Texas families will lose if Congress weakens consumer bureau

Few of 2016’s campaign promises resonated more than the vow to eject special interest players from Washington, D.C. The candidates routinely accused big banks and billionaire investors of rigging regulations in their favor at the expense of everyday Americans. 

But instead of following through on that pledge, a movement is afoot in Congress — led by Texans like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Jeb Hensarling, John Ratcliffe, and Roger Williams — to gut the agency that has done so much to level the playing field in banking, lending and finances: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau has a strong track record of effectively standing up for all Americans in the financial marketplace, specifically military service members, students and the elderly.

Since its 2011 inception, the bureau has returned $11.8 billion to 29 million families across the country — money wrongfully taken by banks, debt collectors, payday lenders and other financial companies. The bureau worked with 47 state attorneys general on a debt collection action against J.P. Morgan Chase, recovering $4.3 million for cheated Texans as part of a $136 million national settlement. More recently, the bureau levied a record $100 million penalty and consumer restitution against Wells Fargo for millions of fraudulent consumer accounts created by its employees. The bureau has filed suit against Navient, a student loan servicer, for deceiving millions of students by providing incorrect payment information, illegally driving up loan repayment costs. 

Everyday Americans are better off because of the bureau. Its website offers groundbreaking financial education and hosts an online complaint database, one that had processed more than 1 million consumer complaints, including about 86,000 from Texas, by the end of 2016.  Of those complaints, more than 3,000 came from Texas service members and more than 3,400 came from Texas seniors. The bureau has also adopted rules requiring clear, simple disclosures during the home-buying process, as well as fair lending and servicing standards.

A fair and free market requires educated consumers, transparent transactions and an open complaint process. Allowing unfair financial practices only leads to more nefarious practices — and ultimately an unstable market.

Despite the many positive impacts of the bureau for Texans and all other Americans, Cruz and Ratcliffe have filed a bill to eliminate it. Hensarling, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, has vowed to drastically weaken the bureau, and Williams, a prominent committee member, has filed a resolution to dismantle commonsense bureau rules for prepaid debit cards. If the prepaid card rules go away, more than a million Texans will lose their rights to basic disclosures, as well as fraud and fair-lending protections. 

As we learned the hard way in the 2008 financial crisis, without fair standards and accountability in financial markets, our system will fail. Reckless Wall Street firms profited while millions of families lost their homes and their jobs. Americans agree on the importance of a fair and transparent financial system.  We all deserve a fair shake at the American dream. 

We urge Texans to call their U.S. senators and representatives and ask them to stand up for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Our representatives in Congress should laud the agency as a shining example of what Washington does right. 

Ann Baddour

Project director, Texas Appleseed

Stephanie Carter

Organizer, Texas PIRG