U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is sounding an alarm about a new federal government agency that he believes has become a huge problem. He’s also calling on Idahoans, and all other Americans, to demand that Congress fix that problem.
“This agency was created to watch out for Americans, not to watch Americans,” Crapo told an audience gathered at the state Capitol in Boise Monday. Joined by U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Tom Fitton of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit JudicialWatch.org and Boise-based attorney John Zarian, Crapo detailed what he believes are the dangers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent federal agency created in 2011.
“This is an agency with very little political and congressional oversight, even the president has very little oversight of it, and it is controlled almost entirely by one person,” explained Crapo. “I personally hope that every American will elevate their concern, and raise that concern to their elected officials, about the violation of their personal privacy.”
The CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, a piece of legislation that was crafted in response to the 2007-08 financial crisis and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. It is named after former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
“This agency is so secretive that we had to find out about this from reports in the news media,” Crapo noted. “But this much we have found out. The agency is seeking to collect data about our mortgage, credit card and student loan transactions. About 80 percent of our financial transactions are being monitored and I frankly think it will soon expand to 100 percent.”
After thanking Crapo for his efforts to bring attention to the problem, Risch told the audience that “If you like government, you’ll love this agency. If you’re not so red hot about government and you share the skepticism that Sen. Crapo and I share about government, you will hate this agency.”
Both senators noted that the agency is not financed with funding that is appropriated through Congress, but rather, it is financed independently with fees that are charged to consumers when they make banking transactions. They also both noted that the CFPB poses serious threats to personal privacy.
Wasden told the audience that “as an enforcer of state consumer protection laws, the Legislature has entrusted me with a variety of tools that can be used for the protection of Idaho citizens and consumers.” While not specifying which tools he might use to prevent the privacy breaches brought about by the CFPB, he did note that the agency was created to provide a solution to the lack of financial system oversight that led to the dramatic economic downturn last decade. “We should not allow it to become a part of the problem,” he said.
Noting that the privacy breaches of the CFPB “have real-world consequences,” Zarian said that the agency could actually enable instances of identity fraud. “We used to think of identity fraud in terms of the individual. It has now escalated to much more severe and much more large-scale breaches, while an individual can spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to fix their problem,” he said.
Fitton told the audience that, in his view, there are three main problems currently surrounding the CFPB. “There is a lack of oversight of this agency by Congress, there is a lack of interest in the problem by the media class in Washington, D.C., and there is real damage being done to the privacy of the American people.”
Noting that the agency could potentially create records of everything from credit card purchases to Obamacare insurance exchange transactions, Fitton stated that “the solution to this is to receive bipartisan support.”
During a question and answer period, IdahoReporter.com asked Crapo if he believes that both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate will support a “fix” for the agency’s problems.
“That remains to be seen,” Crapo replied, while Risch noted that “this is doubtful. Democrats (in the U.S. Congress) created this thing and told us it would be great. It’s difficult to see how they will now admit that it is a problem.”
Fitton, however, noted that there have been Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives who have shown interest in reforming CFPB. “Yes, I have heard that there are House Democrats who have been supportive,” Crapo replied.
IdahoReporter.com also asked Crapo what he recommended that Idahoans do as a means of protecting themselves, and if he suggested that they refrain from making transactions with credit cards and the state’s forthcoming insurance exchange.
“The most important thing I can recommend right now is to get engaged,” Crapo answered. “This will probably take longer to correct that we’d like to think. But each person is not just one voice. We all have a circle of influence, we have email lists, we have Christmas card lists, we have Facebook, we have Twitter. There are many ways you can influence people and get them to weigh in. America needs to stand up and demand that Congress fix this.”