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Rep. McHenry on GameStop saga: ‘Individuals want to have greater access to our capital markets’

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Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how Washington, D.C. is reacting to the GameStop saga and what to expect from the next stimulus meeting.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: I want to welcome to the show Congressman Patrick McHenry. The Republican from North Carolina joins us now, also ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, alongside Yahoo Finance's Jessica Smith here with us. And, Congressman, I guess we'll kick off here, since we were just discussing kind of that big push here among politicians right now to kind of weigh in on the issue of Robinhood and what we've seen play out this week and last week with Wall Street Bets and retail investors, what have you made of it as you've seen this play out in terms of what regulations or strength might need to be put into the system now?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Well, first, this isn't about a single company or any-- two companies. This is about a broader move in the marketplace where individuals want to have greater access to our capital markets and greater participation in our capital markets. So when we're talking about democratizing finance, which is what I've spent the last decade of working on in terms of policy, I think that movement is really in the people's hands. I think it is broadly in the interest of the American people to get into more interesting, more sophisticated products rather than the narrow scope that's currently permitted under securities regulations and the laws here in the United States. We need to widen that scope so we can have a deeper, more fulsome investment from average, everyday investors, not just the privileged few.

AKIKO FUJITA: Congressman, you know, this is a very complicated issue that, of course, will be examined from many sides. But as it stands right now, what's the bigger concern for you? Is it about these financial apps that have allowed trading to be executed at such a low barrier, or is it about social-media platforms like a Reddit, for example, that allows information to spread at such a rapid rate, such a scale, that it actually moves the market?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Well, first, technology is here to stay. Innovation is here to stay. We either embrace it or it moves on without us. And so what I would tell you is simply to put technology back in the box or say that we can constrain it in some way I think is irresponsible.

What we have to do is adapt to this new world where people have very easy access to movement of money. We need to make it more-- we need to make it easier. We need to make it more available, and we need to have wider options so you don't have to have a narrow play against a single stock. And so that's what I think of broadly here.

We also have the governmental-regulation piece. We have regulations right now that force, for instance, DoorDash to offer equity compensation to their employees but not to the folks that are actually DoorDashers making their business work. We've got to broaden that equity option and equity grant to those adopters of apps and gig workers too. We have to broaden this.

We also have the accredited-investor standard that narrows out who can get early-stage investment opportunities. We need to broaden that.

So rather than saying we're going to put apps back into a box or trying to roll back technology, I think we have to be forward looking, broaden things out, open things up, and I think we'll get better results with broader, more fulsome access to our capital markets.

JESSICA SMITH: Hi, Congressman. Jessica Smith here. One of the proposals that I've seen from some of your progressive colleagues in light of the situation is a financial-transaction tax. They're saying that this illustrates why that is necessary. What do you think about that argument?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Well, first, the financial-transaction tax as proposed would mean that you have to work two additional years to save for your retirement. That's the average person would have to work two additional years to save for retirement. That's not a good thing. We need people to be able to save tax free. We need people to save long term for retirement savings. We need more of that in our society.

Second, I would raise the question of this. If you're taxing people on both ends of the trade, which is what a financial-transaction tax does, how are people better off? First of all, if you're on both ends of the action here, you're taxing the average user and the complex trades that happened thereafter. I don't think anybody nets out well other than government coffers from a financial-transaction tax. Every regime that's been tried around the globe that has a financial-transaction tax has put it back away because it doesn't work and it doesn't function, and I don't want us to destroy our capital markets in the name of going after some Reddit users, which is really what I see with these folks proposing this in Washington.

ZACK GUZMAN: When we look at kind of the larger issue here, as you said, it's not just one company. A lot of questions out there have been made about this idea of payment for order flow, the idea that some of these brokers would get paid by market makers to kind of pass their trades onto them and questions about whether or not they're going to be executing those trades at the best prices for their customers since it does seem like there's a maybe potential conflict of interest. We've heard that raised from the SEC before. We've seen the SEC go after Robinhood with a $65 million fine for potentially not being as clear as they could have been with customers. So in your estimation here, Congressman, do you think the SEC has perhaps been asleep at the wheel on the issue and should be, you know, taking a stronger look at brokerages writ large for that practice?

PATRICK MCHENRY: So what we've seen over the last 50 years since Schwab came into the marketplace nearly 50 years ago is that we've seen trade fees go down and the access to our capital markets go up. Right now, you can get on any number of-- whether it's Charles Schwab to Robinhood and everything in between, and pay no commission for trades. I think the average, everyday investor gets enormous benefit from that.

The second issue is one of regulation and the Securities Exchange Commission, and that is making sure that the best price is what is given. We have regulations around that.

Third, payment for order flow is what enables those fees to be crashed to zero for average, everyday investors, and I think there's still net good from that system that has been created over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years. And so I don't think as a governmental official I need to step into that business decision. I think average investors have that option and opportunity to go different routes.

JESSICA SMITH: Congressman, I wanted to switch gears a bit and talk about stimulus. We've seen this new proposal out today from 10 Republican senators. They're pitching it to President Biden tonight. What do you make of this new plan?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Well, we've already spent 300-- $3.5 trillion in response to the COVID crisis from February of last year until major bipartisan agreement we had in December. We had a major bipartisan agreement back in March. So we have, in total, five different government funding bills that have helped with the COVID response.

We've seen the unemployment rate come down dramatically as a result of that, though we have particular industry segments that are very, very hard hit-- hospitality in particular, restaurants in particular. And so rather than having a broad-based focus, we need to do what other countries around the world, including countries in Asia, that have focused their relief on those that are most hard hit.

So simply having a $2 trillion price tag, like President Biden and congressional Democrats have come forward with, doesn't actually meet the needs of our economy and our people as it stands today. We see vaccines being distributed, over a million shots in arms on a daily basis, which was the Trump-administration pledge, and the Biden administration has pledged that as well.

And so I think we need to focus on getting the vaccines distributed and focus on targeted relief rather than broad-based relief like we had back in March.

AKIKO FUJITA: On the issue of targeted relief, there are significant differences, at least in how much should be set aside for schools when you look at what the Republican lawmakers are proposing versus the Biden plan, $20 billion versus $170 billion. How do you reconcile that? Yes, the CDC has said there's no sign of widespread exposure at schools, but they also said that's only if the proper measures are taken. How do you do that with $20 billion?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Well, it turns out that the teachers unions that have largely supported President Biden-- almost entirely supported President Biden-- don't want to reopen schools in a number of school districts across the country. We're seeing this in protests and things of that sort and strikes from teachers.

So I think the main focus should be on getting schools open in a safe and healthy way. Only a small percentage of our primary-education-system dollars come from the federal government. And so what is being proposed and what has actually been given since March of last year is a more than doubling of federal education dollars going to local school systems. That's already been done. What the Biden administration wants to do is increase that again by 50%.

So I think rather than getting into the question of dollars and cents, I want to hear from teachers unions why they won't reopen and how they intend to get our children back into the classrooms so they can have the healthiest, both in terms of physical and mental and social welfare, the best results for our children.

So if they come up with a price tag connected with reopening the schools, I'm all ears as a policymaker. And whether it's 20 or 170, the point is opening the schools is going to be the best result. Rather than just pouring money out and saying, I hope you reopen, let's get a real plan. Let's get a national plan to make that happen rather than dragging along like we have been over the last couple of months, which is completely absurd given the size of our country, the wealth of our country, and the importance of education in our system.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and Congressman, just one last from me before we go too, kind of returning to your point on what we've seen from the Wall Street Bets crowd and Reddit traders here because there's a lot of interest in this on both sides of the aisle. It's interesting because, you know, some people could look at the power that we've now seen here with the GameStop moves and today's silver moves and say these traders are democratic heroes, you know, little guys banding together, using public info fair and square to move markets. And there's other people who are watching this play out and say, look, this is more power than we've ever seen, in some instances to move individual securities and could have broader implications on the market.

So where do you look at it in terms of some people saying they're heroes, some saying financial anarchists? What about your take?

PATRICK MCHENRY: Power to the people. Look, that's my key takeaway here. You're not going to stop people from talking to one another. You're not going to stop the use of technology.

Look, going back to the initial securities regulation in the United States, the first thing they responded to was the advent of the telephone, and they had to regulate around that. Now we're having the message boards. Reddit's been around for a long time. It's not even a new piece of technology.

So what I would tell you is the opening of finance is here to stay. We need to embrace it. We need to be more permissive of it. We need to open up our regulations and our laws to make it more equitable and available for everyone. Small and large need to have the same access to our markets so they can't make decisions for themselves, not government mandating it or a centralized approach mandating it but individuals making choices for themselves.

And we don't know how it's going to play out. We don't know how any market is going to play out. So buyer beware, but let's allow the people to make the decisions for themselves.

ZACK GUZMAN: I like getting interviews on power to the people. I appreciate the time. Congressman Patrick McHenry joining us from North Carolina alongside Yahoo Finance's Jessica Smith. Appreciate you both.