Brown defends CFPB independence, calls for focus on small-town issues

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As he weighs a possible presidential bid, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, touched on a likely campaign theme Tuesday, saying both political parties have done a poor job dealing with small-town issues.

"I would argue the Republicans give lip service to the smaller towns and the Democrats ignore the small towns. It’s troubling," Brown said during an appearance at Kroll Bond Rating Agency’s inaugural Bank Symposium Conference in Washington.

The lead Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee noted the demographic shifts of the past two elections, in which Democrats do better with voters in big cities while the GOP wins rural voters.

“The big metro areas are getting more and more Democratic and the smaller towns are getting more and more Republican,” he said. “We’re not talking to each other.”

Brown reiterated during the conference that he is considering a presidential run.

“My wife and I have begun to talk about this,” he said. “It’s pretty clear it’s going to be a competitive race.”

If he runs, that could spell trouble for the biggest banks, which Brown has fiercely criticized in his role on the banking panel.

Brown only touched briefly on that issue on Tuesday, saying the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs independence to avoid being compromised by lobbyists for large banks.

“Any agency like that needs some arms-length from Congress,” Brown said. “Congress doesn’t always act responsibly on public issues — which I know will shock many people.”

Brown said the agency has done a generally good job in its seven-year history, but he was quick to add its effectiveness has been compromised by acting Director Mick Mulvaney.

“I see a different CFPB under Mick Mulvaney,” Brown said. “He is saying things and doing things to weaken its role.”

Brown's comments were a sharp contrast to those of Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., who spoke just before Brown and sharply criticized the agency.

“I would love regulatory streamlining, [but] we don’t do that in Washington,” Hill said. “We create new entities and the worst one we’ve created is the CFPB. It’s not subject to appropriation. It’s not subject to full oversight power of the Congress. The director can’t be terminated, except for malfeasance.”

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