Tensions Flare as House Committee Approves CFPB Overhaul Bill
A tense House Financial Services Committee markup led to the approval of a CFPB overhaul bill supported by credit union trade groups.
Acrimonious markup ultimately leads to approval of legislation supported by credit union trade groups.
The House Financial Services Committee this week approved a CFPB overhaul bill in a tense markup that saw members on both sides of the aisle level strident accusations against each other.
The committee approved H.R. 2798 on a 26–23 roll call vote; the bill now goes to the House floor. If passed by the House, it would go to the Senate, where it is extremely unlikely that Democrats will consider the bill.
The legislation, sponsored by Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., would, among other things, convert the CFPB from its single-director structure to a five-member commission and make the agency subject to the annual appropriations process.
Credit union trade groups have endorsed the measure.
The bill was approved during a markup of more than a dozen other measures unrelated to the CFPB.
Accusations From Both Sides
“Since its inception, the CFPB has been one of the most unaccountable agencies ever created,” Financial Services Chairman Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said.
Barr accused the agency, under the directorship of Rohit Chopra, of “regulating without rules,” adding, “The CFPB is an unserious, unprofessional laughingstock.”
Responding, committee ranking Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters of California accused Republicans of wanting to “undermine and destroy” the agency.
Credit Union Reaction
Despite its unlikely enactment, credit union trade groups voiced their support for the bill.
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has missed many opportunities to leverage credit unions’ mission and history to the benefit of consumers and finalized regulations that ultimately hampered credit unions and their members,” CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle wrote, in a letter to committee members.
He added that, “Under Director Rohit Chopra’s tenure, the Bureau has repeatedly failed to recalibrate its approach to regulation in a manner that fulfills its consumer protection mission without impeding consumers’ access to credit or safe and affordable financial products and services.”
Nussle and NAFCU Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Greg Mesack also endorsed the conversion of the agency into a five-member commission.
“NAFCU has long held the position that, given the broad authority and awesome responsibility vested in the CFPB, a five-person commission has distinct consumer benefits over a single director,” Mesack wrote in a separate letter to the committee.
Support for Bureau From Consumer Groups
However, a coalition of consumer groups, including Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending, said the legislation would “irreparably harm the CFPB’s effectiveness and ultimately consumers.”
“This package represents the latest in the string of actions taken by the Bureau’s opponents since its inception to limit the CFPB’s effectiveness,” the groups wrote in their own letter to the House committee.
Inspector General Provision
Separately, CFPB Inspector General Mark Bialek this week questioned the need for the bill’s provision that would create an independent IG for the agency. The president would have to nominate someone for the position and that nomination would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Currently, the Federal Reserve and the CFPB share an IG, who does not have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Bialek said that an independent IG could pose problems, with the position remaining vacant while the confirmation process takes place.
“Converting us into [an IG nominated by the president] would in no way enhance our independence or existing authorities,” he wrote in a letter to Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., in response to Senate legislation that also would change the structure of the IG’s office.
“We have unfettered access to all agency records and documents; subpoena authority to require the production of records from nonfederal entities; law enforcement powers, such as executing arrest and search warrants; and the ability to hire our own staff and control our own resources,” he stated.
Tensions Flare During Markup
The markup of more than a dozen bills occasionally became acrimonious, beginning with Waters accusing McHenry of going back on his word.
“It was no longer convenient to follow our agreement,” she said, telling him, “You are absolutely going back on our agreements.”
Waters did not mention which bills she considered part of a deal with McHenry.
Later, Barr questioned the patriotism of Democrats on the committee.
“I don’t know what my colleagues on the other side have against democracy,” he said, discussing the CFPB measure. “I don’t know what my colleagues have against the Constitution.”
And toward the end of the markup, Rep. Monica De La Cruz, R-Tx., posed a racially charged question for the Democrats.
“Do you want to protect Hispanics or do only Black lives matter?” she asked, contending that Democrats are failing to deal with problems at the southern border.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Tx., accused her Republican counterpart of “race-baiting” and asked that her words be taken down, which would have resulted in her being unable to speak during the rest of the markup.
De La Cruz said she did not mean to offend anyone and Garcia withdrew her request.
Following that exchange, McHenry appeared ready to return to financial services issues.
“This is the banking committee, for heaven’s sake,” he declared.