That’s zero as in the number of enforcement actions that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued in the three months since John M. “Mick” Mulvaney became acting director.
In the first 11 months of 2017, under Richard Cordray,the consumer watchdog agecy announced 36 enforcement actions. That’s more than three a month, totaling more than $260 million in consumer refunds.
As with everything from football to gun control in today’s America, your view of the above pieces of data is probably predictable based on your political leanings.
Republicans throw on their red jersey and say, “This is great. This agency was yet another big example of government overreach and did little more than hamstring American businesses.”
Democrats don their blue jersey and say, “This is tragic. Without the threat of government action from the CFPB, businesses are just going to run amok and fleece the consumer, who just won’t stand a chance against all-powerful Big Business.”
Meanwhile, nothing ever gets done, and ultimately America loses. Let’s hope that’s not what happens with the CFPB. It’s too important.
Is the CFPB an imperfect creation? Yep.
Is it strange that the Bureau’s budget isn’t subject to congressional oversight? Sure.
Would the bureau work better if it was run by a small bipartisan committee rather than a single director? Maybe.
But isn’t it also strange that Mulvaney sought no operating funds for the Bureau for the second quarter of 2018, choosing instead to fund operations with money that the agency had previously held in reserve? Yes, indeed.
Isn’t it true that the CFPB has put an enormous amount of money back in consumers’ wallets that never should have left in the first place? Absolutely.
And does anyone really believe that there are no future scandals left to uncover, no businesses doing something they shouldn’t and unnecessarily taking money from hard-working Americans? Of course not.
It’s still probably too early to make any long-term assessments of what the three-month absence of enforcement actions means for the future direction the CFPB. After all, it makes sense that we’d see a slowdown in enforcement actions, given the change of leadership and the political wrangling surrounding the agency. New leadership, whether of a government agency or a business, typically needs time to get its feet under it, so things don’t always work terribly smoothly for a while.
Plus, Mulvaney isn’t even likely to remain the director for the long haul. The law states that an acting director can stay in that role for 210 days, which would end his tenure in late June. However, as long as the president announces a replacement by the end of that period, Mulvaney would reportedly be able to remain as acting director until his replacement’s confirmation is complete. He reportedly is not interested in taking on the director job permanently.
Still, what we’ve seen so far hasn’t been a slowdown. It’s been a dead stop. The lack of enforcement actions is troubling and raises questions of what’s ahead. My fear is that by dialing back enforcement actions in the spirit of deregulation, you're going to embolden some financial institutions to do things that they shouldn’t.
Perhaps, as with many things in America, while both sides are screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No one wants an agency that is all powerful and unchecked — what Republicans fear from the CFPB — any more than they want businesses to be able to run roughshod over the American consumer without any fear of consequences — what Democrats fear from a neutered CFPB.
What we need is for the Blue Team and the Red Team to take off their jerseys, stop listening to the screaming coming from their left and right and get to work on making this agency work. This shouldn’t be about ideology. It shouldn’t be about scoring political points. As the name indicates, it should be about consumer financial protection. That’s what Americans really want and need. Let’s hope our politicians can make that happen.