Berman on the assault on the CFPB

Ari Berman has a great piece in The Nation on the financial industry’s assault on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on whole and Elizabeth Warren in particular. Banks, mortgage lenders, credit card lenders, payday lenders, and the student loan industry all seem petrified of Warren and the CFPB and it’s showing. Of course, as Matt Taibbi pointed out a few days ago, the reality is that while the finance industry was able to stop a lot of good ideas from coming into play in Dodd-Frank, they are still trying to kill the few workable reforms that slipped through Congress. Every possible avenue is being pursued to ensure that the status quo is maintained. Taibbi makes the point in the context of poisonous interest rate swaps that are destroying communities like Jefferson County, Alabama. But he explains how the pushback against swaps regulations in Dodd-Frank is part of the larger effort to prevent any reform from taking hold:

The other angle here is how finance reform inevitably gets whittled down into nothing. Dodd-Frank to begin with was maybe a ten-percent reform effort; the finance lobby killed about 90 percent of the real stuff before it even got voted on. The ten percent that did make it into “law” was still in limbo, as it always is after such laws are passed, while regulators hammered out the actual procedures for implementing the new legislation. These rulemaking processes inevitably take place in conference sessions heavily attended by industry stooges and lobbyists, with reform advocates seldom having even one or two voices at the table. You can count on another five percent disappearing in that process, if not more.

And now here comes the way to deal with the last five percent: stall. When all else fails, go into the four-corner offense and wait out the public. They will eventually forget, or else the political winds will change. It’s really a beautiful demonstration of political organization and willpower – too bad it’s, you know, evil. All this for a new sewer!

We see a similar analysis from Berman on the CFPB:

Different sectors in the finance community feuded over Dodd-Frank, but now they’re united in efforts to weaken the bureau.

The Chamber has an entire division devoted to fighting Dodd-Frank, the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, and a huge budget. In the first quarter of this year, the Chamber spent $17 million on federal lobbying, far more than any other group, with a dozen lobbyists focused on the CFPB alone.

Berman has a lot more on the opposition to Berman and Warren, including how the banking industry is molding freshmen congressmen with no background at all in finance into hardened legislative warriors against CFPB. You can get anything for the right price, I suppose.

More than anything, this is an important lesson for how the forces opposed to reform work in Washington, DC. The fight is never over just because a law was passed. Regressive business lobbies will keep fighting to return to a late-1800s style economy free from any form of regulation or consumer protection. If they can’t get a law the dislike stopped, they’ll elected more pliable members of Congress and fight it from the inside in subsequent years. The climate for achieving real change is even more hostile when you add in the lack of willingness for Democrats to do things that piss off their donors in the financial industry.

I don’t know how this ends, but in the near term I can’t say I have high hopes for maintaining even the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank in the absence of a massive public outcry against the finance industry’s efforts to continue to deregulate after the financial collapse of 2008.

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