WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans are gearing up for an assault on one of the trademark populist achievements of the Obama administration, vowing to take on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The agency, the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, back when she was a law professor, was enacted as part of the 2010 Wall Street reform bill. Since then, it has returned nearly $12 billion to 27 million consumers who’d been victims of one predatory scam or another. More than 1 million consumer complaints have been filed with the agency.
Targeting the CFPB would seem to be a strange move under President-elect Donald Trump, a populist who won the White House on the back of deep economic anxiety, promising to break the hold the rich and powerful have on Washington.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), formerly chairman of the Banking Committee, told HuffPost he wanted to see the agency eliminated. “My top priority is either to bring the consumer agency under appropriations” ― which would give Congress the power to shrink its budget, or bar it from spending money on certain activities ― “or abolish it. But we’ll see what we can do,” he said. “I think it’s been a nightmare, to a lot of businesses, small business. Unbridled power, arrogance.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that congressional Republicans were teaming up with pro-business groups to take on the agency. A source close to Trump’s transition team said that Randy Neugebauer, a strident opponent of the CFPB, was being floated as the new head of the agency, if the administration removes its current chief, Richard Cordray.
That may be easier to do now that an appeals court has ruled that the current structure of the agency is unconstitutional, because it doesn’t let the president remove its director at will. If the Supreme Court doesn’t disturb the ruling, Trump would be able to easily fire Cordray.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership who survived a close re-election contest, said he looked forward to taking on the agency, but didn’t specify precisely how. “Let’s see what the options are,” he said. “The current CFPB is a ridiculous organization set up without control, without oversight, and with one person to be able to do things that one person should not be able to do.”
The agency will not be without its defenders. Warren is now a senator from Massachusetts and a leader of the opposition to Trump. Told that Shelby had hopes to abolish the agency, Warren told HuffPost simply: “No.”
Asked if she thought Shelby could achieve that goal, she said again: “No.”