The banking industry believes it can win more rollbacks of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul by having them ride on year-end legislation, a move that will only make politically difficult year-end negotiations that much more treacherous for congressional leaders.
Financial services lobbyists concede that Republican-written bills to make broad changes to the oversight of their industry aren’t likely to become law in this Congress, given partisan gridlock and a tight legislative calendar. They say instead that their best chance will be to attach piecemeal Dodd-Frank changes to whatever year-end spending agreement lawmakers conjure up to avert a government shutdown.
The lobbyists say the most likely provisions would ease regulation on community banks and to reset the threshold to define a systemically important financial institution.
Measures to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are less likely to succeed, because of the White House’s support for the agency.
“We are less focused on the manner in which regulatory reform gets done than we are in getting it done,” said Rob Nichols, the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association. He said the most likely time for attaching provisions to funding bills will be November or December, noting the add-ons that don’t make it this year are likely to have to wait until 2017, after the 2016 elections are over.
The approach isn’t new for a financial services lobby that won two significant changes to Dodd-Frank in the past 12 months, both easing derivatives regulation, by having them tacked onto bipartisan bills. The White House and many Democrats opposed the moves, but allowed them to ride on fiscal 2015 spending legislation and a reauthorization of an overdue terrorism insurance program early this year to ensure GOP support.
“That’s what they will do again if they can get away with it,” said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, a group that favors enhanced financial oversight.
Senate Democrats say they are united in opposing contentious policy riders to any spending bill, particularly those that would ease Dodd-Frank oversight of banks or curtail the clout of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“Republicans should not use spending bills to jam through their ideological agenda,” Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said. He added that Democrats were eager to begin year-end budget negotiations, but said they would reject any “poison pill” policy riders related to financial services oversight.
Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Democrats are more sensitive to add-on provisions this year, after Republicans were able to add a provision loosening some derivatives regulations to last year’s omnibus. “After what happened [last year], we are on high alert about things being jammed in at the last second,” he added.
Financial services industry trade groups, including the ABA, the Credit Union National Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, acknowledged their plans in a September letter to leaders of the Senate Banking Committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The letter praised the broad regulatory overhaul bill (S 1484) approved by the Senate Banking Committee with only GOP support in May, calling it a “step in the right direction.” But the letter also said it is “imperative lawmakers work together and pass a legislative product that is bipartisan, and provides meaningful relief for community institutions and consumers throughout this country.”
Senate Banking Chairman Richard C. Shelby said he hasn’t given up on stand-alone legislation in this Congress, but he also tried to improve the chances for his more than 200-page regulatory measure by folding it into the fiscal 2016 Financial Services spending bill.
“Appropriations is always a prospect because it’s a train that can go somewhere,” said the Alabama Republican, who is second in seniority on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Bank lobbyists say there’s no chance the appropriations measure would pass the Senate or withstand a White House veto with Shelby’s bill intact. Senior Democratic appropriator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois tore the spending bill in half at a July markup to protest inclusion of the banking provisions.
But by attaching it, Shelby — almost certainly with the blessing of GOP leaders — is putting the banking provisions in play as possible riders during negotiations over a year-end spending bill, lobbyists say.
“They’ve got to play it straight and get consensus,” said the top Democrat on Senate Banking, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who didn’t rule out bipartisan banking riders coming up. He said carve outs for smaller, community-oriented banks from Dodd-Frank and other regulations could get backing from both sides of the aisle.
Sarah Bloom Raskin, deputy Treasury secretary, also said the administration is open to changes in financial oversight, particularly for community banks, but said alterations should come after hearings and not be attached to spending legislation.
Banking groups agree the safest bets are provisions that would provide relief for community banks, generally defined as those with assets less than $10 billion.
The banks could be subject to fewer examinations, the end to requirements for sending privacy notices to bank customers and easing stringent standards for issuing consumer mortgages.
Among the more hotly contested riders could be a proposal to raise the $50 billion asset threshold that deems a bank a systemically important financial institution, or SIFI, a status that subjects it to more oversight and increased capital and liquidity requirements. Lawmakers from both parties say the threshold needs to be raised to relieve mid-size banks that pose little risk to the economy.
Banking lobbyists would prefer the SIFI threshold be scrapped altogether in favor of oversight based on individual risk assessments, but they know that has little chance of getting Democratic support. Shelby’s bill proposes raising the SIFI threshold to $500 billion, a move that backers concede is too high to win inclusion as a rider.
Most lobbyists suggest the threshold could rise. Several industry representatives noted Regions Bank, based in Alabama, has about $125 billion in assets and believe Shelby, who is running for re-election next year, would be open to a deal on a lower threshold if it still covered his home-state institution.
Richard Hunt, the president of the Consumers Bankers Association, expects the GOP to push for changes in the structure, funding and operations of the CFPB.
But he concedes those changes could face a more uphill battle given strong White House support for the agency.
Hunt added that Shelby is trying to move his legislation on multiple fronts. “The more balls you have in the air, the more opportunities you have to land some of them,” he added.