by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but Wall Street owns the U.S. economy and until that’s dealt with, the American public will continue to be preyed upon voraciously and lawlessly by some of the most unethical parasites the world has ever seen. Obama was a historical disaster on this issue, coddling and protecting banker oligarchs every step of the way. Trump’s no different.
The latest evidence that things are getting even worse came last evening when the U.S. Senate voted to deliver Wall Street another gift on a silver platter.
Rather than summarize what happened, let’s turn to two of the best resources on such topics, journalist David Dayen and finance focused website Wall Street on Parade.
First, here are a few excerpts from David’s latest article published at The Intercept, After Day of Feuding, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker Join Trump to Upend a Major Consumer Protection:
With national attention focused Tuesday morning on a mushrooming feud between President Trump and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., followed by a feud in the afternoon between Trump and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the Senate gift-wrapped the biggest present Congress has so far bestowed upon Wall Street in the Trump era.
With a razor-thin margin, the Senate passed a resolution to nullify a signature regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which banned forced arbitration provisions. Such clauses, tucked into the fine print of contracts that nobody reads, deny consumers the ability to contest claims through a class-action lawsuit, and can allow banks and other financial institutions to rip off their customers with virtual impunity.
Both Sens. Corker and Flake, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined in the effort to give Trump a major win, even if it will hurt many of his own voters. Consumer advocates had hoped that moderate Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine would block the GOP effort. They did not.
The vote was split 50-50, which required Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie.
How’s all that MAGA working out for you?
To secure his victory, Trump enlisted an ex-Wells Fargo attorney, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika, and a former bank CEO, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to do the dirty work. The Senate vote came a day after Treasury entered the fray with its guns blazing.
Reminder, Mnuchin was a Goldman Sachs partner.
The House passed its version of the resolution within just a couple weeks of CFPB finalizing the rule in July. But continuing reports of petty consumer fraud at Wells Fargo, and a data breach of over 140 million customer accounts at the credit reporting bureau Equifax, made it difficult for the Senate to proceed. Both Wells Fargo and Equifax have attempted to use arbitration clauses in their financial contracts to force victims out of class-action litigation.
The scandals put a human face on the practice of companies forcing customer disputes through a secret, non-judicial process.
And consumers typically don’t fare well in arbitration. An Economic Policy Institute report showed that consumers only win 9 percent of arbitration cases, and banks almost always win when they issue counter-claims, with the consumer paying $7,725 on average.
This is why corporations like the arbitration process – it prevents those wronged from pursuing their legal rights and in practice alters the law by making small claims virtually unenforceable. In other words, arbitration clauses are a license to steal. And it contributes to a fundamental breakdown of the justice system, where complaints can only be heard in a privatized setting.
So in July, in a rare instance of government using an outright ban instead of requiring disclosure or some other half-measure, CFPB finished a rule preventing arbitration agreements in financial contracts from stopping consumers who band together with other victims in a class-action lawsuit. But Republicans managed to twist the issue into one where corporations needed to be protected from greedy trial lawyers.
First, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency head Keith Noreika, himself a former defense lawyer for Wells Fargo who tried to push class-action suits into arbitration, argued the rule posed “safety and soundness” concerns for banks and would raise the cost of credit. Then this week, the Treasury Department, relying heavily on a discredited claim that plaintiff attorneys routinely shake down corporations with meritless claims, published a 17-page report attacking the CFPB rule.
Yes, because clearly the big problem in American society is corporations being shaken down. Have you looked at corporate profit margins lately?
The attacks from Trump’s executive agencies on a fellow regulator gave Senators the cover they needed to side with Wells Fargo and Equifax over their customers. The Senate first tried to sneak in a vote on the resolution when the political world was distracted by the health care debate, but that didn’t work. It took shifting the framing of the rule from being about victims to being about trial lawyers for Senate Republicans to succeed.
Supporters of the CFPB rule like Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman called the vote a choice “between corporate donors and constituents.” Amanda Werner, who gained notoriety for dressing as the Monopoly Man during Senate hearings on Wells Fargo and Equifax, notes that lawmakers opposing the arbitration rule received over $100 million in campaign contributions from the financial industry during their careers. “These contributions help explain why lawmakers are willing to aid and abet big banks in ripping off their own constituents despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the rule,” Werner said in a statement to The Intercept.
The Chamber of Commerce and other financial lobbyists had joined together to sue CFPB over the rule, but with the Senate’s successful vote, that will no longer be necessary. President Trump is expected to sign the resolution. Not only would that nullify the arbitration rule, but CFPB would be unable to work on any “substantially similar” regulation without express consent from Congress.
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