They say insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.
Let’s take the protection of consumers, for example.
We’re still recovering from the Great Recession, which was created in large part by fundamentally bad and, in many cases, predatory practices by financial companies.
Out of that chaos came the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), born as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package of 2010. The law was a direct response to the shady conduct of several companies on Wall Street.
But since the agency’s founding, numerous members of Congress, mostly Republicans, have argued that companies now know better and can correct their own bad behavior. There is no need for additional oversight of the financial industry, they contend.
Had the corporations been acting in the best interest of their customers, we wouldn’t have had the last recession.
Throughout history, Congress has had to step in to make corporations do the right thing. That’s why we have rules about working conditions. That’s why we have a minimum wage.
And that’s why the CFPB was established to help with gaps in consumer protection. It was time to do something different. It was time to set up an agency with as little political influence as possible that would work solely on behalf of consumers.
But still some legislators, with big business buzzing in their ears, want to roll back to a time of “let the buyer beware.” I guess the housing crisis is ancient history to them.
Last week, opponents of the CFPB scored one victory. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the structure of the agency is unconstitutional.
The court objected to the CFPB being run by a single director — currently Richard Cordray — who can be removed only “for cause” by the president. The case was brought before the court by PHH, a mortgage lender that had been fined $109 million by the CFPB after it concluded the company illegally referred consumers to mortgage insurers in exchange for kickbacks.
The court ordered that the agency be put under the president’s control and that the director could be removed at will, and it vacated the fine. Detractors want the CFPB to be run by a bipartisan committee similar to the Securities and Exchange Commission. PHH had wanted the court to shut down the entire agency.
Can I interject a little bit of common sense here?
We are at a moment when “bipartisan” often means “gridlock.” Our country is so divided politically and ideologically — and in such a hostile way — that subjecting the CFPB to a tug of war between Democrats and Republicans could render it impotent.
A statement from the CFPB said the agency is “considering options for seeking further review of the court’s decision,” adding that the ruling “will not dampen our efforts or affect our focus on the mission of the agency.”
By the way, the following also transpired last week:
● The CFPB took action against the Navy Federal Credit Union, ordering it to pay a $5.5 million civil penalty and about $23 million to customers for alleged improper debt-collection practices. The agency charged that to get people to pay delinquent loans, Navy Federal illegally froze members’ electronic access to their accounts and sent letters threatening legal action and wage garnishment.
● Embattled Wells Fargo chief executive John Stumpf retired in the wake of a massive scandal in which employees of the financial services company, under heavy pressure to meet sales targets and to earn bonuses, were found to have opened 2 million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts without customers’ knowledge. The CFPB fined the company $100 million in the case. The bank will also pay a $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and an additional $50 million to the city and county of Los Angeles.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who proposed the idea for the consumer watchdog agency before she was elected, summed up the attacks and the court decision by saying, “The CFPB has been, and will remain, highly accountable to both Congress and the president, and continued Republican efforts to transform the agency’s structure or funding should be seen for what they are: attempts fostered by big banks to cripple an agency that has already forced them to return over $11 billion to customers who have been cheated.”
The bottom line: Critics of the CFPB, many of whom have a biased agenda to back the financial industry, don’t want a consumer watchdog holding these corporations accountable. We would be foolish to allow them to succeed at that mission.
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. Comments may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.