Weakened U.S. consumer watchdog expected to bite back if Biden wins electionOctober 19, 2020
By Katanga Johnson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A decade-long Republican campaign to weaken the consumer watchdog’s independence is set to backfire if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidential election, by handing him the power to swiftly replace the agency’s director with a consumer champion, said nearly a dozen lawyers, lobbyists and policy experts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been a political lightning rod since it was created following the 2009 financial crisis, beloved by Democrats as a guardian of ordinary Americans but reviled by Republicans as too powerful and unaccountable.
The Trump administration has clipped the agency’s wings, relaxing enforcement and some rules, and asking the Supreme Court to decide whether the president should have discretionary power to fire its director, as Republicans have long argued.
In June, the court ruled that he could.
That landmark decision, however, would also give a Biden presidency the power to fire current CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, a Trump appointee Democrats accuse of bowing to industry lobbyists.
Kraninger, whose term ends in 2023, declined to be interviewed but has said the agency should focus on policing bad actors rather than penalizing companies for minor, procedural violations.
“Given the recent Supreme Court ruling, if Biden wins the White House and the Senate flips too, I think there’s a very high likelihood that Kraninger will be quickly replaced,” said Christopher Willis, a partner at law firm Ballard Spahr, adding that some banks, anticipating new leadership, were becoming more risk-averse on consumer issues.
Powerful progressives like Senator Elizabeth Warren believe the CFPB should play a key role in tackling wealth inequality and racial justice problems underscored by the pandemic, and policy experts expect Biden to nominate a progressive pick who would ramp-up enforcement and review some of Kraninger’s rules.
Chief among them are payday-lending and proposed debt-collection regulations, which influential consumer groups say won’t protect Americans. They also hope Biden’s director would scrap proposals that they say could make it harder for low-income Americans to get mortgages.
Other priorities should include stamping out exorbitant lending rates and abusive debt-collection practices, addressing the student debt burden and gaps in minorities’ access to credit and overhauling the credit reporting system, they said.
“This will be one of the most important jobs for progressives to ensure that one of their own takes over so he or she can begin to quickly rebuild the bureau,” wrote Washington research group Beacon Policy Advisors in a client note.
Potential candidates floated in Democratic circles include Warren’s protégé Representative Katie Porter, Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra and Bharat Ramamurti, Warren’s former aide who sits on a pandemic congressional oversight panel.
Thomas Pahl, Kraninger’s deputy and longtime CFPB staffer, is a likely…