Financial Services Report

September 13, 2017

Our Take

This past week the President Trump that all Democrats had hoped for – the one who favors the art of the deal over ideology – finally made an appearance.  Depending on your media consumption this was either the greatest thing or the end of days.   As is often the case, the media hype misses the nuance of reality.   The President’s deal was only a short-term punt of some serious issues that may not be resolvable by December 8th.   So, while he changed the media narrative (especially in the New York Times and on MSNBC), this deal doesn’t change any of the politics around the substantive issues at stake.   New Trump isn’t going to get Democratic support for a wall, nor will he get Republican support for a permanent DACA bill.  Regardless, it was nice to see Washington “work” this past week and perhaps this ultimate outsider has a plan up his sleeve to keep it going.     


Looking Ahead

Near Term

  • Votes in the House and Senate will be delayed next week as the southeastern United States deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  
  • The House is expected to continue consideration of the minibus legislation and will also debate legislation related to the deportation of criminal gang members.
  • The Senate is scheduled to take up National Defense Authorization (NDAA). 

Further Out

  • The Senate is still expected to hold a vote the Congressional Review Act of the CFPB’s arbitration rule.   A new wrinkle in what was always expected to be a close vote is the recent Equifax data breach and erroneous rumors that customers who sign up for the company’s credit monitoring waive their rights to participate in class action litigation. 
  • The deal funding the government, and extending the Debt Ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program expires on December 8th.

The Past Week

Legislative Branch
Trump Strikes Surprise Deal on Harvey Aid, Debt Ceiling, Govt Funding, NFIP;
In the most surprising development of the week, President Trump and Democratic leaders reached an agreement to provide immediate disaster funding and punt key deadlines into December. Specifically, the bill (a sweeping amendment to H.R. 601) provides a significant down payment on disaster relief, and included language that would push back key deadlines for government funding, the debt ceiling, and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from the end of September to Dec. 8. The Senate passed the package on Thursday 80-17, with the House doing the same on Friday on a 316-90 vote. Some conservatives opposed the deal as a concession to Democrats on funding negotiations, which will now take place early in the holiday season.  
House Passes Legislation to Extend FSOC Insurance Member Term
Last week, both the House and Senate took action on legislation to extend the term for the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) insurance expert, Roy Woodall, for an additional 18 months or until a replacement has been named. First, the full House approved H.R. 3110 407-1.  Then the next day the Senate Banking Committee approved companion legislation (S. 1463) on voice vote. These bills would close an intended problem left by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, specifically how to extend the term of the FSOC’s insurance expert. 
House Financial Services Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Reg Relief Bills
On Thursday, the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss a handful of legislative proposals that would continue the committee’s drive to ease regulatory burdens. Witnesses at the hearing were experts on consumer law and industry policy as common divisive issues came up at the hearing, namely the scope and authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the ability for the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to designate firms as systemic risks. The specific proposals considered were:

  • H.R. 1849 (Rep. Trott), the “Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act of 2017”
  • H.R. 2359 (Rep. Loudermilk), the “FCRA Liability Harmonization Act”
  • H.R. 3312 (Rep. Luetkemeyer), the “Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act of 2017”
  • H.R. ____ (Rep. Royce), the “Facilitating Access to Credit Act”
  • H.R. ____ (Rep. Tenney), the “Community Institution Mortgage Relief Act of 2017”
  • H.R. ____ (Rep. Hill), the “TRID Improvement Act of 2017”

These hearings are often a precursor for the bills being added to the end of the month mark-up.
House Financial Services Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Lone-Wolf Terrorism Funding
On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Financing held a hearing entitled, “Low Cost, High Impact: Combatting the Financing of Lone-Wolf and Small-Scale Terrorist Attacks.” The hearing took a non-partisan approach to the problem of the growth in terrorist attacks that escape the traditional methods employed by law enforcement agencies in tracking down resources for terrorist organizations and individuals. Panelists and policymakers alike discussed the difficulty of stopping lone-wolf attacks, as well as new methods of moving money, current bank suspicious activity reporting (SAR) policies, and increasing information sharing among financial institutions. 
FINRA Defends Body on Transparency Concerns
On Thursday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Securities, and Investment held a hearing dedicated to the oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FINRA’s President and CEO, Robert Cook, testified at the hearing offering his thoughts on FINRA’s role in the regulatory space and explaining the body’s ongoing reform initiative dubbed “FINRA 360.” Questions from Members primarily dealt with FINRA’s role in encouraging capital formation and specific concerns on economic indicators, with some, particularly Rep. Mark Emmer (R-MN), questioning FINRA’s transparency practices and Rep. Sherman took an aggressive line about the organization billion dollar plus reserve fund.
Banking Committee Approves Quarles, Otting Nominations
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee approved nominations for two key regulatory posts, namely Randal Quarles to be Vice-Chair of Supervision at the Federal Reserve and Joseph Otting to be Comptroller of the Currency. Both faced sharp scrutiny from Democrats in their confirmation hearings, although they both garnered some Democratic votes in being advanced to the House floor. Quarles was approved 17-6, with Democrat Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) voting in favor. Otting’s vote was closer, 13-10, with only Sen. Heitkamp voting with the Republicans.
Merkley, Brown Question Mnuchin on Volcker Rule
On Thursday, two Democrats, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), on the Senate Banking Committee wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to leave the Volcker Rule untouched as federal regulators consider changes. The rule, which bars banks from engaging in types of speculative trading, has always been a controversial element of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, but President Trump has given it some tacit support in the past. In the letter, the senators point to “strong evidentiary basis” for the rule and that “the concept of proprietary trading does not belong in banks with FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] insurance.”
Brown Seizes on Equifax Data Breach to Push Against Arbitration Rule
Last week the credit reporting agency Equifax was hit by a massive cyberattack threatening the personal information of up to 143 million individuals. While the extent of damage is still unknown, both lawmakers and regulators spoke out on the incident and suggested that Equifax may face political and legal repercussions. Ranking Member Brown, along with other Democrats, were quick to use the incident to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) arbitration rule.  And while, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said that his committee would be holding a hearing on the incident, although he did not state a date. Because Data is a multi-jurisdictional issue there could be multiple hearings, with Banking and Commerce Committees attempting to claim prime jurisdiction.   While the size and scope of the breach has yet to be fully determined, it is also unclear whether this breach will be the one that breaks the dam that has prevented Congress from enacting a data security bill for over 15 years. 
Select Highlights from the Administration
Federal Reserve
Fed’s No. 2, Stanley Fischer, to Step Down in October
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve’s second highest ranking official, Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer, announced he would resign in mid-October for personal reasons. The surprising move gives President Trump the chance to name yet another key Fed official after installing Randal Quarles as the Fed’s top regulator and the impending end of Janet Yellen’s term as Chair in February. Once Fischer leaves, the Fed’s board will be left with only three of its traditional seven members and pressure will be on the White House to make more nominations before the end of Yellen’s term.
Cohn Apparently Out of Favor for Fed Chair Nomination
Reports emerged last week that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn was no longer considered a favorite to replace Fed Chair Janet Yellen when her term ends in February 2018 after his remarks critical of President Trump in the wake of the protests and domestic terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. The President’s thinking on the Fed is largely unclear; with Cohn no longer considered viable for the post, some are suggesting that he may seek to renew Janet Yellen’s term given her similar dovish approach to interest rates. Republicans would likely have disdain for that choice and have pitched other names, such as former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh and Stanford University economist John Taylor.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
CFPB Director Aims to Discuss Student Loan Agreement with DeVos, Ed. Dept.
On Thursday, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray sent a letter to Department of Education secretary Betsy DeVos seeking to engage in a “constructive conversation” over the Education Department’s student loan program. The move comes after Education Department officials informed the CFPB it would stop sharing information with the Bureau as it had done so under a previous agreement, saying that the Bureau “undermined” its mission to serve students and borrowers. The conflict can easily be viewed through a partisan lens, given DeVos’ contentious nomination by President Trump and Director Cordray’s tumultuous term at the head of an agency reviled by Republicans.