Financial services lobbyists are upping the pressure on Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), a key Republican on the panel, to limit the scope of a proposed consumer protection agency.
While several provisions of a sweeping financial services reform bill still remain in flux, banks and big-business groups are putting their focus on the consumer-protection details.
After several drafts of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency circulated downtown with different iterations coming from Dodd, Corker and Republican Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), ranking member of the Banking panel, and Judd Gregg (N.H.) Dodd signaled Friday on the Senate floor that he is still committed to creating an office that has the independence and the authority that it needs to get the job done to take care of consumers.
With Dodd in Connecticut over the weekend, limited progress was made during staff discussions. Still, Dodd is expected to roll out a bill as early as the end of this week, but that could slip until the following week, according to financial services lobbyists.
The negotiations on consumer protections are focusing on how much power and autonomy the new agency will receive. Specifically, the financial services industry and banks are lobbying for the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Department to have veto power over rule-making.
But consumer advocates say they want consumer protection to be independent to ensure it wont be mired in the same problems the Fed had during the financial crisis.
So far, it appears that banks are winning the day against an independent regulator, including strong investor protections and transparency in the derivatives market, said Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America.
If reforms in these key areas continue to water down, we will move to opposition, Plunkett said. In our minds, it would be a mistake to enact legislation that has the appearance of reform without providing the reality. It would just be a giant effort to mislead the public.
David Arkush, director of Public Citizens Congress Watch, said he believes its a nonstarter to give the Treasury or the Fed veto power over the consumer protection agency.
I dont think this is the time for Democrats or for anyone to be compromising on weak reform, Arkush said. I think that the Democrats on the Banking Committee ought to push for a strong bill, and if that has to be a partisan bill, then thats the case.
Heather Booth of Americans for Financial Reform agreed that its important to have strong consumer protections.
Booth said there would be an outpouring of anger from the public if Dodds bill doesnt address consumer protection in a meaningful way.
But on the other side of the consumer groups, its not just the financial services industry that is pushing back against reforms.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with the National Association of Manufacturers, Industrial Energy Consumers of America, National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and Fertilizer Institute, last week formed the Main Street Industry Alliance to push Dodd to narrowly write the language to keep nonfinancial companies out of the new regulations.
NAMs Dorothy Coleman said the alliance is waiting to make its next move until after language is circulated.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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