Not-So-Secret-Santas in Congress Using Spending Bill To Roll Back Health, Safety, Wallet Protections
By Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG
With spending authorization for the federal government set to end on December 11, Congressional leaders are working with powerful special interests on their not-so-Secret-Santa lists to use spending bills as vehicles to gut health, safety and wallet protections popular with the general public but not with Wall Street or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They know they cannot win a fair fight. That’s why they’re loading up the must-pass funding bills with so-called “riders,” which are unrelated policies that couldn’t get passed on their own. Everything we fought for in Wall Street reform, including the CFPB, is on the chopping block. So are many other PIRG health, safety, wallet and democracy priorities.
Without question, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) we fought alongside Elizabeth Warren to create as a centerpiece of Wall Street reform is a key target of the financial industry, which just doesn’t want a federal agency that works for consumers, not them. Attack tactics range from an over-the-top Soviet-themed video attacking the CFPB from a conservative political group to a November 19th letter (to Republican leaders only) signed by 24 bank and financial trade associations demanding that the CFPB be weakened by replacing its single-director with a highly-politicized and malleable 5-member commission. That letter was signed by numerous bank trades, but also by the Chamber as well as by lobbies for debt collectors, credit bureaus and other financial associations — such as land title, appraisal and escrow firms — that benefit from a lack of regulatory scrutiny. The letter is rife with mis-statements, including false claims re former Rep. Barney Frank and Senator Warren’s positions (rebutted in the links).
As Jim Lardner of our Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) coalition explains, the financial riders would also roll back the safety and soundness reforms enacted as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. That AFR blog goes on to explain that the American public — on a broadly bi-partisan basis — is on our side.
One more thing these measures have in common: Financial interests are trying to push them into the budget because they would not look good as stand-alone measures that had to be debated in the light of day. In a joint letter to Congress last week, 166 consumer, labor, civil rights, community and faith-based organizations pointed out that a large majority Americans, regardless of political party, want financial regulation to be tougher not weaker; that finding, borne out by repeated polls, was most recently confirmed by a Washington Post/ABC News survey on the presidential contest, in which 67 percent of the respondents (58 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents and 72 percent of Democrats) said they would back a candidate calling for stricter financial regulation, while only 24 percent said they would back a candidate opposing stricter regulation.
That’s why the financial rollbacks are being orchestrated in a closed door, Trojan Horse, dead-of-night effort. So are other efforts to weaken priorities of PIRG and numerous other public interest organizations. That’s why we’ve joined 200+ groups in a No Riders, Clean Budget letter. Here are just a few threats:
- One rider would stop priority PIRG efforts backing Department of Labor efforts to protect retirement savings from unfair retirement account fee schemes by brokers who choose to put their interests ahead of yours.
- Another rider would eliminate Securities and Exchange Commission authority to require public companies to disclose political spending. PIRG and coalition partners have generated a record 1.2 million comments to the SEC in support of the effort.
- Another massive financial bill, S1484, was inserted as a rider into the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed spending bill. While it purports to achieve the laudable goal of lessening regulatory burden on small banks, it is in actuality primarily designed to eliminate safety-and-soundness (anti-risk) rules applying to mega-banks.
- Yet another would weaken a pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule on liquid nicotine and flavored cigars by exempting these tobacco products currently on the market from any regulation; this will limit the agency’s ability to protect children and teens from these harmful products.
- Another would eliminate the recently-finalized EPA rule expanding the Clean Water Act and protecting drinking water for 1 of 3 Americans.
That’s a sample. The list of Secret Santa gifts under consideration behind closed doors goes on and on. Members of the public need to tell Congress: No riders from Wall Street or the Chamber of Commerce or any other special interest organization that cannot convince Congress to pass them through the normal legislative process. Tell Congress to pass a clean budget, not to weaken our public protections or the agencies that implement and enforce them.