Why do Republicans hate consumers so much?
Seriously. It’s bizarre. Whenever they get the chance, Republican officials seem intent on bleeding consumers dry. Or at least celebrating others’ bloodletting.
Such consumers might be 9/11 first responders and brain-injured National Football League players alleged to have been bilked out of millions of dollars from legal settlements. Or a student who took out thousands of dollars in loans for a degree that turned out to be worthless, from a for-profit school that went belly up. Or an elderly man who was abused at a nursing home but is legally barred from suing.
Those are all actual cases in which a consumer has gotten squeezed, or was blocked from seeking recourse in a dispute with a business. And just about every time, Republican officials have come down against the consumer.
Consider President Trump’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , who is scheduled to have her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
The CFPB was set up after the 2008 financial crisis to “make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole,” as its website notes. In practice, this means three main things: helping consumers make informed decisions about complicated financial products; cracking down on scammers and cheats; and preventing the kinds of systemic financial failures that can result when consumers are hoodwinked en masse — as happened in the lead-up to the crisis.
In other words, it’s a pretty important job.
Yet Trump’s nominee, Kathy Kraninger, a midlevel staffer in the Office of Management and Budget, has spent her career working on homeland security and appropriations. She has zero experience in the complicated world of financial regulation or consumer protection.
“She’ll be malleable and rudderless,” said Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.
This makes her an easy mark for industry to shape and control. Which is exactly the model of leader she’s being nominated to replace.
Since November, Kraninger’s boss at the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, has also been serving as acting CFPB director. Mulvaney has repeatedly asserted that he believes the CFPB should not exist. He has been dismantling the agency brick by brick, and then using those bricks to pummel the consumers he’s supposed to be protecting.
Mulvaney has scaled back or eliminated investigations and enforcement actions against installment lenders, debt collectors and credit bureaus. He recently teamed up with payday lenders to ask a judge to prevent CFPB’s own payday-lending rule from going into effect.
Mulvaney has even been trolling his own agency.
He changed the CFPB’s mission statement to emphasize financial deregulation. He’s also been trying to change the name of the agency itself: He has instructed underlings to stop using the name “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” and instead call it the “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.”
He wants to stop putting consumers first — literally.
Mulvaney and Kraninger are hardly the GOP’s only threats to the CFPB, or to consumers more generally.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh has argued that the CFPB is unconstitutional because its director is too independent. Throughout his career, the judge has also repeatedly ruled against regulations designed to protect consumers.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Education Department has been taking a chain saw to consumer protections designed to protect student borrowers.
Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the department has twice issued year-long delays of an Obama-era rule requiring for-profit colleges to disclose data on their students’ outcomes. It has also delayed the rule that would allow consumers to discharge their student loan debt if they are defrauded by their school.
DeVos has elsewhere been trying to prohibit state governments from protecting consumers against abusive practices from student debt collectors. So much for states’ rights.
And, of course, the Trump administration and Congress have also worked to roll back other regulations designed to help consumers fight back, including rules banning mandatory arbitration clauses in credit card contracts, auto leases and nursing home admissions contracts.
The pattern here is clear: Every time there’s an opportunity for the Republican Party to come out against a measure that would protect consumers — also known as “voters” — it does. The question is why.
My best theory is that Republicans have confused being anti-consumer with being pro-business. Which is silly.
It’s true some kinds of companies won’t survive in a more consumer-friendly regime, particularly ones whose business models are contingent on tricking customers into buying products they don’t actually want, or won’t ever be able to afford. But that is only one side of the ledger here; there’s economic (and social) value to having a system where people can trust that the party on the other side of their transaction won’t cheat them.
If you don’t believe me, I know a Nigerian prince who’s eager to wire you some money.