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Hensarling: Wall Street and Washington Must Be Held Accountable

Chairman Delivers Opening Statement at Volcker Rule Hearing


Washington, Feb 5 -

Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) delivered the following statement at today’s hearing on how the Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule will impact jobs.

During our last Volcker Rule hearing I mentioned receiving correspondence from a constituent of mine, Joseph of Mabank, Texas. He wrote me, “I am a disabled veteran and have been without work for over a year…all I want is to have a good-paying job.”

I receive way too many letters like this from folks like Joseph who are struggling to make ends meet, struggling in this struggling economy. There’s William who lives in Ben Wheeler, who says: “I have been out of work for the longest time since my teenage years.”

And Tina from Canton, who wrote me, “I haven’t been able to find a job suitable for my family’s needs.”

I do not recall ever in my lifetime when the challenges of upward mobility and economic opportunity for low and moderate income Americans have been greater. Not surprisingly, I also do not ever recall in my lifetime when the regulatory, red tape burdens on our job creators and capital markets have been greater. I believe, as do most, that there is a clear, direct causal link between the two.

Today’s exhibit: the 932-page complex, confounding, confusing and convoluted Volcker Rule. Like most of the other 400 rules in Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule is aimed at Wall Street, hits Main Street, and regrettably people like Joseph, William, and Tina have become collateral damage.

The Volcker Rule, I believe, remains a solution in search of a problem. Of the 450 financial institutions that failed during or as a result of the financial crisis, not one failed because of proprietary trading. In fact, financial institutions that varied their revenue streams were better able to weather the storm, keep lending and support job growth.

Instead, bank failures as we all know came largely from a concentration in lending in poorly underwritten residential real estate and sovereign debt markets. And who helped steer them into these markets? Regrettably, Washington. Between Fannie and Freddie’s Affordable Housing Goals, the CRA, NRSRO designations -- just to mention a few -- Washington regulators regrettably incented and blessed it all.

The great public policy tragedy of the financial crisis was not that Washington failed to prevent the crisis but instead that Washington helped cause it. Now with the Volcker Rule, Washington is doubling down on its catastrophic mistakes.

With something as large, momentous and anticipated as the Volcker Rule, surely it must offer great benefits to our financial system. But what are they? Paul Volcker himself has said proprietary trading was not a central cause of the crisis. Former Treasury Secretary Geithner has expressed a similar view. I am unaware of any economist or regulator who has been able to quantify precisely the Volcker Rule’s benefits. Many say the rule reduces risk in the financial system. That may be true, but studies that I have seen are mixed at best. And I remind all that without risk, there is no investment. Less investment means less capital formation, less capital formation means fewer job opportunities for Joseph, William, and Tina and the tens of millions who remain underemployed and unemployed in this economy. If Washington believes we need to eradicate greater risk from the system, perhaps then we should concentrate on substantially outlawing mortgage risk, which is at the epicenter of the crisis. But arguably the CFPB’s QM rule has largely accomplished that already.

As the benefits of Volcker remain questionable, evidence is mounting, though, that the costs will be enormous. There have been 18,000 comment letters – the vast majority of which have been negative – that ultimately the rule will be costly to hardworking American taxpayers. The Public Utility Commission of of my native Texas has warned that the Volcker Rule threatens my constituents with “higher and more volatile” electricity prices. Then there is the regulators’ own estimates that complying with Volcker will require 6.2 million hours – that’s hours and capital that could have been devoted to growing our economy and creating more jobs. There is research out of Washington University that Volcker will take $800 billion out of our economy – the equivalent of $6,900 out of every American household’s paycheck. There is ample testimony before our committee that companies will be faced with artificially higher borrowing costs and be forced to hoard more cash. As the evidence has mounted the Wall Street Journal has editorialized that the Volcker Rule creates “a limitless supply of ambiguity” and the Economist has stated the rule gives us “less liquid markets, higher transaction costs, a weaker financial system and, as usual, richer lawyers.”

Based on the evidence, it appears the costs outweigh the benefits. But the regulators who promulgated the rule don’t know for certain because none of the agencies conducted a cost-benefit economic analysis. In other words, they did not examine whether the Volcker Rule actually helps or hurts Joseph, William, Tina or all the others.

Some say we need the Volcker Rule to hold Wall Street accountable. It must be held accountable, but Washington must be held accountable as well. Wall Street is going to make money with or without the Volcker Rule. It is Americans on Main Street – the people who sent us here – who are being hurt daily in the regulatory tsunami of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and now the Volcker Rule. This committee and this Congress must and should do better.