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GOP declares all-out war on Elizabeth Warren’s agency

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GOP declares all-out war on Elizabeth Warren’s agency

What is the CFPB?
What is the CFPB?

Congress usually reserves words like “tyranny,” “destructive,” and “dangerous” for condemning intolerant regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But now those same terms are being used to call for the elimination of the federal consumer protection agency that has cracked down on big banks and shady payday lenders.

Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this week that denounced the “tyranny” of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the “zealots” who work at the regulator.

Inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law as a way to safeguard Americans from predatory lending that hurt many before the 2008 financial meltdown.

Warren recently told CNNMoney that the CFPB is doing its job of protecting “working families” from powerful financial institutions, which is precisely why big banks and the GOP “are so eager to strangle the agency.”

Wall Street hates the CFPB and Republicans says the bureau’s independence — it’s not funded by Congress and is run by a single director who doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the president — makes it a “rogue” agency.

The Trump administration seems to agree. While slamming Dodd-Frank as a “disastrous” policy, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week that the law created an “unaccountable and unconstitutional” new agency.

Related: Barney Frank: Killing Dodd-Frank could fuel new crash

Hensarling, the chairman of the House Financial Services committee, went even further. He accused the CFPB of “financial shakedowns” of innocent lenders and called the agency “arguably the most powerful, least accountable agency in U.S. history.”

The GOP congressman cited a federal court ruling in October that called the CFPB “unconstitutionally structured” due to its single-director structure. The CFPB has appealed the ruling.

“The CFPB has eroded freedom, trampled due process and killed jobs. It must go,” Hensarling wrote.

The CFPB declined to comment. Defenders credit the CFPB’s willingness to take on big banks like Wells Fargo, on which it imposed a fine of $100 million in September for creating millions of fake accounts. Just this week, the CFPB accused a legal-funding company of scamming 9/11 heroes out of millions of dollars.

Like other Republicans, Hensarling wants Trump to immediately fire CFPB Director Richard Cordray. Such a move could set up a court fight because Dodd-Frank only allows the president to fire the head of the CFPB “for cause.”

Hensarling has proposed legislation that would repeal the CFPB entirely and echoed that goal in his op-ed, saying the agency “must be functionally terminated.”

Related: Elizabeth Warren: Where is Wells Fargo’s complaint site?

Warren has signaled she will fiercely defend the CFPB. The Democrats could filibuster, which would require 60 votes to overcome.

But Hensarling laid out a plan to get around the threat of a Democratic filibuster with just a simple majority vote.

He suggested the House and Senate use a budget process called “reconciliation” that would require the government save the $6.6 billion the CFPB is expected to receive in funding over the next decade. That way, the lawmakers could direct the Federal Reserve, which funds the CFPB, to cut off CFPB’s money.

Hensarling suggested transferring the CFPB’s consumer protection role to either the Federal Trade Commission or traditional banking regulators.

White House officials have given mixed signals on whether they want to abolish the CFPB or take away some of its power instead by restructuring it. One idea is to turn the CFPB into a commission that is appointed by a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin told Congress during last months’ hearing that he thinks the CFPB is worth keeping. Mnuchin said he believes the CFPB should be funded by Congress, not the Fed.

But Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic official, recently told Bloomberg that the Trump administration plans to “attack all aspects of Dodd-Frank.”

CNNMoney (New York) First published February 9, 2017: 2:39 PM ET