Sen. Mike Crapo, the Republican chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announced a bipartisan deal Monday to free dozens of large financial institutions from some of the most rigorous regulations put in place after the global financial crisis.
Currently, banks with more than $50 billion in assets are considered “too big to fail” and undergo the strictest regulatory scrutiny, including a yearly stress test to prove they could survive another period of economic turmoil. The proposed legislation would raise that threshold to banks with $250 billion in assets, potentially allowing several high-profile financial institutions, including American Express, Ally Financial and Barclays, to escape the extra scrutiny.
These banks have long complained that the regulations are excessive and saddle them with extra compliance costs they don’t deserve.
The Senate plan is modest compared with legislation passed by the House last summer to dismantle key parts of 2010s financial reform bill, known as the Dodd-Frank Act. But it is the most significant step taken by the Senate so far to help fulfill President Trump’s agenda of loosening financial-industry regulations that the White House has said are holding back the economy.
“The bipartisan proposals on which we have agreed will significantly improve our financial regulatory framework and foster economic growth by right-sizing regulation, particularly for smaller financial institutions and community banks,” said Crapo (R-Idaho).
Crapo secured the support of several Democrats, including Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark R. Warner of Virginia, before announcing the deal. The legislation is the “result of years of tough, bipartisan negotiations,” Warner said in a statement.
Despite the early bipartisan support, it is unclear whether the legislation will garner enough votes to move forward. It would need the support of all of the chamber’s Republicans and eight Democrats. That is far from assured. “The question will be whether conservative Republicans are comfortable with the measure and whether more pragmatic Republicans see it as too narrow,” Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Cowen’s Washington Research Group, said in a report Monday.
Supporters of the bill emphasized that it was aimed at helping community banks and credit unions, not megabanks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Under the bill, banks with $50 billion and $100 billion in assets would immediately be exempt from the extra regulations, while those with between $100 billion and $250 billion would have to wait 18 months for the relief.
“Community bank regulatory relief is needed to improve lending and strengthen economic growth at the local level," Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said. The legislation could go further, said Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association, but is "an important first step in right-sizing the rules for America’s banks."
The proposal drew protests from some Democrats and progressive groups, who noted that the banking industry has reported record profits over the past year. In fact, bankers’ year-end bonuses are set to grow 5 percent to 10 percent this year, according to the consulting firm Johnson Associates. This is the first significant increase in bank bonuses in four years, according to the survey released Monday. Bankers who advise companies on raising money by issuing stocks or bonds could see among the biggest jumps — 20 percent — according to the report.
“I understand my colleagues’ interest in agreeing to this legislation, but disagree on the wisdom of rolling back so many of Dodd-Frank’s protections with almost no gains for working families,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in a statement. “Banks made record profits last year and it looks like executives will get bigger bonuses this year. Hourly wages have stagnated for 40 years, and too many Americans are still feeling the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. Who needs help the most?”
Added Bart Naylor, a financial policy advocate for the public interest group Public Citizen, "Removing scrutiny from banks with $200 billion in assets won’t help community banks. And it won’t help these regional banks’ communities, where a failure would be devastating."
In the wake of controversies surrounding Wells Fargo, which opened millions of fake accounts customers didn’t want, and a massive hack at Equifax, a significant loosening of banking regulations is unwarranted, said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform, a nonprofit coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based and civic and community groups. “Yet we now have a proposal that includes over a dozen measures that would ease rules on banks, and a few minor changes for consumers that ought to be a given,” he said.