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  • Senate and House Committees File Separate Resolutions Disapproving of CFPB Arbitration Rule

    Federal Issues

    On July 20, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the House Financial Services Committee each announced Congressional Review Act Joint Resolutions of Disapproval against the CFPB’s Arbitration Agreements final rule issued July 10. In a press release issued by the Senate Committee, 24 Republican senators—including Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)—expressed concern that the anti-arbitration measure will discourage cost-effective dispute resolution and push consumers into class action lawsuits causing more harm than good. House Republicans outlined similar concerns in a press release issued the same day. H.J. Res. 111, co-sponsored by all 34 Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee, will seek to nullify the rule, which they believe “punish[es] consumers with decreased access to financial products, increased costs for such products, or both.”

    The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to overturn agency rules by a simple majority if moved within 60 days from the rule’s publication.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Arbitration CFPB Senate Banking Committee CRA House Financial Services Committee Congress Class Action

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  • Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Releases Flood Insurance Bill

    Federal Issues

    On July 17, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) released the text of the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, which would reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and extend it another six years. Among the provisions covered in the bill are: (i) risk mitigation, particularly in repeatedly flooded communities; (ii) compliance cost increases; (iii) predisaster hazard mitigation programs; (iv) flood risk disclosure requirements for sellers or lessors of real estate; (v) flood mapping program improvements; and (vi) various program improvements, including requirements for federal banking regulators to conduct annual compliance studies on mandatory purchase requirements in special flood hazard areas, and directions for “FEMA to annually study NFIP participation in areas outside of special flood hazard areas.”

    “We have held multiple hearings and worked on a bipartisan basis to hear thoughts and concerns from the Program's stakeholders, regulators and from Banking Committee members,” Crapo and Brown stated in a joint release. “This bill represents the many areas where we have found agreement, and we look forward to working with our colleagues to address outstanding issues.”

    The bill is one of many introduced this year in both the Senate and the House as the NFIP is set to expire at the end of September. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.)

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation National Flood Insurance Program Congress Senate Banking Committee

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  • Senate Banking Committee to Host July 20 Hearing on Mortgage Reform

    Federal Issues

    On July 20, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on mortgage reform for small lenders. The hearing, entitled “Housing Finance Reform: Maintaining Access for Small Lenders,” will feature witnesses from the American Bankers Association, the Credit Union National Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, the Community Mortgage Lenders of America, and the Community Home Lenders Association.

    Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Mortgages ABA NCUA CUNA ICBA Mortgage Lenders

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  • Senate Banking Committee Seeks Perspectives of Midsized, Regional, and Large Institutions, Regulators on Economic Growth

    Federal Issues

    On June 15, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (Committee) held a hearing entitled, “Fostering Economic Growth: Midsized, Regional and Large Institution Perspective”. This is the third in a series of hearings to address economic growth. Frequent topics of discussion in the hearing included stress testing and capital planning—specifically the Federal Reserve’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review stress test. Also discussed was the Systemically Important Financial Institution designation and costs incurred as a result, as well as the Volker Rule.

    Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Chairman of the Committee, remarked in his opening statement that the current regulatory framework is “insufficiently tailored for many of the firms subject to it.”

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) – ranking member of the Committee—released an opening statement in which he stated “Let me be clear: proposals to weaken oversight of the biggest banks have no place in this committee’s process. . . Having said that, I am optimistic that there is room for agreement on a modified regime for overseeing regional banks.”

    The June 15 hearing—a video of which can be accessed here—included testimony from the following witnesses:

    • Mr. Harris Simmons, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Zions Bancorporation, on behalf of the Regional Bank Coalition (prepared statement)
    • Mr. Greg Baer, President of The Clearing House Association (prepared statement)
    • Mr. Robert HillChief Executive Officer of South State Corporation, on behalf of the Midsize Bank Coalition of America (prepared statement)
    • Ms. Saule Omarova, Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School (prepared statement)

    On June 22, the Senate Banking Committee held another hearing entitled “Fostering Economic Growth: Regulator Perspective, the fourth in its series of hearings focusing on economic growth. The hearing is available via webcast here.

    Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Systemic Risk Bank Regulatory Bank Supervision FDIC OCC NCUA Federal Reserve Volker Rule CCAR

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  • Senators Introduce Bipartisan National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Bill

    Federal Issues

    On June 13, a bipartisan group of senators introduced draft legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for six years, while incorporating reforms to address sustainability, affordability, and efficiency. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee overseeing the NFIP, and a co-sponsor of the Sustainable, Affordable, Fair and Efficient National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (SAFE NFIP), stated in a press release issued by his office, “SAFE NFIP addresses critical problems with the program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), following Superstorm Sandy and other disasters: unsustainability, low participation rates, inaccurate flood maps, an indifference to the benefits of flood control infrastructure, agency mismanagement, unsustainable debt service costs and contractor profiteering.” Among other things, the Act proposes a cap on premium rate hikes and an interest freeze on the NFIP’s debt to the Treasury for six years after enactment and fosters investments in mitigation efforts. U.S. Senators John Kennedy (R-La.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) cosponsored the bill.

    Federal Issues National Flood Insurance Program Senate Banking Committee Federal Legislation

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  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Policies and Goals

    Federal Issues

    On May 18, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Domestic and International Policy Update” with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—his first hearing since being sworn in. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the full committee hearing asserting that “[w]e want our nation’s banks to be well-capitalized and well-regulated, without being drowned by unnecessary compliance costs. Undue regulation chills innovation and imposes significant and unnecessary costs and burdens on financial institutions and companies, often disproportionately on smaller ones.” Sen. Crapo further stressed that “[h]ousing finance reform remains the most significant piece of unfinished business following the crisis, and it is important to build bipartisan support for a path forward.” Ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) likewise delivered opening remarks. Sen. Brown stated that regulation improvements for banks, shadow banks, and the financial services industry must be “based on facts” and that a better way to improve the economy and create jobs would be through “an effective means like infrastructure investment” rather than the “thoroughly discredited” trickle down approach.

    Mnuchin was the only witness at the May 18 hearing, offering testimony and answering questions concerning, among other things, (i) currency manipulation; (ii) the establishment of a “Monitoring List” of closely watched economies; (iii) comprehensive tax reform (stating that a goal of 3 percent GDP or higher is “achievable if we make historic reforms to both taxes and regulation”); (iv) regulatory reform (noting that the Treasury’s initial report will offer “recommendations to provide relief for community banks and make regulations more efficient and effective and appropriately tailored”); (v) imposing sanctions and efforts to combat terrorist activities and financing; and (vi) housing finance reform (maintaining that Treasury plans to work with Congress to ensure both ample credit for housing and that taxpayers are not put at risk).

    Mnuchin faced questions from several Senators after he testified, including Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn). In response Sen. Tester’s question as to whether Mnuchin could commit that the President’s tax relief plan would not add to the debt, Mnuchin replied that “any plan that we put forward we believe should be paid for with economic growth.” Sen. Cortez Masto asked what the Treasury was doing about the Trump Administration’s lack of focus on policies supporting American consumers and homeowners, questioning, “Why doesn’t President Trump’s Executive Order that rolls back Wall Street reforms mention consumer or investor protection even once? Why doesn’t it direct you to consider the financial needs of borrowers, students, service-members, seniors, homeowners?” Accordingly, Sen. Corker asked whether Mnuchin is "strongly committed to finally dealing with housing finance reform in an appropriate way,” to which Mnuchin replied, “My strong preference is to do it through congressional action.”

    Federal Issues Treasury Department Senate Banking Committee

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  • FHFA Director Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Housing Finance System and Prospects for Reform

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing at which FHFA Director Mel Watt fielded questions from lawmakers about the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) and prospects for housing finance reform. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted that Fannie and Freddie have been in conservatorship for close to nine years, and stated that “a housing finance system dependent on two government sponsored enterprises in perpetual conservatorship is not a sustainable solution.” According to Sen. Crapo, because approximately 70 percent of mortgages are backed by the federal government, “if the housing market experiences a downturn, taxpayers could again be on the hook for billions of dollars.” Ultimately, the Chairman set forth his position that housing finance reform should be considered the “most significant piece of unfinished business following the financial crisis.” 

    Meanwhile, FHFA Director Watt testified that, under his leadership, FHFA has “responsibly balanced” and met its “multiple statutory mandates to manage the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.” He also identified some of the key changes and reforms that have taken place during the conservatorships, including: (i) requiring the Enterprises to emphasize sound underwriting practices in their purchase guidelines; (ii) reducing the Enterprises’ retained portfolios by over sixty percent since 2009; and (iii) developing effective loss mitigation programs, which include aligning the Enterprises’ loss mitigation standards and developing updated loan modification and streamlined refinance products to follow the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

    Director Watt also acknowledged that “FHFA knows probably better than anyone that these conservatorships are not sustainable” and urged Congress to act on several issues related to housing finance reform, including:

    • developing a transition process to a new housing finance system to avoid disruption to the housing finance market;
    • determining whether the federal government should provide taxpayer backing for the conservatorship, and if so, in what form;
    • addressing the role the Enterprises might play in the reformed housing finance system and what statutory changes to their organizational structures, purposes, ownership and operations will be needed to ensure that they play their assigned roles effectively; and
    • identifying what regulatory and supervisory structure and authorities will be needed in a reformed system, and who will have responsibility to exercise those authorities.

    Furthermore, Director Watt noted that under the provisions of the Enterprises’ Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, on January 1, 2018 the $1.2 billion buffer protecting the Enterprises against having to make additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter would be reduced to zero, at which time “neither Enterprise will have the ability to weather any loss it experiences in any quarter without drawing further on taxpayer support.” Director Watt warned that such a situation could erode investor confidence and “stifle liquidity in ways that could increase the cost of mortgage credit to borrowers.” Accordingly, the Director argued that the Enterprises “need some kind of [capital] buffer to shield against short-term operating losses” that could “result in an additional draw of taxpayer support and reduce the fixed dollar commitment Treasury has made to support the Enterprises.”

    Reaction of Industry Organizations. In a statement issued shortly after the hearing, Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), expressed support for Director Watt after his testimony, agreeing about the need for Fannie and Freddie “to retain their earnings and to start rebuilding their capital buffers.” Meanwhile, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) financial policy expert John Berlau was critical of what he called “an unfair, ongoing government policy of confiscating all Fannie/Freddie shareholder profits.” According to Mr. Berlau, the Enterprises’ “perilous financial state is the direct result of the Obama administration’s 2012‘Third Amendment’ policy, which confiscates all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits for the US Treasury.” He argued that curtailing this policy would allow the Enterprises to “retain some earnings and build capital to spare taxpayers another bailout.”

    Federal Issues FHFA Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ICBA Treasury Department

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  • Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Hears Testimony About National Flood Insurance Program

    Federal Issues

    On May 4, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held the second in a series of hearings entitled “Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, Part II,” to further debate the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the full committee hearing asserting that by “[w]orking together, and balancing reforms that protect taxpayers and assist consumers, we can reauthorize the Program on time.” However, Sen. Crapo further stressed the need to answer important questions including “[h]ow to offer consumers more choice by growing the private market and ensuring shared risk by both the government and private sector and how long the Program should be reauthorized,” among others. The May 4 hearing included testimony and recommendations to help modernize and reform the NFIP from the following witnesses:

    • Mr. Steve Ellis, Vice President of Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), on behalf of the Smarter Safer coalition (testimony). Ellis stated that TCS supports the flood insurance reforms released by Smarter Safer, which include the following: (i) “[r]isk analysis and mapping must be up to date and must provide property level elevation data”; (ii) “[r]ates must be tied to risk, with support for mitigation and premium support for low-income homeowners”; (iii) “[i]ncreased federal investments and efforts on mitigation both at a property level and community wide, so that we are reducing rates by reducing risk”; and (iv) “[e]nsuring consumer choice and private sector competition to reduce taxpayer exposure.” TCS also argued for a five-year reauthorization schedule as opposed to a longer one that would “delay adjustments and reforms to the program.”
    • Mr. Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., on behalf of the Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance (CSFI) (testimony). Hecht stressed that CSFI is focused on “advocating for a stronger policy framework for the National Flood Insurance Program that recognizes the economic, cultural, defense, and other national contributions made by communities exposed to flood risk,” and introduced four primary policy areas that will foster this stronger framework: Mitigation, Mapping, Affordability, and Program Participation.
    • Mr. Larry Larson, Director Emeritus of the Association for State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) (testimony). Larson testified that ASFPM recommends, among many other things, that Congress: (i) consider a “shorter multi-year reauthorization of 2-3 years so FEMA can more fully develop affordability recommendations”; (ii) “develop a threshold above which the federal government will backstop claims resulting from catastrophic events for the NFIP based on an evaluation of the program’s current financial capacity”; (iii) “forgive the current NFIP debt”; and (iv) “give FEMA the flexibility to offer additional flood insurance policy options and make changes to existing options without the need for extensive rulemaking.”

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, draft bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the NFIP for 10 years was introduced on April 26.   The current version of the NFIP expires at the end of September.

    Federal Issues Flood Insurance National Flood Insurance Program Senate Banking Committee

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  • FHFA Director Appeared Before the Senate Banking Committee on May 11; Discussed Fannie/Freddie, Proposed "Underserved Markets Plans"

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs met in open session at 10:00 a.m. to discuss “The Status of the Housing Finance System After Nine Years of Conservatorship.” Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt was the only witness scheduled to testify.

    The hearing comes after Fannie Mae (Fannie) and Freddie Mac (Freddie) published their first quarter financial reports. On May 2, Freddie announced $2.2 billion in net income in the first quarter—all of which Freddie expects to distribute to the Treasury, bringing the total to $108.2 billion in dividends. (See also Q1 2017 Supplement.) Notably, the $2.2 billion figure was down from its fourth quarter net income of $4.8 billion. Similarly, on May 5, Fannie reported net income of $2.8 billion in the first three months of 2017, money that will be sent to Treasury, which brings its total payments to $162.7 billion. The net income was a significant decline from the $5 billion it reported for the fourth quarter of 2016.

    Fannie and Freddie also recently released their respective “Underserved Markets Plans” for public comment. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FHFA published a final rule in the December 18 Federal Register implementing certain Duty to Serve provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, these provisions require Fannie and Freddie to each adopt a formal “Underserved Markets Plan” to improve the availability of mortgage financing for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The Plans can be accessed through the following links:

    As explained on the FHFA’s DTS Underserved Markets Plan page, the activities and objectives in each of these Plans may be subject to change based on factors including public input, FHFA comments, compliance with the Enterprises' Charter Acts, safety and soundness considerations, and market or economic conditions. To this end, “views of interested stakeholders are sought on whether the proposed Plans would effectively serve the underserved markets if carried out as proposed, or if there are modifications that each Enterprise should consider making to its proposed Plan to better serve these underserved markets.”  The period during which the Enterprises are receiving public input on the proposed Plans will end on July 10. 

    Pursuant to the same new rule, FHFA has also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to provide: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of the Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans each year.  The deadline for public input on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance is June 7.

    Federal Issues FHFA Congress Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Treasury Department

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  • Supporting America’s Innovators Act of 2017 Passes in House Vote

    Federal Issues

    On April 6, a bipartisan bill entitled, Supporting America’s Innovators Act of 2017 (H.R. 1219) was received in the Senate after passing through the House by a 417-3 margin. The securities-related bill – which is now pending before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, amends the provisions of the Investment Company Act of 1940 that require venture capital funds with more than 100 investors to register with the SEC. As previously reported in InfoBytes, the bill would serve to raise the cap on the number of investors from 100 to 250, thereby facilitating greater access to venture capital funding for small businesses and startups. In a press release issued by the House Financial Services Committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patrick McHenry explains that H.R. 1219 is intended to, among other things, “address the challenges facing angel investing so that startups and small businesses can have better access to capital,” by “creating a regulatory framework that encourages innovation and growth, while ensuring that shareholder and investor protections remain strong.”

    Federal Issues House Financial Services Committee Securities Senate Banking Committee

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