Our Fight to Preserve Financial Protection

by: Elijah Cummings Special to the AFRO
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Emboldened by a victory in which Russian interference helped elect Donald Trump last year, the President and his allies among the Republican congressional majority continue to attack the legacy of accomplishment that we achieved during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Americans have an important legacy of progress to protect: including expanded access to healthcare and an economy saved by the federal stimulus from the worst consequences of the Bush Era Wall Street meltdown, along with historic federal support of our Constitution, voting rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights and our environment.

Elijah Cummings

In the Congress, we are fighting these battles almost every day, inspired by the fact that, again and again, millions of Americans have taken to the streets of our nation in protest and resistance.

Now, another battle line has been drawn as reactionaries attempt to destroy the financial protections that every American now enjoys as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

No one should forget that, prior to the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, unregulated, risky, and abusive practices by banks and financial institutions devastated the U.S. economy—spawning the Great Recession, requiring the creation of the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program, and necessitating unprecedented taxpayer assistance to the Government-Sponsored Enterprises, the banking industry, the auto industry, and numerous financial firms.

According to the Russell Sage Foundation: “The Great Recession caused an unprecedented decline in wealth holdings among American households…, average housing prices in the largest metropolitan areas fell by nearly one-third…, stock prices also collapsed…, and our unemployment rate doubled from 5 to 10 percent.”

Most Americans suffered as a result, Americans of Color most acutely of all.

The Dodd-Frank Act crafted thoughtful, measured financial regulations to rein in the riskiest practices common among banks and financial firms before the Great Recession.  It also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect American consumers from abusive and predatory financial products and practices.

Although Dodd-Frank’s overall scope reaches every power source in our financial system, most Americans feel that protection most directly through the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

During its relatively brief existence, the CFPB has returned nearly $12 billion to 29 million consumers from law-breaking financial companies; enacted critical consumer protection rules, including foreclosure reforms; and handled more than 1 million consumer complaints, often obtaining refunds for the consumers who were wronged.

Just this year, for example, the CFPB ordered credit reporting companies to pay $26 million in restitution and penalties for misrepresenting how their credit scores are used; mortgage lenders and servicers and real estate agents were ordered to pay nearly $4 million in fines for illegally steering home buyers to particular mortgage lenders on the basis of kickbacks and fees between the companies and agents; and CitiMortgage and CitiFinancial Services were required to pay an estimated $29 million in penalties and refunds to consumers who were struggling to keep their homes.

In a nation increasingly burdened by extreme inequities in income, wealth and power, it is understandable, therefore, why corporations that exploit everyday Americans would want their political allies in Washington to gut the CFPB.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been achieving real, positive “change that we can believe in,” which is why the Republican congressional majority’s determination to cut the CFPB’s wings is so contrary to the best interests of our nation and her working families.

The vehicle by which House Republicans are attempting to cripple the CFPB is legislation introduced by Republican Chairman Jeb Hensarling of the House Financial Services Committee, the inaptly titled “Financial CHOICE Act” (H.R.10).

If any think that this assessment is unfair, consider these facts.

H.R. 10 would require the CFPB to obtain approval by the Republican Congressional majorities before issuing any new protective regulations, and it would subject the CFPB to seeking annual funding from the Congress.

H.R. 10 would deprive the CFPB of any power to punish wrongdoing financial institutions for unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.  It also would deprive the agency of any authority over small-dollar (i.e., “payday”) lenders, make the Director more vulnerable to removal, and eliminate the public’s ability to gain information through the CFPB database.

These are just some of the more egregious provisions of H.R. 10 that are motivating Democratic opposition in the Congress – and why I will continue fighting for a full review and vote by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR).

We are engaged in a fight to preserve the expanded financial protection that Americans gained through Dodd-Frank and our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – and, supported by the American people’s continued vigilance and strong engagement, we are determined to hold back the reactionary tide.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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