WASHINGTON — Banking industry lobbyists and representatives are practically salivating over the election results, convinced that Republican control of the White House and Congress will finally give them the opportunity to roll back key parts of the Dodd-Frank Act.
President-elect Donald Trump's transition team declared war Thursday on the 2010 financial reform law, vowing to "dismantle" it while blaming the law for slow economic growth.
"The Dodd-Frank economy does not work for working people," the transition team said. "Bureaucratic red tape and Washington mandates are not the answer. The Financial Services Policy Implementation team will be working to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation."
Changes to the financial reform law have effectively been off-limits under President Obama, who helped usher in the legislation and used veto threats to deter efforts to weaken financial regulation.
But the combination of GOP control of the legislative and executive branches and a 2018 election map that threatens vulnerable Democrats gives the industry its best chance in six years to change the law.
"It bodes better for achieving community bank regulatory relief to have the same party in charge of the administration and the Congress," said Paul Merski, executive vice president of congressional relations at the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Republicans lost two seats in the Senate and another six in the House, but in 2018, 25 Senate Democrats will be defending their seats with eight to 10 of them (depending on the final results of Michigan and New Hampshire) being in states won by Trump. In contrast, just eight Republicans are up for re-election.
"I think they would be more than willing today to offer and support bipartisan legislation" that would amend parts of Dodd-Frank, said Richard Hunt, president and chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association.
Democrats have already said they support some regulatory relief, though they differ with Republicans over what to change and how far to go.
The most likely vehicle for change is the Financial Choice Act offered in September by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling. (The Texas Republican is close to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and The Wall Street Journal said Thursday that Hensarling was being considered as Trump's pick for Treasury secretary.)
Hensarling's far-reaching bill would allow banks that hold higher capital to face a simpler set of regulatory requirements, and make a number of changes to federal regulators.
"We put down the marker with the Choice Act in this current Congress," Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., who sits on the committee, said in an interview. "When we move into the next Congress, I believe we have a number of good markers down to be able to address a variety of overreach we have seen" with Dodd-Frank.
Still, Dodd-Frank reforms will require at least some Democratic support to clear the Senate.
"When you look at the bicameral approach to financial reform — reforms to Dodd-Frank — I think that is one of the most important considerations for the administration — the new Treasury secretary — is to assess what can be done in the Senate and what can be done in the House," said Rep. French Hill R-Ark., another member of the banking panel.
"As it relates to the House I think a good starting point is the Choice Act because it contains some core features" including tailoring regulations for community banks, said Hill.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., introduced his own regulatory relief bill, but was unable to reach a compromise with Democrats. Whether a similar bill gets revived will be up to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who is expected to assume the gavel from Shelby. (GOP term limits prevent Shelby from serving as chairman.)
"Everybody is going to have their own vision of Dodd-Frank reform," said Hunt, who has been a strong advocate for changing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's structure from a single director to a five-member commission. "They need to take another look at the Choice Act and possibly see if that can move to the House Floor and through the Senate this year."
The Choice Act could prove to be too ambitious as it includes a laundry list of Republican proposals, but certain parts, like moving the CFPB to a commission and easing Basel III restrictions, could be points of compromise.
"The path forward would be to start to move the Choice Act in whole or in part," said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who is stepping down at the end of the year. "Sometimes if you try to do it in too big of a lift you have trouble finding consensus."
Whether Trump would be agreeable to the Choice Act is unclear. While running on the Republican ticket, his campaign was more populist and parts of the Choice Act are viewed as Wall Street favors.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one of the most prominent voices in the Democratic Party, said Thursday she would work with Trump to seek tough rules against Wall Street.
"He criticized Wall Street and big money's dominance in Washington — straight up," she said. "I will put aside our differences and I will work with him" to keep Wall Street in check.
But she also warned not to go too far.
"It does not mean handing the keys to our economy over to Wall Street so they can run it for themselves. Americans want to hold the big banks accountable," Warren said. "That will not happen if we gut Dodd-Frank and fire the cops responsible for watching over those banks, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If Trump and the Republican Party try to turn loose the big banks and financial institutions so they can once again gamble with our economy and bring it all crashing down, then we will fight them every step of the way."
J.W. Verret, a professor of banking law at the George Mason Scalia Law School and a former House Financial Services Committee staffer, said "it is not clear whether Mr. Trump's administration would take a populist note on financial regulation."
"I would hope not," he said. "I would hope they would take the more Reagan conservative approach, which I think is pretty well personified in the Choice Act."
Although Trump has said he wants to seek a complete repeal of Dodd-Frank, that is not likely.
"That would be a heavy lift," Verret said.
Hunt agreed. "What I have not heard from members of Congress and leadership is the repeal of Dodd-Frank," he said.
Eugene Ludwig, chief executive officer and founder of Promontory Financial Group, said repealing Dodd-Frank would also be politically risky.
"I don't think anyone wants to be hung in another banking crisis," he said. "I would be surprised if this would be anything like a wholesale repeal of Dodd-Frank."
Lalita Clozel contributed to this article.