In recent days, public debate over the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been reminiscent of the adage: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
In these still early days of the 113th Congress, those who in 2010 adamantly opposed Dodd-Frank financial reform and the creation of an independent consumer-focused bureau are trying to revive their same rejected arguments. Legislation has been introduced along party lines to reverse many of the pro-consumer reforms enacted in 2010. Further, a bloc of 43 U.S. Senators advised for the second time their refusal to accept or reject any CFPB director nominee.
A February 1 letter to the president said in part, “We will continue to oppose the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliate, to be the CFPB director until key structural changes are made to ensure accountability and transparency.”
An equally strong but opposite view of the Richard Cordray re-nomination is held by Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon. On February 6, he said, “Predatory mortgages and other tricks and traps of the financial system have devastated too many working families. The CFPB was created with the support of a super-majority of senators to take on these egregious abuses and ensure that all Americans are protected from unfair and deceptive practices.”
“The senators blocking Cordray must ask themselves a fundamental question,” said Merkley. “’Does financial fairness for working families matter?’ I think it does. Financial fairness is essential for successful families. Financial fairness is a family value.”
CFPB was deliberately designed to independently serve all consumers rather than be subjected to partisan pranks and chicanery. For example, a single director empowered to write rules and monitor a range of financial services facilitates swift and corrective action in the consumers’ interests. CFPB opponents prefer a commission with members chosen by party leaders.
Yet in a recent commentary, Nancy A. Nord, a commissioner with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its former acting chair, expressed serious concerns with commission governance.
“A well-informed administrator with sole accountability for decisions is a better way to achieve underlying policy goals, rather than hoping for clear-headed bi-partisanship,” wrote Nord. “My experience at the CPSC indicates that commissioners’ independence is more hope than reality. In non-unanimous votes, crossing party lines is rare.”
In addition to a director’s leadership, CFPB’s independence is also assured by its budget not being subject to annual congressional appropriations. CFPB opponents have called for this financial independence to end. If CFPB’s budget were to become subject to the annual appropriations process, the door would be opened to potential and ongoing punishment by the largest banking industry lobbies and their allies in Congress. Dodd-Frank reform showed far-sighted wisdom by enabling unhindered decisions and actions taken in the public interest.”
Most importantly, consumers have shown overwhelming support for CFPB. A 2012 poll of consumer sentiment by the Center for Responsible Lending showed that more than eight out of 10 consumers of color polled favored a strong CFPB. Further, consumers of color expressed the strongest support for CFPB.
Earlier CRL research documented how African-American and Latino families lost approximately $1 trillion from the foreclosure crisis – the brunt of 10.9 million homes that went into foreclosure from 2007-2011.
For our communities, the financial stakes in the CFPB debate could not be higher. No community could hope to survive a second trillion loss.
It is time to stand up, speak out and insist on preserving the hard-fought consumer protections with the same vigor that defied those who tried to deny our voting rights in 2012.
Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.