Just when it looked like the vitriol in the healthcare melee was going to completely overshadow any fireworks in the debate on regulatory restructuring, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce arrived with guns bursting. The Chamber recently launched a series of ads protesting the Obama administration’s proposed consumer financial products agency, claiming it would bear down on Your Local Baker or Butcher and prevent him from extending credit to customers. National Economic Council Director Larry Summers wasn’t far off the mark when he compared the Chamber’s campaign to the claim popular now among opponents of healthcare reform that the Obama administration is planning to set up “death panels.”
The ads appear as full pages in some tabloid-sized publications. “It’s a tough economy,” says text a line of text floating over the head of a wide-eyed, apron-clad woman standing behind a case full of cakes. “The CFPA will make it tougher.”
It’s one thing to argue against the merits of lenders’ having to obtain regulatory approval for every new product offered. Criticism, for instance, of the CFPA legislation’s “plain vanilla” provision, which would limit the complexity of credit products that most consumers can access from banks and other lenders, is widespread. But administration officials have stressed repeatedly that the CFPA’s reach, while broad, would not extend in any meaningful way to local vendors like corner stores and bakeries.
“The supervision and examination needs to be done on a risk-based basis,” Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr told American Banker during an interview on the CFPA proposal last month. Just because the CFPA has broad authority “doesn’t mean that the agency needs to supervise and examine every money service business,” Barr added. “It doesn’t need to supervise every outlet of a Western Union.”
If the CFPA uses a risk-based method to decide which lenders to examine and which to leave alone, it’s pretty safe to say that the doe-eyed baker is in no danger. And that isn’t news; administration officials have been hammering the point home for weeks. The financial industry won’t get any points for harping on it. Instead, they should stick to more legitimate complaints—or risk aligning themselves with the likes of Sarah Palin, who is no banking expert.