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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new kid on the block

John Dimsdale Jul 29, 2010

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new kid on the block

John Dimsdale Jul 29, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: It was a hot time at the Treasury Department this afternoon. Seven top banking regulators just sittin’ around talking.

Tim Geithner hosted. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and Sheila Bair, the head of the FDIC, were there as well.

They were kicking around new ideas about the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the one that was created by the financial reform law. The bureau’s going to have broad powers to write and enforce rules on everything from credit card fees to home loans. It’ll have hundreds of employees and a budget somewhere new a half a billion dollars. And as a new bureaucracy is born a traditional Washington rite of passage is taking place: Turf battles.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.

John Dimsdale: The existing regulatory agencies were told today they’re gonna have to give up some of their staff and budgets. Bureaucracies hate to relinquish either jurisdiction or money. And NYU professor Paul Light says that resentment could easily be a problem for the new consumer protection bureau.

Paul Light: Because you’ve got old loyalties that you’re trying to merge under a new mission. You’ve got to create a hierarchy; you’ve got to blend a work force. There are significant challenges to it.

The financial services industry lobbied hard against the bureau. The law does give a regulatory oversight council a veto over consumer bureau rulings, but that’s not enough according to Tom Quaadman at the Chamber of Commerce.

Tom Quaadman: There has to be a two-thirds vote of the council if they find a rule of the agency will endanger the economy of the United States. That’s an awfully high bar.

The restructuring has begun even before the president nominates a director who, George Mason University Professor Todd Zywicke says will have unprecedented clout.

Todd Zywicke: With virtually unlimited power that gives this person the power to regulate virtually every credit transaction in America.

With that kind of sniping, taking charge of the bureau will be a huge administrative challenge. The leading candidate for the job is the woman who proposed it — Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren. She’s been criticized as having an academic focus, lacking administrative experience. But you won’t hear that from NYU Professor Light.

Light: From my standpoint from within academe now, we’re just as bureaucratic as any organization, so I’m not holding that against her.

The clock is ticking. Congress required that the new agency be up and running within a year.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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