While all eyes were on FBI director James Comey's Senate testimony on Thursday, members of the U.S. House were taking a significant vote on the future of Wall Street regulations.
The Republican majority voted in favor of the Financial Choice Act, a significant repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms implemented by the Obama administration in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis – which was itself caused predominantly by the deregulation of certain financial sectors.
CNN Money reports Republicans blame Dodd-Frank for "anemic economic growth" in the U.S. and for enshrining the notion that taxpayers would bail out "too-big-to-fail" banks in the future.
What are they scrapping?
The bill passed by the House, proposed by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, is 600 pages long and covers all manner of jargon-filled financial rules, big and small.
But here are a few of the headline changes that the House passed on Thursday:
– Allowing banks to make riskier investments: The House voted to repeal the Volcker Rule, which prevents government-insured banks from making risky bets with investments, and also limiting their ownership/links with hedge funds and private investment funds to prevent conflicts of interest.
– Canceling the Fiduciary Rule: This has literally just gone into effect on Friday and requires retirement advisors to follow a code of conduct putting their clients' best interests before their own. This is to stop them chasing products with the biggest commission when they aren't the best investment fit for their clients. Bloomberg has details about how many financial advisors have records of misconduct.
– Reigning in consumer watchdog: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, set up as a result of Dodd-Frank, is an independent watchdog designed to protect consumers from "unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law." You might recognize the name from the recent Wells Fargo case, where the CFPB fined the bank $185 million for setting up thousands of phony accounts without customers' permission. Republicans see the CFPB as having too much power, and the vote would see it funded by Congress – instead of the Federal Reserve – which CBS reports would make it subject to more political forces. It would also limit what violations it could go after and when.
– No bailouts: The Choice Act repeals the liquidation authority, which according to The Hill is the process through which the federal government takes over and dismantles a bank before it collapses. It would replace it with bankruptcy provisions, which eliminates the chance taxpayers would bail out major financial firms in the event of collapse. It also removes the authority of the Treasury Department to designate certain non-bank financial institutions (like insurance companies) as "systemically important" – in other words, "too-big-to-fail."
– Help for smaller banks: Although it doesn't feature in the House bill, NPR reports that Senate Republicans have been working on a separate financial bill that will loosen regulations on community banks, with supporters of the Choice Act arguing that Dodd-Frank includes too many "one-size-fits-all" rules.
How did Minnesotans vote?
The House vote went mostly along party lines, so GOP Reps. Erik Paulsen, Jason Lewis and Tom Emmer voted in favor, while Democrats Rep. Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan voted against it.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the bill faces a tougher time in the Senate, where the GOP has a tighter majority and Democrats are united against the rollback of Dodd-Frank as they say it makes consumers more vulnerable to unfair practices.
They also fear that deregulation of the financial sector risks a return to the same climate that caused the last financial crisis.
But USA Today reports that critics of Dodd-Frank, President Trump among them, argue it's too broad in scope, costs banks too much, and contains too many "cumbersome rules" that hinder new loans and investment.