GAC 2018: Legislative, Regulatory Waters Remain Muddied

GAC 2018: Legislative, Regulatory Waters Remain Muddied
February 23, 2018 Marketing GrafWebCUSO
The U.S. Capitol Building

Last year, thousands of credit union officials flocked CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference. With a new administration and a new Congress, they had many questions about nominees, regulatory moves and regulatory overhaul legislation.

A year later, thousands will come to our nation’s capital to attend GAC, with many of those questions remaining unanswered.

The legislative process moves slowly, as does the nominations process. 

And the regulatory process? Even more confusing.

Last year saw CFPB Director Richard Cordray make a series of moves—most notably the agency’s long-awaited payday lending rules. But when Cordray resigned to run for governor of Ohio, Trump-appointee Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has begun the process of rolling back many of the regulatory actions that Cordray took.

On the legislative front, the House last year passed a massive overhaul of Dodd-Frank—the Financial Choice Act sponsored by Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). The bill, among other things, would take away the CFPB’s supervisory responsibilities and make the agency subject to the annual appropriations process.

The bill passed with no Democrats voting in favor of it.

Even before the Financial Services panel considered the bill, it was clear that the Senate would never consider it.

Any regulatory overhaul bill would require 60 votes in the Senate, since the rules allow for filibusters. And Democrats—from Senate Banking ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) made it clear that they vehemently opposed the bill.

Brown spent part of the year negotiating with Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Id.) over a bill that could pass the Senate.

But those talks broke down and talks between Crapo and moderate Democrats on his committee intensified. The result was a far more modest bill than the House-passed regulatory bill.

The bill didn’t not touch the CFPB—the agency that Republicans love to hate.

While the Banking Committee passed the bill, it remains pending in the Senate, where groups representing credit unions and other financial institutions are pushing for floor consideration.

But even if the Senate passes the bill, House and Senate negotiators will have to reconcile differences between two vastly different measures. As an effort to try to ease those negotiations, House Republicans have been taking less controversial parts of the Financial CHOICE Act and passing them as standalone legislation.

This year was going to be a dicey one for the CFPB. Director Richard Cordray, an Obama Administration appointee, was scheduled to leave office this summer, which would allow President Trump to choose his own director.

Instead, Cordray confirmed rumors by resigning late last year to seek the Democratic nomination for Ohio governor.

Trump chose Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as acting director. Mulvaney said he did not intend to dismantle the agency, but he has signaled his intention to roll back many of Cordray’s initiatives.

But Mulvaney can only serve 210 days as director—a deadline that is waived if Trump nominates someone and that nomination is pending in the Senate. And Mulvaney’s choice is being challenged in federal court by Leandra English, Cordray’s hand-picked choice to fill the position.

But Trump has not nominated anyone.

There was a flurry of activity earlier this year when NCUA Chairman J. Mark McWatters’s name was floated as a possible nominee for the CFPB chief’s position.

However, banking groups said they vehemently opposed McWatters, who they feared would favor credit unions over banks.

Other names have been mentioned—including Hensarling, who is retiring at the end of the year. But the rumor mill has calmed down and it remains unclear when Trump will nominate a replacement.

Then, there’s the NCUA board.

The board is supposed to have three members; it now has two. By all indications, Republican Chairman J. Mark McWatters and Democrat Rick Metsger are working well together.

But Metsger’s term technically has expired and it appears that he’s going to serve until there’s a replacement.

That means that Trump has two people to nominate—the vacant seat and Metsger’s seat.

Only one of those nominees can be a member of the president’s political party.

And it’s a mid-term election year with a volatile electorate. Members of Congress are likely to want to spend as little time as possible in Washington and so that may further limit what can be accomplished between now and next year’s GAC.