The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the poster child of good government, somehow survived four years of direct and concentrated assault and is poised to rebuild and get to work saving people’s economic lives again.
President Biden tapped Rohit Chopra to lead the agency. Chopra worked with Elizabeth Warren, before she won her Senate seat, to establish the agency and then served as the student loan ombudsman there, and by all accounts he’s going to pick up where the Obama-era director left off, going after the industry giants who had free rein again in the last four years to rip Americans off. “It’s a matter of ramping back up,” said Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s first director, told the Washington Post. Under Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s odd-job man for destroying things, the CFPB was “picking at odds and ends,” Cordray said. “They ramped down, and it’s a matter of changing direction.” That “ramping down” included ignoring consumer complaints.
According to agency data, 2020 complaints rose 60% over 2019 levels and enforcement plummeted. Under Cordray in 2015, the agency collected $5.6 billion for defrauded consumers. Last year it was less than $700 million, despite the huge increase in complaints. That increase probably had a lot do with the pandemic, as Biden acknowledged when introducing his pick of Chopra at CFPB and Gary Gensler to the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Our administration will hit the ground running to deliver immediate, urgent relief to Americans; confront the overlapping crises of COVID-19, the historic economic downturn, systemic racism and inequality, and the climate crisis; and get this government working for the people it serves,” Biden said. “These tireless public servants will be a key part of our agenda to build back better—and I am confident they will help make meaningful change and move our country forward.”
Those who’ve worked with Chopra at CFPB and are familiar with him think he’s going to be aggressive and look at the big picture when it comes to protecting consumers, including pushing new regulations to crack down on the financial industry. “Under a Director Chopra, I think you’ll see the agency looking at industry practices in a broader way, seeking systemic changes in matters harming consumers, not just one-off fraud cases,” attorney Lucy Morris, who worked with Chopra at the CFPB, told the Post.
Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, agrees. “When you’re only going after last-dollar scammers and small, fly-by-night companies, you’re not sending a message to the big banks, big debt collectors, and big credit bureaus that there’s a sheriff in town. […] As soon as he’s confirmed, Rohit will bring a renewed sense of urgency.”
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