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Next Week in Corporate Congress: Stealth Attack on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

Business for DemocracyAlthough the U.S. House of Representatives is out of session next week, the U.S. Senate is in town, which means the McConnell-Boehner Corporate Congress can make mischief. Here are a few things in the works:

  • We have heard from a reliable source that business interests are pushing a rider designed to delay Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) action on forced arbitration. Business interests pushed a similar measure in the last Congress; it did not advance (perhaps it helped that we mobilized activists to call members of Congress and urge them to oppose it). Last year’s measure, the “Bureau Arbitration Fairness Act,” would have blocked the CFPB’s ability to prohibit or limit the use of forced arbitration in consumer financial contracts under its jurisdiction.

Forced arbitration clauses are contained in the fine print of boilerplate contracts, the kind you get when you buy a cell phone, get a credit card or open a bank account. Increasingly, companies’ contract terms deny consumers their right to sue in court and instead force them to resolve disputes before an arbitration firm picked by the company.

The pending attack to undermine the CFPB could involve a rider on an appropriations bill or an attachment to moving legislation.

This comes as part of a lengthy process the agency is undertaking to address forced arbitration. The CFPB recently completed a three-year study showing that forced arbitration clauses are a scourge and are damaging to consumers. Now, the agency can draft a rule. Corporate lobbyists are aiming to hamper the agency’s efforts.

  • We also have heard that the Senate might start preparing late next week to bring to the floor a bill granting the president Fast Track trade authority. Fast Track would enable the administration to railroad through Congress the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which is almost completed. Fast Track would delegate away Congress’ authority by requiring the TPP (and any other trade pact) to be voted on by both chambers within 90 days, with no amendments allowed and debate limited to 20 hours, whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives are met.

Fast Track would enable the administration to expand the same broken trade model that has led us to a $912 billion trade deficit, the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs and corporate attacks on public interest policies regarding food safety, environmental laws, Internet freedom, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 6, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a business meeting to consider S. 280, a bill ostensibly aimed to improve the efficiency, management and interagency coordination of the federal permitting process through reforms overseen by the Office of Management and Budget. In fact, the measure is a public interest attack. It would speed up approval of permits for potentially dirty energy projects by short-circuiting the process for agencies to study the environmental impacts of a project before approving permits.