Senate GOP sided with Wells Fargo and Equifax instead of constituents

Senate GOP sided with Wells Fargo and Equifax instead of constituents
© Greg Nash

On the Senate floor late Tuesday night, an important vote hinged on a simple question: Do we protect hard-working Americans from predatory financial companies, or do we allow these companies to continue victimizing? Answering that question, 50 Senate Republicans sided with the likes of Wells Fargo and Equifax rather than their own constituents.  

The vote was so close that Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSocial distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis White House: Anyone 'in close proximity' to Trump or Pence will be tested for coronavirus Watch live: Coronavirus task force holds press briefing MORE had to come down to the Capitol and cast the deciding vote clearing the way for Republicans to follow through on their promises to big banks and Wall Street lobbyists and finally repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) rule on forced arbitration — a rule so broadly popular that it had support from every corner of the political universe: from the American Legion, the Tea Party and a former Fox News host, to Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE, consumer advocates and the NAACP.

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That enormous coalition of support made perfect sense because the rule would have protected consumers who are taken advantage of by big banks and other financial interests from being forced into secret arbitration tribunals, where industry usually pick the judges and most consumers end up losing even more money. Instead, they would be able to seek justice by having their day in court.

 

Repeal was so deeply unpopular that for most of the late-night debate, only a single Republican senator had the nerve to rise and defend the push to repeal — the effort’s sponsor Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Stimulus empowers Treasury to rescue airlines with billion in direct assistance White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-Idaho). An endless stream of Democrats stood in opposition to Crapo’s proposal before even a single additional Republican would speak out in favor, and that senator would be the only additional voice of support.

On Tuesday night, the Republican caucus became the coward’s caucus with 48 senators refusing to explain their vote from the Senate floor perhaps out of fear that CSPAN cameras would preserve their words for use by opponents for years to come.

Their silence, though, was just as damaging.

For the tens of millions of American consumers who often don't know they are being forced into an arbitration clause when they sign up for a credit card, checking account, prepaid card or many other financial products, this rule could have made a world of difference.

We even have concrete examples of how bad actors like Wells Fargo and Equifax clearly harmed consumers and were trying to use forced arbitration to escape justice before the public outcry became too intense. It shouldn’t have to come to that for consumers to have their constitutional rights protected.

So folks might be wondering: Who is ultimately to blame? A special interest just isn’t very special if they don’t have lawmakers willing to do their bidding.

For weeks leading up to the vote several Republicans senators expressed concerns and identified themselves as undecided: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE of Maine, John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE of Louisiana, and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Murkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans MORE of Alaska come to mind. Heck, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE of South Carolina announced his opposition to repeal long before the vote. 

In the end, only Kennedy would join Graham in opposition. In other words, only two Republicans were willing to stand with consumers.

Collins and Murkowski provided the final blow, pushing the number of senators supporting repeal to the 50-vote mark so that Pence could come in and break the tie finalizing this dirty deed.

Just days before the vote, Collins claimed that she was still undecided but leaning towards repeal because the rule might hurt small banks and local credit unions. The claim was erroneous. The National Consumer Law Center couldn’t even find a Maine credit union or small bank that uses forced arbitration. That’s hardly surprising. Nationally more than nine out of 10 credit unions don’t use these onerous clauses.

If it wasn’t made up concerns about small banks and credit unions, what could possibly have convinced Collins to vote against consumers in her state? Perhaps it was the $3.5 million she received from the financial industry in campaign contributions or the thousands she took from Wells Fargo and Equifax.

Similarly Murkowski had professed her undecided status for weeks leading up to the vote. But when it was finally time for her to stand up for Alaska consumers, she turned her back and cast the final, deciding vote to repeal these important protections. Again, we are left wondering — why? Could it have been the $2 million she received from her friends in the financial Industry or the thousands she accepted from Wells Fargo and Equifax?

The truth is, Collins and Murkowski have yet to explain their betrayal to constituents. They didn’t give speeches explaining their decision on the Senate floor the night of the debate — no, they just quietly voted and left the floor. Days later they still haven’t posted statements to social media or their official websites.

Regardless of whatever excuses they may someday build up the courage to deploy in their defense, Collins, Murkowski and their fellow Republicans have once again put consumers in the back seat and given the keys to Wall Street special interests drunk with power.

This won’t be the last fight over consumer protections in Congress this year or in the years ahead. But every time lawmakers try to reverse the progress made by the CFPB to finally level the playing field for everyday Americans, opposition to their corruption continues to grow and someday soon their records will catch up with them.

Karl Frisch is executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer watchdog organization that opposed repealing the CFPB’s arbitration rule.