February 26, 2018

Brown Floor Speech on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – delivered the following speech on the Senate floor today on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under OMB Director Mick Mulvaney's leadership.

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Mr. President,

This month, the toy company Hasbro announced it’s introducing a new version of the board game Monopoly –in this version, players get rewarded – not punished – for cheating.

It might be fun to be the banker in this new, rigged version of Monopoly, when you’re playing with game pieces and pretend money.

But it’s not so fun when you’re talking about real families in the real world. Families getting ripped off by shady payday lenders and big banks. Families losing real money, not Monopoly money.

And when you think about getting away with, and even rewarding, cheaters, pretty soon, you might not have to use much imagination at all.

There have always been shady corporations trying to get away with ripping off customers. The difference is, they now have an ally in charge of the watchdog that’s supposed to be policing them.

In his short time heading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney has done the opposite of what we should expect of the person whose job it is to look out for consumers.

This month, NPR reported that in a new memo, Mulvaney laid out a “revised mission and vision of the bureau.”

What is that vision? To dismantle it and stop all the work it does to hold banks accountable. NPR reported that he is “making radical changes to deter the agency from aggressively pursuing its mission” – a mission designed to protect hardworking people from banks and payday lenders looking to cheat them.

In the memo, Mulvaney actually says the Consumer Protection Bureau should be “acting with humility and moderation.”

When has Wall Street ever acted with humility or moderation? We shouldn’t want moderation when it comes to going after big banks and corporations cheating customers. We should want aggressive action.

Those two words – humility and moderation – are not the first two that come to mind when you think of this Administration. Translated, in this context, they mean “let’s go easy on the fraudsters who are ripping off the American people.” 

The job of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is to fight just as hard for American families as Wall Street lobbyists do for big banks – and believe me, those lobbyists don't pull any punches, so neither can the Consumer Protection Bureau.

Since it was created, Consumer Protection Bureau has returned $12 billion to 29 million Americans who were cheated by banks and payday lenders, and “moderating” that now is literally taking money out of the pockets of working families.

Of course, nothing in this memo should surprise anyone who’s watched Mick Mulvaney over these past few months. Though he’s been running the CFPB on a part-time basis – when he’s supposed to be overseeing the federal budget – he’s managed to do a lot on behalf of Wall Street cheaters.

His very first action was to freeze payments from the civil penalties fund to families who were scammed by big banks and other financial institutions.

This is one of the Consumer Protection Bureau’s main jobs – to get back the hard-earned money of Americans who’ve been ripped off.

He followed that up by delaying a rule that protects consumers from predatory payday lenders, and dismissing a lawsuit against these shady loan sharks. We’re talking about lenders who’ve been accused of deceiving customers, charging 900 percent interest, and trying to collect debts peopled didn’t owe.

Now those payday lenders appear to be getting an even better return on their campaign donations than they do on those predatory loans.

Mulvaney has reportedly put on ice another case that had been pending against Wells Fargo – this time, for wrongly charging borrowers fees when they took out a mortgage.

And earlier this month – at his day job running another federal agency – Mulvaney proposed a budget that would defund the Bureau entirely, starting next year.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. The person heading the Consumer Protection Bureau is a man who doesn’t even think it should exist.

He thinks it is “a sad, sick joke” and sponsored legislation to repeal it.

Well, it’s no joke to the 29 million American consumers who have money in their pockets because the Consumer Bureau stood up for them.

It’s no joke to the servicemembers who rely on the Consumer Bureau to fight for them against bank abuse.

It’s no joke to the 3.5 million victims of Wells Fargo’s fake accounts scandal or the 145 million Americans who had their data breached by Equifax.

And what is Mick Mulvaney doing to help roughly half people in this country, who were victims of Equifax, and to make sure this never happens again?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The Consumer Protection Bureau was investigating this massive breach, but Mulvaney ordered them to close the investigation.

This is malpractice.

We’re talking about a data breach that exposed birthdays, social security numbers, and addresses. People’s identities could be stolen, and their credit scores ruined.

But Mulvaney apparently thinks it’s more important to protect the corporation that let it happen, rather than to protect the American people he’s supposed to serve.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

Once again, Mick Mulvaney and this administration are making it clear whose side they’re on. Over and over, they side with Wall Street and the largest corporations, instead of hardworking Americans.

We see it at the Consumer Protection Bureau, with Mick Mulvaney’s determination to protect corporate special interests.

We see it at the other bank watchdogs, who are putting Americans at risk of another financial crisis just to help Wall Street banks pad their profits.

We see it with the rollback of rules to protect Americans from fine-print “forced arbitration clauses,” denying customers who were cheated their day in court.

We see it with bills right here in the Senate to dismantle Wall Street reform, and make it easier for big banks to take big risks that could wreck the economy all over again.

At the ten-year anniversary of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, there is already a collective amnesia in Washington. Over and over, this administration and Republican leaders in Congress side with Wall Street over workers.

The lessons of 2008 are clear. You don’t grow the middle class by letting big banks take massive risks, or by letting shady lenders prey on hardworking Americans all over again.

That’s why we passed Wall Street Reform and created the Consumer Protection Bureau – to hold big banks and other bad actors accountable when they cheat, and to deter them from bad, risky behavior in the first place.

We need a new, permanent director of the Consumer Protection Bureau who will protect consumers, instead of handing big corporations a Get Out of Jail Free Card.

A cheater’s version of Monopoly might sound like fun on game night, but we’ve already seen what it looks like in real life. Powerful special interests and Wall Street win big, and everybody else loses.