GOP author of bank deregulation law says "no need" for tougher safeguards despite collapse

Critics say Mike Crapo's law exempting SVB and others from stricter requirements led to collapse

Published March 16, 2023 10:25AM (EDT)

US Senator Mike Crapo speaks during Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 8, 2022.  (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US Senator Mike Crapo speaks during Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 8, 2022. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, the lead author of a 2018 bank deregulation law that weakened key guardrails designed to prevent another financial crisis, insisted this week that there is "no need" to impose more strict rules following two of the largest bank collapses in U.S. history.

"There is no need for regulatory reform," said Crapo, who chaired the Senate Banking Committee when Congress passed the 2018 law despite vocal warnings from experts that it would destabilize the banking sector. Dozens of Democrats supported the measure.

In a Fox Business appearance on Tuesday, the Idaho Republican deflected blame for the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, both of which were in the category of firms that saw regulatory relief thanks to the 2018 law.

"The fact is that President Biden—through all of the spending that he did in the last Congress and the last two years—has driven inflation up to the point where wage earners have to get a 14.8% wage increase just to hold even with this kind of inflation," said Crapo. "And when the Fed responded to push interest rates up, that's what caused a liquidity crisis for these two banks."

While analysts agree that the Fed's aggressive interest rate hikes are at least partly to blame for the collapse of SVB and Signature Bank, they also argue that the 2018 law's removal of enhanced capital requirements and stress tests for banks with between $50 billion and $250 billion in assets—reforms implemented by the post-financial crisis Dodd-Frank Act—also played a significant role.

"You have to be hard-core committed to mindless free-market fundamentalism—or truly in thrall to your donors—to insist there's no need for new regulations after Silicon Valley Bank," wrote Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen. (Crapo received more than $880,000 in donations from the securities and investment industry between 2017 and 2022, according to OpenSecrets.)

In effect, the 2018 law ( S.2155) removed the "systemically important" designation and the associated regulations from SVB and Signature Bank—a change that didn't stop the Fed and the Biden administration from rushing in to backstop the financial system and prevent "contagion" after the firms collapsed.

SVB's announcement last week that it sold its bond portfolio at a major loss and was trying to raise funds led venture capitalists to advise startups—SVB's primary clientele—to withdraw their money, setting off a bank run that ultimately resulted in the firm's failure and takeover by regulators.

"The federal government then stepped in to guarantee the deposits, a dramatic move designed to prevent the panic from spreading to other banks," HuffPost's Arthur Delaney noted Wednesday. "But this kind of intervention... was not supposed to be necessary. The enhanced prudential standards under Dodd-Frank include liquidity requirements that would have automatically covered Silicon Valley Bank if Congress hadn't relaxed the law in 2018."

As former FDIC attorney Todd Phillips toldThe Washington Post earlier this week, "Congress gave regulators permission to take their eyes off of these mid-sized regional banks."

Hilary Allen, a law professor at American University, similarly observed that the 2018 law "did indeed reduce regulatory requirements for banks like Silicon Valley Bank."

"While it is impossible to say categorically that legislative rollback equals the bank's collapse," Allen added, "it does seem that it made it more likely."

The Fed, as then-central bank governor Lael Brainard lamented in 2019, proceeded to take the Republican-authored law and run with it, further weakening safeguards against financial chaos.

"I see little benefit to the banks or the system from the proposed reduction in core resilience that would justify the increased risk to financial stability in the future," Brainard said in a statement at the time.

On Tuesday, dozens of lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would repeal the section of the 2018 law that relaxed regulations for banks with less than $250 billion in assets.

In a floor speech, Warren said that "both SVB and Signature Bank suffered from a toxic mix of poor risk management and weak supervision."

"If Congress and the Federal Reserve had not rolled back key provisions of Dodd-Frank, these banks would have been subject to stronger liquidity and capital requirements to help withstand financial shocks," Warren continued. "These threats never should have been allowed to materialize. Now, we must prevent them from occurring again by reversing the dangerous bank deregulation of the Trump era."

By Jake Johnson

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