Panel Shrugs off the Comptroller's Preemption Pitch
Davenport, Todd, American Banker
Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. went to Capitol Hill on Thursday ostensibly to talk about his agency and the condition of national banks, but lawmakers did not seem to care about much except preemption.
Since he returned from medical leave early last month, Mr. Hawke has spent a fair amount of time meeting with members of the House Financial Services Committee to discuss preemption rules issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in January.
It was clear after his appearance before the committee Thursday that his efforts to boost support for the regulations have not been entirely successful.
"This seizure of power by the OCC, this sweeping away congressional intent, sweeping away all state laws, is illegal, it's wrong, and it's politically stupid," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., before Mr. Hawke even began his testimony. "We will await the action of the American people this November as they see that this fits into a pattern of unbridled corporate power."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., also disclosed that he and Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., had sent a letter to the General Accounting Office asking the congressional investigator to examine their "procedural and substantive" concerns about the OCC's regulations.
Among those concerns are whether the OCC followed the appropriate path in issuing its rulemaking; its ability to handle consumer complaints; and whether it is using preemption as a recruiting campaign for new charters.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., asked that the comptroller look for some middle ground.
"What we're talking about here on the preemption issue are very profound differences of policy, and indeed even of philosophical nature, and they are not personal," Rep. Frank said. "It is not in the interest of the financial community, longer term . …