Days after Donald Trump’s election, Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling began lobbying the president-elect to roll back two Obama-era financial regulations: one that barred retirement advisers from putting their own financial interests above those of their clients, and another limiting how much interest payday lenders could charge the working poor.
Hensarling’s bold advocacy for the financial industry’s right to gamble with retirees’ money — and milk outsize profits from the desperation of low-income workers — wasn’t terribly surprising. Seven of the top ten donors to the congressman’s 2016 campaign were financial firms.
What’s a tad more surprising is that Hensarling now has the audacity to paint himself as a stalwart foe of Wall Street’s most powerful entities — and the politicians that are paid to do their bidding.
In addition to abolishing a wide variety of regulations designed to avert another financial crisis, Hensarling’s CHOICE act would also strip the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of the power to regulate both payday lenders and arbitration clauses that financial institutions use to keep consumers from being able to hold them legally liable for malfeasance in court. The CHOICE act is expected to be voted out of committee next week.
It’s true that the CEOs of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, having already made investments to comply with Dodd-Frank, oppose the law’s wholesale repeal. But both of those firms have also fought to abolish some of the most significant parts of Dodd-Frank, including the Volcker Rule, which limits the freedom of banks to make risky speculative investments with their customers’ (federally insured) deposits. And in that fight, Hensarling is one of J.P. Morgan’s henchmen.
So, there are two clear takeaways from Hensarling’s statement:
1. Jeb Hensarling is among the most mendacious enemies of working people in a Congress that’s full of them.
2. By taking $400,000 for one speech to a Wall Street firm, Barack Obama made it a bit easier for Hensarling to obscure the dividing lines in the debate over financial reform.
From that point of view, Obama’s speech was probably not the most helpful thing he could be doing for the progressive movement at this dark hour.