Just before Congress escaped town for the Fourth of July recess, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released its draft fiscal year 2018 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill. The FSGG appropriations bill provides annual funding for the U.S. Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and many other important agencies.
This year, however, the bill is packed chock full of ideological policy riders that have nothing to with funding the agencies the bill is supposed to provide for, and everything to do with pleasing the House majority’s corporate masters at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. By tucking these policy riders into must-pass legislation, the House leadership ensures that they have a better chance of becoming law than they would if they were forced to stand on their own (highly dubious) merits.
It may be the Fourth of July holiday week, but the release of the draft FSGG appropriations bill is likely to have been celebrated like Christmas in July in the marble hallways of the Chamber. The draft bill provides the Chamber with a veritable avalanche of presents, probably in response to the avalanche of money the Chamber has bestowed upon GOP candidates for Congress.
The biggest gift of all to the Chamber is the provision of the draft bill that would prevent the SEC from developing a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to investors, including donations to politically active trade associations like the Chamber. The secrecy-obsessed Chamber has long lobbiedagainst such a rule. It has even reached out to member companies to urge them against voluntarily disclosing such information despite the fact that more than 1.2 million investors (retail and institutional) and members of the public have called for it.
If the policy rider prohibiting the development of a political spending disclosure rule qualifies as the proverbial new car in the garage on Christmas morning, then the rider eliminating the financial independence of the CFPB qualifies as the proverbial first class tickets to Paris for the Chamber and its friends on Wall Street. Fighting the existence of a strong, independent CFPB has been a lodestar for the Chamber. Why does the Chamber hate the CFPB so much? Probably because the CFBP is doing its job, working to protect consumers from unscrupulous and sometimes illegal behavior by the big financial institutions whose interests the Chamber represents. Indeed, the CFPB has obtained $11.8 billion in relief for over 29 million consumers. That’s $11.8 billion that wasn’t available for executive bonuses and stock buy-backs.
Unfortunately, bringing the CFPB under the heal of the very politicians who are most dependent upon corporate cash for their reelections isn’t the only policy rider in the draft FSGG appropriations bill that’s a giveaway to the Chamber’s Wall Street patrons. The draft bill contains a separate rider that would repeal the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule prevents banks from engaging in speculative trading with depositors’ money, thereby reducing the chances of another financial crisis. Of course, the Chamber and the Big Banks don’t like the Volcker Rule because it limits Wall Street’s ability to make short term profits that in turn produce big bonuses for executives.
As if all this weren’t enough, the draft FSGG appropriations bill contains another yuge gift for the Chamber and its financial services industry backers. The draft bill contains a rider which would halt a CFPB rule restricting the use of forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of consumer financial contracts. The Chamber has long campaigned against limits on this “rip-off” clause. Blocking this rule would essentially allow corporations to rip off consumers with impunity, as the Wells Fargo fake account scandal litigation has shown.
While it is undoubtedly depressing that our elected officials, who are supposed to represent the people, are instead finding new and ever more creative opportunities to shower gifts on their corporate benefactors, we still have time to make our voices heard. The House FSGG appropriations bill hasn’t yet passed through the full appropriations committee. So call your congressperson and tell him or her that you object to all of these harmful policy riders whose only purpose is to please the Chamber and the giant corporations intent upon buying our democracy.
Because if we don’t stand up and make our voices heard, then they very well may wind up singing some rather special Christmas carols at the Chamber this summer.