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Column

Another view: Save the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Open a bank account using a stolen identity and you might find yourself behind bars. Open millions of accounts using stolen identities, and you might be the world’s second-largest bank.

Between 2009 and 2016, Wells Fargo created an estimated 3.5 million sham deposit and credit card accounts created under customers’ names.

Scandals such as this one are why we have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fined Wells Fargo $100 million for its scam. Now more than ever, the nation needs a strong CFPB to help keep big banks in line.

You’d think that a president who once accused hedge funds of “getting away with murder” would find common cause with this regulatory agency. Instead, Donald Trump wants the watchdog to go belly up for the wolves of Wall Street.

The CFPB director, Richard Cordray, resigned this month, and Trump is trying to find a temporary replacement in Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney (For those checking, that’s the same OMB director who has failed to deliver on a once-promised Hurricane Harvey recovery package).

Consider this just another example of Trump’s compulsion to stand on the side of the rich and powerful against the American middle class. He might as well put an arsonist in charge of a fire department.

Mulvaney has a record of trying to eliminate the CFPB, including co-sponsoring a bill to do just that when he was in Congress.

His appointment also would open the bureau to potential back-door dealing – a longtime Mulvaney aide now works as a key lobbyist for a major bank, Santander, which faces a $10 million fine for illegal overdraft fees.

A bureaucratic battle has Mulvaney fighting with Leandra English, the CFPB’s deputy director, for legal control over the agency. All this wrangling for power should be unnecessary. Trump needs to pick a formal appointee and submit that person to Senate approval.

Corporate profits are sky high and the stock market continues its eight-year-long surge, but paychecks remain stubbornly stagnant. The middle class deserves a qualified director to head up the only federal agency solely dedicated to balancing the playing field between Main Street and Wall Street.

When debt collectors illegally threaten veterans, or payday lenders trick working families into a pit of debt, or mortgage companies charge more on the basis of a customer’s skin color, the CFPB must be fully empowered to set things right.

Less than a decade has passed since reckless financial institutions brought the global economy to the brink of collapse.

The American people may have forgiven banks for their sins, but the CFPB exists to ensure that we don’t forget.

The Houston Chronicle

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