Economic Outlook: Legal treason

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  July 19, 2012 at 10:06 AM
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For two years there has been a new regulatory sheriff in town and this week, peacock-proud, one presumes, it announced its first regulatory victory.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it reached a $210 million settlement with Capital One, which it charged with misleading marketing.

Capital One, in turn, said the marketing abuses were made by vendors overselling its product, but that the company understood it was ultimately responsible for those mistakes.

The CFPB -- and it will take a while before that rolls smoothly off one's tongue -- said $140 million of the settlement would be returned to customers, as it notched the first scratch in its belt.

As it happens, the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill will turn 2 years old July 21, an anniversary that gave rise to a survey sponsored by AARP, the Center for Responsible Lending, Americans for Financial Reform and the National Council of La Raza.

That survey of 803 likely voters conducted July 5-10 by Lake Research Partners found 73 percent of respondents indicated they approved of the overhaul bill.

Democrats gave it the largest approval margin, but even Republicans gave the bill a 20-point margin of approval. Independents gave it a 50 point approval margin; Democrats, 83 points.

This is a bill that behaves like one of those compressed foam dinosaurs purchased for a quarter in a vending machine that expands exponentially when it is dropped into water.

New York consulting firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP says the Dodd-Frank Act was large enough when Congress passed the bill -- 848 pages. But the numerous rules mandated by the bill has expanded the effective text to 8,843 pages of regulations.

By its birthday Saturday, 55 percent of the bill's rule-making deadlines will have come and gone, the firm said. Of these 221 deadlines, 136 or 61.5 percent have been missed. Eighty-five rules or 38.5 percent have been reached with the new rules slapped into place.

Of course, new rules can be watered down considerably or passed with the understanding they will be loosely enforced. Lobbyists are also hard at work on behalf of banks, trying to dilute the rules as best they can. Like it or not, lobbyists were assigned 848 pages of homework. Among layoff announced by financial firms in recent years, clearly, lobbyists were rarely mentioned.

Then, after all is said and done, there's the House Appropriations Committee, made up of 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats that voted 27-19 to budget $180 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, effectively sabotaging that agency's ability to meet the mandates spelled out in the overhaul act.

"Why would we, when the fire is burning, want to recall the fireman?" asked Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., in June, when the committee voted on the funding.

In effect, this kind of behavior is a kind of treason, pure and simple. Like it or not, there is a huge overhaul bill in place. For a small group of congressmen to intentionally sabotage or hijack a bill that was given its fair shake in open debate two years ago should be considered just as illegal as if those voting against the funding were breaking every law the bill provides -- because, essentially, they are.

The bill has warts, no question. But that still should not give 27 congressmen the right to steal the bill.

In international markets Thursday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan added 0.79 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 0.73 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 1.66 percent while the Sensex in India rose 0.55 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia climbed 2.02 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain was flat while the DAX 30 in Germany added 1.01 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.87 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.94 percent.

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