As the May 12 front-page article “Oil sales remain Russia’s lifeline” chronicled, Russia’s economy and war in Ukraine are being fueled by its booming energy sector. Though the United States banned Russian energy imports in March, U.S. banks can still process Russian energy transactions to other countries. This major loophole in our sanctions is enabling Russia’s energy industry to flourish.

I introduced the No Energy Revenues for Russian Hostilities Act to end this loophole. My bill creates a carrot-and-stick approach to our sanctions. The legislation imposes a ban on all energy transactions flowing through the U.S. financial system on behalf of sanctioned Russian banks, unless the treasury secretary allows the transaction to go through. If the secretary grants a waiver, funds from the transaction will be placed in an escrow account. The United States could hold these funds as leverage to incentivize Russia to end the war in Ukraine. This is a blueprint our allies in Europe could adopt as well to strike an immediate blow to Russian President Vladmir Putin’s regime.

In a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said my bill was “an idea worth exploring.” President Biden initially promised the full weight of U.S. sanctions in response to Russia’s brutal and illegal war in Ukraine. Now is the time to pass my bill to help deliver on that promise and cut off the bankroll for Mr. Putin’s war machine.

Andy BarrWashington

The writer, a Republican, represents Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District in the House, where he serves on the Financial Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

This piece appeared in the Washington Post on Friday, May 20, 2022. 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently published its long-awaited proposed

rulemaking mandating disclosure by public companies of risks associated with climate change.

Under the proposal, public companies of all sizes would be required to publish reams of

immaterial and unreliable information about the greenhouse gas emissions arising from their

operations, the producers of the energy they consume and even, in some cases, the activities of

their suppliers and customers to the extent the SEC deems those activities to “contribute to

climate change.”

This 534-page monstrosity marks the transformation of the SEC from an independent agency

dedicated to investor protection to an unaccountable and politicized bureaucracy intent on

advancing radical environmental and social policy, over which it has neither jurisdiction nor

expertise. It’s one more chapter in the Biden Administration’s whole-of-government adventure

in weaponizing financial regulation, discriminating against affordable, reliable energy and

redirecting capital away from the American energy sector.

The regulation would be an exercise in arrogant government overreach at any time. But the fact

that Biden officials are pressing forward at this time—when constrained supply has pushed

inflation to a 40-year high, gas prices are skyrocketing and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has

reminded us how over-dependence on foreign sources of energy threatens our national security—

reveals how astonishingly out of touch they are.

Yet the central planners at the SEC have made it clear that their goal is to choke off financing for

fossil energy, at all costs—even if that means lurching well beyond their authority, politicizing

the allocation of capital and prioritizing unquantifiable environmental, social and governance

(ESG) objectives over investor returns.

The statutory mission of the SEC is to “protect investors; facilitate capital formation; and

maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets.” Far from achieving these goals, the climate

disclosure proposal would harm investors, destroy capital and produce unfair and inefficient

markets.

From an investor protection standpoint, appropriately tailored disclosures of material information

provide investors with visibility into the current and prospective financial health of public

companies. But disclosure mandates should not advance unrelated policy goals at the expense of

investor returns. And this rule would do just that, steering investors toward higher-fee, less

diversified and, in many cases, lower return investments—all for the ostensible purpose of

disclosing “climate risk.”

In fact, fees for ESG funds are, on average, 43% higher than non-ESG funds. Stocks in many

ESG-related exchange traded funds trade at elevated price-to-earnings multiples because

investment returns are sacrificed for non-pecuniary policy objectives like social justice, diversity

quotas and lower carbon emissions.

As SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce pointed out in her statement opposing the proposal, the

rule, rather than giving investors material information, “forces investors to view companies

through the eyes of a vocal set of stakeholders, for whom a company’s climate reputation is of

equal or greater importance than a company’s financial performance.”

Retail investors will lose under this new reality, as resources are diverted away from corporate

earnings toward skyrocketing compliance and litigation costs. As disclosure mandates have

grown in volume and complexity over time, prohibitive costs have deterred many growing

companies from going and staying public. Injecting even more ambiguous, subjective, or

otherwise ill-defined metrics into securities filings will only increase these costs, giving

enterprising plaintiffs’ lawyers plenty of ammunition to file frivolous lawsuits. Under these

circumstances of liability uncertainty, companies will err on the side of over-reporting rather

than under-reporting to ensure all information is captured, regardless of its materiality or how

well it serves the investing public.

Justice Thurgood Marshall established the materiality standard for SEC disclosures in TSC

Industries v. Northway. In his opinion, Marshall wrote that information is material for purposes

of disclosure if there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would consider the

information important in deciding how to make an investment decision. He further opined that

“[m]anagement’s fear of subjecting itself to liability may cause it to simply bury the shareholders

in an avalanche of trivial information—a result that is hardly conducive to informed decision

making.”

If this rule is finalized in its current dizzyingly complex form, the threat of lawsuits will force

public companies to inundate shareholders with a torrent of information that a reasonable

investor would find wholly irrelevant to the financial return of the investment. Ironically, it

would also discourage firms from making emissions reduction commitments or forward-looking

statements about their sustainability efforts for fear of being sued.

SEC Chairman Gary Gensler argues that disclosure is needed for both institutional and retail

investors to make more informed investment decisions. But risks from changing weather

patterns are not new, and companies have been managing them for years. Given that public

companies are already required to disclose information that is material to investors, risks

associated with changing weather are already disclosed.

In 2020, 92% of S&P 500 companies voluntarily published “sustainability” or “ESG” reports.

These reports, which are easily accessible to investors and the public via companies ’websites,

outline information such as emissions, sustainability policies and various workforce initiatives.

The government does not compel public companies to publish these reports—they result from

the company’s independent initiatives, or requests from activist stakeholders.

Gensler responds that a top-down, SEC-directed disclosure mandate is needed to substantiate

companies’ ESG claims, and that the agency has “broad authority to promulgate disclosure

requirements that are ‘necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of

investors.’” But neither the Constitution nor Congress has conferred to the SEC the authority to

redefine materiality to mandate disclosure of every granular detail of emissions data that non-

investor climate alarmists want, no matter how attenuated to the actual business of the publicly

traded company. Furthermore, it is unclear how mandating disclosure of disparate emissions

data—including data unconnected to the actual operations of the firm in question—would

enhance the consistency, comparability or reliability of company climate disclosures.

In addition to harming investors, the SEC’s proposal would stifle capital formation and produce

uneven, unfair and inefficient markets. It would weaponize disclosures to name and shame

politically incorrect companies, pick winners and losers in the capital markets and starve

American energy firms of the capital they need to create jobs, produce affordable and reliable

energy and deliver returns to investors. And it would do so at a time when it’s estimated that the

American oil and gas industry needs an additional $500 billion in annual financing just to keep

up with existing demand.

Let’s be clear. This proposal is not about disclosing financial risk. It’s about creating financial

risk for energy producers unpopular with the political left. By wading into environmental policy

through a top-down, one-size-fits-all climate disclosure rule, untethered to the longstanding

standard of materiality, the SEC has veered beyond its statutory authority and expertise, reduced

its credibility, and prioritized politics over investor returns. That’s why, in the coming months, I

will be fighting to block this rule, protect everyday shareholders from regulators acting on behalf

of non-investor stakeholders, and preserve access to capital for energy producers so they can

lower the price at the pump and restore American energy dominance.

Though every holiday season without my wife Carol will be difficult, this year I am comforted by the fact that her legacy will be enshrined through the Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. The CAROL Act makes historic investments in treatments for valvular heart disease to close the gaps in understanding about what risk factors make valvular heart disease a potentially life-threatening condition. 
On June 16, 2020, my and my two daughter’s lives changed forever when my wife and best friend Carol unexpectedly passed away at 39 years old from sudden cardiac arrest. The medical examiner and Carol’s doctors told us that her fatal heart attack was likely brought on by a ventricular arrhythmia. At a young age, Carol had been diagnosed with an underlying condition called mitral valve prolapse (MVP), or floppy valve syndrome—a typically benign condition that results in sudden cardiac death in only .2% of cases. 
What factors placed Carol in the 0.2% versus the 99.8% category? In my discussions with top cardiologists, medical experts, researchers, and advocates following Carol’s passing, I learned the extent to which the medical community seriously lacked answers to this critical question. So, I decided to take action and introduce the CAROL Act, to better equip our medical community with the resources needed to develop predictive models, inform communities, and possibly save the lives of other loved ones.
Specifically, the CAROL Act authorizes a grant program administered by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), to support research on valvular heart disease, including MVP. This legislation martials the full power of 21st century medical innovation and encourages the utilization of technological imaging and precision medicine to generate data on individuals with valvular heart disease. It is through this research that we can help identify Americans at high risk of sudden cardiac death from valvular heart disease and develop prediction models for high-risk patients, enabling interventions and treatment plans to keep these patients healthy throughout their lives. 
Additionally, the CAROL Act will instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase public awareness regarding symptoms of valvular heart disease and effective strategies for preventing sudden cardiac death.
This week, the CAROL Act which has earned 179 bipartisan cosponsors, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. My friend and fellow Kentuckian, Senator Mitch McConnell and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose sister also passed away from valvular heart disease, are leading the companion bill to the CAROL Act in the Senate. We are rapidly approaching the finish line of this legislation becoming law. 
No matter what, Carol Barr’s greatest legacy will always be our two beautiful daughters, Eleanor and Mary Clay. Now, through the CAROL Act, her legacy also offers an element of hope that countless families will not have to experience the tragedy that has so profoundly impacted ours. 
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr is a Republican representing the 6th District of Kentucky.

This piece appeared in American Banker:

The Financial Stability Oversight Council last week released its long-awaited report on mitigating climate risk in the financial sector. As expected, the report is yet another example of the Biden administration’s efforts to weaponize financial regulation to advance partisan, radical environmental goals.

Created after the 2008 financial crisis as part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reforms, the FSOC brings together the heads of all the federal financial regulatory agencies, essentially forming a superregulator. The FSOC has a very clear mandate: to identify and mitigate systemic risk in the financial sector.

Systemic risk has a specific definition and is distinct from traditional business risk. Systemic risk, if left unchecked, can suddenly, without warning, bring down the financial system. Traditional business risk can be mitigated through the prudent risk management of banks, insurance companies and other financial sector participants.

The 2008 financial crisis is a good case study in true systemic risk. Poor underwriting standards in mortgages and declining asset prices, combined with complicated financial products tied to those mortgages in an interconnected financial system, caused the perfect storm and brought our financial system to the brink of collapse.

With this as context, would a reasonable observer view climate change as truly a systemic risk, analogous to the causes of the 2008 financial crisis? Could changing weather patterns, a process occurring over decades, cause our markets to suddenly seize up and bring down the financial system? I find that difficult to believe, yet that is precisely what this report suggests. At best, it is hyperbole. At worst, it is another disingenuous attempt by the Biden administration to leverage the financial regulatory system to advance extreme environmental policies under the guise of safety and soundness.

To be sure, there are financial impacts associated with extreme weather events. Increased frequency of flooding and wildfires pose risk to insured property. Banks must take risks of extreme weather into account when underwriting loans. The financial sector — banks, insurers, reinsurers — are managing that risk through enhanced underwriting standards, mitigation incentives or higher prices. But this hardly necessitates invoking the powers of America’s superregulator.

Among the FSOC’s authorities is its ability to designate nonbank financial companies as “systemically important financial institutions,” or SIFIs, essentially labeling those firms as too big to fail. Once designated, firms are subjected to enhanced oversight by federal regulators. This regulatory meat cleaver used to be the FSOC’s preferred tool.

Fortunately, under the leadership of former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the FSOC shifted its nonbank SIFI designation authority from an entity-based approach, which subjected entire companies to enhanced supervision, to an activities-based approach, which tailors its review of potential risks to specific activities within a company.

To her credit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has publicly stated that she intends to maintain the FSOC’s reliance on an activities-based approach. Unfortunately, she is getting pressure from the radical wing of the Democratic Party, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to revert to the FSOC’s “meat cleaver” approach. Congressional Democrats view the FSOC as an underutilized tool to impose burdensome regulations on the financial sector and possibly regulate out of existence industries they despise.

Last week’s climate report suggests Yellen may be giving into progressives’ calls to weaponize the FSOC. Among the recommendations are enhanced climate change disclosures by public and private companies; including climate change scenarios in regulators’ tests for how well banks can handle economic stress; and requiring companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions to name-and-shame firms and bias the market against fossil energy.

Late last year, I led more than three dozen of my Republican colleagues in drafting a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell, cautioning against the Fed injecting ill-defined climate change metrics into its supervision of the nation’s banks. Among other things, the letter raised methodological concerns with incorporating climate metrics into bank supervision, including the fact that climate change is a phenomenon that occurs over decades — a time horizon far beyond what it typically utilized for assessing banks’ ability to withstand stresses. Further, we stated that tying a bank’s performance on supervisory exams to ill-defined climate change metrics will ultimately cause them to decrease their lending to fossil energy companies, effectively starving an essential industry of much needed capital.

In his response, Powell stated that the Fed is not among the federal agencies charged with directly addressing climate risks and that the Fed does not dictate what lawful industries banks can and cannot serve. After reviewing last week’s climate report, it is clear the FSOC didn’t get that memo.

The report makes it evident that picking winners and losers and cutting off financing to the fossil energy industry is precisely the Biden administration’s goal. They realize they cannot pass the Green New Deal through a closely divided Congress, so they are searching for backdoor solutions to achieve that goal. They fail to realize that most Americans care more about energy affordability and reliability than illusory climate change goals. We are in the midst of a global energy crisis, yet the Biden administration is adamant about suffocating American fossil energy.

Financial regulators play an important role. They ensure safety and soundness in our financial system, protect investors and maintain liquid, orderly markets that facilitate access to capital for businesses of all sizes. Financial regulators are not climate scientists and should not be used as pawns for the radical environmental agenda.

The IMF has lost its way

October 11, 2021

This piece appeared in The Hill:

bombshell investigation revealed last month how Kristalina Georgieva, formerly CEO of the World Bank, pressured her staff to manipulate data after Chinese officials complained their economy hadn’t ranked highly enough in the Bank’s Doing Business Report. Now at the head of the International Monetary Fund, Georgieva won’t be able to credibly lead the Fund if these findings are substantiated. What’s more, her problems have only added to preexisting signs of trouble: not content with serving as a lender of last resort, the IMF under Georgieva has reimagined itself as the answer to global challenges ranging from COVID-19 response to climate change. Mission creep has become the mission itself. 

A case in point has been the IMF’s eagerness to help countries fight the pandemic. This summer the Fund approved a $650 billion disbursement of its Special Drawing Rights so that developing economies could obtain hard currency and import medical supplies. This move contradicted the IMF’s rules, which prescribe how SDRs are meant to address a long-term need in world reserves, not hand governments unconditional aid to boost emergency spending. 

In any event, the IMF’s plan won’t end up targeting the needy, with only 3 percent of SDRs being allocated to the poor. Other countries have already admitted their money may not be spent to tackle COVID-19 as intended: middle-income recipients like Argentina have said they might draw on their SDRs to pay off old IMF loans, while Mexico has floated the idea of using its windfall to shore up Pemex, the state-owned oil giant. One can only imagine what brutal dictators in Syria and Belarus will do with their SDRs, though stocking up on personal protective equipment for ordinary citizens seems unlikely. 

The inanity doesn’t stop there. Before Georgieva’s data meddling was uncovered, she was also soliciting China’s help to start a new “Resilience and Sustainability Trust,” which claims to go even further than SDRs by supporting countries’ health care systems and steeling the world against climate change. At best this is the job of World Bank colleagues down the street from the IMF in Washington, but Georgieva couldn’t allow the Fund’s lack of experience in these areas interfere with visions of fundraising wins. 

Spreading itself thinner is all the more senseless since the IMF still wrestles with weaning borrowers from its traditional forms of assistance. While the Fund likes to point to the “catalytic” role of its loans, implying they act as an adrenaline shot to move ailing economies past acute crises, in many cases they bear more resemblance to a morphine drip, with countries as far afield as Argentina, Pakistan, Armenia, and Honduras needing a Fund program on average every three years. IMF shareholders, the U.S. foremost among them, should focus on solving these cases before the Fund volunteers itself to overhaul hospital systems and mitigate rising sea levels. 

Even if the IMF is successful recommitting itself to its core mission, the Fund will still have to navigate its future with China, its third-largest shareholder. As the investigation into Georgieva’s actions at the World Bank showed, trying to cater to China is liable to backfire at multilateral institutions. That’s not because China always demands malfeasance — indeed, the Bank’s investigators found the Chinese didn’t insist on a quid pro quo — but seeking to accommodate the world’s largest dictatorship can only corrupt these organizations’ integrity. 

The Fund’s recent history proves this point. In a 2010 review of its shareholding, the IMF granted China the largest increase in voting power of any other country. Just five years later, the Fund agreed to add the renminbi to an elite basket of currencies determining the value of SDRs, despite the fact that the RMB was under the control of a non-independent central bank and lagged behind the Canadian and Australian currencies in international reserves. The IMF put the cart before the horse by thinking China would become a responsible power if it was first treated as such. 

What actually happened after the IMF gave China a pass? The country went on to impose capital controlsraised the opacity of its overseas lending, cut off foreign investors from a growing number of its companies, and violated international norms through genocide in Xinjiang and a crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms. The Fund is now stuck having legitimized a regime that makes a mockery of multilateralism. 

The controversy surrounding Georgieva is an opportunity for the IMF to step back and assess its direction. It should return to an agenda that prioritizes things the Fund is qualified to deliver, whether it’s temporary assistance to borrowing countries committed to economic reform, high-quality data collection and research, or rigorous monitoring of global growth and stability. That’s where the IMF’s advantages lie, if only it would embrace them.

This piece appeared in Kentucky Today, Richmond Register, Anderson County News, Winchester Sun, Jessamine Journal: 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, Congress deputized the financial services industry, including banks, credit unions and financial technology lenders, to swiftly deliver assistance to struggling small businesses throughout the country.  I am a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and saw firsthand the importance of ensuring small businesses were able to access credit during the time of stress.  Over 5,000 lenders participated in the Paycheck Protection Program to keep small businesses afloat as states and localities implemented COVID mitigation strategies that kept people home and shuttered businesses.  In the Commonwealth alone, small businesses received over $7.8 billion in forgivable loans to keep their doors open and paychecks flowing to workers and their families. 

 

As the economy continues its rapid recovery, businesses are reopening with floods of customers and people are going back to work, it is important that we reflect on the trials and triumphs of the last 15 months.  The government assistance to small businesses wouldn’t have been possible without a strong partnership with financial institutions, especially local community banks.  

 

That is why I am proposing legislation to empower community banks with the flexibility to continue leading the charge in providing access to capital for individuals, homeowners and small businesses in rural communities, which is the key to economic growth and prosperity for all.  Community banks are built on relationships between bankers and their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.  Unfortunately, recent years have seen many bank branches close and a dramatic decline in new, or de novo, community bank formation, largely due to increasing compliance costs, ballooning capital requirements and competitive market pressures from a trend in bank mergers and acquisitions.  The disappearance of local banks in communities around the country often times leaves a void that hits its citizens hard.

 

Since the 2008 financial crisis, de novo formation has slowed significantly. There were 181 charters granted in 2007; but between 2010 and 2019, fewer than ten new banks opened, on average, per year. A recent Federal Reserve study shows that 51% of the 3,114 counties in the U.S. saw net declines in the number of bank branches between 2012 and 2017.  These declines in bank branches disproportionately hit rural communities.  A total of 794 rural counties lost a combined 1,553 bank branches over the five-year period, a 14% decline.  The negative financial impacts on rural counties of branch closures are perpetuated by the continuing difficulties, due to burdensome regulations and other roadblocks, of de novo community bank formation. While these trends leave residents of rural counties without access to much-needed financial services, they also have negative downstream impacts on the communities.

 

The Federal Reserve report identified 44 counties considered “deeply affected” by trends in bank closures and consolidation, which it defines as counties that had 10 or fewer branches in 2012 and lost at least 50% of those branches by 2017.  89% of the identified “deeply affected” counties are rural counties, including Nicholas County, Kentucky.  

 

Recent studies also suggest that citizens in rural communities are much more likely than people in urban or suburban areas to do their banking in-person at a branch. The advances in mobile and online banking are often out of reach for much of rural America due to substandard or non-existent broadband access. Without a branch nearby, our neighbors in rural counties are increasingly unable to access traditional financial services.  Rural community banks need commonsense regulatory relief to combat the trend in closures, consolidation.

 

To address these issues and boost de novo bank formation, I introduced the Promoting Access to Capital in Underbanked Communities Act.  The bill permits new banks to phase in some of the costly compliance burdens over the course of three years, which gives them a good launching pad without compromising their safety and soundness.  It also makes it easier for banks to open in underserved rural communities, like those highlighted in the Federal Reserve report, and removes outdated regulations that limit how much business a bank can do with local farmers and ranchers.  

 

Additionally, the bill also makes it easier for lenders to lend to agriculture businesses in their communities.  Under current law, lenders are limited in how much they can lend, as a percentage of total outstanding loans, to certain sectors, including agriculture.  This bill removes those limits.

 

I am hopeful that my bill will receive bipartisan support in Congress.  It’s a simple and straightforward legislative proposal to help solve a very real problem that is facing our rural communities today.  Through passage of the Promoting Access to Capital in Underbanked Communities Act, Congress can promote equity and financial inclusion, and prevent rural America from being left behind.  

By U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) and U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND).  This piece appeared on Townhall.com on Wednesday, May 26. 

Cancel culture is spiraling out of control in the United States. Once treasured and protected American rights and ideals like freedom of speech, religion, capitalism, and the free marketplace of ideas are increasingly under siege. In finance, it threatens the survival of lawfully operating businesses in the United States and even the ability of Americans to exercise constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In a nod to this increasing political pressure, some financial firms have announced they will not do business with certain legal -- but politically targeted -- companies. Last fall, JP Morgan Chase declared it would refuse financial services to coal producers, and Bank of America began a politically-motivated effort to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its financing activities by 2050, an effort directly targeting producers of reliable American energy.

These efforts impact coal, oil and gas producers, the firearm and ammunition industry, as well as many other law-abiding businesses which employ millions and supply our citizens with goods and services they need. These decisions are not based on the creditworthiness or financial soundness of the customer. They are driven by open pressure from far-left environmental progressives like John Kerry, anti-gun groups financed by people like Michael Bloomberg, liberal activists who use tools like proxy voting at shareholder meetings, and the whims of corporate leaders.

Cancel culture is extending into the world of finance, forcing lenders to consider the reputational risk of doing business with a firm that is out of fashion with the vocal liberal elite. Congress can and should take action to combat this. Large financial service providers are able to play such an essential role  in the economy in part because their insurance on deposits is backed by the federal government and paid for by the taxpayer. That gives us the right to ensure they operate in a safe and sound manner and to take action if they are not. Lending decisions should be dependent on wholly objective, risk-based underwriting standards. They should not be dependent on whether a business is in conformity with the politically correct standards of the day, which threaten jobs and compromise the viability of entire industries based solely on the woke opinions of a select few.

Operation Choke Point, orchestrated by the Obama Administration, sought to cut off legally operating businesses by restricting their access to banking services. Members of Congress were right to balk at this blatant disregard for the rule of law and abuse of power. Unfortunately, political pressure is being reasserted today, and some banks are obliging. American industries are arbitrarily being denied access to capital simply because of partisan pettiness, and workers are going to pay the price.

The Trump Administration recognized this problem and took action. In January, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks finalized the Fair Access Rule, which required banks to provide equitable access to financial services on risk-based metrics. Under the rule, covered banks would not be able to inject political or public relations considerations into their lending decisions, or engage in total avoidance of an entire category of customers. They would instead be required to base lending decisions on the creditworthiness of the borrower.

This rule would have kept cancel culture out of finance and ensured our financial industry operates in a sound manner. But shortly after taking office, the Biden Administration blocked it.

That is why we are teaming up in Congress to lead the Fair Access to Banking Act, a bill to codify the Fair Access Rule and guarantee fair access to financial services for lawful and legally compliant businesses under federal law, regardless of politics. A difference in political views is not a valid reason to deny a business fair access to capital, yet that is what banks and financial institutions are doing. Our bill builds on the OCC’s Fair Access to Financial Services rule and makes it clear unjustifiably discriminating against entire industries will not be tolerated.

Now is the time to push back against the politicization of access to capital. The Biden Administration has made it clear it intends to leverage the full powers of financial regulators to tackle unrelated social goals and carry out its progressive political agenda. 

The greening of the financial system under the guise of safety and soundness supervision is not only a thinly veiled effort to placate radical activists, it threatens jobs and economic recovery amidst one of the greatest health and economic crises in a century.

Left-wing politicians, radical anti-gun activists and politically motivated financial regulators should not be allowed to intimidate lenders into picking which businesses should be able to operate legally and which should not. Congress has the constitutional authority to make new laws and change existing laws. But there is one law even Congress cannot change. This is the law of supply and demand, which in a free market determines which businesses succeed and which fail, as opposed to the opinions of the cancel culture elite.  

Our bill is not about politics. It is about protecting fundamental American principles and its equal application to all businesses -- from oil companies and private prisons to payday lenders and firearms dealers. In America, the customer is king, not the bank, and certainly not the political class. It is time Congress affirms that access to financial services should be tied to the creditworthiness of applicants, regardless of their perceived political leanings.  

By U.S. Congressman Andy Barr and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell

The Kentucky Derby is called the most exciting two minutes in sports. This week, fans from around the globe will turn their attention once again to the Bluegrass State as the Derby returns to the first Saturday in May. As elected representatives of the Horse Capital of the World, we will also celebrate our progress toward preserving this cherished sport with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

Thoroughbred racing has faced intense criticism in recent years. Tragedies on the tracks, doping scandals in the stables and an unworkable regulatory framework have marred its storied legacy. Even the Washington Post's editorial board called for an end to the sport altogether.

Such a misguided move would inflict widespread damage on spectators and cities across the country. The American horse racing and breeding industry generates almost $40 billion annually for its communities. Horse racing's TV viewership was on the rise at this point last year, even as other sports suffered. Watching even one heart-pounding photo finish is enough to understand why.

Despite the sport's challenges, we refused to simply walk away from our commonwealth's signature industry and the more than 60,000 Kentucky workers who support it. Instead, we went to work.

While other sports are governed by a central regulatory authority, thoroughbred racing relied on an inconsistent patchwork across 38 separate jurisdictions. Disjointed standards and medication policies at legendary tracks from Kentucky to New York to California left gaps ripe for cheating, manipulation and abuse. More had to be done to protect horses and jockeys and to give every competitor a fair shot at the winner's circle. To save the sport, we needed reform.

Thoroughbred racing deserves a set of uniform, national standards, just like any other major sport. We introduced bipartisan legislation after last year's Kentucky Derby to replace the inconsistency with a single Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The new governing body would be tasked with enhancing safety protocols for equine athletes with a single medication program and national standards for competition.

Reforming a sport with so much history and cultural significance would never be easy. The equine industry supports around a million jobs nationwide. In Kentucky alone, families have operated stables and trained champions for generations. So, we opened up plenty of seats at the table. We drew input and support from horse racing's top organizations, Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers, leading veterinarians, industry associations and anti-doping and animal welfare advocates.

The eagerness among industry stakeholders to reach an outcome fueled our efforts in Congress to preserve and strengthen the sport.

We teamed up with our Democratic colleagues from other thoroughbred racing states, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Paul Tonko of New York. Together, we built the industry's most consequential reform in 40 years. Despite our political differences, each of us understood the need to begin writing a new chapter for horse racing. The House passed our bill with no recorded opposition. In the Senate, we wrote it into the year-end government funding package passed in December and signed into law.

As the authority begins to take shape over the coming months, its members can start designing practices and standards for tracks across the country. Of course, there's still more to do as we strengthen thoroughbred racing's future. But solidifying its rules under an independent and transparent regulatory body puts its traditions on the inside track. We're proud our bill will help fans enjoy safe and fair racing for generations to come.

Last year, the pandemic delayed the Kentucky Derby for the first time since World War II. But not even the coronavirus could defeat the longest continuously-held American sporting event. This Saturday, our home state will once again put its best foot forward as the world's top thoroughbreds enter the starting gate at the 147th Run for the Roses. Fans will cheer as hooves thunder down a mile and a quarter track. With the new life breathed into this beloved sport, everyone can take pride in what we see.

This past year brought uncertainty and change for every American as families and communities grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately, many experienced tragedy and loss.  For me and my family, our world forever changed on June 16, 2020, when I tragically lost my beloved wife Carol to sudden cardiac arrest.  She was only 39 years old. Carol’s greatest legacy is our two beautiful daughters, Eleanor (age 9) and Mary Clay (age 7).  She was the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend anyone could ever have. 

The medical examiner and Carol’s doctors told us that her fatal heart attack was likely brought on by a ventricular arrhythmia.  At a young age, Carol had been diagnosed with an underlying condition called mitral valve prolapse (MVP), or floppy valve syndrome—a typically benign condition that results in sudden cardiac death in only .2% of cases. 

As we recognize American Heart Month and as people across the nation work to raise awareness for heart disease this February, I am honoring my wife’s legacy by fighting back against the disease that took her life.  On February 22, Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day, I introduced the Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act. 

The CAROL Act addresses the gaps in understanding about what risk factors make valvular heart disease a potentially life-threatening condition.  Specifically, the bill authorizes a grant program, administered by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), to support research on valvular heart disease, including MVP.  Many Americans who suffer from MVP or other valvular heart diseases do not know they are at serious risk. 

Investments in modern day medicine and research can change that.  Our bill will encourage the utilization of technological imaging and precision medicine to generate data on individuals with valvular heart disease.  Critically, this research will help identify Americans at high risk of sudden cardiac death from the disease and develop prediction models for high-risk patients, enabling interventions and treatment plans to keep these patients healthy throughout their lives.

Additionally, the legislation will convene a working group of subject matter experts to identify research needs and opportunities to develop prescriptive guidelines for treatment of patients with MVP.  It will also instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase public awareness regarding symptoms of valvular heart disease and effective strategies for preventing sudden cardiac death.   

We must take on valvular heart disease directly to save lives at risk of being taken too soon.    Underdiagnosis and undertreatment of heart valve disease contribute to over 25,000 deaths each year in the United States.  Predictors of sudden cardiac death, however, are poorly understood and indicators of high-risk individuals are hard to pinpoint.

For example, the specific condition that Carol was diagnosed with, MVP, is a common heart valve disease that has an estimated 2.4% prevalence in the general population.  Though most cases are thought to be benign, reported complications such as severe mitral regurgitation can result in sudden cardiac death.  Medical research has found an association between MVP and sudden cardiac death, which predominantly affects young females with redundant bileaflet prolapse, with cardiac arrest usually occurring as a result of ventricular arrhythmias.  Despite several studies, there is still not sufficient data to generate prescriptive guidelines for care of patients with valvular heart disease, including MVP.

Carol Barr dedicated her life to the future of our daughters, serving others, and making a positive difference in her community.  So turning this unspeakable tragedy into something that can inform others and save lives is exactly what she would have wanted.  The CAROL Act will provide the resources needed and generate the awareness required to reduce the 25,000 deaths related to valvular heart disease every year, saving young women like Carol from leaving us too soon.  If you would like to support our legislation, please call or write your Congressman and join our cause.  Together, we can help other families avoid the tragedy that has so profoundly impacted mine.

 

U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) is in his fifth term in Congress, representing the Sixth Congressional District of Kentucky.  Congressman Barr serves on the House Financial Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees. 

After a year of unprecedented challenges for small businesses owners and their employees, I have good news to begin the new year: economic relief is on the way. In Congress, I fought for and secured $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds in the year-end COVID-19 relief bill passed in December. PPP provides forgivable loans to small business owners in the Commonwealth and across America. From family restaurants and bars to small manufacturers and farmers in Central and Eastern Kentucky, this new round of PPP funds will be a lifeline.

PPP was a lifeline for Steven of Lexington. When he reached out to my office, Steven was unsure if his 16-year old business was going to make it through the pandemic. After applying and receiving a forgivable PPP loan, Steven’s business and the five workers he employs were saved. Steven is one of over 500 small businesses assisted by the Small Business Response Team that I established in my office back in April, during the first round of the PPP. Since that time, almost $1 billion in forgivable loans have been given to small businesses right here in the Sixth District. If your business needs help navigating the PPP process, please reach out to my office at 859-219-1366.

Additionally, this package delivers on the push I led in Congress to provide more assistance to the hard-hit hospitality industry. PPP will expand eligibility, making destination marketing companies like VisitLex eligible to apply for PPP funds. Also, PPP will allow restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses the ability to apply for a PPP loan that is 3.5x monthly payroll as opposed to 2.5x for other applicants.

The relief bill doesn’t leave small businesses that already received PPP funds behind either. For months, I have heard concerns from Sixth District small business owners about the complicated PPP loan forgiveness application. Many feared having to hire expensive outside accounting or legal help to complete the complicated application. I responded to these concerns in Congress by organizing a bipartisan group of approximately 100 lawmakers to push for a simplified, one-page forgiveness application. As a direct result of this advocacy, small businesses that received loans of $150,000 or less in value, which accounts for 86% of all PPP loans approved, may now complete a one-page application. Lastly, small businesses that received loans will also be able to deduct PPP loans from their federal taxes, a change that I advocated and will effectively provide a much-needed tax break for hard-hit businesses.

While all of this relief is necessary and will make a huge impact, many small businesses may be unable to operate normally until the COVID-19 virus is defeated. To that end, I voted in support of $10 billion towards Operation Warp Speed at the beginning of the pandemic. Because of this investment and the incredible work of scientists, researchers and American innovators, we generated three COVID-19 vaccines within a year. To speed up vaccine delivery to the American people, I voted in support of $48 billion for vaccine distribution to schools, small businesses and healthcare providers, and $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines that will make the vaccine available at no charge for anyone who needs it.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy in Kentucky and throughout the country. A staggering 47% of Americans work for a small business. I pledge to continue listening and responding to the needs of small businesses during this Congress. Above all, I will live up to the “Guardian of Small Business” award given to me by the National Federation of Independent Businesses in 2020 by opposing proposals by the new Administration to raise taxes, impose crushing regulations or pass a national minimum wage hike that threatens to financially ruin more small businesses as many fight for survival.