This post was written by Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO.
Every day you read in the news about some new big bank outrage. Foreclosing on families without the right paperwork. Charging hidden fees, conspiring to rig markets, defrauding investors. Refusing to lend to small business. A lot of people I’m sure ask every day over breakfast—this seems outrageous—shouldn’t someone do something about it?
Well, we can report today two facts about life in our nation’s capital—one that will surprise you in a good way, and the other that will make you wonder how anything so two-faced can go on in a democracy.
First, there are people in Washington working hard day and night to make the financial system work for the ordinary consumer. These people work for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a new agency set up by the Dodd–Frank Act for the sole purpose of protecting the American consumer.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) thought up the CFPB when she was a law professor, and the labor movement led the fight to create it during 2009 and 2010. Since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped countless scams, returned more than $3 billion to consumers in wrongly charged fees and generally kept an eye on people who would prey on the public.
But that’s not all. Even many bankers like the CFPB, for being thoughtful about regulating financial services and being willing to listen to responsible people on all sides of financial regulation issues.
Now you would think that in Washington, where politicians of both parties say they want to protect the public from too-big-to-fail banks, the CFPB would be the subject of bipartisan praise. But that’s not how things work in the real world of Washington, behind the scenes after the politicians stop making speeches and start looking for campaign contributions.
So instead of being the subject of praise, the CFPB is being attacked by House Republicans who say it is too hard on big banks. Leading the charge against the CFPB is Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and in public a critic of government help for big banks. But the real deal can be found in the financial disclosure website Open Secrets, which labels him a “top recipient” of funds from commercial banks and payday lenders.
Hensarling has asked bankers to send him their stories about how the CFPB is preventing them from charging obscenely high interest rates, or looking into how they are using big data to exploit consumers. Of course he doesn’t put it quite that way, but if you read what the Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee are saying, you can see that’s the real agenda.
But the House Republicans can't run their campaign in secret. So they’ve given all of us a chance to let them know what we think of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
And we need to take them up on it.
Let the House Committee know the side of the story it doesn’t want to hear.