Terrance Heath

It's Not About Cordray

Filed By Terrance Heath | December 08, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Elizabeth Warren, financial crisis, Obama appointments, Richard Cordray

It seems ages ago (Doesn’t it?) that progressives were pushing hard to get Elizabeth Warren appointed to head her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We know how that worked out. cfpb_richard_cordray.jpegDespite our best efforts, Warren didn’t get the appointment and moved on to become Senate candidate Warren, challenging Scott Walker for his Senate seat.

When it became clear that Senate Republicans would block Warren’s appointment, no matter what she or anyone else said or did, President Obama appointed Richard Cordray. The response from progressives was mixed. Many of us were, understandably disappointed that Warren didn’t get the appointment. Some viewed it as a betrayal. Some viewed it as a chance to for the CFPB to fulfill its vitally important mission.

Well, now Senate Republicans are blocking Cordray’s appointment. But unlike Warren’s appointment, this time its not about Cordray.

If this week's rhetoric is any indication, Senate Republicans will block Cordray's nomination -- not because of his qualifications, but because they are trying to force structural changes to the bureau, changes they've called for the White House to make since the proposal for the bureau.

Republicans have been consistently concerned with the bureau's "lack of transparency or accountability," and will continue to make a lot of hay about the fact that Thursday's cloture vote will come before they feel they have had their concerns adequately addressed by the White House.

Seven months ago 45 Republicans signed a letter to President Obama outlining their concerns.

…Republicans say they want the potential director replaced with a board of directors that would oversee the bureau, because they don't believe a single person should have so much power. Additionally they say the bureau should be subject to the congressional appropriations process, because without that, they say, the bureau has a "funding stream" without oversight from the American people.

At this point, even Scott Brown -- Warren’s opponent for Massachusetts’ senate seat -- has endorsed Codray. This is Wall Street’s favorite Senator we’re talking about.

It’s not about Cordray, this time. Republicans have said that their opposition to Corday’s appointment is “nothing personal.” It’s not about Codray, it’s about the agency he’s appointed to lead. It’s about the CFPB’s mission.

The central mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans -- whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products.

The consumer bureau is working to:

Educate

An informed consumer is the first line of defense against abusive practices.

Enforce

Like a neighborhood cop on the beat, the CFPB supervises banks, credit unions, and other financial companies, and we will enforce Federal consumer financial laws.

Study

The consumer bureau gathers and analyzes available information to better understand consumers, financial services providers, and consumer financial markets.

Above all, this means ensuring that consumers get the information they need to make the financial decisions they believe are best for themselves and their families--that prices are clear up front, that risks are visible, and that nothing is buried in fine print. In a market that works, consumers should be able to make direct comparisons among products and no provider should be able to build, or feel pressure to build, a business model around unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices.

It’s about Republicans wanting to remake CFPB, in the own image and to Wall Street’s liking, so as to stop the agency from fulfilling its mission. Republicans don’t want the CFPB mainly because Wall Street doesn’t want the CFPB to get to work (thus Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee received at least $31 million from the financial sector), and their wiling to engage in more exertion politics to stop the CFPB from fulfilling its mission.

It's all part of the normalization of extortion politics. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and might not work. Instead, we see the latest in a series of GOP extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won't allow the agency to meet its legal mandate.

Our system of government has never worked this way; it wasn't designed to work this way; and it can't work this way. As Jonathan Cohn recently explained, "The consumer protection agency exists because a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting procedural rules (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect. That's undemocratic. And I mean that with a small 'd.'"

It Republicans are successful in blocking Cordray and thus preventing the part of the Dodd-Frank bill that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from taking effect, the impact will be that Wall Street will have as loud a voice in Washington as ever, while consumers will have almost none.

If you look at Wall Street profits, it's hard to believe that just three years ago, these banks were on the verge of collapse -- threatening to take our entire economy down with them. Now, banking industry profits have returned to pre-crisis levels -- with more than $35 billion in the third quarter, a nearly 50 percent increase over the past year and the highest level for profits since 2007.

While Wall Street is back to business as usual, Main Street Americans -- many of whom lost their homes, their pensions and their jobs because of reckless Wall Street practices -- haven't been so lucky.

For too long, Wall Street bankers have wielded too much influence in Washington, using scores of lobbyists to protect extra tax giveaways to hedge fund managers and to fight efforts to ensure that "too big to fail" megabanks do not threaten to take down our economy. Consumers haven't had as loud or as powerful a voice representing them. Until now.

Last year's Wall Street reform law created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help clean up a financial system rigged in favor of Wall Street and against middle-class workers. This is an independent agency, with a single director, designed to help prevent another meltdown by cracking down on financial tricks and traps designed to deceive consumers.

One of the main reasons that “Main Street Americans” have lost homes, pensions, and jobs is because of Wall Street practices. Homeowners in particular were left on their own to deal with financial instruments so abstruse that even the brightest minds on Wall Street couldn’t adequately explain them. It’s no surprise, then, that a majority of American are in favor of an agency like the CFPB.

The agency, first conceived of by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, was created under last summer’s financial reform with the aim of protecting consumers from abuses by financial institutions. Republicans, however, have promised to block any nominee to run the CFPB until its powers are scaled back.

The sentiments of Republicans, however, appear to stand in opposition to the sentiments of the American people, according to a new poll by Lake Research Partners.

The poll, sponsored by the AARP, Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending, found that as many as 63 percent of Americans favor more, not less, government oversight of financial companies. Only a small minority of those polled, 25 percent, want the opposite.

Of those polled, 74 percent favored having a single agency focus on protecting consumers from financial organizations. And it’s not split down partisan lines, either. Indeed, 68 percent of Republicans feel the same.

Despite engaging in everything from filing fraudulent documents to push through mortgages, to failing to check borrowers’ financial status, misleading investors and giving high ratings to investments made on risky mortgages, nothing has happened to the major players and worst actors in the financial crisis.

No investigations, because it’s easier for politicians to “let their financial-industry campaign contributors off the hook.” No prosecutions. because it’s just “too hard.” Just plenty of free money.

The culture vote on Cordray’s appointment as director of the CFPB isn’t about Cordray. It’s one of the key economic battles facing Congress during what remains of this session. It’s about having someone in Washington to demand accountability from Wall Street, on behalf of the other 99 percent of us, instead of letting Wall Street off the hook, again.


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