Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US Senate eyes rollback of banking law

DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT:Some senators facing tough re-election races have broken ranks to back raising the threshold at which US banks are considered too big to fail


Ten years after a financial crisis rocked the US’ economy, the US Senate is poised to pass legislation that would roll back some of the safeguards Congress put into place to prevent a relapse.

The move to alter some key aspects of the Dodd-Frank law has overwhelming Republican support and enough Democratic backing that it is expected to gain the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate.

Several Democratic lawmakers facing tough re-election races this year have broken ranks with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The legislation would increase the threshold at which banks are considered too big to fail. Such banks are subject to stricter capital and planning requirements, and lawmakers are intent on providing them relief in hopes that it will boost lending and the economy.

Banks have long complained about the cost of complying with the many requirements of Dodd-Frank.

Under the Senate bill, some of the nation’s biggest banks would no longer have to undergo an annual stress test conducted by the US Federal Reserve. The test assesses whether a bank has enough capital to survive an economic shock and continue lending.

Dozens of banks would also be exempted from making plans called “living wills” that spell out how the bank will sell off assets or be liquidated in a way that would not create chaos in the financial system.

The legislation increases from US$50 billion to US$250 billion the threshold at which banks are considered critical to the system. The change would ease regulations on more than two dozen financial companies, including BB&T Corp, Sun Trust Banks and American Express.

Opponents of the bill argue that the same banks getting regulatory relief through the Senate bill also got about US$50 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts during the financial crisis.

They note Countrywide Financial, which was at the center of the mortgage crisis, was smaller than some of the banks targeted for relief now.

“There is no reason at all to roll back the rules on these big banks so they can pad their pockets even more — and cut them loose to take on wild risks again,” wrote Warren, who before joining the Senate led a congressional oversight panel for the bailout programs.

The Senate bill emerged from lengthy negotiations between Senator Mike Crapo, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Democratic members on the committee.

The ranking Democrat, Senator Sherrod Brown, said the changes go too far and he walked away.

However, many Democrats stayed on board, and the bill has 13 Republican and 13 Democratic or independent cosponsors, a rare level of bipartisanship for substantive legislation in the current Congress.

By contrast, the US House of Representatives’ effort to roll back Dodd-Frank did not generate a single Democratic vote in support.

Commercial banks are major players on Capitol Hill, spending US$66 million on lobbying Congress last year and US$44 million on federal election campaigns in the previous election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

About two-thirds of the money went to Republican campaigns and about a third to Democratic campaigns.

This cycle, commercial banks have targeted their campaign donations to major players on committees with jurisdiction over banking issues, including the incumbent senators in competitive races:

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