WASHINGTON House lawmakers started the new year off divided on Wednesday, with Democrats ultimately defeating a package of financial services measures that included relief from a key Dodd-Frank Act rule.
The focus of the 11-bill package centered on a two-year delay for banks to sell off millions of dollars' worth of certain collateralized loan obligations under the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks' investment in hedge funds and private equity. The measure would push the compliance deadline to July 2019, and follows an earlier two-year delay on legacy CLOs granted by regulators last spring through July 2017. Regulators also announced a two-year delay last month, again until July 2017, to divest ownership on a wider scope of private equity and hedge funds.
But critics warned that the move is part of a larger push to undermine the financial reform law, sparking heated debate during Congress's first week back in the new term.
The package is a "Wall Street wish list," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "The Republican package represents a brazen attempt to dismantle essential Wall Street reforms and sneak through a New Year's present to big banks."
The legislation comes on the heels of another divisive battle in the House during last year's lame-duck session, when Democrats objected to the rollback of a Dodd-Frank provision requiring banks to push out certain swaps from depository institutions and into affiliates.
That measure which was included in a larger spending deal ultimately passed. But it led to a series of negative headlines for the megabanks, which were the beneficiaries. The same rhetoric has extended into the battle this week, and it's likely that the earlier fight helped unify Democrats this time around.
"I am very pleased that House Democrats joined together to successfully fight against this Republican effort, a strong rebuke to their strategy of moving controversial legislation in the dead of night," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, said in a statement after the vote.
The Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act included a host of other, less controversial provisions, including the removal of an indemnification requirement to allow regulators to share swaps data with their foreign counterparts and a clarification under Dodd-Frank for nonbank affiliates that use a central treasury unit. The package also contains an exemption on margin requirements for end users such as manufacturers and utilities involved in derivatives trades.
The bill was defeated under a procedure known as suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds vote. The bill won 276 votes, short of the 290 needed for approval under suspension, with 146 votes against. The bill is expected to return under regular order sometime later this year, which would require only a majority vote to pass.
"I hope that the House will return to this bipartisan bill in the near future," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the banking panel, said in a statement following the vote. He added that many of the provisions received strong bipartisan support last term.
Meanwhile, the chamber also took up legislation to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act for six years the same measure that failed to pass the Senate last month. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who retired at the end of the term, blocked the bill over an objection to an unrelated bill, forcing lawmakers to renew it this year.
Last year's legislation would have extended the program for six years and made several changes to its structure, including doubling the trigger for when it goes into effect from $100 million to $200 million. The bill also included the same end-users change included in the legislative package that was defeated on Wednesday, along with another measure requiring that someone with community banking experience sit on the Federal Reserve Board.
While observers warned that Hensarling, one of the lead negotiators of the deal with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., could push for more concessions in the wake of the legislation's failure, House leaders opted to proceed with the same bill when they added to the floor schedule earlier this week.
The measure passed easily by a vote of 416-5, and now moves on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
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Corrected January 8, 2015 at 12:43PM: The original version of this story had the incorrect vote totals.