Hill notes experience as attribute in pursuit of Financial Services Committee chairman bid

by Alex Thomas
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
March 21, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Before U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., entered Congress in January 2015, he had developed a resume with experiences in banking and economic policy.

From being part of President George H.W. Bush's White House to leading Delta Trust & Bank, the Little Rock native contends he has developed the policy understanding and organizational skills necessary to be a successful leader on Capitol Hill.

The congressman hopes his colleagues recognize his background as an asset as Hill pursues the top Republican spot on the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. If Republicans have control of the chamber in January, Hill would serve as its chairman.

"I think that private sector experience and public sector experience will set me apart from potential others who may seek the position," Hill told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The House Financial Services Committee oversees policies related to banking, securities and exchanges, international finance and housing-related matters.

"It's a key committee in terms of managing the going-ons of the U.S. economy because of its oversight of the banking system and the Federal Reserve," said Gerald Cohen, chief economist at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

"While regulatory policy may seem extremely unexciting to people, the idea of how we think about banks, the safety of banks and the financial system's provision of credit to the economy is really important," said Cohen.

Hill currently serves as the committee's vice chair under Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and leads its subcommittee addressing digital assets and financial technology. The Arkansas lawmaker and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., head the committee's Working Group on Artificial Intelligence.

After McHenry declared last December he would retire at the end of the current Congress, Hill emerged as a potential successor. Punchbowl News first reported Hill's decision to seek the post Sunday.

"For the nine years I've served in the House, I've devoted a majority of my time legislatively toward working on the priorities of the House Financial Services Committee," Hill told the Democrat-Gazette. "This has really been a tremendous cap of my career that's spanned almost four decades now."

Hill made his decision following conversations with colleagues in the months after McHenry's retirement announcement.

"I was very encouraged that I should seek the chairmanship," Hill said.

The congressman mentioned his public and private sector experience as an element helping his bid. Hill served as an aide to late U.S. Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, for two years and as a staff member on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

During the George H.W. Bush administration, Hill worked in the Treasury Department, which involved serving as a negotiator in bilateral trade talks between the United States and Japan. Hill later joined the President's Economic Policy Council in 1991 to assist the White House in coordinating related policy efforts.

Hill and other investors bought Delta Trust & Banking Corp. in 1999. Serving as its chairman and chief executive officer, Hill oversaw Delta Trust & Banking Corp.'s growth from $61 million in assets before the new millennium to $430 million in 2014 when Simmons First National Corp. acquired the bank.

"To be a successful committee chairman, you do have to have leadership and organization skills, and I think I've demonstrated that over the years having been in business at all levels," Hill said. "On the policy side -- because I've been a Senate staffer, a White House economic staffer and a Treasury official -- I have the policy background on innovating ideas in and around financial services policy that I believe positions me to be the best leader-manager for the process and the best leader on the policy side of the responsibility."

While reflecting on McHenry's leadership, Hill applauded the North Carolinian's ability to work "backwards" in setting policy goals for the committee during Congress' two-year term, giving clear expectations to subcommittee leaders on oversight and other objectives.

"I've learned a lot from watching him work in that regard," Hill said.

Hill additionally cited former Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, as an influence. Hensarling served as the committee's chairman from January 2013 to January 2019 when he left public office.

In recounting Hensarling's leadership, Hill mentioned how the Texan "encouraged and mentored new members on the committee, how he got them involved in introducing their first bills and working their first legislative ideas through the committee and on the House floor."

As the current Congress continues its work, Hill said he recognizes the importance of passing legislation addressing stablecoins -- cryptocurrencies whose values are tied to stable assets like the U.S. dollar -- and a framework for regulating digital assets.

During his conversation with the Democrat-Gazette, he noted Congress' work on cryptocurrencies and other digital assets will need to continue in future legislative sessions.

"We'll be looking at how should the government consider decentralized finance, how should non-fungible tokens be considered in this environment," he said. "There are many other related digital asset policy ideas we'd want to explore in the next Congress."

Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., are also contenders for the committee's top Republican job.

"Really, what you want are people who are thinking about the broader picture of how can we create a financial system that helps the U.S. economy grow, and grow in a way that helps the American public," Cohen said.

Hill's interest in the committee leadership role follows Rep. Rick Crawford's announcement he will seek the top Republican spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Crawford, of Jonesboro, currently serves as chairman of the body's Highways and Transit Subcommittee.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., of Hot Springs currently leads the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., of Rogers is a senior appropriator on the House Appropriations Committee.

In Congress' upper chamber, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., of Little Rock has expressed interest in serving as the Senate Republicans' conference chair. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., of Rogers is the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, a position giving him an influential voice in drafting the next farm bill, a legislative package covering agriculture, rural development and nutrition programs.

"Arkansas is a small state, and yet it's always packed a powerful punch politically in Congress," Hill said. "I'm proud of the hard work of our delegation and their commitment to helping make our legislative branch successful."

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