WASHINGTON The Senate Banking Committee is working to craft a bipartisan deal on regulatory relief, but if those efforts stall it's possible banking provisions could pop up again as part of key spending and fiscal measures later this year.
Speculation about such a move comes even after many Democrats, led in part by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., revolted in December when language rolling back a controversial Dodd-Frank Act swaps provision was included in a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The legislation ultimately passed with support from top bankers and the White House, though the wounds are still fresh for critics.
Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has said his priority is to move a banking reform package through the Senate under regular order, though observers haven't ruled out other methods for moving measures he deems important.
"Sen. Shelby is a highly skilled, very savvy policymaker and legislator he's been there a long time, he knows the process and he's very good at parliamentary maneuvers, so it would not surprise me" if he finds a work-around, said Camden Fine, president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Analysts and industry officials point to several potential avenues Shelby could take to get certain measures signed into law if he has trouble reaching a bipartisan compromise or struggles to move legislation on the chamber floor. Options include using the appropriations process for government funding or a debt ceiling deal, both likely to come up for debate in the second half of the year.
Shelby is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee this Congress in addition to running the banking panel, giving him a direct hand in the process. He may also have an ally in Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, chair of the appropriations subcommittee focused on financial services, who has signaled that he'd like to help reduce the regulatory burden on small banks an issue that also tops Shelby's list of concerns.
"Senator Boozman is committed to meaningful and common sense reform. Dodd-Frank was intended to end 'too big to fail,' but all it has done is eliminate the competitors of the big banks. Small business is the backbone of the American economy, and community banks are the backbone of small businesses," said a spokeswoman for the lawmaker in a statement to American Banker. "Community banks had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis, but they're being treated as though they did. It's too early to discuss specifics, but Senator Boozman is working with his colleagues to provide common sense regulatory relief to community banks."
A spokeswoman for Shelby said only that he is focused on producing a deal with Democrats on the banking panel.
"The chairman is very committed to producing legislation that will receive bipartisan support, and that's going through the committee via regular order," she said.
Looking ahead, those following the committee's efforts said that Shelby would be most likely to pursue changes within the appropriations or debt ceiling process if talks with Democrats ultimately break down. For now, Shelby and the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are said to be working on a deal, though a series of hearings last month left many with the sense that an agreement would require significant negotiations.
The committee has so far held hearings on regulatory relief for community and regional banks, as well as potential changes to the Federal Reserve Board and the Financial Stability Oversight Council a sweeping set of issues.
"Part of it depends on how regular order goes. If it completely breaks down and there's no willingness from Senate Democrats on anything, I could see him try to push the envelope on appropriations," said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute and a former Shelby staffer. "If Shelby and Republicans feel like Democrats are willing to sit down at the table, then it's less likely that anything gets jammed through appropriations."
It's too early to have a clear sense for what measures could end up in an appropriations bill or a debt ceiling deal. Some observers pointed to more divisive provisions, such as measures to change the structure or funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Whether such measures could survive a final vote and avoid a veto by President Obama remains a key question. Other observers, meanwhile, suggested that less divisive provisions, like those to help community bankers, might be an easier sell.
Still, any efforts to include banking measures in must-pass legislation particularly more controversial changes, like those affecting the CFPB are a more tenuous bet after last year's fight over the Dodd-Frank swaps "push-out" rule in the December spending bill.
Republicans have control in the Senate this year, but they need some Democratic support to avoid a filibuster, and neither party necessarily wants to shoulder the blame for blowing up a major deal on spending or fiscal policy over an unrelated banking provision after that fight.
"Appropriations bills can be convenient when things go under the radar, go undetected but that's not the case anymore," said Brian Gardner, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.