Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

The Road Ahead: How Will Banking Fare in Washington This Year?

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

The Road Ahead: How Will Banking Fare in Washington This Year?

Article excerpt

In recent years, there have been folks in Washington who made bankers' blood boil. These people may have had misconceptions about the industry, or axes to grind. They may have been on the fringe of the debate, or they may have been its orchestrators.

Many such figures played a part in passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, which is generating a wave of regulation that many bankers believe their institutions cannot afford. But Mike Hunter says there's something else bankers cannot afford. And that is dislike, or worse, of policymakers they don't agree with.

"You may disagree with someone's ideas and opinions, but you can't let that devolve into something personal," says Hunter, ABA's chief operating officer.

Hunter believes this for practical reasons. Such an attitude interferes with the ability to secure the best results possible for the banking industry in Washington.

"You start disliking somebody and you discount everything they say," Hunter continues. There's much of this in Washington already. While ABA pursues, and will continue to pursue, industry priorities aggressively, Hunter considers it critical to strike the right tone. For him, that tone is for ABA to be seen as provider of "the best information, the most credible information, the most factual information, and, hopefully, the information that works toward the public-policy goals of this industry."

A case in point--but hardly an isolated one--is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). To many bankers, she is the creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and not a person they wanted to see get sent to the Senate--and especially to her post on the Senate Banking Committee.

Ignoring Warren is the last thing ABA would consider, says Hunter.

"Elizabeth Warren is a very smart person," Hunter explains. "Experiences that she's had caused her to be skeptical of the industry. It's going to be up to organizations like ABA to tell her, in a factual, credible way, the rest of the story. And I think she's fair-minded. I think she'll be somebody we can work with."

Ditto for any other new member of Congress, whether backed in the elections by banking or otherwise, Hunter says.

"Here in Washington, you don't get to pick and choose which members you get to work with," explains James Ballentine, executive vice-president, congressional relations and political affairs. "We work with whomever the people send us." This applies not only to ABA staff lobbyists, but to bankers who visit lawmakers to press the industry's case.

"You may not be a fan of that particular Senator or House member," says Ballentine. "But that member has a vote. And that's the person you have to work with from now until the next election. You try to find some areas where you can work together.'

Coming to the table

When making this point, Ballentine quotes a banker who once told him: "You're either going to be at the table or on the menu. I'd much rather be at the table." The point is, for the industry to accomplish what it needs to in Washington requires a realist's approach to the players and to the game as it is played.

Seeing industry-favored legislation pass requires more than the support of longtime friends. "You can spend eternity promoting bills that will easily pass the House," says Ballentine, "and you can watch them die in the Senate, which some call the 'congressional graveyard.' Alternatively, you can try for something that will be done in a bipartisan way, so that when it goes over to the Senate, there is a stronger likelihood that it will pass."

The same, but different

Consensus building isn't easy, even within a single committee. Ballentine points out that the new leaders of the House Financial Services Committee, Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R.-Texas) and Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), have rarely agreed. However, if the industry is going to achieve its goals, consensus building "is simply what's going to have to be done," says Ballentine. …

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