The last week of August saw perhaps the best example of the current cognitive dissonance of American politics. This refers to the twin events of Senator McCain’s funeral and the Florida Gubernatorial primary. The primary, which took place on August 28th, resulted in the election of two politicians that come from each parties’ respective bases, and who both beat more moderate, centrist candidates. This result needs to be viewed against the ethos of bipartisanship, compromise and rebuttal of tribal politics that was the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s funeral and the commentary that surrounded it. While people claim they want politicians that are willing to embrace the American ideals of compromise, they seem to be continuously electing individuals who instead satisfy a different ideal, that of “fighting” for ideological purity. Whether this dichotomy will break anytime soon will be determined in fifty-six days.
- The House and Senate have abbreviated weeks due to the Jewish New Year holiday. The House will take up H.R. 3798, a bill to repeal the 30-hour threshold for classification as a full-time employee for the purposes of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with a 40-hour threshold.
- The Senate is set to confirm Charles Rettig as IRS Commissioner before turning to legislation to deal with the nation’s opioid crisis.
- The House Financial Services Committee is expected to notice a mark-up for Thursday later this morning that is expected to include multiple bills, including potentially a data breach bill introduced by Rep. Leutkemeyer last week (see more below).
- The House Ways and Means Committee is also expected to notice a mark-up of the Tax Cuts 2.0 legislation for this week, although the bill has also yet to be formally introduced. (see more below)
- The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday with the four major banking regulators (minus CFPB) to hear how the implementation of S. 2155 is proceeding
- House and Senate negotiations continue on funding the government, with a September 30th end of the fiscal year looming large.
- The House and Senate will have another short week next week, again due to the Jewish holiday on Wednesday.
The Past Week
Monetary Policy Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Money
On Wednesday, The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade held a hearing entitled “The Future of Money: Coins and Banksnotes” with Bureau of Engraving and Printing Director Leonard Olijar and U.S. Mint Director David Ryder. During the hearing, Members focused on the way in which recent technological developments have changed the role of money in the economy—both by creating new payment systems that provide an alternative to cash and by enabling new counterfeiting techniques. Additionally, members noted both the importance and the challenge of forecasting future demand for coins and banknotes given the rapidly changing economy. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Barr (R-KY) warned “with new and disruptive products entering the market, demand for coins and paper money may grow at a slower pace and possibly even decrease one day,” while Director Ryder commented “the pace of technological change, market uncertainty, and the increasing sophistication of criminals are key external factors that will influence the future.”
Housing and Insurance Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Multifamily Development
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance held a hearing entitled “The Cost of Regulation on Affordable Multifamily Development” featuring various experts and stakeholders from the multifamily housing industry. During the hearing, members and witnesses noted a shift towards multifamily housing taking place in the United States which will necessitate the development of additional multi-family housing over the next 25 years. To this end, several witnesses argued that the current regulatory environment is an impediment to this goal, with National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) representative Stephen Lawson saying “the compliance costs and fees associated with such policies are exacerbating the difficulty of providing safe, decent, and affordable rental housing.” For his part, Subcommittee Chairman Sean Duffy (R-WI) commented “today’s hearing was essential in order to determine the costs of regulation, and barriers preventing affordable multifamily housing development”
Hensarling Unveils Bipartisan Housing Finance Push at Hearing to Commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Housing Crisis
On Thursday, during a full committee hearing entitled, “A Failure to Act: How a Decade without GSE Reform Has Once Again Put Taxpayers at Risk”, Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), along with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) and Jim Himes (D-CT) unveiled their Bipartisan Housing Finance Reform Act (text; fact sheet) Most notably, the proposal would attempt to resolve the issue of government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) by rescinding the federal charters of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, instructing the Federal House Finance Agency (FHFA) to take them into receivership and wind down their operations. Additionally, the bill would: (1) separate Ginnie Mae from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and make it the primary government backer of all mortgages; (2) create a “Ginnie Mae Plus” program with an explicit, fully-paid government guarantee after private capital; and (3) eliminate the 3% down mortgage program, requiring borrowers to put at least 5% down on government backed mortgages. During the hearing, Hensarling said, “While by no means perfect, we offer this proposal as a grand bargain on how to move past an increasingly dangerous status quo.” The proposal marks a considerable difference from previous efforts at Housing Finance Reform advocated by Chairman Hensarling, and while this proposal has virtually no chance of passing prior to Chairman Hensarling’s retirement at the end of this Congress, Hensarling noted that he envisions this as a “foundation for what [he] believe[s] to be the grand bargain for housing finance reform.”
Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Terrorist Group Financing
On Friday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance held a hearing examining terrorist groups and their means of financing illicit activity. Subcommittee Chairman Steve Pearce (R-NM) acknowledged the constantly shifting dynamic around terrorist financing, saying “as the threat of terrorism continually evolves, it is increasingly important to monitor terrorist threats and methods of terror financing.” To this end, the Members agreed on the importance of tracking and undermining the ways in which terrorist operations are financed, while the witnesses discussed that various challenges of doing so, including the adaptability of terrorists’ financial structures.
Ways and Means Committee to Hold “Tax Reform 2.0” Markup This Week
On Thursday House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady held a listening session with Republican Members where he outlined additional details about House Republican’s forthcoming “Tax Reform 2.0” framework. The session was a precursor for a mark-up that is expected this week. Among other provisions, the bill will reportedly remove the age limit on IRA contributions, facilitate the offering of multiple employer retirement plans (MEP), establish a paid family leave tax credit, and roll back the alternative minimum tax (AMT). While making last year’s individual tax cuts permanent remains a hallmark of the proposal, Chairman Brady reportedly assured several members from high-tax states that the bill would not make permanent the controversial cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Chairman Brady and Republican leadership also provided clarity on the potential timeline for the package, with a markup reportedly scheduled for this week and a floor vote targeted towards the end of the month. Although the package has little chance of clearing the 60-vote threshold necessary to pass the Senate, it is considered a key messaging tool for Republican incumbents hoping to campaign on tax reform in the upcoming midterm elections.
Rep. Meeks Calls on SEC to Examine Challenges to Minority Investors
On Wednesday, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) sent a letter (text) to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton requesting that the SEC examine the barriers faced by minority entrepreneurs and investors seeking funding through private capital markets. In the letter, Rep. Meeks called on the SEC to disaggregate data in its planned study on investor access to private capitatal markets in order to “focus on the unique experiences of minority firms and their investors.” Additionally, he noted that the SEC has failed to submit a report on “any unique issues encountered by minority-owned and women-owned small businesses and investors,” which disaggregating this data would achieve. Although information on minority investors and businesses is required to be included in the SEC Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation’s annual report, no such report has been issued yet given that the SEC is still in the process of setting up the office.
Luetkemeyer Unveils Data Breach Bill
On Friday, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) introduced the Consumer Information Notification Requirement Act (text), which would create a national data breach notification standard and preempt state data breach laws. In addition to banks, the bill will also apply to retailers that handle consumer financial information, as well as to the insurance industry, which is primarily state-regulated. Unveiling the bill on the anniversary of the infamous Equifax breach, Rep. Luetkemeyer commented “the American people deserve better data security standards, and my bill will give financial institution customers the peace of mind they need.” The bill is expected to be part of a mark-up that the House Financial Services Committee will hold this week.
Senate Confirms Roisman as SEC Commissioner
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm Elad L. Roisman to be a Member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Roisman’s nomination passed by a vote of 85-14, with all 14 nay votes coming from Democrats. Mr. Roisman, who was previously Chief Counsel of the Senate Banking Committee, returns a Republican majority for SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who has faced a split Commission for much of his chairmanship. The renewed Republican majority will allow Chairman Clayton to enact some of his key regulatory priorities—including changes to rules governing the conduct of stockbrokers dealing with retail investors—that have been unable to overcome opposition by the SEC’s’ two Democratic Commissioners.
Banking Committee Holds Russia Sanctions Hearing
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee held the second of a three-part series of hearings on Russia sanctions, focusing on “outside perspectives” including academics and former government officials. Summarizing Members comments and witness testimony, Chairman Mike Crapo (R-UT) identified two areas that appear to have substantial consensus for a potential path forward: (1) imposing sanctions on purchases of Russian sovereign debt; and (2) targeting “oligarchs” with significant ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While targeting oligarchs has been a key provision of sanctions strategies thus far, the Treasury Department has pushed back on proposals to target Russian sovereign debt, saying that doing so could adversely affect U.S. allies and global financial markets.
McConnell Invokes Cloture on Rettig
Last week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invoked cloture on the nomination of Charles Rettig to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). After a procedural vote to move forward with the nomination, which is expected to be the first vote the Senate takes this week, Rettig should be confirmed by the end of the week.
Select Highlights from the Administration
The White House
Trump Threatens Additional Tariffs on Chinese Goods
President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to imposing Section 301 tariffs on an additional $267 billion in Chinese goods. The threat comes as the Administration finalizes the list of products to be hit by tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods—the White House is currently sorting through nearly 6,000 public comments after the public comment period ended last week and will likely announce a list of goods to be hit soon. With $50 billion of goods already facing tariffs, and the additional $200 billion forthcoming, the introduction of tariffs to an additional $267 billion in goods would mean that nearly all Chinese good exports are covered by the tariffs.
Agencies Extend Comment Period for Volcker Rework
On Tuesday, the federal agencies of jurisdiction announced an additional extension of the comment period for the proposed simplification and tailoring of the Volcker Rule, which prohibits proprietary trading by banks, so that now comments will be due on October 17. Initially released in May, this proposal aims to clarify some of the Volcker rule’s more subjective components and simplify compliance for smaller banks, among others. In addition to the Federal Reserve, which is running point on this process, the other agencies involved include the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Comptroller of Currency Grants First Bank Charter to Fintech Firm
On Wednesday, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) granted preliminary approval of Varo Money’s application for a national bank charter. While the OCC had announced in July that it would begin accepting applications from FinTech firms for new special purpose charters, Varo’s application was approved under a de novo full service charter. Observers believe that Varo’s application may be a useful guide for fintechs looking to take advantage of the special purpose charter. The company does not plan to open physical branches but will provide its customers a full suite of services through its mobile internet platform.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
CFPB Issues Supervisory Highlights Report
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its biannual Supervisory Highlights (text), the first under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney. Keeping with many of the topics focused on by the Obama-era CFPB, the report details CFPB enforcement activities on automobile loan servicing, credit cards, debt collection, mortgage servicing, payday lending, and small business lending. Despite the Bureau’s prioritization of deregulation under Director Mulvaney’s leadership, the report largely focuses on violations, as opposed to regulatory relief, in a similar way to what has been seen from previous CFPB leadership, although it does omit a tally of consumers benefitting from CFPB action, as we well as total compensation they received, that was included in previous reports.
United States Trade Representative
U.S., Canada NAFTA Impasse Continues
U.S. and Canadian negotiators continued talks in Washington this week in an attempt to negotiate Canadian entrance into the recently-announced U.S.-Mexico trade agreement. Although President Trump reported expressed optimism to lawmakers on Wednesday that negotiators could reach a deal by the end of the week, substantial distance remains on several issues—in a radio interview on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister acknowledged that Canada was willing to budge on dairy, one of the most contentious trade issues between the United States and Canada, but said that the country would stand its ground on the inclusion of a dispute settlement system for trade remedies and a cultural service exemption. On the Congressional front, Members from both chambers and parties have continued to caution President Trump against submitting an agreement that omits Canada, with Speaker Paul Ryan declining to say whether or not a bilateral deal could fulfill the requirements for approval under trade promotion authority (TPA.)
Department of Labor
Economy Adds 201,000 Jobs
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) on Friday announced (report) that the economy added 201,00 jobs in August, exceeding expectations and keeping unemployment steady at 3.9%. In his statement accompanying the report, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta noted that “since 1970, the unemployment rate has registered below 4% just nine times; four of those months have been recorded during 2018.” Additionally, BLS reported a 2.9% annualized increase in average hourly earnings, the largest wage hike since April 2009. President Trump and Congressional Republicans have continued attributing positive economic news to Republican policies such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
FDIC Announces Senior Personnel Changes
On Tuesday, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Jelena McWilliams announced two appointments to key FDIC positions. Arleas Upton Kea will serve as Deputy to the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, while Arthur J. Murton will serve as Deputy to the Chairman for Policy. In an accompanying statement, Chairman McWilliams said “Arleas and Art have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the FDIC, and embody the core principles of our dedicated workforce.” Upton Kea and Murton join three other senior staff hires at FDIC in recent months.