Retiring Senate Banking Committee Chairman Predicts Tough Road Ahead for a Director-Less CFPB

Perhaps no section of the sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is more controversial on both Capitol Hill and within the financial industry than that which creates an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—and according to the outgoing Senate Banking Committee Chairman, until the President nominates and the Senate confirms a permanent CFPB director, the entire bureau may be at risk in the next Congress.

“Look, this was a controversial section of the bill—don’t have any illusions,” said Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) in reference to the CFPB during a Banking Committee hearing yesterday that received testimony from the heads of the various financial regulatory agencies. “Regardless of the outcome of the election in November, there are going to be people trying to get rid of this bureau, and it’s going to be a lot easier to get rid of it if it hasn’t gotten up and gotten started demonstrating the value and importance of it. So it’s at risk in my view, until we get someone in running the place and demonstrating what it can do and the kind of rules it’s going to develop.”

President Obama’s decision on September 16 to temporarily appoint Elizabeth Warren as "special adviser" to the President and the Treasury Secretary for standing up the CFPB has failed to appease Chairman Dodd, who has repeated such ominous warnings to the administration over the past few months. When taking the newly emboldened GOP and their recent rhetoric into account, Dodd’s sentiments don’t appear to be overstated.

During yesterday’s hearing, Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL), stated his belief that changes to Dodd-Frank are “inevitable” as lawmakers, “when necessary, visit the law and make changes consistent with our findings and the demands of the electorate.” More directly, at a Reuters Washington Summit last week, Shelby referred to the CFPB as a “mistake” and stated his intention to revisit the issue if he assumes the committee chairmanship with a Republican takeover of the Senate in November.

The feelings appear to be mutual for Shelby’s counterpart in the House and the potential Financial Services Committee Chairman in waiting, Spencer Bachus (R-AL), who has continued to lob sharp criticism at the CFPB, referring to it in speeches as the “Credit Allocation Bureau.” In mid-September, GOP leaders even sent a pre-election signal that January can’t come soon enough for their caucus, as House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) led an unsuccessful GOP attempt to block funding for the Treasury to implement the Dodd-Frank provisions.

Responding to Dodd’s call for action, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin attempted to underscore the administration’s sense of urgency yesterday, testifying that President Obama will formally nominate a CFPB Director “soon” and that “he’s reviewing candidates right now.”

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