Richard Cordray’s visit to Maine this week should remind everybody why we need an active Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Cordray, who is interim director of the new agency, held a hearing in Portland to look into abuses in the debt collection industry. Since the Great Recession, about 30 million Americans have had a debt go into collection, and while many companies follow the rules, some do not and use deception, threats and intimidation to coerce payment. There are laws on the books against that, but if there’s no enforcement and people don’t know their rights, it’s practically impossible to stop the practices.
The panel of regulators heard about creditors who tell debtors that making payments on their debt will improve their credit scores even though it won’t in many cases. They also heard about creditors who go after debts that have already been paid, which is also against the law.
Cordray came to Maine to listen, but that he was here spoke volumes. His nomination as the permanent director of the agency is in jeopardy because of a long-standing power play in the U.S. Senate, where no Republican will allow his nomination to come forward for a confirmation vote unless the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is substantially weakened.
The Republicans are using the Senate rules to make changes in the law that they couldn’t achieve through the democratic process. Maine Sen. Susan Collins voted for Dodd-Frank in 2010, but so far she has stood with her colleagues on the Cordray nomination filibuster.
This is not only bad process, it’s also bad policy.
Five years after a consumer debt bubble burst, sending the whole nation into a deep recession, there should not be any dispute that we need careful government oversight of these transactions. A subprime mortgage here and a too-big-to-pay balloon payment there may look like small problems on their own. But in 2008, there were enough of them to create a foreclosure crisis that took down the whole economy.
Cordray’s agency educates the public, enforces regulations and studies trends in a number of areas like student loans and credit card debt that directly affect people’s lives. The agency’s work is hugely important to individuals, who need a champion when they are up against powerful institutions.
Collins should drop her support for a filibuster of the Cordray nomination. Instead, if she thinks it is necessary, she should work to get majority support for changes in the agency. The nation needs a strong consumer protection bureau, and Cordray deserves a chance to do the job.