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This week: The Postal Service, the CFPB (non) confirmation

David Gura Dec 9, 2011

This week: The Postal Service, the CFPB (non) confirmation

David Gura Dec 9, 2011

Tess Vigeland: Like many holiday revelers across the country, I’m rushing around this weekend getting ready for a party. Only this one’s at my house; 60-70 people who are going to expect food and wine and all kinds of good cheer. And they will get it — no matter the price! I would have invited our first guest Marketplace’s David Gura, ‘Cause he’s a party kind of guy. But he’s all the way out in Washington, D.C. So a conversation about the week’s financial news will have to suffice.

Hi David!

David Gura: Hey Tess.

Vigeland: I have to say I don’t think I’ve actually spoke with you since the big event in your life. Congratulations on your recent marriage!

Gura: Thank you very much. It’s been a couple months now.

Vigeland: Yeah. How’s it going?

Gura: Very well, thank you.

Vigeland: Do you guys talk about money? All the time?

Gura: We try not to.

Vigeland: No! Oh no! You have to talk about it every night.

Gura: Yeah.

Vigeland: You work for Marketplace!

Gura: That’s true. It’s enough.

Vigeland: OK. So you know David, I was listening to Marketplace this week and I heard this:

David Gura: I wonder who’s writing letters these days, who’s shopping with catalogs, paying the rent with checks.

Vigeland: Um, my mom. David, not everybody’s online.

Gura: That’s true.

Vigeland: Actually, my mom is online. She was on Facebook before I was.

Gura: You’re kidding.

Vigeland: But there are plenty of people who do still do these things, through a post office.

Gura: That’s right. That was from a story I did earlier this week on the post office, and they’ve been sort of hemorrhaging money. They’ve been losing a lot of money; I think last year they lost about $5 billion. They’re really trying to close that gap and the postmaster general’s been floating a number ideas of how to do that, and one has been to close down a bunch of post offices and another has been to reduce how many days a week they deliver the mail. And the latest is to close down about 215 mail processing centers across the country, about half of the centers that process the mail that we send.

Vigeland: So what’s the upshot here? Why do we worry about this? I mean if letters are a couple days late, what’s the difference?

Gura: This was the craziest statistic I came across, which is the Postal Services says that when you mail a letter first-class mail, on average, I think like 40 percent of the time, that letter will get there the next day.

Vigeland: The next day?!

Gura: I know! One and three days to get a letter through the mail. And what they’re proposing — and they said this will save $3 billion, many billions of dollars — is to open that window a bit. To say that if you mail a letter, it’ll take between two and seven days.

Vigeland: Oh my goodness, that’s the Pony Express!

Gura: I know. We’re regressing.

Vigeland: A couple of news items also on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week. Let’s talk first about the nomination of Richard Cordray who was the second in line to the throne here after Elizabeth Warren abdicated to go run for Senate in Massachusetts. But it doesn’t look like this is gonna happen any time soon.

Gura: Right. There was a vote in the Senate on whether or not to vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray. And they needed 60 votes for that to happen; they didn’t get them.

Vigeland: So wait a minute. I’m gonna back you up. You said there wasn’t even a vote?

Gura: That’s right.

Vigeland: They didn’t even vote on it.

Gura: So this was a vote on whether or not to have a vote on the nomination for Richard Cordray to be head of this bureau.

Vigeland: All right, so does this basically tell us that the CFPB is, well, it’s obviously leader-less right now. Is it going to be for some time, say until the election?

Gura: That’s up in the air, but it does have some power. Right now, it’s able to oversee the big banks. But in the future when it does get a director, it’s gonna be able to oversee mortgage brokers, payday lenders, student loan lenders. So a much wider group of companies.

Vigeland: Is there anything they are able to do then without a director?

Gura: So earlier this week, they rolled out a prototype credit card agreement. So they’re trying to take what are essentially really complicated forms, really complicated agreements and boil them down and strip them of all the legalese, and make them so that you and I can understand them.

Vigeland: Well, you know, I suppose part of the argument is look, if you’re going to get a credit card, you’ve gotta be a responsible consumer and maybe it should be up to you to read those 12 pages if you’re gonna go get this credit card. I mean, do people really need things to be this simple?

Gura: I was thinking back on when I signed up for my first card. I think it must have been in college and I remember all the banks had tables sort of set-up in front of the student union. I think they were enticing us with candy.

Vigeland: T-shirts!

Gura: T-shirts and candy. And I probably grabbed the T-shirt and the candy, signed on the dotted line. But I think a lot of people do that and I think a lot of people sort of sign onto these things, sign onto these agreements without really knowing what they’re getting into. We can think about this even more broadly. Look at what’s happening in Europe, you have governments there that borrowed billions.

Vigeland: They put it on the world credit card.

Gura: Absolutely. And now the people in those countries are having to pay. We saw austerity measures announced in Italy, we saw a second round of austerity measures announced in Ireland this week. And so I think the lesson in all of this is is that it’s good to know what you’re getting into, whether or not you’re borrowing billions as a country or you’re just taking out a credit card, you or me.

Vigeland: All right. Well in fact we’re going to have a little bit more on that Irish second austerity round in just a moment. David Gura joining us from our Washington bureau. Thanks so much, appreciate it.

Gura: Thank you Tess.

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