A federal watchdog that protects consumers from predatory businesses is in the crosshairs as Republicans look for ways to ease banking regulations. Against the wishes of most Americans, lawmakers are hunting down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with an intent to kill.
Since its creation through the Dodd-Frank Act following the 2008 meltdown, the CFPB has fought in court on behalf of 27 million consumers, winning them nearly $12 billion in redress from fraudulent lenders and banks that violated federal law.
Republican lawmakers don’t like that the agency can do all this without much congressional oversight. Banks complain that the bureau’s regulatory procedures are onerous. Republicans have introduced legislation that would strip the bureau’s powers, basically reducing the watchdog to, in the words of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a “toy poodle.”
That’s modest compared to the proposal by Texas conservatives Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. John Ratcliffe to abolish the agency altogether. President Donald Trump’s team, for its part, wants to fire the CFPB’s director, Richard Cordray — a move supported by Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, a darling of the financial services industry. Trump’s team reportedly is considering Fannie Mae’s vice president, Brian Brooks, as a successor.
In surveys, Americans say they don’t want any of that to happen. In a July poll, 79 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans said they supported the bureau’s mission. The election result doesn’t appear to have changed their views. In December, more than half of Trump voters opposed efforts to weaken the consumer agency. If Trump believes the election was all about the people’s will, then lawmakers should stop meddling where their help isn’t wanted.
Most people don’t need to be told that some companies hurt consumers. Take, for example, the more than 40 million student loan borrowers who owe over $1.2 trillion in debt, or the hard workers locked into cycles of debt by payday lenders. Take the home buyers who wound up in foreclosure because mortgage companies kept relief options hidden. Or the minorities who face discrimination when attempting to borrow money, and then go into deeper debt because they’re only offered costlier subprime loans.
It’s easy to label the CFPB a “rogue” agency, given that Congress doesn’t control its budget and director. But there’s a reason the bureau received this degree of independence: It keeps the bureau accountable to consumers rather than to a Congress bankrolled by the very corporate interests they are supposed to keep in check.
There are too many victims and no shortage of deceptive businesses on the CFPB’s slate. That’s why a large majority of Americans wants the bureau kept strong, intact and free from meddling by lobbyists and banking interests.
This is one watchdog who earns his keep. Don’t put him down.