Cruz tries to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Good luck finding a town hall meeting to complain to him about it.

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo Bank $100 million in September after it turned out that bank employees had opened more than 2 million bogus accounts without customers’ knowledge or consent.

The bureau joined the New York attorney general in suing RD Legal “for allegedly scamming 9/11 heroes out of money intended to cover medical costs, lost income, and other critical needs.” It ordered Mastercard and UniRush to pay an estimated $10 million in restitution to tens of thousands of customers who were unable to access their own money due to “preventable technological breakdowns.”

Now, Sen. Ted Cruz wants to get rid of it.

Cruz and Rep. John Ratcliffe, both of Texas, have introduced bills S.370 and H.R. 1031 to eliminate the bureau, which enforces laws protecting consumers from predatory financial practices.

The bureau, set up as part of the Dodd-Frank consumer protection act, has returned nearly $12 billion to people who were harmed by companies.

It also receives complaints from the public, enforces anti-discrimination laws in consumer finance, researches people’s experiences with financial products, and monitors financial markets for risks to consumers.

Eighty percent of voters support the bureau. Unlike Wells Fargo, though, I’m guessing none of them has a spare $83,485 to donate to Cruz.

Profiles in cowardice

Cruz, who has proposed a constitutional amendment to set congressional term limits, does his level best every day to prove them necessary. He is among the Republican lawmakers who refused to meet with their own constituents during this week’s recess.

Thousands of people have gathered at town hall meetings across the country, in red and blue states alike, to express their frustration and fury at everything from President Donald Trump’s travel ban and his ties to Russia to the potential repeal of Obamacare.

Some Republican lawmakers have claimed, based on zero evidence, that angry constituents are actually “paid protesters.” The most craven, though, are refusing to hold town hall meetings at all.

In response, constituents brought the funny. They placed missing-person ads for their representatives in newspapers, on billboards and on milk cartons. They organized their own town halls, with empty chairs standing in for the representatives-in-hiding.

Courtesy of #whereispaulcook

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was wonderfully represented by an empty suit.

Chaffetz tackles Stingrays

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, did manage to clear the unbelievably low bar of holding a town hall (he did so while dismissing his constituents as paid outsiders, but we’ll take what we can get). He also introduced two related bills last week restricting law enforcement’s use of cell phone tracking technology.

The Cell Location Privacy Act of 2017 would prohibit the use of cell-site simulators without a warrant. It also would prohibit using evidence in court that was illegally gathered by simulators, commonly called Stingrays after a popular brand.

The bill, co-sponsored by two Democrats, provides an exception for surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Service Act. Simulators also could be used immediately in an emergency, but a warrant must be obtained no more than 48 hours later.

Simulators masquerade as cell-phone towers, tricking nearby phones into connecting to them so they can scoop up locations and other data. They are capable of capturing numbers from incoming and outgoing calls, and even recording the content of calls and texts. They are used by agencies ranging from local police to the FBI and the IRS.

They are controversial because they gather data in a dragnet fashion, and agencies have used them secretly and without a warrant.

Chaffetz also reintroduced a broader bill, the GPS Act, to govern the use of geolocation and tracking technology. He teamed up with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to write the law, which they’ve been trying to pass since 2011.

More bipartisanship

Another bipartisan bill that died in committee last year has been re-introduced in the current session.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, would apply consumer protections to private debt collectors hired by the federal government.

H.R. 864 would ensure that overpayment, fines, penalties and fees owed to the federal government fall under the protections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It aims to prevent private debt collectors from charging “exorbitant and unfair” fees when collecting on federal debt, or from taking aggressive action unnecessarily quickly.

Under the bill, known as the Stop Debt Collection Abuse Act of 2017, federal agencies must wait 90 days after a person defaults on a loan before selling or transferring the debt to a collector. Agencies would have to notify the debtor at least three times beforehand.

The legislation also limits collectors’ charges from exceeding 10 percent of the amount collected. It calls for a General Accountability Office report on the use of debt collectors by state and federal agencies.

Two Democrats, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, co-sponsored the legislation.

Block the vote

Finally, in this week’s installment of the Outrage Files, the Montana Republican Party chairman wants to spend more money so fewer people will vote in an upcoming congressional election. Wait, what? Yup.

A special election will be needed to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana if he is confirmed as interior secretary by the Senate.

This unanticipated off-year election, on top of the unexpectedly expensive presidential contest in November, would be a heavy burden on cash-strapped Montana counties. So they’ve asked to use mail-in ballots rather than traditional polling sites, saving about $500,000. A Republican introduced the measure in the state Senate.

The state Republican Party leader, however, weighed in against this sensible solution with an eyebrow-raising assessment.

“Vote-by-mail is designed to increase participation rates of lower propensity voters,” Chairman Jeff Essmann wrote in an “emergency chairman’s report.” “Democrats in Montana perform better than Republican candidates among lower propensity voters and Republican candidates do better among higher propensity voters.”

“This bill could be the death of our effort to make Montana a reliably Republican state.”

From your lips to “lower propensity” voters’ ears, Jeff.

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