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Chamber fights consumer agency plan

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Kai Ryssdal: The Obama administration does have a couple of other things going besides health care. New regulations for the financial industry, for one.

A big part of that overhaul is going to be more protections for consumers, an idea that’s not going over too well with business leaders. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched an ad campaign against it that’s said to be worth at least $2 million. No mention of the big banks or mortgage lenders, and credit-card companies that the White House says need to be more tightly regulated. The Chamber says instead that the Consumer Financial Protection Agency would wind up hurting American consumers and small businesses.

Here’s our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

BOB MOON: The Chamber of Commerce didn’t return our call by airtime. It’s making its own direct approach to the public, with newspaper ads, and a clip of its chief economist Marty Regalia posted on YouTube.

MARTY REGALIA: The broad brush of the proposed consumer protection agency would virtually allow them to go into even small businesses that have an ‘accounts receivable’ and tell them, ‘Well, you know, really that’s a loan.’

The print ad pictures a butcher, with a warning that even credit extended by a local businessman would be affected and that could take away many financial choices.

Lawrence Glickman wrote a book on the history of consumer activism in America. He says the Obama administration — already on the ropes in another fight — might be seeing opponents using the same playbook.

LAWRENCE GLICKMAN: It will be interesting to see, as this campaign heats up, whether there’s an attempt to turn this into something parallel to what we’re seeing with debates about health reform today, where the opposition is organizations that appear to be grassroots but often kind of have a top-down function.

The University of South Carolina history professor says business groups have fought off the idea of a consumer protection agency for four decades using the same populist theme.

GLICKMAN: Big business and big lobbies lined up on the side of the ordinary American people.

A coalition of consumer groups is campaigning for the new agency, arguing it would actually make financial choices easier for consumers.

But the Chamber of Commerce criticism apparently left supporters of the plan scrambling to come up with a response. A spokesman for one leading consumer group said they were checking to see if some kind of small-business exemption might be possible.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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