Senator stands firm on consumer protection bureau

Proposed agency is an obstacle in gaining enough Republican votes to pass a bill overhauling the financial regulatory system.

Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., Friday vigorously defended a proposed Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection contained in his measure to revamp the nation's financial regulatory system, the biggest sticking point in picking up additional Republican votes to clear passage.

Dodd gave a full-throated defense of the bureau against attacks by its leading opponent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has charged the provision would hurt firms outside the financial industry such as orthodontists and bakery owners.

"It saddens me that an organization like that would put out a piece of paper with as much false information about it," Dodd said in a floor speech.

Dodd read from the bill's language that states the bureau "may not exercise any rulemaking, supervisory, enforcement or other authority under this title with respect to a merchant, retailer or seller of nonfinancial goods or services that is not engaged significantly in offering or providing consumer financial products or services."

Added Dodd: "I don't know what part of the sentence they don't understand."

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on the floor asked Dodd to consider making changes to the bureau that could result in an "overwhelming vote."

Republicans are pushing for changes that would prohibit state consumer laws from exceeding those of federal standards and ban state attorneys general from being able to file civil suits for enforcement actions. Both ideas are opposed by consumer activists.

"I realize that a bill can pass out of this body on a 62-vote margin," Corker said. "I would hope what we would do is figure out a way to have an 85-vote bill and come together on this one issue."

In response, Dodd defended his work across the aisle during his congressional career and said he is reaching out to lawmakers.

"I am prepared to listen to ideas on how we make this work better. But I don't want someone to exaggerate what this means and suggest the whole bill should fall because we are trying to do a little more here in this area of protecting people who have very little protections out there."

The chamber will not vote on amendments until Tuesday, when it considers a measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would further clarify that no taxpayer funds would be used to liquidate a "too-big-to-fail" firm that has been taken over by regulators.

Senate leaders have tightly controlled the debate so far, with no other senators being able to call up their amendments. The chamber could move next week to take up more contentious amendments, such as one by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would require an extensive Government Accountability Office audit of the Federal Reserve, and another, by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that would impose a new bonus excise tax.