Monday, January 04, 2016

Congressional Deja Vu & The Right's Attack On Consumer Rights

House Speaker Paul Ryan & Majority leader Kevin McCarthy
Like millions of other Americans around the nation, our Republican-majority Congress headed back to work this morning after the long holiday break.

A huge drop in the Chinese markets this morning prompted a sluggish start to the new year for Wall Street.

Armed militia members are still occupying a federal building in rural Oregon.

Mideast tensions have been ratcheted up over the escalating conflict between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran.

Given all those news events on this first Monday of 2016, you'd think GOP lawmakers in the House would have plenty of new business to tend to on behalf of the American people right?

Well... not so much.

Chalk it up to kooky legislative nostalgia for the record lack of productivity of the Boehner years, a disturbing obsession passion for political gridlock, or just plain old conservative stubbornness, Republican legislators are mining all-too familiar territory to kick off 2016.

As Reena Flores reported for over the weekend:

"Another year, another effort to repeal Obamacare. House Republicans are starting off 2016 with a renewed legislative push to roll back the president's landmark healthcare legislation, with proposals to defund Planned Parenthood tacked onto the bill," 

MO (R) Vicky Hartzler announced latest GOP attack on healthcare on Saturday 
This newest legislative salvo to healthcare access would be the latest of over fifty different attempts by Republicans to gut major provisions of the Affordable Care Act - they tried it recently back on October 23rd.

It might actually be funny if these lawmakers weren't being paid on the taxpayer dime to represent the interests of the American people and they weren't actively trying to cut off healthcare access for millions of people who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

That's just one part of the GOP agenda.

The news over the holidays that former Republican Ohio Congressman Mike Oxley passed away as a result of complications related to lung cancer strikes me as symbolic of the massive shift in GOP priorities that's taken place since the 1980's.

Oxley was best known for co-authoring the Sarbanes-Oxley Act with  Maryland Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes in 2002 in the kind of spirit of bipartisan cooperation that's rarely seen in Washington these days.

In the wake of a rash of huge corporate scandals at behemoths like ENRON and WorldCom that cost investors, employees and taxpayers billions, Oxley, a conservative pro-business Republican who represented Ohio's 4th District, fought for more strict corporate accountability and more stringent oversight of the public accounting firms that had grown too close to the corporations they were paid to monitor.  

Sen Paul Sarbanes and Rep Mike Oxley
Sarbanes-Oxley was one of the legislative highlights of the 107th Congress and it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 334-90 in the House and 97-0 on the Senate, before being signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.

Oxley (pictured left) symbolized a time when even pro-business Republicans recognized the importance of protecting the foundations of the American financial system from fraud, unnecessary risk and abuse.

But that was then and this is now and today's Republican party seems to have made dismantling protections that guard average Americans from fraud and abuse a priority.

For example, it was just before Christmas that I blogged about a new Republican-backed bill called H.R. 1787 that would make it easier for companies that issue auto financing loans to fraudulently charge black and Hispanic consumers higher interests rates for auto loans by undermining the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's oversight of auto loan companies.

Republicans fought tooth and nail to keep Massachusetts Senator and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren from heading up the CFPB and they've done everything to undermine the one federal agency tasked with monitoring the rights of average consumers so banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions can't take advantage of them.

Consumer protection foe Newt Gingrich
In an article for back on December 16th, Sylvan Lane reported that Republicans even had the gall to bring former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (pictured left) up in front of a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing focused on data collection by the CFPB.

Using fear over data collection breeches as a mask, Republicans tossed Newt softball pitches so he could prognosticate about the evils of the CFPB - an agency set up to protect average consumers from fraud.

Having Gingrich testify about the CFPB in front of Congress is like having Dick Cheney testify on environmental conservation, or Bill Cosby testify about the abuse of date rape drugs.

Just six days after Gingrich's anti- CFPB lecture testimony on Capitol Hill, Jessica Greenberg and Michael Corkery published a truly disturbing piece in the Dealbook section of The New York Times
about massive debt-buying companies like Midland Funding using the courts to sue consumers over old debt in order to garnish their wages (sometimes without their knowing) over old debts.

Then those same debt-buying entities then use the same courts to prevent consumers seeking redress from suing the debt  collection entities.

The Times account of retired Baltimore electrician Clifford Cain, Jr. discovering that his Social Security and pension benefits were being garnished without his knowledge is a heat-breaking and disturbing look into the ways lawmakers and the financial entities that spend millions lobbying them have allowed the fraudulent targeting of American consumers on a mass scale to thrive as a legitimate industry.

You won't hear the leading Republican presidential candidates doing a lot of talking about consumer fraud - they're too busy whipping up hysteria over immigrants, minorities, stem cell research, same-sex marriage, voting rights and abortion to be bothered to address a problem that has a far more insidious and lasting impact on the lives of average Americans.

It's toxic, dangerous to the fabric of American society and another example of what I argue is Republican Psychosis in the modern age.  

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