Email #184: “Main Street first”?

I read that the House passed the Financial Choice Act late yesterday afternoon. Speaker Ryan said:

“This legislation comes to the rescue of Main Street America. The Dodd-Frank Act has had a lot of bad consequences for our economy, but most of all in the small communities across our country.”

In March of last year, you spoke more ambiguously about Dodd-Frank:

“The 2008 financial crisis illustrated that the financial system and existing laws were not adequately prepared for the insolvency of certain institutions, which threatened the very stability of the global economy and our financial industry. There has been considerable debate over whether Congress’ main response to the financial crisis—the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—is adequate to respond to a future crisis.”

But in January, you spoke strongly in favor of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, a deregulatory bill that you said was a “much-needed tool to check the one-way cost ratchet that Washington’s regulatory bureaucrats too often turn” and would stop the “endless avalanche of major new regulations that impose burdens and crush jobs.”

These are unnecessary exaggerations that unhelpfully promote the political cliché that all regulation is bad and all deregulation good, a mindset that pointlessly complicates the already strained communication between Republicans and Democrats. At minimum, I ask that you tone down your rhetoric and stop using your public statements as salesman-like PR pitches rather than opportunities for conversation.

If I understand correctly, many aspects of the Financial Choice Act are focused on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some of the changes are insignificant, like renaming it the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency. Although I think the CFPB needs some independence, I don’t necessarily object to the President being able to fire its director or its budget being part of the congressional appropriations process. But other changes confuse me because they remove consumer protections but without the benefit of improving the economy.

Why do you wish to eliminate the CFPB’s education campaigns? Educated consumers are key to a healthy market. Any business that is hurt by better educated consumers is a bad business and should be punished by market forces. Education helps that shared goal. The bill would also stop the CFPB from making consumer complaints public. Again, how does this help a free market? Consumers should have as much knowledge as possible. And neither of these changes have anything to do with regulations.

But some of the changes are deregulations–but not ones that will help the economy. The bill would let credit card companies charge more for transactions. How will higher prices stimulate the economy? The bill would also stop the CFPB from overseeing payday lenders. That is a particularly abusive industry and so one that needs close monitoring. Letting payday lenders take advantage of their clients doesn’t stimulate the economy either.

The bill is flawed in ways that Republicans and Democrats should agree on, and yet yesterday’s vote split along party lines (except for one Republican voting against it), obscuring both its good and bad qualities. I wish you had taken a more nuanced approach and offered amendments that would have improved not only the bill but also bipartisanship in the House.

In the press statement you released after the bill was passed you focused almost exclusively on small town credit providers:

“Virginia businesses need access to capital to grow and create jobs. For many folks, this means working with a small community bank or credit union. However, much of the red tape created by Dodd-Frank, the massive finance law put into place by the Obama Administration, is holding these financial institutions back. In fact, it is estimated that under Dodd-Frank the United States is losing, on average, one community bank or credit union each day. Instead of helping folks access the capital they need, Dodd-Frank has made it more difficult by piling on the red tape all while failing to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers. I’ve heard from small financial institutions in the Sixth District that Dodd-Frank’s policies only increase the cost of credit and that no one is helped by these rules – only hurt.”

You say not a word about consumer protection. Your second paragraph emphasizes small towns too, before briefly listing other elements of the bill:

“The Financial CHOICE Act puts Main Street first. This legislation levels the playing field by eliminating the onerous regulations that are holding back job creators and stifling access to credit and capital. Unlike Dodd-Frank, the CHOICE Act finally ends taxpayer-funded bailouts and ‘too big to fail.’ It also repeals the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule that makes it harder for Americans to save for retirement. The CHOICE Act is just one more way that the House is working to grow America’s economy and create opportunity for hardworking Americans.”

Do you not mention they ways that the bill curtails consumer protection because you don’t agree with those elements but voted for the bill anyway? Or do you agree with them but know they are unpopular with you constituents and so intentionally obscured them? Either way, we deserve better from our Representative.

 

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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