US Senate Greasing Skids for Next Bank Crash
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to begin floor debate on a bill (S. 2155) that would weaken regulations of banks, large and small, and grease the skids for the next bank crash. After the severe bank crash of 2008, in order to guard against future such crashes, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank law, which enacted the regulations the bill would now weaken. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the bill for budget costs, and figured $671 million over ten years. But the CBO said its estimate was "subject to considerable uncertainty" due to a "slightly greater" "probability in any year that a systemically important financial institution (SIFI) will fail or that there will be a financial crisis." However, in 2008, we saw what some of the real cost to the country could be: $821 billion to the federal government, plus $3.4 trillion in real estate wealth and 5.5 million jobs lost.
The banking bill started out with an aim to aid small community banks and credit unions. But soon lobbyists pushed in terms aiding big bank profits. And so the bill became known as the "Bank Lobbyist Act." A few of the more risky terms would:
- raise the limit over which a bank is big enough to get more oversight and regulation. The limit would go from $50 billion to $250 billion. Some of the most damaging failures of 2008 were for banks in that asset range. Today, 25 of the nation's largest banks fall in that range, and would be freed for more profits -- and more systemic risk.
- lower the amount of capital required to back $100 in loans from $5 to effectively $3.50. That change was the plum that the huge financial corp Citigroup lobbied for.
- change the frequency of "stress tests," which a big bank must undergo to make sure it is sound, from semi-annual to an unspecified "periodic" interval.
The Senate Banking Committee chair, Mike Crapo (R-ID), and ranking member, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), negotiated on the banking bill for months, before Brown walked away. Brown said:
There was some agreement that we should help community banks. But it starts with changing the rules for small banks and then you have to do it for the big guys.
But, instead of following Brown, the next day four committee Democrats -- Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA) -- resumed negotiations. Within weeks, they reached agreement with Republicans, and sent the Bank Lobbyist Act out of committee, 16-7 (R's 12-0; D's 4-7). Democratic staffers believe that Donnelly, Heitkamp, and Tester -- being up for re-election in Trump-voting states -- think it would help them to say they were "bipartisan" on something. And, we might also imagine that it would help them with their campaign financing. The three senators have received the most money from commercial banks during the 2018 election cycle so far. But Brown, also from a Trump-voting state, does not think that way:
I don’t hear an outcry, whether in Appalachia or downtown Toledo, saying be bipartisan and give lots of stuff to big banks.
17 Democrats joined all Republicans to send the banking bill to the Senate floor, 67-32. So, it would take changing 8 votes to stop the Bank Lobbyist Act by filibuster. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who did a good job of keeping the Democratic caucus together for the Republican tax cut bill, has been on the sidelines for this one.
The Bank Lobbyist Act, as it sits today, is very unlikely to be its final form. Since Tuesday, 146 amendments have been proposed. Also, last summer the House passed a more severe Dodd-Frank roll-back bill. And Republican leaders are aiming to stuff enough of the House bill into the Senate product to get the House to pass it without going to House-Senate conference. Senate debate is set to continue on Monday (March 12).
Democratic Senators Voting Bank Lobbyist Act to Floor
The following Democratic senators joined Republicans in voting to proceed with the Bank Lobbyist Act:
- BENNET (CO)
- CARPER (DE)
- COONS (DE)
- DONNELLY (IN)
- HASSAN (NH)
- HEITKAMP (ND)
- JONES (AL)
- KAINE (VA)
- KING (ME) - Independent caucusing with Democrats
- MANCHIN (WV)
- MCCASKILL (MO)
- NELSON (FL)
- PETERS (MI)
- SHAHEEN (NH)
- STABENOW (MI)
- TESTER (MT)
- WARNER (VA)
Petition to Chuck Schumer: "Please speak out loudly and forcefully against the Bank Lobbyist Act, and tell your Democratic colleagues to drop their support of the bill.”
Help Sherrod Brown win re-election in 2018.
Image: Lehman Brothers 1850-2008 (AP Images)
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