After much speculation, President Trump has announced his pick to lead the Federal Reserve System: Jerome “Jay” Powell. How should we think about this appointment in the context of the overall Trump administration thinking on financial regulation?
Trump slammed Wall Street throughout his campaign, asserting big banks had “gotten away with murder.” The Republican National Convention platform even mentioned a new Glass-Steagall (the Great Depression-era restriction on banks’ activities). Still, many questioned whether the Trump administration, including Powell, was committed to implementing policies tough on global megabanks.
The answer is no.
There are actually two Trump administrations. One, which attempts to deal with issues that require legislation, like health care, is having trouble making progress. But the second, which can change the rules of regulation, is moving full-steam ahead. We can already see the ground being cleared for a major round of financial deregulation.
There are three important signs of intent when it comes to finance. First, the top people on economic policy in the White House and at Treasury have all worked on Wall Street — and mostly at one big bank, Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president, is chairman of Trump’s National Economic Council, and he has brought in a team that apparently is running the show in terms of policy. Cohn has made his intentions clear: He wants to rollback regulation.
In American politics, the next election is all that matters. Despite the Republicans’ big win in November 2016, US President Donald Trump’s ability to pass legislation still depends on what congressional Republicans expect to see happen in the November 2018 midterm election. Owing to a major shift in public sentiment in the past few months, many Democrats are now convinced that they will win seats, and potentially reclaim control of the House of Representatives.
One can already see grassroots activism gaining momentum in congressional districts that would not have seemed competitive just five months ago. For example, in California’s 45th district (in the traditionally conservative Orange County), University of California, Irvine, law professor Dave Min is taking on the incumbent Republican, Mimi Walters. This past November, Walters was reelected with 58.6% of the vote, but her district favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by two percentage points.
This kind of House seat can easily flip to the Democrats in 2018, if a candidate like Min can persuade voters that Walters is out of touch – and too close to Trump. So Min has highlighted Walters’ support for Trump’s attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as well as her backing for his broader budget-cutting agenda. Moreover, her positions on many social issues seem quite distant from those of her constituency.
The House is designed to reflect public opinion, and this can shift quickly — as we have seen throughout the past two centuries, and under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
Future historians will trace the unwinding of Trump’s presidency back to a speech at Gettysburg on Oct. 22, in which the candidate made some very specific commitments (watch from the 16-minute mark in this video). Specifically, President-elect Trump faces three serious problems rooted in the way political realities — Republican control of Congress — will force him to govern.
First, Trump will not deliver on what he has promised because he can’t.
His first Gettysburg promise was to “propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress” — and there were great cheers in the crowd when he said this. Last Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said term limits will not happen (“We have term limits now; they’re called elections”). There is no way the president can force the Senate Majority Leader (or the Speaker of the House) to bring legislation to the floor. Check the Constitution on that.
Wall Street’s gambles and risky borrowing directly led to the financial crisis, causing the collapse and near-collapse of megabanks and greatly harming millions of Americans. But thanks to government bailouts, those megabanks recovered quickly and top executives lost little.
In response, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank regulatory law to ensure thatno failing bank ever receive such special treatment again. But legislation that favors very large banks
Professor Bruce Grohsgal
and undermines those reforms is in the works again. The bill is called the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act, or FIBA. The measure already has been passed by the House, and the Senate may take it up soon.
In theory, the bill attempts to solve a major issue in the Bankruptcy Code that prevents failing megabanks from restructuring through traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In effect, though, FIBA offers banks an escape route, creating a subchapter in the Bankruptcy Code through which the Wall Street players who enter into these risky transactions will get paid in full while ordinary investors are on the hook for billions of losses. Not only is that deeply unfair, but it will encourage Wall Street to gamble on the very same risky financial instruments that caused the recent crisis.
Under Chapter 11, a failing company can get a reorganization plan approved to keep its business operating while paying its creditors over time. It then can emerge from bankruptcy as a viable business. During Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, creditors are prohibited from suing the debtor to collect on their debt, a key provision that ensures all creditors are treated fairly and enables the business to reorganize. This is known as an “automatic stay.”
Donald Trump has finally put out a detailed economic plan. Authored by Peter Navarro (an economist at the University of California-Irvine) and Wilbur Ross (an investor), the plan claims that a President Trump would boost growth and reduce the national debt. But its projections are based on assumptions so unrealistic that they seem to have come from a different planet. If the United States really did adopt Trump’s plan, the result would be an immediate and unmitigated disaster.
At the heart of the plan is a very large tax cut. The authors claim this would boost economic growth, despite the fact that similar cuts in the past (for example, under President George W. Bush) had no such effect. There is a lot of sensible evidence available on precisely this point, all of which is completely ignored.
The Trump plan concedes that the tax cut per se would reduce revenue by at least $2.6 trillion over ten years – and its authors are willing to cite the non-partisan Tax Foundation on this point. But the Trump team claims this would be offset by a growth miracle spurred by deregulation.