In an article for CQ, TRP’s Jason Rosenstock offered commentary on the Senate Democrats’ Banking Committee agenda for the 117th Congress. With Democrats in control, Rosenstock pointed out that the Biden administration will be able to staff up significantly quicker and with more liberal nominees compared to what was forecasted under a GOP-controlled Senate. Also on the agenda, he expects Senate Democrats to use the Congressional Review Act (PL 104-121) to rescind regulations finalized by the Trump administration in the last 60 legislative days. However, given the 50-50 margin in the upper chamber, Rosenstock aptly stated that centrist senators on the committee will affect the scope of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) agenda, leading to smaller, more targeted proposals on the issues Chairman Brown cares about.
The article in its entirety can be read below.
Brown sees housing, consumer finance on Senate Banking agenda
Jan. 12, 2021 – 3:35 p.m. By Jim Saksa, CQ
Sen. Sherrod Brown said Tuesday he plans to make the Senate Banking Committee focus more on workers and less on Wall Street in the new Congress, citing affordable housing, consumer financial protections and free bank accounts among his priorities.
“This committee in the past has been about Wall Street,” said Brown, D-Ohio, who is in line to become chairman of the panel when Democrats take control of the Senate. “I’m going to make it about workers and their families and what matters to their lives,” he said at a press conference.
Brown laid out the broad strokes of his agenda for the next two years, saying it would revolve around his legislative lodestar and catchphrase, “the dignity of work.”
“We’re going to view everything we do . . . through the dignity of work, through a climate lens and through a racial justice lens,” Brown said.
He pledged to lead an energetic committee, citing “pent up demand” for legislation and saying he would encourage subcommittee chairmen to be proactive. Under the leadership of Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, the panel marked up only a single bill during the 116th Congress and subcommittees rarely met.
Brown’s first priority will be a COVID-19 relief package Democrats are now putting together. “We need to continue the eviction moratorium, we need to provide more dollars so that people can pay their landlords and stay in their homes,” he said.
Lisa Peto, a former House Financial Services Committee chief counsel under Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Brown and Waters are in total agreement on emergency housing relief. “The two of them will work together to get that across the finish line,” said Peto, who is now at Mindset, a bipartisan public policy firm.
Brown said another COVID-19 bill could pass the Senate without having to rely on reconciliation, a process that allows passage of some budgetary bills by a simple majority. He said whether Democrats go down that road will depend on whether Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decides to resume the obstructionist approach he deployed during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Brown’s focus on the downtrodden would be a sharp departure from the committee’s focus the last few years under the leadership of Crapo, who oversaw successful legislative efforts to lighten bank regulations and overhaul the nation’s anti-money-laundering regime.
Until Democrats swept the Georgia runoff elections last week, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., seemed poised to take the committee’s gavel. Toomey, a free-market Republican who once ran the Club for Growth, will now lead his conference in the committee as ranking member.
“There are few people Brown and his staff get along with worse than Toomey, so that’s not a promising partnership,” Peto said. Despite that, Peto said Brown and his staff would still find a way to work with Toomey.
“He’s very pragmatic, very thoughtful. Yes, he’s certainly unabashed about standing up for workers, families and consumers, but, really, he’s just one of the most thoughtful members — and it extends to his staff too — that I’ve ever worked with,” she said of Brown.
Brown waived off concerns about working with Toomey, pointing to productive negotiations with him on COVID-19 relief last year. Brown said he’s had talks with Toomey and thinks there is room for agreement around some housing issues and on fintech topics.
Advancing President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees will be another immediate priority, Brown said, saying his staff was working now with Toomey’s to schedule hearings.
“The Biden administration will be able to staff up significantly quicker than it would under a Republican-controlled Senate,” said Jason Rosenstock, a lobbyist with Thorn Run Partners, noting that Biden’s picks will generally be more liberal now, too.
Impeachment could complicate matters and make it harder for Brown and other
Democrats to quickly confirm Biden’s nominations and get started on COVID-19 relief legislation, but Brown said the Senate could walk and chew gum at the same time.
“Congress can do two things at once,” he said, saying he could hold nomination hearings and work on writing a relief bill amid an impeachment trial in the Senate.
The House is scheduled to vote on impeachment Wednesday, but it isn’t clear when such articles would be sent to the Senate.
Beyond COVID-19 relief and nominations, Brown named some other priorities. He introduced 10 banking-related bills in the last session of the last Congress, which can be largely divided into two subjects: affordable housing and consumer financial protections. Brown indicated they would continue to be his focus.
He endorsed Biden’s pledge to make Section 8 rental assistance vouchers into an entitlement. Currently, only around a quarter of households that qualify for that assistance get it.
Brown also pledged to beef up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
He said he would push for providing individuals and regular companies free bank accounts through the Federal Reserve. Supporters say creating so-called Fed accounts would give millions of unbanked Americans access to financial services; critics say it would threaten to starve banks of the deposits they rely on to make loans, which would drag down the entire economy.
Legislatively, Brown’s liberal impulses may be restrained by moderate Democrats, including at least two on his committee — Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. “It’s still a 50-50 split,” said Rosenstock.
Newly-elected Sen. Mark Kelly is expected to vote in line with his fellow Arizonan and may also get a seat on Banking. Bills that make it out of committee would also still need to earn the support of conservative West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III.
Brown said he had spoken to all but one of the Democratic members of the panel since the Georgia races were called, and that he has asked each to share a list of their priorities as his staff molds a legislative agenda. “This will be a team effort,” Brown said. “I doubt if there’s anything we talked about today that doesn’t have almost unanimous support from these other senators,” he added, referring to the moderates.
Rosenstock thinks the centrist senators’ moderating influences will affect the scope of Brown’s ambitions more than the aim, leading to smaller proposals on the issues Brown cares most about.
Peto agreed, saying that Brown could still work on climate change legislation, but “he’ll have to scope it.”
The panel’s jurisdiction includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees public companies. Democrats in recent years have floated proposals to use public company disclosure requirements to influence corporate behavior — bills to force companies to report how many jobs they offshore, or publish their contingency plans for climate change. Democrats also have supported efforts to have banks give more consideration to climate change as a risk in making lending decisions.
Brown said Tuesday that Biden’s picks for the SEC board would be more supportive of efforts to support reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
Rosenstock also noted that Democratic control of the Senate means they’ll be able to use the Congressional Review Act (PL 104-121) to rescind regulations finalized by the Trump administration in the last 60 legislative days. Republicans used the law 16 times at the start of the Trump administration; before that it was used just once by the GOP at the start of George W. Bush’s administration.
Brown said his staff was identifying rules to target. “We are making a list,” he said.
Among the rules Brown might target is one being rushed through the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that would prevent banks from declining to work with controversial sectors. Facing pressures from shareholders and employees, some banks in recent years have stopped offering financing to gunmakers, fossil fuel companies and payday lenders.
The OCC’s proposed rule, if finalized before Biden takes office, would force banks to make lending decisions solely on credit risk assessments of the individual customers. Banks and consumer advocates oppose the rule.