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Fate of Wall Street watchdog devolves into a squabble over acronyms

Doug Sword, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON--Only in Washington would an argument erupt over a federal agency's acronym.

To progressives, the agency is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the CFPB, which took on Wall Street and won compensation for more than 27 million consumers during its startup years under former Director Richard Cordray.

To conservatives, it is the overly powerful Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, or the BCFP, which is its legal name.

Conservatives say the bureau has frequently overstepped its bounds and Republicans will rein it in, starting with calling it by its legal name, said Norbert Michel, a senior fellow in the study of financial services at Heritage Foundation.

"They're making the point that what's in the statute is what they should be doing," he said, acknowledging it won't be easy. "I can't even say it," he said of BCFP. "I trip over it if I try to say it the other way. I mess it all up. So I just keep saying CFPB."

The attempt infuriates progressives, who are already upset with Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, who took over the bureau when Cordray left last November. Progressives charge that under Mulvaney the bureau has dropped lawsuits against payday lenders, launched rewrites of rules promulgated under Cordray and softened enforcement efforts.

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Conservatives counter that Cordray overreached, fining banks for loans in the auto sector they say wasn't his business and ignoring the statute of limitation to penalize a company for actions almost 20 years before the agency was established. That the director sets his own budget with no congressional oversight and can be fired by the president only for cause are other complaints from the right.

Mulvaney said he'll cancel a $44 million, five-year contract with the marketing company GMMB that worked to make the CFPB a widely known acronym. He decided early this year that the bureau should refer to itself as the BCFP. In June, the entrance to its headquarters became home to yard-high, lower-case letters bcfp. The bureau said the change cost nothing because it didn't involve any new letters.

At a hearing earlier this year, Mulvaney expressed his view on the agency's name.

"I don't know why we call it the CFPB but that is not the name of the organization," he said. "The organization is the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, that is the name of the statute ... the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not exist."


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