Administration looks to curb CFPB powers, change bank rules

By MARCY GORDON Markets Associated Press

The Trump administration is proposing to curb the authority of the consumer finance watchdog created following the economic crisis as it drives toward easing restrictions on banks and financial institutions.

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The Treasury Department issued Monday the first part of a review that was ordered by President Donald Trump in one of his earliest acts as president.

The report reviewing the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law also urges changes to rules for banks that were put in place under the 2010 law. The law aimed to restrain banks — which received hundreds of millions in taxpayer bailouts — from the kind of misconduct that many blamed for the crisis.

The law was enacted by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress to tighten regulation after the 2008-09 financial crisis that sparked the Great Recession that cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes.

Trump, however, has called Dodd-Frank a "disaster" that has crimped lending, hiring and the overall economy. He promised to do "a big number" on it.

"Properly structuring regulation of the U.S. financial system is critical to achieve the administration's goal of sustained economic growth, and to create opportunities for all Americans to benefit from a stronger economy," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Monday.

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The report outlines what it calls core principles of financial regulation — including overhauling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and having more "efficient" bank rules.

The CFPB oversees the practices of companies that provide financial products and services, from credit cards and payday loans to mortgages and debt collection. It has been a prime target of Republican lawmakers, who accuse it of regulatory overreach.

The new report urges Congress to remove the agency's authority to supervise banks and financial companies, returning that power to other federal and state regulators, respectively. And it proposes enabling the president to remove the CFPB director at will without citing a cause for firing. That's the subject of a battle now in federal court.

The CFPB's structure and broad regulatory powers have led to "abuses and excesses," and hindered consumer choice and access to credit, the report says.

The Treasury report comes a few days after the Republican-led House approved sweeping legislation to undo much of Dodd-Frank, repealing about 40 of its provisions. That was passed on a largely party-line vote of 233-186, but is unlikely to clear the Senate in its current form.

The administration's report is narrower in scope and ambition than the House-passed legislation. It could provide a blueprint for regulators to rewrite the Dodd-Frank rules, as Trump continues to fill out his team of top financial overseers.

Mnuchin said in separate congressional testimony Monday that he expects to be able to work with the regulators on 70 to 80 percent of the proposed changes. But Congress would need to pass legislation to actually revamp the law — for example, to change the CFPB's authority.

Among the banking rules, the new report focuses closely on the so-called Volcker Rule, established by Dodd-Frank to generally bar banks from trading for their own profit instead of for customers. The idea behind the rule was to prevent high-risk trading bets that could imperil federally insured deposits.

The report proposes exempting from the rule banks with less than $10 billion in assets and those that have over $10 billion with few trading assets. The House legislation would repeal it altogether.

So-called living wills, the plans that big banks must submit to regulators detailing how they would reshape themselves in the event of failure, should be required every two years instead of the current annual mandate, the report says.

Aaron Klein, a Treasury Department official in the Obama administration, said the proposed changes were unlikely to achieve the economic growth Trump is seeking.

"The financial regulatory system isn't what is stopping 3 percent economic growth," said Klein, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "If you're looking in the wrong place, you're not likely to find the answer." Better for the administration to find ways to promote investment in the U.S., he suggested.

Klein said the changes proposed for the CFPB would inject more politics into financial regulation. He did see some positive ideas, however, such as increased coordination among financial regulators.

Bank industry groups, which had consulted with Mnuchin and other Treasury officials as they prepared the report, expressed approval of it Monday.

Looking outside Dodd-Frank, the report calls for a task force to reconsider the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law designed to monitor banks' practices in low-income and minority communities, such as new branch openings. Regulators can fine or sanction banks under the law when they find patterns of discrimination.

The law is widely promoted by Democratic lawmakers and community and civil rights groups.

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AP Economics Writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.