I have often said it is the natural tendency of those who achieve power in government to never give it up, and to keep expanding it absent a conscientious effort to say enough is enough.
Today we have a gigantic, bloated government that is far larger than our Founding Fathers would ever have permitted. And it keeps growing, in both spending and bureaucracy. It is one of the primary reasons why we find ourselves with a national debt surpassing $18 trillion.
One of the latest massive expansions came early in the Obama years when a Democratic Congress passed the Dodd-Frank banking law and gave birth to an entire new agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB is the ultimate example of regulatory overreach, a nanny state mechanism asserting its control over everyday Americans that they did not want, did not ask for and do not need.
Don’t get me wrong. Protecting consumers is important. But that protection begins with consumers exercising their own self-reliance, carefully making good choices and understanding the consequences. And when those consumers run into unscrupulous vendors, there are already plenty of strong remedies available to them from the courts and the Better Business Bureau, to the Federal Trade Commission, the FDIC and numerous state and local consumer protection agencies, including state attorneys general.
Despite those many protections, Democrats in Congress still insisted on creating a new government agency with many overlapping responsibilities to those regulators already in existence. During that creation process and the five years since, the folly of bureaucracy has been on full display. The CFPB spent royally on itself, even building a headquarters more expensive per square foot than a casino resort. And rather than help other Americans, the agency has inflicted problems on its own employees, with rampant reports of discrimination, hostile workplace and low morale.
But the ultimate reason why I oppose the creation of new bureaucratic machines is that once started they know no limits in usurping Americans’ liberty. The CFPB has gone looking for problems to solve that don’t exist or that already have good solutions on the table. And in that process, bureaucrats begin dictating lifestyle choices. CFPB has done little to rein in the Wall Street banks which, along with complicit federal regulators, caused the very financial crisis and massive consumer abuses it was designed to combat. Rather, the bureau is devastating Main Street with regulatory costs.
While Wall Street can easily afford massive fines, and increased compliance costs, community bankers and others who make up the backbone of Main Street America can not. This regulatory burden is suffocating one of the life-line financing mechanisms for small business. In fact, the cost of compliance with one-size-fits-all regulations from CFPB and other regulators is now the number one threat to community banks.
Likewise, the CFPB’s current plan to regulate payday lenders out of business, is actually a boon to the growing illegal internet lenders who increasingly operate from offshore. Again, excessive one-size-fits-all regulation by CFPB threatens the viability of small-town lenders who follow the rules, and creates a monopoly for Wall Street banks who can absorb those costs, and illegal lenders ramping up to serve the flood of desperate working Americans.
For the well-paid and elitist bureaucrats in Washington, there is no need for check cashing stores that provide short term loans between paychecks. That’s because they are already too well paid for such services. But for hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes fall short in-between, payday loans are an occasional but essential necessity to get by.
Now I understand that there have been some unscrupulous vendors uncovered by the media over the years. And I oppose any business that takes advantage of hard-working Americans. But many states have already reined in these bad actors. Take for instance Florida, which a decade ago created a bipartisan payday lenders reform that today is heralded as a model of success.
The CFPB doesn’t want to let the states do their jobs, even when they are doing good work, like in Florida. It wants to impose a one-size-fits-all mandate that gives its bureaucrats ALL the control. In essence, the agency is saying with its newest regulatory onslaught that it will trust a middle class American to take out a credit card with a monthly interest fee between 12 and 18 percent but must regulate the working poor and possibly deny them the right to take out a short-term loan secured by their next paycheck with an interest rate around 15 percent. Seems rather arbitrary and nanny state like, right?
Now, I’m not the only one concerned. Recently some of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Alcee Hastings and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, added their voices of objection to CFPB’s overreach. These are no pro-business hacks. These are true blue Democrats, including Mrs. Wasserman Schultz who is the current chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Their concerns aren’t partisan. They are consumer-oriented. They understood that a one-size-fits-all mandate from CFPB will hurt consumer choice and is unnecessary in states like Florida that already have done a good job solving concerns about payday lenders. And so they bravely stood up to their own president and his regulatory kingdom to say enough is enough.
The CFPB is an agency searching for a reason to exist, so it keeps regulating and expanding its powers to justify itself. In so doing, it is simply usurping freedom and wasting valuable tax dollars like so much of the rest of the federal government. If I am elected president, it’s exactly the sort of agency I plan to rein in.
• Dr. Ben Carson is a Republican candidate for president in 2016. He is the former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.