The Plum Line | Opinion
November 27, 2017 at 9:01 AM
THE MORNING PLUM:
President Trump’s perpetual scamming of his working- and middle-class voters takes a new turn Monday, amid a war that has erupted over the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The battle is over who will run the agency, now that director Richard Cordray has resigned: Cordray’s choice of his deputy, who wants to carry out the bureau’s mission of protecting consumers from financial fraud, or Trump’s handpicked choice, who thinks the agency should disappear.
Both Leandra English (Cordray’s deputy) and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney (Trump’s temporary choice, until the Senate can confirm a permanent replacement) are expected to show up to run the agency Monday, and English has filed a lawsuit asking for the court to block the latter.
In her first interview on this standoff since it erupted, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — the agency’s creator — predicted that if Trump installs his own director, its mission could be hollowed out, emboldening further financial elite defrauding of consumers. Warren suggested that this is part of a pattern in which Trump has embraced conventional GOP plutocracy in betrayal of his campaign posture as a kind of working-class avenger delivering tough justice to predatory financial elites.
“This is about whose side President Trump is on — big banks, or working families,” Warren told me. “So far in his administration, he has chosen the big banks time after time. Is he going to stand up for the working families who helped elect him?”
To understand the potential consequences of this standoff, consider the agency’s mission and the view of that mission harbored by Trump’s choice to run it. The agency’s founding purpose (see good explainers from Paul Krugman and Mike Konczal) was to empower a single regulator to protect financial consumers in an area where the vulnerability to fraud and chicanery — often perpetrated by large, powerful institutions — is high, due to consumers’ lack of sophistication, the opacity of fine print and the lack of recourse for victims.
The New York Times recently summed up the agency’s record: “The bureau has curtailed abusive debt collection practices, reformed mortgage lending, publicized and investigated hundreds of thousands of complaints from aggrieved customers of financial institutions, and extracted nearly $12 billion for 29 million consumers in refunds and canceled debts.” But Mulvaney, echoing other conservatives who despise the agency, has called it a “joke” and has flatly stated: “I don’t like the fact that CFPB exists.”
“The agency deserves a leader who has a demonstrated track record of protecting consumers and standing up to Wall Street,” Warren told me. “Leandra English has been at CFBP from the beginning,” and keeping her would give the American people “a chance to look at this agency one more time and see how hard it fights on behalf of consumers.”
By contrast, Warren noted, if Mulvaney takes over — or if Trump ultimately installs a permanent replacement with similar views — it could cause a backslide into more financial fraud and scams.
“The agency will be headed by someone who fundamentally doesn’t believe in its mission,” Warren said. “This would change every calculation that every giant bank makes in the executive suite when deciding just how close to breaking the law they want to come. If the cop is pulled off the beat, then the profits from cheating people look far more attractive to the banking executives.”
Legal experts differ on the dispute over who is now the real interim head. Dodd-Frank explicitly provides for the deputy director to serve as acting director if the director is absent or unavailable. Some have pointed out that another federal law may allow Trump to supersede that, because it empowers the president to appoint another acting director (subject to qualifications) to fill vacancies. But others (along with former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), an author of the law) argue that Congress deliberately created a line of succession installing the deputy to preserve the agency’s independence from precisely this sort of presidential move.
Pressed on whether the law clearly authorizes the president to fill such vacancies, Warren challenged that premise. “Dodd-Frank is quite specific: It provides its own succession planning,” she told me. “There is no vacancy for President Trump to fill.”
Whatever happens in the short term, the national debate over the agency’s mission will continue, and will even spill over into the 2018 midterms. The Senate — including vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection — will have to vote on a Trump-picked successor who, like Mulvaney, will likely be hostile to its basic mission. “It will be up to Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to put someone in the job who is firmly on the side of big banks,” Warren said.
Coming just after Republicans voted for massively unpopular Trump-backed bills to gut health-care spending on poor people and to give the wealthy and corporations a huge tax cut, this would add to the case that Trump and the GOP remain fully beholden to a plutocratic agenda — Trump’s working-class, elite-despising supporters be damned.
WHY TRUMP IS BACKING ROY MOORE: The New York Times reports that Trump has doubts that Moore is innocent but is vocally backing him anyway:
[Trump] accepted the candidate’s initial denials, and then was shocked at how tepid Mr. Moore appeared when asked during an interview with Sean Hannity whether he still maintained his innocence, according to one person close to the president. Privately, Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he is making a cold political calculus in the hope that the Republicans will hold on to the seat.
I’m sure you’re shocked that Trump would endorse a man accused of child molestation for the sole reason that it’s the most likely way Republicans hold the seat and don’t further imperil his agenda.
SUBURBAN GOP WOMEN AGONIZE IN ALABAMA: Dave Weigel has a good report from Alabama on the women who could make Democrat Doug Jones a senator:
A battle is emerging for … white suburban women who typically support GOP candidates but who, unlike many of their male counterparts, have become uneasy about Moore. … In Huntsville, a fast-growing and highly educated “rocket city,” Doug Jones signs have sprung up in cul-de-sacs where President Trump and other Republicans have won easily. … In interviews, suburban Republican women who back Jones said they did not want to face this choice.
To win, though, Jones needs not only these women but also a supercharged turnout among Democrats, particularly African Americans, as well as lackluster GOP turnout.
GOP TAX BILL HURTS POOR PEOPLE: The Post reports that a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate GOP tax bill finds that it’s even worse for poor people than we thought:
By 2019, Americans earning less than $30,000 a year would be worse off under the Senate bill, CBO found. By 2021, Americans earning $40,000 or less would be net losers, and by 2027, most people earning less than $75,000 a year would be worse off. On the flip side, millionaires and those earning $100,000 to $500,000 would be big beneficiaries, according to the CBO’s calculations.
This is because the bill repeals the mandate, leading to large reductions in health-care spending on poor people. That’s all to fund the corporate tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit top earners.
A WILD CARD IN TAX FIGHT: Politico reports that Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) has emerged as a “wild card,” in part because he doesn’t want mandate repeal included. And a Kansas paper reports on Moran’s weekend appearance with constituents:
“I’m also cognizant of what people saw happen in Kansas,” Moran said. “The issue of tax cuts would be easier if you actually had faith that Congress would hold the line on spending. It’s two components. It’s how much revenue you take in and how much money you continue to spend.”
Remember, Kansas cut taxes bigly on businesses and promised all kinds of benefits, but the results were an utter disaster.
WILL CORKER AND McCAIN SELL OUT THEIR OWN PRINCIPLES? David Leonhardt defines the challenge that the GOP tax bill poses to to GOP Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.):
The current Senate plan adds more than 100 trillion pennies to the deficit in the first decade, according to the official estimate. And that estimate is probably low, because the plan depends on a budgetary gimmick. The bill’s authors set the most popular tax cuts to expire, knowing that a future Congress may extend them. Corker and [Sen Jeff.] Flake [R-Ariz.] have correctly called out this ruse. They and their colleagues would undermine any claim to fiscal conservatism if they voted for any bill that resembles the current one.
Also keep in mind that McCain was willing to sink the GOP repeal bill and that Corker has called Trump out as unfit for the presidency. Will their independence hold here?
AND THIS TAX BILL IS ONLY THE BEGINNING, FOLKS: E.J. Dionne aptly zeroes in on what comes next from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other Republicans, if this abomination passes:
Ryan has already burnished his standing as a deficit hypocrite by pushing a comparable tax cut through the House. But don’t you worry. As soon as Republicans shovel every dollar they can to the people who pay their party’s bills, he’ll dust off those old the-sky-is-falling quotes and warn about the deficits he helped to bloat. He’ll tell us how urgent it is to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and programs for the needy (although he’ll try to bamboozle us again by claiming to be only “reforming” them).
This can’t be repeated enough. The tax bill is only the beginning of how regressive the GOP agenda could get, in the name of the same phony deficit caterwauling that was tossed out the window to justify huge tax cuts for wealthy GOP donors.