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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump has said he wants to do "a big number" on the Obama-era financial rules devised after the Great Recession, and House Republicans were poised to fulfill that goal Thursday.
The GOP-controlled House was on track to vote for legislation that would wipe away much of the financial law created to head off economic meltdowns like the one that caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and homes during the 2008-09 collapse.
Republicans say many requirements imposed under what is known as the Dodd-Frank Act, named after its Democratic sponsors, have harmed economic growth by making it harder for consumers and businesses to get loans.
In debate as the vote neared, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill would help community banks help their local economies.
"Our community banks are in trouble," Ryan said. "They are being crushed by the costly rules imposed on them by the Dodd-Frank Act. This law may have had good intentions but its consequences have been dire for Main Street."
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the Republican bill, which faces major obstacles in the Senate. They say the law has meant financial security to millions of people and that undoing it would encourage the kind of risky lending practices that invites future economic shocks.
They also oppose efforts to sharply curtail a consumer protection agency's power to pursue companies that it determines have participated in unfair or deceptive practices in their financial products and services. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has returned $29 billion to 12 million consumers who were victims of deceptive marketing, discriminatory lending or other financial wrongdoing.
"The sole purpose of the CFPB's existence is to ensure that bank loans, mortgages and credit cards are fair, affordable, understandable and transparent, and that's exactly what it's doing," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. "Republicans want nothing more than to kill it."
The Republican-led overhaul of Dodd-Frank was crafted by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. His bill would target the heart of the law's restrictions on banks by offering a trade-off: Banks could qualify for most of the regulatory relief in the bill so long as they meet a strict requirement for building capital to cover unexpected big losses.
"The big banks are bigger, the small banks are fewer," Hensarling said. "We're losing a community bank or credit union a day."
"We see free checking cut in half at bank. Bank fees are up. The ranks of the unbanked have increased," he said. "For many credit-worthy borrowers, they are paying $500 more for an auto loan. Have you tried getting a mortgage recently? They're harder to come by and they cost hundreds of dollars more to close."
The bill would repeal a rule that bans banks from engaging in propriety trading or forming certain relationships with private equity funds. It would roll back a proposed rule that investment advisers put their clients' interests ahead of their own.
Also, financial regulators would lose the power to dismantle a failing financial firm and sell off the pieces if they decided its collapse could endanger the system. Instead, the bill would let banks fall under an expanded part of bankruptcy law.
Trump started his attack on Dodd-Frank soon after taking office, ordering a Treasury Department review of the complex rules that have put the legislation into practice.
One part of that review is expected to be released soon. It could provide a blueprint for regulators to rewrite the rules. But it would take legislation to revamp the law -- and that's far from a certain prospect.
The Federal Reserve has described the U.S. banking system as much more robust and resilient than it was before the financial crisis. Stronger capital requirements have improved their capacity to absorb economic shocks. But in the push to overhaul Dodd-Frank, Republicans contend the biggest banks have only gotten bigger while local banks and credit unions are dwindling.
The Fed counted 5,031 commercial banks as of May 1. That's down from 6,750 in the third quarter of 2010, shortly after the financial overhaul. The consolidation trend, however, far preceded that law. In the first quarter of 1984, there were 14,400 commercial banks in the U.S.