U.S. Representative Mary Jo Kilroy explains why putting the CFPA at the Fed is the wrong approach. **To read more about consumer financial protection, please see Elizabeth Warren's chapter in the Make Markets Be Markets report, presented Wednesday at the Roosevelt Institute conference.
When it comes to protecting consumers against predatory financial practices, the Federal Reserve sat on its hands while credit card companies perpetrated abuse after abuse against the American public.
During the most severe economic crisis in modern memory, credit card companies assessed billions in fees and penalties against the American public -- lining their Wall Street pockets with money that could have been used to pay for groceries, mortgage payments, or job training.
In fact, it took pressure from Congress, which passed the "Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009," for the Fed to finally regulate the credit card companies to address such egregious practices as arbitrary interest rate increases, universal default on existing balances, rate hikes on existing balances, and deceptive due-date gimmicks.
Relief could not have come soon enough. According to the non-partisan Pew Health Group's Safe Credit Cards Project, just two of these now banned practices - retroactive rate increases and "hair-trigger" penalty interest rates - were costing consumers a minimum of $10 billion per year.
Sadly, it didn't take long for credit card companies to find new ways to exploit consumers. In a 2009 report, the Center for Responsible Lending identified eight new tricks credit card companies had come up with that span across more than four hundred million accounts.
It is because of these unchecked abusive practices that I voted to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) - a new, independent federal agency solely devoted to protecting Americans from unfair and abusive financial products and services, including payday lending and predatory subprime mortgage originators.
The creation of the CFPA, which is a critical part of the larger Wall Street reform measures, will finally put the interests of consumers at the forefront of the federal government's enforcement efforts by promoting a fair and transparent marketplace for financial products to safeguard the American public from abusive industry tactics.
Most importantly, the CFPA, because its sole focus will be consumer financial protection, will be able to match the credit card companies in terms of speed and scope, putting the interest of American families first.
So you can imagine my reaction when reports surfaced that the Senate is considering stripping the CFPA of its proposed independence and housing it under - you guessed it - the Fed. After years of ineptitude, the Senate wants to give the Fed a promotion.
I hope the Senate does the right thing by fighting for a strong, independent CFPA that will protect the American public against Wall Street and the banking lobby - an industry which has worked tirelessly to prevent any real reform of the financial industry, even after its reckless ways forced the American public to bail it out.
The CFPA represents our best chance to stand up against Wall Street's predatory practices. Let's not waste it by punting the protection of the American public to an institution trusted even less than the credit card companies.
U.S. Representative Mary Jo Kilroy represents the 15th congressional district of Ohio.