Immediately after the recent Equifax hack that potentially put close to 150 million Americans at risk for identity theft, I wrote about how the event proved that Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-2) bias against any regulation of the financial industry, and especially her vendetta against the oversight role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was contrary to the interests of the everyday Americans she ostensibly serves. Surely, I thought, these folks can be made to realize that enabling more disaster in the wake of disaster may be going just a bit too far.
Well no. The concept of wise stewardship always seems to be too difficult for the Republican brain, as evidenced by this little financial tidbit in the LA Times:
Even as millions of consumers grapple with fallout from the Equifax data breach, Republican lawmakers are quietly backing legislation to deregulate credit agencies and make them even less accountable for wrongdoing.
Bills are pending in Congress to limit class-action damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and to give credit agencies more latitude in profiting from identity theft protection products.
The legislation is part of sweeping efforts by Republican lawmakers to reduce oversight of banks and other financial-services firms, and to cripple or eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has notched a successful track record of holding industry players accountable for unfair and illegal practices.
And who’s the engineer steering this “quiet” anti-citizen effort? Why no one other than Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3), a member, along with Rep. Wagner, of the House Financial Services Committee, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, which just held hearings on the proposed legislation – possibly inspired by successful , and, for the profitable credit reporting agencies involved, expensive, oversight exercised by the CFBP in the recent past. Luetkemeyer declared that the new legislation would ” streamline regulatory requirements and eliminate inefficiencies” and “better allow financial companies to serve their customers.”
Sadly for Luetkemeyer’s credibilty, the response of the LA Times reporter, David Lazarus, is closer to the truth when he observes that what “the legislation would do is reward credit agencies with greater regulatory elbow room and diminished accountability for screw-ups.” As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got far too much of that elbow room already – as Lazarus notes:
Consumer advocates say the Equifax breach should serve as a wake-up call for Americans that the three leading credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are focused primarily on earning cash from people’s personal information, not keeping such information under lock and key.
“Consumers are not customers of these companies — they’re commodities,” said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “We have no say over what they do with our data.”
There are, of course, Democrats on on the Financial Services Committee and its various subcommittes; Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1) serves on Luetkemeyer’s subcommittee, for example. But they’re there as representatives of the minority party in a congress which Republicans have publicly determined to run solely in service of Republican druthers, and, given the amounts of cash that the financial industry throws at sympathetic members of these plum committee posts, the Democrats are not likely to be heard if they do stand up. Same reasons hold when considering the inevitable death march of a Democratic bill offered in response to the Equifax farce, the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation Act.
Actually, the proposed Democratic legislation, mild as it is, probably doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Michael Kevin Drum who has long noted the essentially abusive nature of our credit reporting system and urged greater regulatory oversight of the credit reporting agencies, observesd last week that:
… The credit reporting agencies have gotten away forever with treating consumers like bothersome children: screwing up their credit records, ruining their lives, making it deliberately difficult and expensive to lock accounts, and making money off the whole thing by offering “insurance” against problems that they themselves cause. Someone in Congress who allegedly cares about ordinary working folks should introduce a bill to regulate the hell out of these folks. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s hard to think of any industry that more richly deserves it.
Well somebody in Congress does care – Democrats mainly – but a fat lot of good it’ll do us. Because financial industry toadies like Luetkemeyer and Wagner are sitting pretty in their well-funded catbird seats and they aim to keep that campaign cash cushion well-padded.