Financial Services Report

June 27, 2017

Looking Ahead

Near Term

  • All eyes will be on the Senate this week, as Leader McConnell attempts to thread the needle on Healthcare reform.   With only two votes to spare, there could be a lot of sausage to make before the end of the week.  
  • The House will take up two bills endorsed by the President.  The first, (H.R. 3003) — dubbed Kate’s Law in honor of a victim of a crime perpetrated by an illegal immigrant — would enhance the punishment for immigrants that try to re-enter the United States after being deported.  The other, (H.R. 3004) would prohibit Homeland Security and Justice Department grants from so-called sanctuary cities.  
  • The House Financial Services Committee will hold two subcommittee hearings, one on market structure and one on money laundering.  While the Senate Banking Committee will dip its toe into the start of its Housing Reform efforts.  
  • Labor Secretary Acosta will be before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee and is likely to be asked additional questions about timing of matters related to the fiduciary rule.

Further Out

  • The Congress is scheduled to be on recess next week for the July 4th Holiday.  When they return there will only be three more legislative weeks before the traditional month-long August recess.

The Past Week

Legislative Branch
House W&M Hearing with USTR Lighthizer on NAFTA, Future Trade Agreements
On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on U.S. trade policy featuring United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer. Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) took the opportunity for a broader discussion on American trade, touting its achievements for American workers and encouraging the USTR to consider future deals in the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. Lighthizer was non-committal in his approach towards future negotiations following NAFTA, saying that the USTR Office is completing a review of all trade agreements and negotiations to determine the Administration’s prioritization preferences.
House Financial Services Committee Passes Flood Insurance Bills
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee passed a series of four bills to reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The bills aim to relieve the NFIP of some of its financial burden, in coordination with the program’s reauthorization this year. Many of the measures received bipartisan support, although there remain significant differences between the two parties on the core of a reauthorization. Those differences now head to the House floor, where the bills are likely to be packaged into a single vehicle for consideration.
Senate Republicans Aiming for July Debt Ceiling Vote
Last week, it was reported that Senate Republicans indicated that they are hoping to be able to vote on a package to raise the debt ceiling before leaving Washington on recess in August. Whether or not this timing is still necessary, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin  suggested that the Treasury will be able to avoid a default through September, it appears that Republican leadership wants to clear as much as possible in July in order to clear the deck for tax reform and funding the government after the break. The substance of a debt ceiling bill has yet to come together, with conservatives hoping for spending concessions rather than a clean bill, and Democrats currently indicating they will only support a clean raise.
Senate Holds Hearing with Major Federal Regulators on Reg Relief
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled “Fostering Economic Growth: Regulator Perspective” as part of its continued series working towards a regulatory relief bill. The crux of today’s hearing focused on the post-financial crisis regulatory framework, as well as the recommendations made in a recent report released last week by the Treasury Department. The panel — featuring regulators from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors — gave their perspectives on the current state of play within the banking regulatory framework, and offered some flexibility, particularly in regard to Dodd-Frank’s Volcker rule barring banks from engaging in proprietary trading.
Senate Finance Talks NAFTA, Trump Trade Policy with USTR Lighthizer
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on U.S. Trade Policy featuring testimony from United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer. The hearing focused on the Administration’s intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with senators from both parties offering concerns on issues including intellectual property (IP) concerns, digital commerce, and currency manipulation.  In terms of the timeline for negotiations, Lighthizer said that, per the procedures outlined by Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the earliest negotiations are able to comment is Aug. 16th, and while he didn’t commit to initating things on that date, he did say that the Administration “intends to move very, very quickly.” He also noted that the USTR Office is taking comments on the NAFTA negotiations and intends to publish a detailed summary of negotiating objectives on July 17.
Senate Banking Members Offer Bipartisan Bill on Retirement Savings for Students
On Monday, three Senate Banking Committee members — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Tim Scott (R-SC) — along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), introduced a bill aimed at helping graduate students save for retirement. Specifically, the legislation would allow for graduate students to use stipends and fellowship salaries to be put into tax-deferred individual retirement accounts (IRAs), which is not allowed under current law. The inclusion of Republican cosponsors is notable as the party attempts to craft tax reform legislation, which reportedly could affect the tax treatment of retirement savings products. 
Senate Confirms Two Treasury Officials
Last week, two of President Trump’s nominees for the Department of the Treasury were confirmed on relatively bipartisan votes. Specifically, the chamber approved Sigal Mandelker to be Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes y a 96-4 vote and Marshall Billingslea to be Treasury Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing by a 65-35 margin. Mandelker will act as the Treasury’s top economic sanctions official for the Trump Administration. 
Warren Asks Fed to Remove Wells Fargo Directors
On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote to Fed Chair Janet Yellen urging the institution to forcibly remove a dozen Wells Fargo directors who served at the bank throughout its fake account scandal over the past few years. The letter says that the bank clearly failed its risk-management obligations and “did nothing to stop rampant misconduct in the Community Bank.” A case is also made for the Fed’s authority to remove bank directors, citing a part of the U.S. code that allows for the Fed to “remove [a] party from office or to prohibit any further participation by such party, in any manner, in the conduct of the affairs of any insured depository institution.” 
Select Highlights from the Administration
Federal Reserve
All U.S. Banks Pass First Round of Fed Stress Tests
On Thursday, the Federal Reserve announced that the nation’s largest banking institutions all passed the capital phase of their annual stress tests. These tests were created to determine if banks have enough capital to withstand the shock of a financial crisis, without causing wider disruptions for the economy. In its announcement, the Fed noted that more capital was accrued by banks this year than in last year’s exam, which may offer a stronger foundation to justify calls to unwind some of the rules instituted after the crisis. That opinion has seen some support from Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who suggested in a Senate hearing on Thursday that the Fed should consider eliminating the qualitative part of the exam. A second round will happen next week, designed to test whether banks have adequate plans to pay dividends and repurchase shares in the event of a crisis.
CFPB Takes Aim at Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Program
On Thursday, the CFPB released a report spotlighting complaints from borrowers about student loan servicers mishandling Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The program, which is designed to offer debt relief for those who have worked in certain public service sector jobs for ten years following graduation from school, has been riddled with complaints.   The report highlighted borrower complaints that that their servicers “delay or deny access to loan forgiveness through wrong information about their loans, flawed payment processing, and bungled job certifications.”   The report comes as the first wave of loan forgiveness under the program will come due in October.