Julianne MalveauxOp-EdOpinion

MALVEAUX: Financial Industry Scores Win at Consumers’ Expense

In the dead of night on Oct. 24, Vice President Mike Pence struck a blow against consumers, further empowering the banks and financial institutions that he is beholden to. He is, no doubt, following the direction of 45, who never met an Obama initiative that he didn’t want to overturn, or an Obama program that he didn’t want to abolish.

What happened? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule that would allow individuals to sue banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions. It gave people the right to sue in class action lawsuits, and effectively overturned the fine print you find in your credit card bill, fine print that says that if you use that particular card, you can’t sue, but instead must submit to mandatory arbitration.

Theoretically, arbitration saves court costs, but it also protects those bank and credit card companies that exploit. Those who opposed the new CPFB rule said that the costs of litigation would impose a burden on financial institutions. What about the burden that is imposed on the people who have been regularly ripped off by some of our nation’s largest financial institutions?

Some background – many Republicans abhor the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the legislation, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) that created it. They have been jockeying to amend Dodd-Frank to give banks and financial institutions “some relief,” and if they had their way they’d likely eliminate CFPB. The Department of Treasury, which houses the CFPB (though it is an independent agency and is funded by the Federal Reserve Bank), has accused the agency of “regulatory overreach.” CPFB’s first director, Richard Cordray, was appointed to a five-year term by President Obama in 2013; his term expires in 2018. Then 45 will have the opportunity to appoint his own director, someone who will likely be far less zealous in protecting consumers than Cordray has been.

Only two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, voted with Democrats to preserve the individual and class right to bring lawsuits against predatory banks. But the Republican who have been railing against 45, Flake (Ariz.) and Corker (Tenn.) voted with the status quo. And, disappointingly, the maverick Arizona Sen. John McCain voted to curtail consumer rights. Still, the 50-50 vote required the vice president to break the tie. And we certainly wouldn’t expect him to stand up to his boss and cast a vote for consumers!

According to its website, the CFPB’s job is “to make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole. We protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law. We arm people with the information, steps, and tools that they need to make smart financial decisions.”

The CPFB’s purpose seems solid and necessary, especially as its director, Richard Cordray, says the bureau’s priority is mortgages, credit cards and student loans, all areas where transparency and consumer protection are important. But Corday is likely to leave his office early, some say to run for governor of Ohio. When he walks out the door, so will consumer protections, as 45’s pattern is to appoint people to lead agencies although they disagree with the agency purpose. He will probably find a disgraced bank president, perhaps even one who is behind bars, to lead CPFB!

The vote to force arbitration and prevent lawsuits was the Senate’s way of declaring war on consumers. The Republican focus on “free” markets only reminds us that markets are not free when one party has significantly more power than another. One consumer hardly has the wherewithal to stand up to a large bank or credit card company, but a class of consumers can collectively flex power in the fight for fairness. 45 and his team have not only declared war on consumers, but also war on the collective, as we see with their hostility to organized labor, a hostility likely to be reflected in upcoming Supreme Court decisions.

This represents another victory for predatory capitalism and for exploitative financial institutions, and another loss for consumers!

Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.amazon.com.

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