It's generally a bad idea to say something is a failure right after its biggest success.
That may seem sort of self-evident, but apparently it isn't. Take House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). He has been trying to recast the presidential campaign as a contest between Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump, but rather his "Better Way" agenda — basically tax cuts for the rich, spending cuts for the poor and deregulation for big business — and what he says would be President Obama's third term. Now, as part of that, he recently had this to say about the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose job is, well, to protect consumers from financial malfeasance.
This was not the best timing. The CFPB, after all, just fined what's supposed to be one of the best run banks in the country — Wells Fargo — $185 million for allegedly creating 2 million bank and credit card accounts for customers without their knowledge so that bank employees could hit their rather ambitious sales goals and get — earn isn't quite the right word here — bonuses. That sure seems like the definition of protecting people to me.
Ryan's spokesman didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
This is a lot more important, though, than just an inopportune tweet. It shows us what the non-Trump portion of the Republican Party's priorities are. Those are, on the one hand, trying to get more people to become investors and, on the other hand, trying to get rid of investor protections. Now let's back up a minute. It's important to remember that Republicans don't think the financial crisis was a case of bankers blowing up the global economy because that was what maximized their year-end bonuses, but rather the government pushing bankers to blow up the global economy out of a misguided attempt to help poor people buy homes. Never mind that it was Wall Street banks, and not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, that were behind the subprime boom. Or that even a conservative former Federal Reserve official says there's no evidence that the Community Reinvestment Act, which outlaws redlining, "contributed in any substantive way" to the housing bubble's bad lending.
That's why Republicans seem to think that trying to stop financial fraud is a bigger problem than the risk of financial fraud itself. Indeed, Ryan's budget would give less money to the market cops at the Securities and Exchange Commission. It would also get rid of the CFPB's independent funding — right now it gets its money from the Fed so that it's free from influence from members of Congress who might not be free from influence from bank lobbyists — and replace its independent director with a five-person bipartisan committee. His anti-poverty plan, meanwhile, would make it legal for financial advisers to once again recommend things that are in their own — but not their clients' — best interests. (Believe it or not, that was changed only in the past year). And on top of that, House Republicans want to make it easier for penny stock companies — which, the SEC has warned, are a veritable playground for scammers and other assorted manipulators — to issue shares without as much oversight.
It's as if Republicans are telling people to jump in a pool that Democrats are worried is shark-infested — and then saying that the real problem is there are too many lifeguards.
Republicans say this is all about consumer choice. It's not the government's job, they say, to tell people which financial products they can and cannot buy. Why shouldn't I be able to take out a risky mortgage that I can probably pay back just because my neighbors might not be able to? Well, the answer is that if enough of them don't, as we found out in 2008, it's not just their problem — it's everybody's. And besides, is the freedom to take out a potentially dangerous loan or get bad financial advice really something we should be worrying about? What about the insiders who profit off their info, the bankers who move your money into accounts you didn't ask for, the advisers who steer you into high-fee investments, and the con artists who pump up their penny stocks and then dump them on unsuspecting investors? These people exist. Regulators have caught them. Why should we do less about it?
Although they certainly don't intend it, Republicans have become the party that would make financial fraud easier to pull off. And they can't even blame Trump for that.