Congress’s New Progressives Take On the Banks

Congress’s New Progressives Take On the Banks

The House Financial Services Committee—long a landing place for pro-bank Democrats—now includes AOC and a flock of leftists. And Maxine Waters is its new chair.

March 27, 2019

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The day before Valentine’s Day, the House Financial Services Committee convened its first hearing of the 116th Congress. For the prior eight years, when Republicans controlled the House, hearings were typically reserved for the majority’s demands that Wall Street be relieved from the shackles of regulation. Proposed deregulatory changes were deliberately buried under technical jargon impenetrable to the average American so almost nobody outside the financial industry would comprehend the committee’s giveaways.

But that was then. This year, Maxine Waters (D-CA), who assumed the chair after the Democratic midterm triumph, signaled a break with that past with her first hearing topic: homelessness in America. “In the richest country in the world, it is simply unacceptable that we have people living in the streets,” Waters said in her opening statement, noting that over 550,000 Americans are homeless, 160,000 of them children. “This is the very first time the committee has convened a hearing focused entirely on homelessness … it is long overdue.”

The hearing exemplified the expansive footprint of the Financial Services Committee, which has a hand in virtually every corner of the economy, from banking to capital markets to commodity prices to consumer and investor protection to affordable housing to macroeconomic management. Fair lending doesn’t exist absent civil rights, and human rights play a role (or should) in corporate investment. The entire economy flows through Wall Street, and therefore through the House Financial Services Committee.

By making homelessness its initial topic of study, Waters made clear that the committee had changed not just its partisan balance of power, but also its perspective—and perhaps even its mission. Long a legislative backwater filled by early-career members of Congress seeking Wall Street campaign contributions, the committee has now been altered by the presence of several progressives who have sworn off corporate cash. New members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Katie Porter (D-CA) reached the committee due to a series of happy accidents from which the financial industry is still reeling.

This metamorphosis shouldn’t be overemphasized. Plenty of corporate-friendly Democrats hold down senior positions, and the committee could still bestow bipartisan gifts on the financial sector. Chairwoman Waters’s delicate task will be to balance the disparate interests of centrist warhorses and progressive firebrands. But early returns have been encouraging: Already, there have been serious moves toward oversight, hearings holding the feet of regulators and industry CEOs to the fire, and strong legislation introduced. Ultimately, the committee must answer the same question before the entire Democratic caucus: whether to produce a bold new vision for legislative action, or succumb to the cramped technocratic model of the past.

The importance of the progressive beachhead on Financial Services may not be felt this year or even this session, but after the next financial crisis. Having progressives willing to carry forward structural responses to financial misconduct could make a huge difference. “In 2008 the public was alerted and alarmed and angry to do something, but there wasn’t the Washington leadership necessary,” says Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition formed to bridge that gap. “It’s unpredictable what would happen in another crash, but if there is one, we won’t miss the opportunity again.”

 

SINCE THE LATE 1970s, the House Financial Services Committee has done Wall Street’s bidding nearly unreservedly, regardless of the party in power. Democratic committee chairs sent deregulatory measures to Republican presidents, and Republican committee chairs sent deregulatory measures to Democratic presidents.

Fernand St. Germain, a Rhode Island Democrat who used his political clout to get cut into lucrative real-estate development deals and secure no-money-down bank loans for his purchase of several International House of Pancakes restaurants, chaired the committee in the 1980s. Under his leadership, the committee churned out bills that deregulated the savings and loan industry and created the architecture for the catastrophic mortgage-backed securities market; President Reagan signed them into law. Jim Leach, a moderate Republican who took over after the Gingrich revolution in 1994, co-authored Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which ended the Glass-Steagall separation between commercial and investment banks. Leach’s committee also reported out the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which barred the regulation of derivatives, another core cause of the 2008 crisis. President Clinton signed those.

In the mid-2000s, Democratic congressional leaders sketched out a more purely political role for Financial Services, which overshadowed and shaped its policy work. “People who got on that committee for the most part were mostly conservative members who wanted to raise money,” says Brad Miller, a Democrat from North Carolina who served on Financial Services from 2003 to 2013, co-authoring the bill that would eventually create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “They were told, this is a great committee to raise money from, call this list of lobbyists.”

After victorious 2006 and 2008 elections, the Democratic leadership, led by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, made room on Financial Services for newly elected swing-district centrists—“frontline members” in congressional parlance—thereby giving them access to Wall Street bankers and lobbyists who could fill their campaign war chests for their re-election. This ballooned the size of the committee to the second-largest in Congress. Barney Frank, the committee chair at the time, pleaded with the House leadership in 2008 to cut the membership to a more manageable level, but he was rebuffed: Too many frontline members needed a piece of the action.

Victor Juhasz

After 2008, the newly reconstituted Financial Services Committee transformed from a sleepy panel that slowly chipped away at the regulatory state to the first line of response to the financial crisis. Unprepared for this challenge, committee members got nearly all their information about the crisis from the banks themselves. Miller admits he had to search “credit default swaps” on Wikipedia to understand what was happening. “In computers there’s an interruption of service attack, the site is so overwhelmed it shuts down,” Miller says. “That’s sort of true of members: They’re so overwhelmed with the need to call and talk to lobbyists, there’s no time in the day to learn the substance of the issue.”

This lack of expertise and one-way information flow led to a Dodd-Frank reform law that was far more modest than it could have been. Needless to say, reliance on a powerful industry for campaign cash does not elicit a populist instinct. With Republicans voting as a deregulatory bloc, it took only a handful of Democratic members to tip committee votes, frequently creating a pro-bank majority on a panel controlled by Democrats. On several key votes, Frank did not have control of his fellow Democrats. Good legislation was sacrificed for campaign finance.

One such instance arose when the committee considered whether auto dealers should be regulated by the CFPB. Buying a car is one of the largest financial transactions most people make, but Republicans wanted to shield the industry from oversight. The author of the provision providing that shield, Republican John Campbell, was a former Saab dealer from Orange County who still collected rent on some dealerships.

Seats are arranged in the Financial Services Committee by seniority; the higher rows contained senior members. When Campbell’s auto dealer amendment came to a vote, top-row Democrats all renounced it. But one by one, new members on the bottom two rows voted with Republicans, positioning themselves to win favor from auto dealers in their districts. Once the outcome became clear, even top-row Democrats started changing their votes—if the auto dealers were going to win anyway, they might as well stay on their good side.

“The bill absolutely got better in the Senate,” said Andy Green, who worked for Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) at the time and is now with the Center for American Progress. The Senate isn’t exactly a bastion of populists, but compared to the skittish conservative Democrats driving the process in the Financial Services Committee, senators might as well have all been Robert La Follette.

 

AFTER A RESOUNDING VICTORY in 2018, many assumed that Democrats would return to seating their newly elected frontline members on Financial Services. But the party’s leaders faced two major quandaries. First, the Progressive Caucus, representing about 40 percent of House Democrats, made a strategic effort to capture more power. Nancy Pelosi needed progressive votes to return as Speaker, so caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) cut a deal for proportional representation on four key “money committees” that carry domestic legislation, including the Financial Services Committee.

Refusing to break with tradition, however, Pelosi declined to give freshmen any slots on three of those money committees: Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Appropriations. That made it hard to reach the quota she’d agreed to. Financial Services had long been a roost for freshmen, but mostly of the swing-district variety. This time around, however, practically nobody wanted to serve on the committee. The party even considered shrinking its size, an unheard-of option.

Why was Financial Services suddenly considered anathema? Katie Porter, a freshman Democratic congresswoman from California, explained it to her constituents at a January town hall in Irvine. “The majority of my incoming freshman colleagues don’t take corporate PAC money,” she explained. “When you don’t take corporate PAC money, the number of people with a burning interest in banks and their money is much smaller.”

This corporate PAC purge was mostly symbolic; most campaign cash comes from wealthy donors rather than PACs. But over 170 federal candidates took the no corporate PACmoney pledge, including 36 first-time Democratic House members. PAC donations happen to be a major way that Wall Street firms funnel funds to Financial Services Committee members. That, plus the general toxic reputation of big banks, made swing-district freshmen look elsewhere for their committee assignments.

For progressives, Financial Services has historically not held much appeal. Many have backgrounds in legal aid or unions, and tend to cluster in the Judiciary or Education and Labor committees, which reflect those interests. Nobody enters politics to make a difference on collateralized loan obligations and trust-preferred securities.

Well, nobody except Katie Porter.

A consumer advocate who studied under Elizabeth Warren at Harvard Law (and later co-authored a book with her), Porter went on to teach at the University of California, Irvine. She was one of the first in the country to recognize routine fraud in foreclosure processes; her paper, “Misbehavior and Mistake in Bankruptcy Mortgage Claims,” discovered that lenders lacked evidence to validate the debts they claimed were rightfully theirs in almost half of the cases she studied. Later, as the independent monitor of California’s share of the national foreclosure fraud settlement, Porter transformed a thankless job into an activist position, personally intervening with numerous banks to achieve better outcomes for homeowners.

Last November, Porter won a swing seat in Orange County that had never been occupied by Democrats—in fact, it was the seat once occupied by John Campbell, the onetime car dealer who’d authored the industry’s exemption from CFPB oversight. After she won, members would ask her what committee she wanted to work on. “I wouldn’t waver. I’d say, ‘the House Financial Services Committee, it is my life,’” she says. 

Porter adds that Waters reached out to progressives individually to get them interested, reminding them of the committee’s broad jurisdiction and importance. “If you said to someone, do you want to be on a committee about the SEC, they’d say, ‘uhh ...’” Porter explains. “But if you say, do you want to be on a committee about saving for retirement? If you’re interested in inequality, economic opportunity, this is a committee you want to be part of.”

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images

House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters recruited freshman Progressive Caucus members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib to join her committee. 

Many freshmen eventually agreed, including Ocasio-Cortez, who sat down with Waters before the new Congress began. Fellow Justice Democrats Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (who defeated Financial Services Committee member Michael Capuano in a Democratic primary) also expressed interest. Crucially, Pelosi needed these progressive members to reach the money-committee quota she’d agreed to. When the final tallies were announced, 14 of the 34 Democrats on the committee were Progressive Caucus members, about 41 percent. Nine Progressive Caucus members were newly installed on the committee, including Porter, Tlaib, Pressley, and AOC.

 

THE FLIP SIDE, HOWEVER, is that there are 20 Democrats on Financial Services who are not Progressive Caucus members, including several subcommittee chairs and longtime fixtures. Sixteen are members of the New Democrat Coalition, the bank-friendly alternative to the Progressive Caucus. Last year, the main bipartisan law signed by Donald Trump was a bank deregulation measure; six current committee Democrats voted for it.

The head of the consumer protection subcommittee is Gregory Meeks of New York, a New Democrat who describes himself as a “bridge-builder” between consumer advocates and Wall Street. Jim Himes and Josh Gottheimer represent Wall Street bedroom communities in Connecticut and New Jersey, respectively. Himes is the outgoing chair of the New Democrats; Gottheimer recruited ideological allies to join Financial Services, as a counterweight to the progressives.

In the middle of this ideological split sits Waters, whom Wall Street fought to prevent from becoming the Democratic ranking member after Barney Frank retired. The 15-term progressive has endeared herself to the millennial left with her withering comments about the Trump administration, earning the nickname Auntie Maxine. But she joined Financial Services as a freshman member, traveling a long road before finally receiving the gavel 28 years later.

As ranking member, Waters admirably took aim at her own colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, like Meeks, when they joined with Republicans to weaken Dodd-Frank. She has introduced legislation to break up Wells Fargo, after the bank’s cascade of consumer scandals. As incoming chair, she eagerly recruited Progressive Caucus members as reinforcements. “She’s a progressive and would like to get things done but she needed more votes,” says Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets, an advocacy group for financial reform.

But Waters has also had an open-door policy with big banks during her tenure, and a solid working relationship with her Republican counterpart on the committee, Patrick McHenry (R-NC), with whom she has introduced bipartisan bills. She’s been a vocal supporter of policies like federal flood insurance and the Export-Import Bank, which critics have respectively savaged as a failure to reckon with climate catastrophe and an unnecessary outlay of corporate welfare.

Despite this duality, we don’t have to guess much at Waters’s agenda for this Congress. Alone among committee chairs, she laid out her thinking in a January policy speech at the Center for American Progress. She led with a strong defense of Dodd-Frank, in particular the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the Trump administration has consistently tried to undermine through actions like demoting the Office of Fair Lending and eliminating supervisory exams for lenders to military families. Waters’s bill, the Consumers First Act, would reverse these actions, and she vowed to call in bank regulators to ensure that they keep their hands off other pieces of Dodd-Frank and properly enforce the law.

Waters then highlighted several issues that have already become priorities in the initial months of her leadership. She promised a bill to fight homelessness that would provide more than $13 billion in new federal funding. She expressed a desire to overhaul the credit reporting industry, which has been stung by data breaches and high error rates. And she vowed to create a new subcommittee on diversity and inclusion, covering representation among employees in the financial services industry. “An African-American woman taking the gavel and saying we need to make race and diversity issues important, that’s a powerful statement,” says Andy Green of the Center for American Progress, who helped host the speech.

The chairwoman also made several nods to working across the aisle. She planned to re-introduce a bill with McHenry to limit corporate insider trading. She called for “reauthorization and reform” of flood insurance, the Ex-Im Bank, and the Terrorism Risk Insurance program, a bailout guarantee for private insurance companies in the event of a 9/11-style attack. I’d also expect another attempt at an expanded JOBS Act, a law passed under Obama that made it easier for companies to raise private capital and eventually go public. The JOBS Act allows companies to present lower-income investors with minimal information about their business and still solicit funds.

It hasn’t done much to increase business startups, but has added the risk of swindling for unsophisticated investors, and the JOBS Act expansion would just deregulate investor protections even more. Waters supported the expanded JOBS Act last year.

Waters also laid out principles for legislation dealing with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage securitization giants that have been under government conservatorship for over a decade. While she wants to prioritize underserved homeowners and access to affordable housing, advocates have long worried that the Trump administration wants to privatize Fannie and Freddie, transferring a lucrative government guarantee to financial companies while securing a windfall for hedge funds that have bet on privatization by purchasing discounted Fannie and Freddie stock. Waters doesn’t appear to support privatization, but giving oxygen to housing finance reform could empower centrist Democrats to connive with Republicans on a policy far to the right of her goals.

Overall, the speech was strong on defending Dodd-Frank; we won’t see weakening legislation in this Congress. But neither did it suggest a bold alternative vision for fixing what’s broken in American finance. Proposals like creating public options for simple banking through the post office or eliminating risky trading instruments were nowhere to be found. Finance was manifestly hazardous before Donald Trump, and restoring the pre-Trump status quo is hardly sufficient.

It’s true that Trump would never sign such bills, and the Senate wouldn’t even take them up. But under the previous chair, the now-retired Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the Financial Services Committee advanced dozens of bills reflecting their deregulatory priorities, regardless of whether they stood a chance of enactment. This would signal congressional priorities to regulators, who would take their cues accordingly. “They would pass a bill, and even if it didn’t pass into law, it was a powerful tool for the industry,” says Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform.

That does not appear to be Waters’s legislative strategy. She wants to put bipartisan points on the board while fighting off the worst deregulatory impulses. But the progressives she helped bring onto the committee have bigger ideas—and an innate understanding of how to draw attention.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proven herself to be a masterful questioner in hearings, and given her social-media prowess, she can reach millions to shine a light on Wall Street's nefarious practices. 

 

THE NEW MEMBERS’ PENCHANT for capturing notice was on clear display in a February hearing with the CEOs of the three major credit reporting bureaus, the first major oversight work in the committee this year. With bipartisan criticism of the industry’s oligopoly and lack of quality control, and major legislation from Waters that would give consumers more ability to dispute errors on credit reports and end the use of credit checks in hiring decisions, there’s a real opportunity to curb credit-report abuses.

Senior Democrats were alternately aggressive and accommodating to the CEOs. New Democrat David Scott of Georgia fairly slobbered over Equifax, which is based in Atlanta. “I represent the great state of Georgia and love Georgia very much … you represent a legacy of our great state,” he said, while lauding the steps Equifax has taken in the wake of a data breach affecting 143 million Americans. Scott has received $28,000 in PAC donations from Equifax since 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Then Katie Porter was recognized.

“My question for you is whether you would be willing to share today your Social Security [number], your birthdate and your address at this public hearing,” Porter asked Mark Begor, Equifax’s CEO. He declined, saying it was “sensitive information that I like to protect.” Porter asked what might happen if that information was disclosed, and Begor said he’d be concerned about identity theft, which has happened to him three times in the last ten years.

“So,” Porter continued, “my question then is, if you agree that exposing information like that you have in your credit reports creates harm, therefore you’re unwilling to share it, why are your lawyers arguing in federal court that there was no injury and no harm created by your data breach?” Indeed, responding to a class action lawsuit from consumer victims, Equifax lawyers claimed that the consumers failed to “sufficiently allege injury” from having their personal information revealed. Porter’s success at getting the CEO to admit harm from data exposure could significantly disrupt Equifax’s long-standing legal strategy.

The hearing clip went viral, and demonstrated not just Porter’s importance, but also how she models the role of an advocate inside the system and can serve as a mentor for younger progressive members. Her experience translating hard-to-understand concepts into digestible chunks can bring public awareness to financial-industry schemes. “One thing I said during the campaign, nobody likes to get ripped off,” Porter says. “Republicans, Democrats, frequent voters, infrequent voters, no category of American likes being cheated.”

To progressive activists, Porter’s questioning was a breakthrough for a Democratic Party relearning the function of congressional oversight. “The fortuity that led to the House Financial Services Committee getting such high-wattage new members offers a possibility of teaching the party that you can do great politics by doing oversight on corporate America,” says Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The people they’re going to be questioning are so broadly disliked, it creates a perfect storm for teaching the freshman class that oversight can be fun. You’ll have other members thinking, how can I be like that?”

Porter’s freshman colleagues, while still learning about finance, have had moments to shine as well. Rashida Tlaib asked credit reporting bureau CEOs what credit scores had to do with anyone’s driving history; a constituent had informed Tlaib that her auto insurance rate spiked because of her credit report—an all too rare moment of a lawmaker using a personal story from a constituent to make policy. Tlaib said she planned to introduce legislation to ban credit scores from factoring into auto insurance rates.

Ocasio-Cortez has proven to be a masterful questioner in hearings, and she hasn’t disappointed on Financial Services. In a hearing about providing banking services to legal cannabis-related businesses, which often operate in cash because the drug is still restricted at the federal level and banks are wary of doing business with them, AOC noted that 73 percent of cannabis industry executives in Colorado and Washington are male, and 81 percent are white. “Are we compounding the racial wealth gap right now, based on who is getting the first mover advantage?” she asked.

A single tweet from AOC reaches millions. In an instant, she can shine a spotlight on Wall Street’s nefarious practices. And she has used that power to call attention to disparities in the economy, with an agenda that’s more expansive than Waters’s. AOC has listed as top priorities the student loan crisis and postal banking, neither of which were in Waters’s policy speech. She told local activists in New York that the committee would hold oversight hearings on banks’ investments in private prison corporations that profit off immigrant detention. Shortly thereafter, in early March, JPMorgan said it would terminate these investments.

Progressive House aides see hearings and member statements as opportunities to add kindling to the outside activism for financial reform. When bank CEOs come before the committee, as has been planned, it may offer a chance to build momentum for policies like breaking up large financial institutions, which could squeeze centrist Democrats and even the chair. This wouldn’t automatically lead to passing laws, but it could help compel Democrats to stand for economic justice.

The industry has been flummoxed about how to approach AOC and the committee’s left flank. They know that her megaphone can damage their interests, and that trying to engage and co-opt her could backfire. “It’s like going in to talk to the FBI, anything you do or say can be used against you,” one lobbyist told Reuters. AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, responded that his boss “is here to hold Wall Street accountable, not be your buddy.”

One area where the progressive left should get buy-in from Waters is on oversight. Waters has been more aggressive than other committee chairs in scheduling hearings with regulators and industry heads. Another planned hearing will cover the Securities and Exchange Commission’s watering-down of the “fiduciary rule,” which was intended to require financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients.

Waters has also pressured regulators herself. A recent letter she sent to the CFPB sought answers to why recent settlements with financial companies that violated the law did not include restitution to make wronged consumers whole. A second letter invited CFPB employees to contact committee staff if they witness “waste, fraud, abuse or gross mismanagement.”

While no subpoenas have yet been issued, sources that have consulted with the committee indicate that there’s an appetite to investigate. Financial Services staff has already started calling banks with questions and document requests. Waters told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in February that Deutsche Bank was actively cooperating with her staff on investigations about money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Deutsche Bank, of course, was Donald Trump’s main lender. The discussions are part of a multi-committee probe into Trump’s personal finances.

One key hire has raised hopes for deeper oversight. The committee has brought in Bob Roach, who dug into numerous banking abuses on Carl Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, including Goldman Sachs betting against the housing market before the financial crisis, Swiss bank tax evasion, and HSBC’s money laundering with terrorists and drug cartels. Roach has a sterling reputation for dogged investigative work, and will presumably be central to the Deutsche Bank probe.

Right Art via AP Images

Representative Katie Porter is a consumer advocate with experience translating hard-to-understand concepts into digestible chunks that can bring public awareness to financial-industry schemes. 

Roach’s presence could also bring much-needed sunlight to many other dark corners of finance: the role of private-equity firms in the demise of the retail sector, the staggering sums of unreported money in offshore tax havens, the potential bias inside algorithms in the lightly regulated financial technology (fintech) sector, and rampant fraud in the sale of home energy improvement loans, to name just a few.

Deep-dive investigations take time and resources, and experts don’t think they would immediately bear fruit. But just having Roach in the building suggests financial misdeeds will not go unnoticed, just as creating a subcommittee on diversity or kicking off its proceedings with a study of homelessness suggested a broader understanding of the committee’s work. Despite the broad ideological range of its members, the committee has been reoriented, foregrounding vigorous protection of consumers and appropriate skepticism of the industry.

That approach, if it sticks, will pay off down the road.

 

THE SIX LARGEST WALL STREET banks took home $100 billion in profit in 2018, aided by significant relief from the Trump tax cuts. Overall, industry profits hit a new record high. While no banks failed in 2018 for the first time in over a decade, the huge amounts of money sloshing around the system cannot but help to increase finance’s appetite for more risk. And as the pendulum swings away from regulating banks, as it has under Trump, a bust eventually follows.

We don’t know how or when the next financial crisis will occur, only that it’s inevitable. The relatively modest tweaks in Dodd-Frank hardly fortified all our defenses.

When the crisis struck in 2008, many of the financial regulatory groups now in place in Washington didn’t exist. They wouldn’t have had many friendly faces (or even just informed ones) in Congress to appeal to, anyway. “The committee with jurisdiction of the financial sector had no idea about the financial sector, and that’s just the way the financial sector wanted it,” says former Congressman Brad Miller.

As a result, Dodd-Frank opted for retaining the basic business model and structure of the industry—and even the more far-reaching provisions of Dodd-Frank have been weakened by a decade of persistent lobbying for changes. Last year’s bipartisan financial deregulation law removed stricter supervision from 25 of the largest 38 banks in America, which triggered runaway industry consolidation when the banks freed from regulation teamed up to expand.

As was not the case in 2008, however, there’s now a network of advocacy groups with a shelf full of ideas that would truly return finance to its traditional role of supporting the broader economy, rather than towering over it.

The progressive beachhead on the Financial Services Committee could act as a catalyst for that transformative opportunity. Unmoved by the lure of corporate PACmoney, these legislators may actually want to legislate. If they do, they could return the committee to its posture in the 1960s and ’70s under populist chairman Wright Patman, when it passed landmark consumer legislation like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Truth in Lending Act. All it might take would be a banking committee that actually looks out for bank customers instead of bank executives—and, yes, some positive election results in 2020.

“It really is the first time where there may be a forum for people to think hard about the big fundamental issues,” says Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets. “There’s a huge unfinished agenda.” The activist leadership is in place, and the ideas are in place, too. Having members on the key committee willing to listen to those ideas and act on them was the final missing piece of the puzzle. That puzzle is now complete.    

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