Even before the November election, warning lights were flashing. Jeb Hensarling, the Republican member of Congress who chairs the House financial services committee, has declared he won’t rest until he tosses post-financial crisis reforms like the Dodd-Frank Act “on to the trash heap of history”. Hensarling is also a fierce opponent of the CFPB, which has calls a “dangerously out-of-control agency”.
Hensarling’s plan to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it with a patchwork quilt of lightweight, bank-friendly rules, unveiled in June, would gut the CFPB. It would deprive the agency of the right to scrutinize some kinds of lending altogether (such as auto loans), and it would politicize the entire process. Right now, the CFPB is about as independent as any Wall Street agency can be: its head is appointed by the president and left to get on with his job, with independent funding received from the Federal Reserve.
If Hensarling gets his way, the CFPB would become completely accountable to Congress, having five commissioners appointed by party leaders, and having to fight for an annual budget. In other words, the same politicians who receive lobbying funds from Wall Street would be deciding who runs the agency that protects consumers from Wall Street – and how much money that agency should get. That hasn’t always worked out terribly well for the SEC, which has battled for its budget, and which is still waiting for the Senate to confirm two nominees to its five-member commission.