Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Congress is also working on plans to change financial industry rules. Yesterday, a key House panel approved a bill that would set up a new agency to regulate many types of consumer credit - from debit cards to payday loans. The bill has undergone changes though after intense lobbying from large banks, small banks, and nearly every potential creditor in between. NPR's Audie Cornish explains.

AUDIE CORNISH: Originally, it seemed that the proposed consumer financial protection agency would monitor everything from your car loan to your Starbucks card. But that's no longer the case. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the panel's work had sharpened the bill's focus.

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): We received a draft from the administration that I believe had some ambiguity. It was always my conception of this that the function of this agency would be to deal with lending activity.

CORNISH: So this week, lawmakers worked on making it much more clear what the agency covers, and what it doesn't.

These kinds of credit will face scrutiny: payday loans, paycheck cashing, your debit card, overdraft protection, and your mortgage.

Providers would have to register with the new agency, pay its fees and fines, and face its regulators.

Now, who's out? Auto dealers, retail stores, doctors, lawyers, and anyone else who's not in the finance business but who might extend you credit.

Conservative Democrats, and Republicans like Jeb Hensarling of Texas, tried to amend the bill to curb the proposed agency's powers.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): We're dealing with a brand-new, huge federal agency that has the power to ban products. Consumer financial products impact 10 to 15 percent of the economy, cause unemployment, cause credit to be restricted, cause credit to be more expensive…

CORNISH: GOP lawmakers aimed their amendments at preventing the new agency from setting limits on fees or interest rates. They also lobbied hard to make sure it wouldn't step on other financial regulators.

But Democrats, like Melvin Watt of North Carolina, said the agency must be equal to the other banking watchdogs to make a difference.

Representative MELVIN WATT (Democrat, North Carolina): We shouldn't be creating a second-class agency because we send the exact wrong message to the American people, that they as consumers are less important than everything else that we are doing here.

CORNISH: Watt helped craft one the bill's key compromises. It checks the ability of states to write stronger consumer rules than federal regulators.

There were other compromises: Financial services companies won't be forced to provide plain-vanilla versions of their products for consumers to compare. Small banks and credit unions won a concession that leaves them subject only to the agency's rules but not its inspectors.

Despite the compromises, Chairman Frank says Democrats got what they wanted — a stand-alone agency that takes full responsibility for protecting consumers.

Rep. FRANK: Given the process and what we were up against, I think it is a very significant advance. And I will predict it will only get better from our standpoint going further.

CORNISH: Banks and financial firms will continue to battle against the plan. They say it will hamper their ability to come up with new products, and end up restricting credit for everyone. And this is just one of the overhaul efforts they're opposing.

Frank's committee recently approved new rules for regulating derivatives, and is moving on to a proposal to deal with financial firms considered too big to fail.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.