Even before the financial system’s “meltdown,” the national mortgage crisis and credit crunch, Americans were calling their congressional offices for help with predatory and deceptive financial practices.
All too often, these families were being financially strangled by garrotes made of fine print. Their homes were in danger, their credit card debt was nearly unsustainable, and their jobs were at risk.
Tragically, under House rules, their congressional offices were effectively limited to referring these complaints to public interest lawyers. Federal regulation of these financial transactions was fragmented among seven federal regulators – none of which had consumer protection at the top of its priorities.
This was an untenable situation; and in many ways, it was as bad for fair-minded lenders as it was for borrowers. Our financial markets were dominated by the drive for quick and easy profits – a motivation that, too often, prevailed over sustainable loans and sound long-term growth.
Then, on July 21 of last year, I was able to applaud President Obama as he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law, legislation I had helped to fashion as a member of the historic House-Senate conference committee on financial reform.
Although not perfect, I remain convinced that Dodd-Frank can give America’s working families a fighting chance. In particular, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by the legislation can bring an end to profits based on misleading sales pitches and hidden traps.
To achieve these goals, however, the CFPB will need strong, independent leaders – regulators who are not in the pockets of the Big Banks. In my view, there is one person who most embodies the leadership capabilities that the CFPB needs – Ms. Elizabeth Warren.
In this Harvard Law School professor, President Obama found the person we needed to organize this new consumer protection agency. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman observed last March, Elizabeth Warren was among the first, more than a decade ago, to warn of the potential debt crisis and push for stronger regulation that is fairer to consumers.
I will be honored to host this practical visionary of financial reform on June 30 at 6:30 p.m., when Elizabeth Warren will be joining me for a free town hall on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Branch, 400 Cathedral St.
In her recent testimony before a congressional subcommittee, Professor Warren made her vision of what Americans need and deserve crystal clear:
“American families expect to pay what they owe,” she observed, “but they also want to make sure that the rules are fair and followed. They want an agency that will be accountable for getting that basic job done, and, so long as it has the tools, the CFPB will be that agency.”
I agree that the new agency has this potential – but only if it is led by a strong, incisive and independent director. That is why, earlier this month, I joined 88 colleagues in the House Progressive Caucus in urging the president to appoint Elizabeth Warren to this position.
As Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona observed in our letter of support: “Whoever heads the Bureau will be the strongest consumer watchdog in the country. That’s not a position where you can settle for second best.”
It is clear to me, however, that a strong, independent advocate for American consumers is not what Republicans or their allies in the banking industry want. On consumer protection, they are in full veto mode.
Senate Republicans have threatened to block Elizabeth Warren’s appointment – and that of any other nominee for Director – unless the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is weakened.
They are demanding the replacement of a strong director with a board that the Big Banks can manipulate – and, further, that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s funding be subjected to Republican stonewalling every year.
Having lost in their efforts to kill financial protection when Dodd-Frank was enacted last year, the Senate Republican Minority is now attempting to veto these reforms into oblivion.
The American people should take note.
Republican opponents of consumer protection are fond of talking about “the people’s money.” Well, in America’s credit-driven economy, it is our money that is at stake.
The American people deserve to know more about who, in Washington, is on their side – and who, quite clearly, is not.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.