GOP slams Dodd-Frank panel, votes for reform

The House voted Thursday to restructure a controversial government bureau created by the Dodd-Frank law, amid GOP accusations that the bureau is not responsive to Congress and plans to waste millions of dollars renovating its headquarters.

Members voted 232-182 to pass the Consumer Financial Protection and Soundness Improvement Act, which would reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB was created to protect consumers from shady practices by credit card companies, mortgage lenders and other retail financial entities, a response to what many saw as abusive lending practices that led to the 2008 financial meltdown.

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Republicans have had issues with the CFPB from the very beginning, including the appointment of its director, Richard Cordray. He was recess-appointed by President Obama when the Senate was not in recess — other appointments made in a similar fashion were later invalidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, although that court did not rule on Cordray's appointment.

Cordray was later confirmed by the Senate, but Republicans continue to argue that a single director has too much authority to oversee consumer financial regulations, and that a it should be led by a commission. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said the bureau Cordray leads has vast powers over consumers, and is threatening rules so restrictive that people will not be able to borrow as freely.

"When it comes to our credit cards, our auto loans, our mortgages, the CFPB has unbridled, discretionary power not only to make them less available and more expensive, but to absolutely take them away," he said on the House floor. "It can actually abuse consumers, taking away their home ownership opportunities."

Other Republicans agreed that the CFPB is currently acting like a partisan entity that needs to have some kind of check on its authority to regulate and examine people's financial data.

"We've seen what happens when bureaucrats so powerful are left so unaccountable," said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). "In its three short years, the CFPB has burned through its budgets and rifled through the private financial data of millions of Americans."

Republicans also cited the CFPB's expensive plans to renovate its headquarters as a sign that the bureau is operating without enough bipartisan influence. Hensarling said the CFPB is planning a lavish $145 million renovation project that includes a "reflective carnelian granite water table" and a "shade tree bosk."

"I got a lot of people in my district in East Texas who live in mobile homes," he said. "They can't afford carnelian granite water tables that apparently the CFPB is going to enjoy.

"And the only shade tree bosk to be found in East Texas in the fifth district are those where hard-working ranchers work their cattle."

Rep. Dennis Heck (D-Wash.) defended the renovation by saying the $145 million tab is an estimate, and that most of it is to bring the CFPB's current building up to code. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the renovation costs are inexcusable.

"This reckless waste is one of the most dangerous kinds of government abuse," he said. "The American workers' pocketbooks are not Washington's ATM machine."

To get at these issues, the GOP bill would take the CFPB out of the Federal Reserve system, subject it to the regular appropriations process and change its leadership to a five-member board with staggered terms. Republicans said that would make the entity far more responsible to Congress and more open to moderate regulations that aren't dictated by a single party.

The bill would also rename the entity as the Financial Product Safety Commission, and would make it easier for the government's Financial Stability Oversight Council to overturn its regulatory proposals.

Democrats argued that the GOP bill is an attempt to gut the CFPB entirely. Only 10 Democrats voted in favor of it. While many other agencies operate with bipartisan leadership, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking member of Hensarling's committee, said the GOP's proposed reforms would prohibit the CFPB from carrying out its tasks.

"The simple fact is that H.R. 3193 would accomplish this goal: Obstructing the CFPB's ability to protect consumers from deceptive marketing, unlawful debt collection, lending discrimination, overcharge fees and other illegal activity," she said.

"The bill does so by undermining CFPB's leadership, ending its autonomy, and tying its funding to congressional appropriations, among other ways."

Waters and other Democrats also said the CFPB has helped save millions of consumers from unscrupulous companies, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) implied Republicans are not interested in protecting these people. She noted that current CFPB is aimed at "consumers," while the GOP bill would create a Financial Product Safety Commission, taking the emphasis off consumer protection.

Before the vote, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Calif.) circulated a letter that said the House bill would undermine needed protections for consumers around the country.

"This misguided bill would weaken the CFPB and its ability to provide necessary consumer protections to families in Michigan and across the country," Peters said today. "Instead of voting to undermine the CFPB, we should be standing up for consumers and making our financial system work for them."

As of late Thursday, the Obama administration had not released a Statement of Administration Policy on the bill. But the White House likely opposes it, as do Senate Democrats who are unlikely to call it up now that the House has approved it.

Before the final vote, the House passed two amendments to the bill and rejected one, from:

— Scott Rigell (R-Va.), requiring the new commission to examine the financial impact of its regulations. Passed 250-167.

— Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), striking language in Dodd-Frank that gives the CFPB the exclusive authority to write consumer financial rules. Passed 227-186.

— Moore, adding a sense of Congress to praise the work of the CFPB. Failed 181-236.

— This story was corrected Friday at 10:58 a.m. to note that Cordray's appointment was not struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals — only the appointments of National Labor Relations Board members were invalidated by that court. 

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