Over the weekend, an announcement appeared on the website of the House Financial Services Committee that it plans to markup four bills on Wednesday, June 19.
The purpose of this article is to set the stage for the meeting by describing the bills, translating their somewhat vague titles and explaining in plain English what they are supposed to do.
The markup is likely to last an hour or two, but could drag on if there are a lot of amendments and interruptions for votes on the floor. Every member is entitled to speak for five minutes on each bill, so theoretically the meeting could go on for a very long time, but it is unlikely this will happen.
The common theme of the bills is that regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act go too far and need to be cut back, because they are costing jobs and impeding economic growth. The extent to which this is actually true of each of the proposed bills varies.
The bills will be presented by the Committee Chairman, Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and by their sponsors as bipartisan "common sense solutions" that "strike the right balance."
1. H.R. 1564: Audit Integrity and Job Protection Act — Robert Hurt, R-Va., and Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y). The purpose of this bill is to prevent the Public Company Accounting and Oversight Board (PCAOB) from going forward with a concept release it issued on Aug. 16, 2011, requiring rotation of auditors for public companies.
Proponents of the PCAOB's view believe that a periodic shakeup is needed in order to refresh the relationship between the auditor and the company; the counter-argument is that this practice can be costly and disruptive. The phrase "one-size-fits-all regulation" is likely to be heard during the debate.
2. H.R. 1105: Small Business Capital Access and Job Preservation Act — Hurt, Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., James Himes, D-Conn., Scott Garrett, R-N.J. The basic issue is whether private equity funds should be exempted from the requirement to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as required under Title IV of Dodd-Frank.
The bill would grant this exemption for a technically defined class of funds that have not borrowed and do not have a principal amount in excess of twice their funded capital commitments.
Himes comes from the hedge fund business, so it will be interesting to hear him make the connection between this registration requirement and jobs. On the other hand, the larger trend is to exempt everyone from the Dodd-Frank Act, so perhaps this is inevitable.
3. H.R. 1135: Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act — Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and Garrett. This bill would repeal sec. 953(b) of Dodd-Frank, which requires public companies to calculate and disclose in every SEC filing the compensation of the CEO, the median compensation of all other employees and the ratio of those numbers.
Companies are complaining that this is complicated and expensive, and they would like to be relieved of this burden.
4. H.R. 2374: Retail Investor Protection Act — Ann Wagner, R-Mo. The subject of this bill is the provision under Dodd-Frank that authorizes, but does not require, the SEC to promulgate a rule setting a single standard of fiduciary duty for both investment advisers and broker-dealers when providing securities advice to retail customers.
The theory behind the requirement is that most retail customers don't know the difference between the current applicable standards, so there should be only one standard. To complicate this issue further, the Department of Labor is proceeding on a separate track to set a standard under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
The industry has been pleading that if a single standard takes effect, investment advisers will leave the industry, and in some parts of the country, this could cause a paucity of salesmen to be available to present to customers the opportunity to build wealth through mutual funds and other retail products.
The industry has enlisted the SEC as its advocate, and this bill would jawbone the SEC to develop a nice rule from the industry's perspective compared with what the Labor Department might produce.
From the standpoint of investors, they might be better off with a Labor Department rule and should certainly be cynical about the notion that this bill is going to protect them. In addition to controversy over its merits, this bill appears to require coordination with the pension committees in both houses of Congress.
The bottom line is that prospects are pretty dim, and perhaps this is why the bill currently has only one sponsor.
The plan is probably to bring these bills to the House floor next week, ahead of the July 4 recess, and Hensarling will probably make an announcement to this effect at the end of the meeting.
I plan to do a follow-up article when the meeting is over. The ultimate fate of these bills depends on the Senate. Many bills passed by the House sit in the inbox at the Senate Banking Committee indefinitely, but sometimes they pass and become law, as happened with the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act last year.
In this case, the first two bills have a decent chance of going the distance, the last two have little or no chance unless they can attract bipartisan sponsorship. The outcome depends on the quality of the efforts of the sponsors to get support in the Senate for counterpart bills.
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