Not every U.S. lawmaker is on board with the idea of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) or digital dollar, but no one explicitly rejected it during a hearing of the powerful Senate Banking Committee.

That’s probably the biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s hearing, where the panel heard from former regulator turned CBDC evangelist Chris Giancarlo, Paxos CEO Charles Cascarilla and Duke Law professor Nakita Cuttino as expert witnesses. 

The lawmakers present asked questions about financial inclusion, including what potential regulations or laws might make digitization easier and more accessible to the unbanked.

“The U.S. needs a digital dollar,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “The U.S. dollar has to keep earning that place in the global payments system. It has to be better than bitcoin … it has to be better than a digital yuan.”

Other highlights of the hearing:

  • Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) noted some traditional financial systems may be limited in how accessible they are, citing the need for pre-existing bank accounts. Fintech solutions such as stablecoins can provide an alternative, Crapo said, though there are concerns around the oversight of some of these coins, which unlike most cryptocurrencies are designed to hold their value relative to fiat.
  • Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) warned that tech companies have made large promises about disrupting existing industries. He pointed to ride-sharing and social media services, saying they promised to “build a more just and equal country” but instead the companies essentially found ways to “pay themselves.”
  • While only eight senators asked questions out of 25 on the committee, every question was relevant to the topic of digitizing payments, which you can’t always count on (recall last year’s off-the-rails Facebook grillings).
  • Cuttino called for open access to real-time payments: “In the absence of public policy addressing open access payments and real-time payments, low-income and moderate-income Americans will continue to have limited resources needed, whether by traditional fringe services like payday loans or some novel fringe service.”
  • The current accounts-based payment architecture in use today is “slow and exclusionary,” Giancarlo said. While a token-based architecture is not a “panacea,” it can help provide broader access.
  • Cascarilla said a federal framework toward regulating crypto companies could be beneficial, though he noted that his company operates nationwide despite operating under the New York Department of Financial Services’ limited-purpose trust charter.

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