WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday launched a two-week campaign designed to sour voters on the Dodd-Frank Act.
Coinciding with the reform law's second anniversary, the GOP's aim is to convince the electorate that Dodd-Frank's rules are hurting everyday Americans rather than just the financial sector.
"What is not being discussed or identified is what is the combined impact of all these rules and other rules will ultimately have on the cost of credit for borrowers in the country," Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said Tuesday during a hearing of the House Financial Services capital markets subcommittee.
"When you take them individually, the cost might be tolerable," added Garrett, who chairs the subcommittee. "But when you take these all together, cumulatively, it will prove extremely onerous."
The GOP has altered its message on Dodd-Frank somewhat since the law's first anniversary. A year ago, Republican lawmakers spoke largely about the law's impact on the private sector — and how it reflects big government — rather than its effects on individuals.
But on Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House Financial Services Committee unveiled a new online survey — titled "Think the Dodd-Frank Act's Impact is Felt Only on Wall Street? Think again …" — that is aimed squarely at the public at large.
The survey asks no-brainer questions such as "Do you purchase food for yourself and your family?" and "Are you an energy consumer?" and then argues that anyone who answered affirmatively will suffer from the two-year-old law.
Last year, House Republicans were generally mum on the question of whether Dodd-Frank should be repealed. Now their message is that a targeted approach to eliminating some of the law's most onerous provisions makes better sense than a full repeal of the law.
A panel of industry witnesses who testified Tuesday was on board with that strategy.
The witnesses — including representatives of the securitization industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the commercial real estate sector — all declined to raise their hands when asked by a Democratic lawmaker if Dodd-Frank should be completely repealed.
But they argued at length that various new rules implementing the law have had a negative impact on Main Street.
One specific grievance deals with a relatively obscure proposal — included in a broader proposal compelling securitizers to retain some credit risk — that requires the creation of premium capture cash reserve accounts. While such accounts, designed to limit the monetization of excess spreads, are surely not on the minds of middle-class voters, GOP lawmakers and industry witnesses argued Tuesday that it will have a negative effect on the interest rates they pay for a mortgage.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, cited a Moody's Analytics study that concluded the rule could raise mortgage rates by one to four percentage points, before asking industry witnesses if Dodd-Frank has the potential to double rates.
"I guess my response is that just one provision of Dodd-Frank could double the interest rate," said Tom Deutsch, executive director of the American Securitization Forum. "If you add all the provisions relative to Dodd-Frank, it would be well more than that."
But Democrats countered that the GOP was overlooking the enormous economic costs felt by Americans from the financial crisis.
"Whatever unintended effect Dodd-Frank may have on job creators, it pales in comparison to the havoc Wall Street wreaked on our economy during the financial crisis," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.
"Let me recount that according to the Treasury Department, the crisis, the financial crisis that we're trying to deal with here, cost Americans $19.2 trillion in household wealth."
The GOP's message was also undercut somewhat by the testimony of Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or CalPERS, which is the nation's largest public pension fund.
"The financial crisis hit us hard; $70 billion were wiped from CalPERS' portfolio. We simply cannot afford another crisis," she said. "Those arguing that we cannot afford the cost of regulation are in danger of being penny wise and pound foolish. We see smart regulation as an investment in safety and soundness of financial markets, which generate the vast bulk of the returns to our fund."
Tuesday's hearing was the first of six hearings on Dodd-Frank that House Republicans have scheduled over the next two weeks, with the lawmakers planning to look at the law's impact on mortgage lending, jobs, consumers, municipal advisors, and competition in the financial services sector.