Rogue Agency: GOP Lawmakers Scrutinize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is once more under fire from members of Congress in both the House and Senate. The CFPB's Director, Rohit Chopra, has been the subject of a couple of notable Congressional grilling sessions.

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In our first clip, Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) takes Mr. Chopra to task over fees charged by the CFPB. (Relevant portion starts at 2:03:15.)

Rep. Wagner, after stating that the CFPB is encouraging persistent debt and encouraging consumers to pay late, hit Mr. Chopra on fees charged by CFPB:

As part of the fee schedule charged by CFPB, for a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request charges $23 for 15 minutes or $92 per hour, if professional staff conducts a search for information, which may be a rate set by the Office of Management and Budget. $92 per hour to search for documents seems pretty darn high and very similar in concept to your definition of junk fee, which you define, once again, as the fee exceeds the CFPB's cost in searching and therefore leads to profit for the CFPB. Will the CFPB take action to examine this "junk fee" and reduce the amount charged for FOIA requests, instead of profiting off of hard-working Americans who are simply seeking to learn about how government decisions are made within the opaque CFPB?

 Chopra replied in part: 

I think those have only been charged two or three times in the past few years, it's very rare, I will look at that.

This brings up the question: Are not these fees, or the lack thereof, a matter of policy? Rep. Wagner's time for questioning Mr. Chopra was out before this could be explored further, but it seems that if CFPB is charging fees, it must charge them for every request or none; this is a matter of policy, it is a matter of equal treatment by the government, and it would be interesting to see Mr. Chopra and the CFPB pinned down here.

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See Related: CFPB's Activist Regulators Are at It Again

CFPB Suing Zero-Interest Lender Over Lending Practices


Next, the inestimable Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) hammered Mr. Chopra, at one point accusing the Bureau of acting illegally.

“For the longest time, the Federal Reserve was earning money, but that stopped in September 2022,” Kennedy said. “Now they are losing money. They don’t have any earnings. They’re no longer transferring earnings to the general fund, and the Supreme Court based its decision on saying, this funding scheme is Constitutional under the appropriations clause, by saying that these earnings would go to the general fund from the Federal Reserve so getting them directly from the general fund is no big deal,” he added.  

The Supreme Court ruled by 7-2 vote in May that the unconventional way the CFPB obtains funding is constitutional. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the dissenting opinion that the ruling could establish a precedent wherein a federal agency can “bankroll its own agenda without any congressional control or oversight.”

 “How are you entitled to any money right now?” Kennedy asked. “The Federal Reserve doesn’t have any earnings.”
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The answer, according to the statute and according to Senator Kennedy, "bigger than Dallas," is that the CFPB is not operating within the law.

“You raise the difference between revenue and net income,” Chopra said. “There are other places throughout our laws. I can tell you we’ve looked at this issue. We do believe wholeheartedly everyone is complying with the statue.”

 Chopra also disputed that the Federal Reserve has not had any earnings since September 2022.

 “I know you don’t like to hear this, but the law is the law. You’ve been operating illegally,” Kennedy said.

So we have a rogue agency — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which is not really protecting consumers or taxpayers. It is charging fees for Freedom of Information Act requests that are, by the Bureau's own definition, junk fees. The only conceivable reason for this is to discourage Freedom of Information Act requests. The Bureau is also operating, arguably, in violation of the statute that directs from whence comes its funding.

What will come of these congressional grillings? Sadly, probably not much. There is nothing so enduring as a government program or agency; one might be forgiven for suspecting that these will survive the heat-death at the end of the universe to somehow arise again in the next universe to vex information-seekers and taxpayers in whatever replaces our reality.

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That doesn't mean these sessions aren't worth the trouble. The odds of the CFPB being dismantled, even though they are an agency that is not authorized by the Constitution and which should, therefore, not exist, are small. But afflicting the comfortable is still worth doing, and Representative Wagner and Senator Kennedy are showing themselves to be pretty good at it.

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