Joshua Boschee: Don’t let Congress hurt consumers on the sly

FARGO—The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is new to most of us. It is a federal agency founded in response to the predatory lending practices that led to the 2007-2009 recession, with a mission to consolidate consumer financial protections authority in one place.

The responsibility of the CFPB is to watch out for and protect American consumers in the market for loans and other consumer financial products and services from predatory lending and discrimination, and to restrict unfair, deceptive and abusive lending practices.

And to watch out for and protect the American economy from future financial disasters.

As we move toward the Thanksgiving Recess in Congress, many “must pass” pieces of legislation are on the table in Washington, from the nation’s budget to a highway funding bill. The concern regarding these “must pass” bills is that many federal legislators are looking to attach amendments to these bills that have nothing to do with the bill being debated. These amendments are called riders.

Many of these riders are attempts to weaken the CFPB.

Some of the riders would change the CFPB’s structure, funding and independence; delay rules like those on payday lending; prevent the bureau’s ability to take enforcement action; and weaken regulation of the country’s largest “too-big-to-fail” banks.

The Shelby bill, a specific rider being attached to the Senate budget, is falsely promoted as regulatory relief for small banks. In reality, it would be a gift to banks with assets of over $10 billion.

One of the bills of high importance to North Dakota that is threatened by riders is the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, something North Dakota needs to see passed. But that should be done only without putting individual households’ economic security or our safety at risk by attaching riders that weaken the consumer protections and regulation of the largest banks in the country.

And we shouldn’t open up very important bills to the threat of vetoes.

“It’s a pretty neat trick,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., last week. “They probably can’t get a rollback of financial regulations passed out in the open where Americans can see what’s happening. So, they slip the rollbacks into must-pass legislation, which gives the financial industry’s friends in Congress a lot of cover.”

North Dakota’s congressional delegation should oppose any backroom “financial reform” riders on the budget, or any other “must pass” legislation like the Highway bill. If changes to financial regulation genuinely have bipartisan support, then they should pass as stand-alone measures.

It is supposed to be a function of our democracy that ideas are debated openly and in plain view—similar to how legislation is introduced, debated and voted on in Bismarck.

North Dakotans should oppose adding the reduction of consumer protections and increases in giveaways to megabanks into massive, unrelated bills needed to keep the government functioning or to repair vital infrastructure.

If lawmakers want to do something for small banks like those we have in North Dakota, they should do it in the open, not in a backroom. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has proposed S1491, with support from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., which focuses on regulatory changes benefiting community banks; but since big banks currently have a bigger voice, the bill is being ignored. Meaning North Dakota banks are being ignored.

Let clean highway and budget bills pass, and maybe we can see our highways, our banks and our Congress work the way they’re supposed to once again.

State Rep. Boschee, D-Fargo, is minority caucus leader of the North Dakota House.

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