Why So Serious?

There is no doubt that regulatory reform is important business, but last week's debate over a bill to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency makes one wonder if some lawmakers are taking things a little too seriously.

One House Financial Services Committee member, Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., said he was glad his father had not lived to see the bill pass.

"I'm looking at the list of businesses here that are within the CFPA's jurisdiction … and No. 8 is very specific to retail store operations — that would be us," Barrett said, alluding to his family's small furniture store. "It pains me to say this, but I'm glad my dad's passed away so he would not see something like this that would come down that would ruin 50 years of business."

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., took to renaming the bill the "Restricting the American Dream and Jobs Destruction Act."

"I say that with all sincerity, pointing out that multiple, multiple entities that cover literally billions of jobs out there have gone on record that this is absolutely not the direction to head, especially in this time of remarkable economic challenge," he said.

For his part, Committee Chairman Barney Frank told reporters he found the GOP protestations "way over the top."

"Especially when one member said he was glad his father wasn't here to see this bill," he said. "I wish I was as confident this bill is going to do as much good as they think it's going to do harm."

Exemption Tussle

But it was a fight over an exemption for community banks that sparked the most heated exchanges. After an amendment from Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., passed that would exempt community banks with assets of $10 billion or less from enforcement by the new agency, Republicans noted that smaller institutions would still have to comply with new rules from the agency. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, tried to prove Democrats were hypocrites for exempting community banks as well as brokers and agents of manufactured homes.

"Every single Democratic amendment that has been offered is for some kind of exclusion amendment," Hensarling said.

"It's kind of like you sit there and you craft the CFPA Titanic and then you realize there's no life rafts and then you hasten to have life rafts for everyone who needs them."

On a Lighter Note

It wasn't all drama during the vote, and lawmakers even managed to crack a few jokes.

Rep. Spencer Bachus, the lead Republican on the panel, invited one by comparing the CFPA to his experience when he joined the Army. He told the committee how he and other new recruits were asked to choose between four acceptable hairstyles, only to have the barber end up shearing all their hair off.

"We realized that we weren't in charge anymore; that we didn't make the choices," Bachus said. "If we pass that legislation, we're going to find out we don't have the choices anymore; the government makes them."

Frank then quipped: "I thank the gentleman, and I would note that his hair looks very nice."

Later, Frank asked the clerk to report the results of a roll call vote. After she replied there were 26 yeses and 40 nos, Frank balked.

"How many nos?" Frank asked. "You've just counted more members than we've got on the committee. What is this, Afghanistan?"

Laughter erupted as the clerk repeated the count. Frank said: "I thought you said 48. I apologize to you and Afghanistan."

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