The Republicans, now in control of our House of Representatives, love to talk about having adult conversations about things, and so I can’t for the life of me figure out why, when it comes to consumer protection, certain members of the GOP insist on speaking to us all like we’re either too young or stupid to understand just how badly the American people have been hammered—both by the financial services industry and our elected and appointed representatives who clearly abdicated their responsibility to keep tabs on them. This absolute disconnect from the American consumer was on display last Wednesday when Elizabeth Warren testified before the House Financial Services Committee.
Warren, a special advisor to the president in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, possesses unparalleled bona fides when it comes advocating on behalf of average Americans who have been worked over by big banks and lenders (read this Newsweek article for some of the particulars). Yet many of the House Republicans on the committee questioned her almost as though she was the one responsible for destroying the economy. As though they, the deregulators, are the real consumer protectors. As opposed to the person who’s actually been protecting consumers for the last couple decades.
To quote Will Ferrell: I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
The hearing, in fact, featured a succession of Republicans questioning the legitimacy of the CFPB and, by extension, Warren. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), opined that the CFPB is “the last thing that our lenders need.” Actually, sir, it’s the last thing they want, but it’s exactly what they need. And do you know who else needs it? The people in your district. It’s worth noting that prior to his election in 2008 the good Congressman was a bank vice president, and a loan officer. I have no doubt that the gentleman from Missouri sincerely cares about the people in his district, but I can’t quite stomach a former banker objecting to the CFPB because it’s bad for banks. Frankly, it’s the laissez-faire philosophy he and his colleagues espouse that promoted the environment of financial illiteracy, predatory financial products and services, yield-hogging, Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford–to name a few–that almost took us all under.
In addition to Rep. Luetkemeyer’s concern over the CPFB’s effects on banks, Committee Chair Shelley Moore Capito (R – WV) said that she felt the creation of the CFPB represented a new bureaucracy with “little congressional oversight.” Actually, Congress is the bureaucracy and other than that one brief shining moment when it enacted Dodd-Frank and the CARD Act, it doesn’t have a particularly great record of late on consumer protection. While I understand the concern about oversight, consumer protection—a sacred mission in my life—is too important to get stuck in the political quagmire.
Later, Rep. Robert Dold, (R-Ill.) characterized the CFPB as offering “theoretical consumer protection.” Seriously? For some, “consumer protection” is a punchline. For Warren it has been a guiding principle. She has been screaming from the rooftops for years about the injuries and indignities visited upon American consumers by the financial institutions that both Democrats and Republicans were supposed to be monitoring. But precious few of you listened to her. And now you have the chutzpah to suggest that her brand of consumer protection is theoretical, implying that yours is real? Where were you these past several years when the financial services industry was shaking down the American consumer?
Image: CFPB video