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The GOP's Plan to Dismantle Wall Street Reform

Your guide to the House finance committee under Republican rule.

| Thu Nov. 11, 2010 6:00 AM EST

On the issues, Ed Royce, who represents southern California's Orange County, isn't all that different from Bachus. He, too, has benefitted from Wall Street's largesse. Three of the top five industries who've donated to Royce over his career come from the finance industry, including the insurance ($665,530), real estate ($561,950), and securities and investment ($430,350) sectors.

Like Bachus, Royce is no fan of Dodd-Frank, and would, as chairman, seek to chip away at the bill. For starters, he wants to give bank regulators veto power on the rule-making abilities of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There's just one problem with that: The consumer bureau is already subject to veto by a two-thirds vote from the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a new council of regulators tasked with preventing banks from becoming too big to fail. Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who conceived of the bureau and is now tasked with getting it off the ground, responded on Monday night to statements like Royce's to undermine the bureau. "I'm really surprised by this move," she told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "Following the Great Depression, it took fifty years before anyone started chipping seriously away at the new reforms that had been put in place to protect us. Now, here we hope we're coming out of another great recession, we've passed serious reform, and it's just a matter of months until people are talking about how to undercut this new consumer financial protection agency."

Royce has said he wants to rewrite the section in Dodd-Frank dealing with derivatives, the complex financial products that mirror the value of real goods (oil, corn, wheat) and, before the financial crisis, were used to make risky bets on the fluctuations in financial markets. Dodd-Frank requires most derivatives, or "swaps," trades to be processed through a central clearinghouse, and requires both speculators and possibly "end-users"—the utility companies, farmers, airlines, and more using derivatives to legitimately hedge against risks, like fluctuations in oil prices—to post collateral in case trades go bad. While potentially increasing the cost of hedging, these reforms will beef up stability and safety in the derivatives markets. Royce, however, has suggested he would amend the derivatives part of Dodd-Frank to let non-financial companies using derivatives off the hook, even though the Congressional Research Service found that such an exemption would all but nullify the rule.

Where Royce has been especially vocal is on the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two taxpayer-owned government housing corporations. Royce believes the popular Republican talking point that Fannie and Freddie are "the two institutions most responsible for the collapse of the housing market," even though ample evidence disproves that theory. As chairman, Royce would tackle the question of either reforming the housing giants or abolishing them altogether.

The most pronounced difference between Bachus and Royce is not their financial philosophies, but their demeanors. While Bachus struggled as ranking member to match Barney Frank's blistering rhetoric, Royce showed no hesitation to lock horns with the Massachusetts Democrat. During the reform bill's reconciliation process, Royce repeatedly clashed with Frank on the absence of any reforms for Fannie and Freddie. Royce's willingness to trade barbs is likely one of the main reasons his challenge to Bachus' seat has made headway at all.

In the end, though, the House financial services committee will see a major rightward shift with either Bachus or Royce as chairman. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a free marketeer who said the consumer bureau "assaults the liberties of the consumer," is poised to take over the financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee, while libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, will likely take over the domestic monetary policy and technology subcommittee. And if that didn't spell trouble for Dodd-Frank, the House GOP's pledge to defund the financial reform bill makes plenty clear where Republicans stand on financial issues.

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