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The Endless Attack on the CFPB

David Callahan

Anyone who has followed the creation and early life of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau knows that conservatives in Congress have repeatedly tried to kill or weaken this agency using the power of the purse. Most recently, last spring, Republicans tried to cut the CFPB's $550 million budget by about 40 percent. 

It's safe to say that if the CFPB wasn't funded through the Federal Reserve -- a stroke of genius, by the way -- it'd barely be able to function. And, as it is, all the attacks on the agency slowed its ability to get up and running. Yet harassment of CFPB is ongoing. In August, for example, Judicial Watch released information gathered through the Freedom of Information Act to allege that the CFPB was spending too much money on things like sign language interpreters and training classes for its staff. Among the odd complaints of Judicial Watch was that CFPB had spent $4,500 "to enroll six employees in a Banking Law Fundamentals class at George Washington University." 

As if we don't want regulators of banks to know banking law.

Judicial Watch also complained about "12 high-level hires who were paid more than $225,000 each in 2011." If you ask me, though, salaries at that level make perfect sense. After all, the only way to take on powerful institutions is to hire senior people who have worked in the financial sector. My guess is that every top regulator at CFPB could be making more money -- a lot more -- working for the banks they are overseeing.

The silliness of Judicial Watch's attacks is no surprise. This organization says it's dedicated to exposing corruption in government, but focuses nearly all its energy on nakedly partisan issues -- like exposing the supposed waste incurred by "First Family vacations." Please. You want to find corruption in Washington, you don't start with Malia Obama's vacation to Mexico. You start with the entire campaign finance system and then move on to the Pentagon, the intelligence establishment, and the cozy ties between huge contractors like SAIC and the agencies that hire them.

Is there overspending in smaller agencies like the FDA? Sure, here and there. But it's nickel and dime stuff that you only obsess about if you're an ideologue that doesn't believe these agencies should exist in the first place. 

Anyway, back to the CFPB. Given the endless harassment of that agency, and all the sand Republicans have thrown in its gears, it was pretty ironic to read the following yesterday in the Washington Post

Bankers and financial industry leaders are criticizing the early efforts of the government's new consumer finance watchdog, saying a slow and inefficient oversight process has slowed lending and made it more difficult for them to do business. The [CFPB]'s team that examines banks is understaffed, inexperienced and takes months to tell banks how they scored on routine audits, Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt said Tuesday. For some bank examiners, it is their first job out of college, he said. 

News flash: If you under fund and harass regulatory agencies they don't do such a great job.

So here's some advice for the banks: The CFPB is here to stay, people. So if you want things like audits finished quickly and don't want to deal with 23-year old bank examiners, tell your buddies in Washington to get off the agency's bank and make sure it has the resources to do its job.