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Conservative Members Target Financial Reform Effort

Correction Appended

GOP Reps. Ed Royce (Calif.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas) could offer a barrage of amendments and rhetorical broadsides as the Financial Services Committee on Thursday begins marking up a bill to overhaul the rules governing the financial sector.

They stand little chance of defeating the legislation in committee — Democrats hold a double-digit advantage in seats on the Financial Services panel. But the conservative lawmakers probably will try to scale back the bill’s reach and use the markup as a forum for making their case for free markets and limited government oversight.

Democrats are confident that their approach is in line with public sentiment following the spectacular collapse of the financial sector last fall — and a bit disdainful of the ideological opposition.

“I am confident that we will produce a bill that will provide greater consumer protections while in no way burdening the legitimate activities of responsible banking,” Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said.

Hensarling and Royce, who came to Congress a decade apart and represent different regions, share a common philosophy on limiting the role of government.

Hensarling, a protégé of former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), is among the the most outspoken conservatives in the House.

He frequently offers amendments on the House floor to cut federal spending and scale back federal programs. As a former leader of the Republican Study Committee, Hensarling, whose districts includes parts of Dallas and its suburbs, managed the failed bid of Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to oust Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2007.

Speaking with the twang of his native West Texas and the bluntness of Gramm, Hensarling said the proposed consumer agency “represents one of the greatest assaults on economic liberty in my lifetime.” The four-term lawmaker added, “It says to the American people, ‘You are simply too ignorant or too dumb to be trusted with economic freedom.’”

Royce — a native of the Orange County, Calif., district that’s home to Disneyland — earned his political stripes as the head of California Youth for Reagan in 1976. While the nine-term lawmaker has shown a willingness to work with Democrats on credit union issues, Royce is not afraid to stick to his conservative views — as he did in 2005 as one of only eight Republicans to vote against the politically popular highway bill.

Royce likes to cite the failure of government mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in making his case against more financial regulation. “We know how [that] ended,” he said. “We are now looking at applying that regulatory framework to the entire financial services sector.”

Hensarling said: “The left seems to believe that if only we will empower some sort of ruling, enlightened elite, that only then can consumers hope for fairness and justice. We believe that the best form of consumer protection comes from competitive markets — competitive markets that are vigorously policed for abuse and fraud.”

Hensarling’s views often provoke eye rolls from Democrats. But his relentless ideology has earned him the top Republican spot on the Financial Service Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. He’s also popular with the wealthy financial services industry, which could be a key source of campaign funds if he ever opts to run for the Senate, as some expect.

Correction: July 21, 2009

Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.) have not determined what, if any, amendments they will offer when the House Financial Services Committee begins marking up regulatory reform legislation Thursday. The article also should have noted that the committee will not mark up language creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency until September.

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