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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

House subcommittee discusses CFPB reform proposals

Federal Issues House Financial Services Committee CFPB State Issues Enforcement Federal Legislation Consumer Finance Funding Structure Constitution State Attorney General

Federal Issues

On March 9, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy held a hearing to discuss proposals that would alter the structure and authority of the CFPB. The subcommittee heard from several witnesses, including the CEO of the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), the Bureau’s former deputy director, and the Minnesota attorney general.

During the hearing, members discussed legislation that would reform the Bureau, including: (i) the Consumer Financial Protection Commission Act, which would make the Bureau an independent commission; (ii) the Transparency in CFPB Cost-Benefit Analysis Act, which would require the Bureau to include a statement justifying any proposed rulemaking (including “why the private market, State, local, or tribal authorities cannot adequately address the problem”), as well as provide qualitative and quantitative cost assessments and data or studies used in preparing a proposal; (iii) the CFPB-IG Reform Act, which would create a separate inspector general for the Bureau; and (iv) the Taking Account of Bureaucrats’ Spending (TABS) Act, which would make the Bureau an independent agency from the Federal Reserve System called the “Consumer Financial Empowerment Agency” that would be funded through congressional appropriations rather than the Fed.

In his prepared testimony, the AFSA CEO alleged several examples of regulatory overreach taken by the Bureau, including: (i) imposing limits on arbitration, despite the Bureau’s own finding that arbitration benefits consumers; (ii) releasing guidance, instead of legislative rulemaking, which creates ambiguity for companies and consumers; (iii) using “regulation by enforcement” to change TILA and creating an ability to repay standard that does not exist in any consumer financial law or regulation; (iv) issuing press releases that serve as regulations and provide recommendations inconsistent with the plain language of laws such as the SCRA; and (v) creating potential harm to servicemembers through misinterpretations of the Military Lending Act. He further explained that a press release issued by the Bureau last year on junk fees (covered by InfoBytes here) “goes beyond its authority” and creates confusion for both depository institutions and finance companies who are unsure what the rules are. He emphasized that “the best way to protect consumer is to protect access to credit,” and the best method for achieving this “is to have clearly defined terms and conditions that both industry and the regulatory community can understand and follow.”

The former CFPB deputy director also asserted in his prepared testimony that the agency is prone to exceeding statutory limits or requirements. He commented that “[w]hile one or two of these actions could perhaps be dismissed as over-exuberance, the frequency with which these issues arise suggests that the agency lacks adequate internal or external controls to ensure it operates within the law,” and that in “the absence of these controls . . . [it] compels the conclusion that the CFPB is ripe for reform.” He also maintained that having the Bureau go through the annual appropriations process would help the agency “focus its priorities” and “improve its effectiveness and efficiency.” He further noted that expanding the Bureau’s UDAAP authority to cover conduct it observes in the marketplace (such as applying UDAAP credit discrimination laws to any decision making by a financial institution) is “a decision fundamentally for Congress.”

The Minnesota attorney general, however, highlighted joint enforcement actions taken with the Bureau in his prepared testimony, stating that by serving “as a critical enforcement partner,” the agency is operating as Congress intended when it created the Bureau in response to the 2008 financial crisis. “The CFPB’s destruction would topple the whole system like dominos,” he stressed, adding that the funding arguments fall short as several federal agencies are not funded by Congress.

Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, issued a statement strongly disagreeing with the introduced legislation. “We will continue to work with our colleagues to stop any anti-consumer bill and protect the CFPB so that consumers can continue to have an agency solely dedicated to protecting their hard-earned money,” the lawmakers said.