Officials who credit their election to a wave of populist resentment are now doing their best to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has won back billions of dollars for millions of bilked Americans.
Some of the bureau’s biggest critics — including 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who started attacking the bureau during his first term and hasn’t let up since — are Wall Street’s biggest champions, because they get a lot of money from the financial sector. But if they were truly committed to acting in the interest of the people who President Donald Trump has called “forgotten Americans,” these lawmakers would fight efforts to defang the bureau and work to strengthen it instead.
The bureau was created after the collapse of 2008 made it clear that ordinary Americans needed protection from harmful banking and lending practices. It played a key role in investigating Wells Fargo for creating millions of fake customer accounts and fined the bank $185 million. It’s returned $60 million to service members charged excess interest on student loans; military families dealing with illegal foreclosures and predatory lenders have gotten back $120 million.
And when low-income Americans who rely on prepaid debit cards were denied access to their own cash, the bureau ordered card providers like RushCard and NetSpend to pay a total of $66 million in fines and restitution. All told, as a result of the bureau’s work, about 29 million U.S. consumers have gotten back nearly $12 billion.
The financial industry, however, hasn’t welcomed the bureau’s enforcement and reform efforts. And when Wall Street isn’t happy, neither are the Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee. They want to fire bureau director Richard Cordray, repeal the bureau’s consumer complaint system, reduce its ability to make rules and bar it from imposing fines or other penalties on the institutions it regulates.
Who’d benefit from a neutered Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Not just the financial sector but also the politicians who barraged Cordray with questions and often-vague accusations at what was supposed to be a routine Financial Services hearing Wednesday, including Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, as well as Maine’s Poliquin.
Hensarling, Wagner and Poliquin each have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the financial, insurance and real estate sector. Undoubtedly, so have their committee colleagues, given how much all politicians depend on the finance industry to fund their campaigns. Everyone wins except ordinary Americans — and dismantling the bureau will take away the only champion they have in Washington.