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Waters: Financial Rules Fix Caught in 'Political Theater'

By Kate Ackley, CQ Roll Call

As the House was preparing to consider a measure on Monday that would give the Federal Reserve flexibility in regulating the capital standards for insurance firms, the financial services industry campaigned for passage.

But because the bill ( S 2270 ), which passed in the Senate was packaged with three others with broader changes in financial regulation, House Financial Services ranking Democrat Maxine Waters of California said she would oppose it on procedural grounds.

In a message to lawmakers, Waters said Republicans are advancing the measure as a package with changes to the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul law ( PL 111-203 ) “in a manner that is politically-motivated and unacceptable.”

Waters added, “It’s clear that this is an exercise in political theater.”

The Financial Services Roundtable sent two letters to lawmakers on Monday urging them to approve the measures.

“Ensuring the Federal Reserve can apply appropriate capital standards to insurers under its purview better enables these institutions to serve consumers and, importantly, practice effective risk management,” the lobbying group wrote in its letter to House leadership.

The other bills in the package include one ( HR 634 ) that would exempt end users or non-financial companies from putting up a cash reserve on derivatives trades; another ( HR 4167 ) that would pare back the Volcker rule and exempt banks from a requirement that they sell certain collateralized loan obligations; and a bill ( HR 3211 ) to loosen the definition of points and fees under the Qualified Mortgage rule.

Isaac Boltansky of the firm Compass Point Research and Trading said in a Monday memo that the developments complicated the route for passage of the Senate plan aimed at changing the so-called Collins amendment, for Sen. Susan Collins , R-Maine. “We continue to believe that the Collins amendment fix will become law in this Congress, but note that the bill may be taking a detour to passage,” Boltansky wrote.

State of Play

The Dodd-Frank Act (PL 111-203), the biggest rewrite of financial rules since the Great Depression, remains the main point of contention in Congress over financial regulation.

Republicans voted in near unanimity against the 2010 law and still oppose it, saying it is overly burdensome to financial firms, is a drag on the economy and won’t prevent future crises.

Democrats dispute this and argue Wall Street’s riskiest practices need to be reined in, and that consumers, the financial industry and the economy will be better off for it. The GOP-controlled House has passed numerous bills targeting Dodd-Frank, but barely any have advanced in the Democrat-led Senate or to President Barack Obama’s desk.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog for borrowers seeking mortgages, credit cards and other financial products, has been the target of significant Republican efforts to bring the agency under tight congressional oversight.

Republicans also have repeatedly sought to loosen rules on the over-the-counter derivatives market, which came under federal regulation for the first time in Dodd-Frank, and the House has passed bills targeting the Commodities Futures Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission in addition to the CFPB.

One change to Dodd-Frank that looks likely to become law by year’s end is a bill (S 2270) to shield large insurance companies from the so-called Collins Amendment, which mandates tough minimum capital requirements for “systemically important financial institutions.”

There is widespread support for the idea that insurers shouldn’t face bank-centric regulations. The Senate passed the measure unanimously in June 2014 and there is bipartisan backing in the House as well.
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