Congressional panels approve SEC capital formation bills

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional panels in the House and Senate on Thursday approved - with bipartisan support - a handful of bills aimed at helping companies raise capital, a sign that Congress may be able to approach financial regulatory reform on a piecemeal basis without awaiting a blockbuster bill.

Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Mike Crapo (R-ID) hearing listens to testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen on the “Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

In separate meetings, the Senate Banking Committee led by Idaho Republican Chairman Mike Crapo and the House Financial Services Committee led by Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling approved a series of identical bills, paving the way votes by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

It is not yet known when both chambers may take up the bills.

The move is part of an effort by Congress to streamline the U.S. financial sector, and it comes at the same time that U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing to repeal or replace regulations which he contends could impede economic growth.

The bills won broad bipartisan support in both committees, with minimal dissent.

Sherrod Brown, the Senate panel’s ranking Democrat, praised the bipartisan work and said he was optimistic “there are additional common sense measures” that can tackled next.

The bills propose changes to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulations, such as raising the dollar amount of stock options that private companies can award employees in a given year to $10 million from $5 million and easing restrictions to allow brokers to publish research on the global $3.7 trillion exchange-traded fund market.

Other changes in the bills would raise the number of people who can invest in venture capital funds without triggering a requirement to register with the SEC; subject mutual funds in Puerto Rico to the same rules funds already face on the U.S. mainland, and credit stock exchanges for any fees and assessments they may have overpaid to the SEC in the last decade.

The House Financial Services Committee also on Thursday approved a sixth bill that would require the SEC to formally consider and respond to regulatory proposals that are made annually by the agency’s Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation.

The Senate panel did not consider that bill on Thursday, but Banking Committee spokeswoman Amanda Critchfield said she expects it will be considered in the future.

Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who co-sponsored the bill involving private company stock options, said on Thursday he is hopeful the measure “will be considered by the full Senate soon.”

The dual committee meetings were the first time since the November election that the Republican-led Congress has convened to consider financial legislation.

The House Financial Services Committee, meanwhile, is also separately preparing to unveil a more comprehensive rewrite of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, which will also include measures to boost capital formation.

Trump’s choice to lead the SEC, Wall Street deal-making attorney Jay Clayton, has previously discussed ideas with Trump privately on how to help spur capital formation.

All of the bills approved by the two panels on Thursday have been considered in prior congressional years, but were never passed into law.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Andrew Hay, G Crosse