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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): A Legal Analysis

David H. Carpenter
Legislative Attorney

In the wake of the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression, Congress passed and the President signed into law sweeping reforms of the financial services regulatory system through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act), P.L. 111- 203.

Title X of the Dodd-Frank Act is entitled the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFP Act). The CFP Act establishes the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB or Bureau) within the Federal Reserve System (FRS) with rulemaking, enforcement, and supervisory powers over many consumer financial products and services, as well as the entities that sell them. The CFP Act significantly enhances federal consumer protection regulatory authority over nondepository financial institutions, potentially subjecting them to comparable supervisory, examination, and enforcement standards that have been applicable to depository institutions in the past. The act also transfers to the Bureau much of the consumer compliance authority over larger depositories that previously had been held by banking regulators. Additionally, the Bureau acquired the authority to write rules to implement most federal consumer financial protection laws that previously was held by a number of other federal agencies.

Although the powers that the CFPB has at its disposal are largely the same or analogous to those that other federal regulators have held for decades, there is a great deal of uncertainty in how the new agency will exercise these broad and flexible authorities, especially in light of its almost exclusive focus on consumer protection and the novel advancement of federal oversight to nondepository financial institutions.

The CFP Act has proven to be one of the more controversial portions of the Dodd-Frank Act. The 113
th Congress likely will be actively involved in conducting oversight of the implementation of the CFP Act. The 113th Congress also may consider bills that would either eliminate the CFPB altogether or significantly alter the structure of the Bureau by, for example, making the CFPB’s primary funding subject to the traditional appropriations process, converting the CFPB’s leadership structure from a sole directorship to a commission, or allowing the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to overturn CFPB-issued regulations with a simple majority vote, as opposed to the current supermajority vote.

This report provides an overview of the regulatory structure of consumer finance under existing federal law before the Dodd-Frank Act went into effect and examines arguments for modifying the regime in order to more effectively regulate consumer financial markets. It then analyzes how the CFP Act changes that legal structure, with a focus on the Bureau’s organization; the entities and activities that fall (and do not fall) under the Bureau’s supervisory, enforcement, and rulemaking authorities; the Bureau’s general and specific rulemaking powers and procedures; and the Bureau’s funding.

Date of Report: February 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R42572
Price: $29.95

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