Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California and ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, left, speaks with Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

House Votes to Ease Financial Rules in a Rare Bipartisan Move

(Bloomberg) -- Jeb Hensarling and Maxine Waters don’t agree on much but they reached a compromise on a plan for dialing back financial rules that passed the U.S. House Tuesday.

The legislative package is largely aimed at making it easier for companies to raise money by lowering barriers to invest in startups and simplifying regulations for businesses to go public. Most of the 32 bills included make minor, incremental changes to existing rules. Others have already been adopted by federal agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. House lawmakers approved the measure in a 406-to-4 vote, sending it to the Senate.

House Votes to Ease Financial Rules in a Rare Bipartisan Move

Texas’s Hensarling, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is a conservative Republican who routinely argues that regulations stifle economic growth. California’s Waters, the top Democrat on the financial services panel, is known for criticizing banks. The two often spar at hearings and rarely agree on legislation.

The package leaves out contentious changes Republicans sought like tweaking the Volcker Rule or overhauling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. While bipartisan support bolsters the legislation’s prospects, it still faces an uphill battle to becoming law. At least nine Democratic senators would need to support it and they may be loath to hand Republicans any legislative wins ahead of November’s midterm elections. Lawmakers are also consumed by other issues, including President Donald Trump’s recent Supreme Court nomination.

“This is ultimately a narrow package of reforms," said Compass Point analyst Isaac Boltansky. “The question at this point is whether the Senate will consider this package or if specific provisions will have to catch a ride to passage on other legislative vehicles."

Hensarling has said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to take up the package in exchange for support on a separate bill overhauling the Dodd-Frank Act that was approved earlier this year. Many of the measures proposed would expand upon provisions enacted as part of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.

“There was a lot of really great right-wing stuff we could have thrown into the bill, but we didn’t,” Hensarling told reporters Tuesday, adding that he has been meeting with senators to generate support for the bill.

Here is a snapshot of what’s in the legislation:

Accredited Investors

Instead of relying on a net worth figure, the bill would allow individuals with relevant education or work experience to invest in startups and other nonpublic companies. For example, a doctor might be able to invest in a medical-equipment company even if his or her income didn’t previously meet the SEC’s requirements.

Stress Tests and Living Wills

One measure would exempt nonbanks, such as swaps clearinghouses, from annual stress tests mandated by Dodd-Frank. Another would require that banks only submit a living will -- or plan for how they could be dismantled in a failure-- every two years, instead of annually. But even that change is redundant, as the Federal Reserve has been already taking steps to move to a more infrequent schedule for living wills.

Insider Share Sales

The bill requires the SEC to study the effectiveness of rules that allow corporate executives to set up plans to sell a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time. While such plans are meant to help executives avoid being accused of insider trading, Waters is concerned they might be being abused.

Easing IPOs

One measure would expand rules that allow companies to submit their plans for an initial public offering to the SEC confidentially, so they can get feedback from the regulator on any issues early on. The bill would also allow more companies to gauge investor interest before going public, a practice known as testing the waters.

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