U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said she is open to easing financial regulations to help community banks and consumers, so long as the changes aren’t veiled efforts to help Wall Street unwind the Dodd-Frank Act.
Warren, who has emerged as a scourge of big banks during her first term in Congress, said it is a mis-characterization of her views to suggest she sees the 2010 law as a “holy grail” that shouldn’t be touched. At the same time, she said lawmakers should be wary of bills being touted as aid for smaller firms.
“Anything that makes it easier for Wall Street to roll over community banks and customers is a real problem,” Warren said in an interview Thursday. “Anything that makes it easier for Wall Street to load up on risk so they can leave the American taxpayer holding the bag is a real problem for me.”
The Massachusetts Democrat, who led opposition against a rollback of derivatives rules in December, cited a plan backed by regional lenders such as PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Capital One Financial Corp. to boost the asset threshold for banks to face tighter Federal Reserve oversight.
“That sure doesn’t help community banks,” Warren said of the systemic-risk threshold. “There’s a lot of flexibility already in Dodd-Frank,” noting comments to that effect by Fed Chair Janet Yellen at a Senate hearing this week.
She also pointed to her criticism earlier this month of an American Bankers Association witness who backed mortgage-rule changes for community lenders that also would benefit big banks.
“I’m all for getting rid of regulations that make no sense,” Warren said in the interview. “What I will not support are changes that are justified by the claim they help small banks when in fact they’re designed to help the Wall Street banks. That, to me, is the heart of it.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, is weighing Dodd-Frank revisions including changes for community banks, the systemic risk threshold, the Fed and the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The panel is aiming to hold a vote on the legislation in April, according to Torrie Miller, a spokeswoman for the committee.
“It is my belief that we will discover several areas where there is bipartisan agreement that common-sense reform is needed,” Shelby said in a Feb. 23 statement where he announced the panel’s Dodd-Frank agenda.
Warren’s stance creates a potentially awkward situation for fellow Democrats who have previously supported amending the law. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, has said he would back some changes and last year co- sponsored a change benefiting insurers.
On efforts to reform the Fed, Warren said she opposes Senator Rand Paul’s bill that would subject the central bank to Government Accountability Office audits of monetary policy.
“The Fed is audited for every penny of its financial transactions,” she said. “What we don’t need is politicizing the Fed’s monetary-policy decision-making and that’s what the so-called audit the Fed bill will do.”
The Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on March 3 on proposals to reform the central bank. The panel will begin a series of hearings on raising the systemic-risk threshold on March 17.