the rules in Wall Street’s favor couldn’t have drafted a better bill themselves, if indeed they didn’t,” he said.
At its core, the proposed legislation offers the country’s nearly 6,000 banks a choice: If they want to avoid many of the regulatory burdens imposed by Dodd-Frank, they must significantly increase their emergency financial cushion. That way even if they run into financial trouble, the banks will have enough money to survive without taxpayers’ help, Hensarling has said.
Most big banks are likely to forgo that option. They have been pestering regulators to let them hold on to less capital, not more. Creating the large financial cushion called for by Hensarling’s bill would be too costly for many big banks, industry officials say.
The industry has already spent billions of dollars implementing Dodd-Frank regulations. That money is “already a sunk cost,” said a representative of the financial-services industry who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment candidly on the proposed legislation. “It’s unlikely that large institutions would opt for that off-ramp.”
Still, the bill proposes several changes that could provide significant relief to Wall Street and, in some cases, goes further than even industry officials had hoped.
The bill, for example, would repeal the “Volcker rule,” which restricts big banks’ ability to make risky financial bets. The industry has largely been asking that the rules governing that trading be simplified, but Hensarling goes further, doing away with it all together.
Repealing that provision could boost the profits of some of the industry’s biggest players by nearly $2 billion next year, according to research by Nomura, a global investment bank. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase could respectively recoup $446 million and $469 million in profits, the research showed.
Hensarling’s bill also includes a blueprint for defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by stripping the agency of some of its most important powers. It would no longer be able to write major rules regulating consumer financial companies, such as debt collectors, without getting approval from Congress. It would also no longer be able to levy hefty fines against financial institutions for “unfair” or “deceptive” practices. The CFPB used those powers to fine Wells Fargo $100 million last year for opening up to 2 million accounts customers did not ask for or know about.
Democrats have already promised to fight attempts to weaken the agency’s powers. “We would have a muzzled watchdog at best,” said Brian Simmonds Marshall, policy counsel for Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer- and labor-oriented community groups. “You would have an agency that did not have the authorities it needs to protect consumers.”