By Colin Barrett, President/CEO, Tennessee Bankers Association
After what has been the longest election in my memory, the voters have spoken and delivered both the Presidency and the Senate to the Democrats, while narrowing the House Democrats’ majority to the smallest margin in two decades. And while the outcome is certainly favorable for President Joe Biden, the narrow division will not leave much wiggle room for any member of Congress to step outside of their political aisle.
Leading up to Election Day in November, both Republicans and Democrats felt good about their chances to control the Senate. Although Democrats picked up one seat that day, the Republicans believed they would win the January runoff races in Georgia where the Republican candidates maintained a slight lead in the November election. However, with a strong grassroots effort by Democrats and discussion of voter fraud suppressing Trump voters, a 50/50 split was created in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker.
If Democrats remain united, their majority will allow President Biden his choice for heads of the OCC, Treasury and CFPB—positions that the president could fill early in his term. The Federal Reserve’s Jerome Powell and FDIC’s Jelena McWilliams have several years before their terms expire and have indicated their desire to complete their terms.
In Tennessee, Republican Bill Hagerty is our newest Senator. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Hagerty was able to use his Washington contacts to gain valuable information from Treasury and SBA for our banks. His role as a former director at Pinnacle Financial Partners gives our industry a knowledgeable ally in the Senate. And while it would be good to have Tennessee represented on the Senate Banking Committee, Hagerty might find himself on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee given his experience as Ambassador to Japan.
In total, Republicans gained seats in the House to narrow the Democrats’ majority to 222 to 211. With ideological divisions within the Democrat party resulting in lost seats, Democrats may have challenges in building consensus during Biden’s term.
In Tennessee, our newest House member is Diana Harshbarger, a Kingsport Republican who won with 75% of the vote in the general election after a hard-fought primary. Harshbarger’s background as a pharmacist and her interest in health care will likely dictate her committee assignments.
With President Biden and narrow Democrat majorities, our legislative strategies will continue to focus on issues that can receive support from both sides of the aisle. Pressing issues will include CECL standards, BSA/AML reform, fintech policy, taxpayer subsidized credit unions and Farm Credit, and more. In standing with our customers and communities, our issues are aligned with the majority of Congressmen, regardless of their political affiliation. And with the importance of bankers’ roles being elevated during the current health crisis, our ability to influence legislation for the better has never been stronger.
The banking industry enters 2021 in a strong position to enact positive change. I look forward to working with you to move our banking agenda forward.