By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: December 6, 2017
Just when you thought the bills coming out of this Congress could not get any more repugnant in their giveaways to the richest Americans, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee proved otherwise yesterday.
The hearing to approve Senate Bill S.2155 was so tainted with doublespeak and preposterous assertions that it would beef up consumer protections, while actually slashing them to shreds, that the video of the hearing has just up and disappeared. As of 8:00 a.m. this morning, it’s not on the Senate Banking Committee website. All that we could locate to review what actually went down in this sellout-to-the-rich session was an audio recording at C-SPAN. Curiously, however, there are numerous breaks in this audio where the speaker’s comments are cut off. Typically, these occur when a Democrat is challenging some provision in the bill. C-SPAN notes that the audio “was produced by the U.S. Congress.”
In a shocking rebuke to their constituents, four Democrats on the Banking Committee joined with 12 Republicans to pass the measure. Those four are: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.
In his opening statement, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, called the bill “Christmas for the C-suite, and crumbs for the Cratchits.” His full statement appears below.
In a 7-page, November 30 letter to the Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo and ranking member Brown, the nonprofit watchdog, Public Citizen, provided a detailed critique of the critical consumer protections that would be rolled back under this bill. The letter stated:
“When Senator Crapo became chair, he proposed an open process, and he invited proposals for economic growth. This drew scores of thoughtful proposals. Public Citizen advanced two ideas: one to establish an office at the Securities and Exchange Commission to promote employee concerns in the market; and another to restore the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banking, a policy endorsed by both Republican and Democratic platforms. Since then, however, the committee has failed to consider these ideas in hearings.
“We applaud the committee for its hearings on pressing problems, such as the scandals at Equifax and Wells Fargo. But we are disappointed that the legislation now before the committee fails to address needed reforms to protect regular Americans from the types of harms these institutions perpetrated. Instead, this bill would roll back the safeguards put in place after the crash to help those same consumers.”
Full Statement by Ranking Member Senator Sherrod Brown at December 5, 2017 Hearing of the Senate Banking Committee on S.2155, the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act.”
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I was hopeful we could have reached an agreement on a bill to provide meaningful relief to consumers, small banks and credit unions, and regional banks. Unfortunately, I do not believe this bill does that, and am also concerned that we have not appropriately vetted this bill.
Last week, the Senate passed a tax bill that helps pass-throughs, corporations and the wealthiest Americans. I guess the idea behind it is that adding to their wealth will trickle down to working people in America.
This week, we seem to be applying the same theory to the banking industry. This bill makes changes to help some of the largest banks in this country — and the world — while rolling back some of the protections put in place after the Great Recession to protect homebuyers and homeowners.
This bill does make a number of small changes for consumers, and perhaps more will be adopted. Here’s the key difference – the banks will be saving real money; but what about working people?
There’s nothing to help people with record high levels of student loan debt; nothing to help those with underwater mortgages; and nothing to help workers who are struggling to get by. Some 60% of Americans have seen their wages decrease on a real basis since 2006.
This bill claims to promote economic growth, regulatory relief, and consumer protection. As Meat Loaf tells us, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” But this bill doesn’t even meet the Meat Loaf minimum.
If we learned anything from the financial crisis, it is that deregulation of the banks doesn’t create economic growth, instead it puts millions of Americans at risk—like the five million families who were foreclosed upon during the crisis.
And it is clear this Administration is heading down the same path this country traveled prior to the financial crisis.
It has installed individuals as financial watchdogs who won’t bother to bark at the former colleagues they know so well.
And then look at what the Administration did last week at the CFPB—the only agency devoted to protecting consumers from financial institutions. It ignored the clear language of Dodd-Frank and named Mick Mulvaney, a member of the President’s cabinet, to run an independent agency.
His first action at what he called a “sick, sad” joke of an agency was to block the payment of funds owed to consumers.
And then there is this bill.
- It puts taxpayers at greater risk of bank bailouts by weakening the rules on the some of the nation’s largest banks. Banks between $100-$250 billion took $239 billion in TARP funds;
- It weakens stress tests for both regional banks and larger banks. Stress tests are one of the most important tools put in place after the crisis to ensure banks can withstand the next crisis;
- It reduces capital requirements and other important rules for banks above $50 billion;
- The provisions in the bill related to qualified mortgages, manufactured housing, escrow accounts, appraisals, and mortgage data remove consumer protections put in place after the housing crisis, especially the most vulnerable;
- It does virtually nothing to help hardworking Americans who haven’t seen the benefits of the economic recovery.
I support providing some relief to small banks and credit unions, but I think this bill unwisely chooses to do so by rolling back protections for people from the very activities that led to the crisis. Just as the nation’s smallest banks didn’t cause the crisis, neither did mortgage customers.
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to enter into the record letters from consumer advocacy and civil rights groups that are also concerned about this bill and its impact on American families.
My colleagues and I will offer amendments today to try to make improvements to this bill. But I am not optimistic that many will be adopted, because what is driving this bill is the demands of the banking industry, not the needs of ordinary Americans.
This bill, like the tax bill last week and the health care bill before it, sends the message that this Congress is not very interested in helping hardworking middle class Americans.
It’s Christmas for the C-suite, and crumbs for the Cratchits.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.