WASHINGTON — As the House was expected to begin debating a massive regulatory reform bill Wednesday, Republicans offered a host of reasons to oppose the legislation while moderate Democrats endorsed amendments to weaken its impact.
A final vote on the bill from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank is expected this week.
Though debate had been expected to begin in the afternoon, it was delayed by Democrats, who were pushing amendments that would expand national bank preemption and water down a provision to create a new consumer protection agency.
Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill., backed a measure that would enhance the ability of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to preempt state consumer protections for national banks. The Bean amendment would let the OCC determine that a federal standard created by a new consumer protection agency is sufficiently high for all national banks and federal thrifts. As a result, any state law that exceeded this standard would be preempted.
The bill as written would allow the OCC to preempt state consumer laws on a case-by-case basis if they interfere with the business of banking.
Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, was also seeking debate on a substitute that would eliminate a provision creating a new consumer protection agency. Instead, his measure would let a council of regulators write both safety and soundness and consumer protection rules that would be enforced by the existing banking agencies.
It was unclear late Wednesday whether either amendment would be considered. The House Rules Committee must first rule that a potential amendment is germane to the underlying bill — a process that was not completed by deadline.
Republicans pointed to the fracas as proof that the bill was sloppily written and would cause unintended consequences.
"It was obvious that Chairman Frank himself didn't know what was in his own bill," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. "My guess is that people, members of Congress, have to vote on a bill that nobody knows completely what's in it."
The bill also would expand the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s ability to conduct an orderly wind-down of systemically significant firms, give the Federal Reserve Board the power to oversee systemic risk and create a consumer financial protection agency. The package of reforms would also regulate derivatives, reform the credit rating agencies, enhance investor protections and attach previously passed bills governing mortgage underwriting and executive compensation.