Representative Jeb Hensarling on Wednesday launched what is expected to be a protracted fight over easing banking regulations by pointing to who hasn’t been supporting his effort: big Wall Street banks.
His legislation, the Financial Choice Act, would ensure that banks could no longer rely on taxpayers for bailouts, he said.
‘‘Perhaps that’s why press reports indicate that most Wall Street banks oppose the Financial CHOICE Act,’’ Hensarling, a Texas Republican, said during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee.
The bill offers the country’s nearly 6,000 banks a choice: If they want to avoid many of the regulatory burdens imposed during the Obama administration, they must significantly increase their emergency financial cushion. That would be costly for many big banks, who are not likely to opt for that option, industry experts say.
The 2010 banking overhaul law, known as Dodd Frank, helped big Wall Street banks while imposing regulations on small community banks that did not cause the financial crisis, Hensarling argued.
‘‘We were told it would lift our economy, but instead we are stuck in the slowest, weakest, most tepid recovery in the history of the Republic,’’ he said of Dodd Frank. ‘‘We have seen millions who remain unemployed and underemployed and an economy working at roughly half of its potential.’’
He said his legislation, dubbed the Financial Choice Act, would unleash the markets by lifting burdensome regulations.
While it is unclear whether any big bank chief executives have explicitly lobbied against Hensarling’s bill, several have said they do not want to see 2010’s Dodd-Frank law thrown out. ‘‘We have redesigned the way in which large financial institutions in this country function,’’ and reworking those regulations would add new uncertainty, Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman said recently. ‘‘I would not start again. That’s a terrifying thought to start again, because what’s going to replace it?’’
But Democrats, who have nicknamed Hensarling’s bill ‘‘The Wrong Choice Act,’’ noted that there is a lot in the proposal Wall Street does like. The bill weakens the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, and repeals the ‘‘Volcker rule,’’ which restricts big banks’ ability to make risky financial bets. Big banks would face ‘‘stress tests’’ less often to prove they could survive economic turmoil and regulators’ ability to provide oversight of insurance companies or hedge funds would also be curtailed.
And for big banks, the biggest boost in Hensarling’s may come through the proposed repeal of a provision, known as the Durbin amendment, which caps the fee banks can charge retailers for processing debit-card transactions. The provision ‘‘has cost consumers billions of dollars in diminished access to affordable banking services like free checking and debit card rewards,’’ James Ballentine, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, said in a letter to House and Senate members earlier this week.
Those types of changes help big banks, not small ones, Democrats said. ‘‘I have never seen so many bad ideas crammed into one bill,’’ said Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat.
‘‘I hope people are paying attention at home. . . . You should pay attention to this stuff.’’ Representative Maxine Waters of California, the ranking the Democrat on the committee, called the legislation ‘‘dead on arrival.’’
Despite objections from Democrats, the legislation is likely to pass the committee and face a House vote by the middle of next month. Its fate in the Senate is unclear. That chamber has not taken up similar legislation yet and it is expected to face a harsh reception from Democrats there.
The bill is just one part of what is expected to a multi-front effort by the Trump Administration to ease regulations on the banking industry. Trump has ordered three reviews of banking rules, including two last week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is scheduled to deliver a report to Trump in June on which industry rules should be rolled back.