Ed. Note: This article first appeared in Bloomberg
Here’s the latest signal Wall Street regulations won’t be gutted anytime soon: Republicans who write financial laws are starting to focus on other things.
The Senate Banking Committee, led by Mike Crapo, approved a measure about publishing research on exchange-traded funds, and a collection of other narrow bills with bipartisan support.
In the House, the Financial Services Committee held a hearing about flood insurance, further stalling the rollout of Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s plan to eliminate laws enacted in response to the financial crisis of 2008.
Reality is setting in on Capitol Hill that rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking law won’t be quick or easy -- even though it’s a priority for Republican President Trump, who says the measure is hurting the economy.
Bank stocks have rallied partly because investors expect change.
Congress is bogged down by high-profile fights over replacing Obamacare and rewriting tax laws, leaving little capacity for a battle over Wall Street.
Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, don’t have a plan for rewriting financial rules that would be likely to attract support from Democrats, something that’s needed to advance most major bills in the Senate. Democrats say the existing laws are needed to prevent another financial meltdown and protect investors.
“I do not think they will get any substantial legislative change through the Congress," said Barney Frank, a former Democratic lawmaker who served as chairman of the Financial Services Committee, in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Except areas where there might be some agreement -- give a little relief to mid-size banks and smaller banks in ways that don’t in any way undermine the regulatory framework."
That’s not good news for big U.S. banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co., whose executives have called for legislation easing the Volcker Rule ban on proprietary trading.
Crapo, a key power broker in the Senate who will be crucial to advancing any banking measures, has said there are limits to changes he’ll be able to negotiate with Democrats.
Crapo’s need to generate goodwill with Democrats could help explain why he’s moving forward with a handful of bipartisan, noncontroversial bills that could give a political boost to lawmakers on the panel, including Democrats, who are facing tough re-elections next year.
“I do want to have the committee to start working and be effective," Crapo, of Idaho, said in an interview. “I want the committee to start finding those areas of common ground."
One of the bills that Crapo’s panel approved allows broker-dealers to publish research on exchange traded funds, securities that track an index or basket of assets. Another bill would allow more investors to qualify to buy into funds that finance start-ups and other private companies.
Also approved: a measure encouraging businesses to give employees bigger stakes in their private companies by reducing paperwork disclosure requirements.
And another telling the US Securities and Exchange Commission that it must repay excess fees it charges to stock exchanges, in the event the agency overcharges.
Republican Dean Heller, who sponsored several of the bills, is up for re-election next year in Nevada, a state that Hillary Clinton won in November.
Other co-sponsors include moderate Democrats such as Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who are also under pressure to demonstrate achievements in Washington as they gear up for tough re-elections next year in states that voted for Trump.
“I hope our Republican colleagues will work with me and other Democrats on the committee on additional measures that will give investors confidence in the markets and small companies the opportunity to succeed, without letting Wall Street run wild,” said the top Democrat on the panel, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, in prepared comments for Thursday’s meeting.
Hensarling’s committee on Thursday passed companion legislation to the measures approved by the Senate banking panel.
Trump, who has called Dodd-Frank a "disaster," signed an executive order last month instructing regulators to examine financial rules and file a report on their findings.
The administration’s efforts to attack financial rules will take shape as Trump fills vacancies at key federal agencies, like the Federal Reserve, said Mark Calabria, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief economist, at a conference in Washington on Tuesday.
Hensarling introduced his Financial Choice Act last year, which takes a red pen to most of the post-crisis rules, including eliminating the Volcker Rule’s ban on certain investments, the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s ability to label firms that pose risks to the wider financial system, and regulators’ ability to intervene when banks fail.
Hensarling has promised that overhauling Dodd-Frank is a "this year priority" for the White House and Congress. But he hasn’t introduced an updated version of his plan, even though other lawmakers on the committee have said they expected it would be released last month.
Crapo has not unveiled a plan either, but has said that his top priorities include easing rules for community banks and freeing regional banks from some of the most stringent requirements applied to lenders with more than $50B in assets.
Anticipating opposition by Democrats, some Republicans are already talking about going it alone when it comes to major Dodd-Frank changes, and trying to shoehorn them into a budget reconciliation bill that would require a simple majority to pass.
There’s not much room on the Senate calendar for debate about Wall Street given other priorities, including the confirmation of President Trump’s nominees for government positions.
“Changes to the Dodd-Frank Act are second-tier agenda items and are unlikely to pass Congress in the near term," said Brian Gardner, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, who expects more activity to happen at the banking agencies.
“Improvement in the regulatory regime is likely to be subtle and not seen by the public."