CFPB Hearings Give Lawmakers Chance to Play Good-Cop, Bad-Cop

While there is an abundance of great shows to watch these days (reach out if you want a list of my current favorites), there is just something about live theater. There is an energy, a uniqueness to each and every performance, that separates live action from scripted fare. Maybe that’s why it’s so enjoyable to watch the theatrics whenever the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau testifies before Congress. Having appeared yesterday before the Senate Banking Committee and scheduled to appear today before the House Financial Services Committee, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra is the ball in a game of political ping pong between Democrats and Republicans, arguing about the unchecked power and agenda of the regulatory agency.

What’s interesting is that for years, the Director of the CFPB was targeted by members of Congress because he or she could only be fired for cause, providing a level of job security that made the Director one of the most powerful people in Washington, D.C. But even though the Supreme Court has now ruled the Director can be fired for any reason, given the unlikeliness that President Biden would fire Director Chopra, Republicans are still unhappy.

“The CFPB is more out of control than ever before,” said Sen. Pat Toomey [R-Penn.], the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, during yesterday’s hearing. “It’s once again pursuing a subversive far-left agenda by abusing — and exceeding — its authorities. It is past time for Congress to bring accountability to the CFPB by making it subject to the appropriations process and enacting other needed reforms. The current Congress won’t do that. The next one should.”

But for all the rhetoric, does anything actually get accomplished at these hearings? Lawmakers get soundbites and the opportunity to make sure the items on their agendas are addressed, but in all the years I’ve been watching the Director testify before Congress, I’m hard-pressed to remember any hearing that yielded something of substance.

Maybe these hearings used to be important, but the CFPB is not hiding anything these days. Director Chopra is a regular tweeter and blogger and the CFPB is being very proactive about sharing its plans and its policymaking agenda. Does the Director still need to go before Congress — a body that doesn’t even control the CFPB’s budget — twice a year?

Nonetheless, my browser will be tuned in this morning to watch Director Chopra testify before the House Financial Services Committee, on the chance that someone asks a question about debt collection or mentions something of interest to this industry. It might not be as good as “Better Call Saul” or “Winning Time,” but when it comes to live theater, you never know what’s going to happen.

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