Senator Bob Casey, Jr.
An Exclusive Interview with Pennsylvania’s Senior Senator
PACB President/CEO Nick DiFrancesco (ND): You are nearing the end of your second term as US Senator and will be up for reelection in 2018. What successes are you most proud of over the last eleven years? What are your priorities for the 2017-2018 legislative session?
Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (BC): I’m proud to have passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014. The ABLE Act allows individuals and families with disabilities to save for future expenses through tax-exempt savings accounts, and ensures beneficiaries remain eligible for federal assistance. I think the ABLE program helps give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to become financially stable. It’s been extremely gratifying to see the ABLE program implementation across the country. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina and I have a set of three bills that would improve the ABLE Act and expand account availability. Those bills will remain among my top priorities this Congress.
I am also proud of my efforts to secure more money to repair and rebuild Pennsylvania’s infrastructure. Last Congress, I worked across the aisle with Senator Blunt to introduce the Support for Bridges Act. This legislation provided $73,796,694 annually for off-system bridges in Pennsylvania which adds up to $369 million over 5 years. The bill makes an additional $4.9 billion (FY 16-20 total) available for highway bridges nationwide that lost predictable funding. In the coming Congress, there needs to be a focus on additional investments in infrastructure and workforce training. One of our most critical economic priorities is to raise incomes. Smart investments in infrastructure is one way to work toward achieving this goal.
ND: What are some of the issues on which you think you might be able to work with the Trump Administration to advance our Commonwealth’s agenda?
BC: I’m interested in making sure that all communities get a share of the economic recovery that we’ve seen over the last several years. Throughout the course of the 2016 election cycle, I spoke with communities across Pennsylvania. A common concern was the ability to provide a stable financial future for their families. I hope that there will be areas of common ground in tackling this issue.
For example, I’ve introduced a bill—the Community Economic Assistance Act—that would provide economic assistance to communities that experience a localized recession resulting from a large job loss or economic transition. The bill would provide up to $200 million in funding to designated regions, along with tax incentives to employers and to regional governments, to support local businesses, encourage new business formation and funds to develop and execute a comprehensive regional economic development strategy. The goal is to give immediate assistance to businesses and communities where sudden large job losses have occurred from a factory shut down, trade or are transitioning from an economy based on energy to another industry, among other factors. Given the focus during the election on improving the economic outlook for all Americans, I hope that this bill can get bipartisan support.
We would also look to work together on rebuilding our nation’s Infrastructure. The President has indicated that upgrading and significantly investing in US infrastructure is a key priority for his administration. He wants the plan to be BIG. Well, Senate Democrats have unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, and have offered President Trump their support if he backs it. “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure” is a plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, railways, airports, waterways, sewer systems and other key infrastructure over 10 years. Estimates predict that this infrastructure plan could create over 15 million new jobs in the construction, trade, manufacturing and similar sectors. Given that Pennsylvania is second in the country in number of structurally deficient bridges, we need to work together to get some sort of legislation passed to fix this problem.
ND: You have been a proponent of promoting economic growth and creating an environment for small business to flourish, supporting the Small Business Jobs Act which established the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF) providing grants to Pennsylvania community banks in an effort to increase lending and stimulate job growth. Can you talk about the program?
BC: I believe that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Small businesses create jobs, employ nearly half of the nation’s private sector workforce and provide economic stability by anchoring communities. In 2010, Congress had a unique opportunity to strengthen and empower the small business sector by passing the Small Business Jobs Act, which provided much-needed relief to small businesses during the most recent recession. This important legislation cut taxes for small businesses, enhanced small business loan programs and established the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF). Regularly, in meetings throughout the Commonwealth, I am told that lack of access to capital is the biggest challenge for small business and entrepreneurs looking to expand their business. That is why we created the SBLF – a $30 billion fund dedicated to providing additional capital to community banks and community development loan funds to encourage small business lending. The SBLF enables Pennsylvania’s community banks and small businesses to work together, spur job growth and promote economic productivity in communities across the Commonwealth.
In fact, approximately 80% of small business lending is done via small loans and credit extensions from community banks. According to the Treasury Department, since the SBLF’s inception, the total increase in small business lending, reported by current and former SBLF participants, is up $18.7 billion. Moreover, 63 of the 69 SBLF participants have increased their small business lending by 10 percent or more. I am proud to have supported the creation of the SBLF and will continue to identify ways to support small businesses and the valuable lending institutions that enable their success.
ND: You and Senator Toomey were part of a bipartisan group of seventy US Senators who signed a letter calling upon the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to exempt community banks from certain regulations. Can you talk a little bit about the letter and your thoughts on regulations based on risk profile for financial institutions?
BC: Yes, last year I joined a number of my fellow senators—both Democrats and Republicans—in sending a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray asking that the Bureau carefully tailor its consumer protection rules to community lenders. The CFPB has an important job, and consumer protections in the financial space are essential both for consumers and for the health of the banking system as a whole. However, with banks and non-bank lenders of all sizes all across the country, we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why we explicitly granted CFPB “tailoring” authority in Dodd-Frank, and asked them to do more where appropriate. Community banks provide critical financial services to individuals and small businesses, which helps spur economic growth in all types of communities. Furthermore, community banks did not cause the financial crisis that was the impetus for many of the banking regulations from the last several years. I believe each of the banking regulators should carefully consider the impact that their rules would have on community lenders. Our regulators need to target bad practices without unduly burdening the smaller, community institutions that are helping many individuals and small businesses get back on their feet and fuel local economies.
ND: Community bank regulatory relief is a bipartisan issue. In the current partisan environment, do you think community banks will be able to see some regulatory relief legislation passed this year?
ND: You are a member on the Senate Committee on Finance. Can you talk about the committee’s agenda?
BC: The Finance Committee has been exploring the possibility of comprehensive tax reform. This would be an opportunity to grow our economy by starting at the local level. The tax code has not seen significant reforms since 1986, and I think that many people recognize that there are aspects that could be improved to make a simpler and fairer system. This could make the U.S. a more attractive place for companies to create jobs, to make it easier for lower- and middle-income families and individuals to achieve financial security and to make sure that everyone is contributing a fair share towards the public programs that we all benefit from. There are opportunities to make these changes and to bring about true bipartisan reform. Making changes through the strictly partisan process of reconciliation is not an approach that will create the kind of certainty our businesses want and need.
ND: What do you love most about Pennsylvania?
BC: For me, Pennsylvania’s rich history would be the top of my list. Some of the most consequential moments in the history of our nation took place in Pennsylvania. I spend a lot of time reading about history and being so close to Gettysburg and Philadelphia is special.
This exclusive interview can be found featured in the April 2017 issue of Transactions. Would you like to receive a physical copy of the magazine each month? If so, please contact PACB today!