Last week, Consumer Credit Subcommittee Republicans, including Patty McHenry and Walter Jones, effectively silenced consumers who flew to DC to testify on abusive credit card industry practices.
But, in their efforts to keep these stories out of the press, and away from the tender eyes and ears of the weak-bellied banking industry, House Republicans failed. Now they'll just have to bury their heads and hope the storm passes.
It was at a hearing for the Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights, proposed by Finance Committee Chair Barney Frank (D-MA) and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY). Yeah, a bill of rights for consumers. Scary stuff. Just imagine not having your credit card rate unjustifiably hiked from 9 to 30 percent right after you make a big purchase.
Sure, I know you can't imagine being treated that fairly. And neither can the banks. They are certainly not going to give up the right to jack up your rates for no reason. So, in their fear and weakness, they took some of the money they made off of you and spent it on Republicans in Congress. They probably are pretty pissed at the bad publicity they were paying the Republicans to stifle. But at least the networks have no footage (to run for one night and forget). Yet.
Last week, Republican tactics (of trying to force witnesses to sign waivers making their personal financial particulars public) worked like a charm, at least inside the Capitol. Not one consumer said a word. And the bankers got to speak all they wanted. As well, they didn't have to back up anything they said with facts or waivers or anything so gaglifying.
According to academic witness Elizabeth Warren:
The card issuers were there in full force--complete with an army of lobbyists to pack the audience . . . While the reps from Cap One, Chase and Bank of America went on for hours about their customer friendly policies and how much value they provided free to consumers, the people who had different stories were never allowed to utter a single word.
US PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski wrote:
I've been in Washington seventeen years, and I've never seen anything like this, nor have I ever seen a committee request similar detailed information or waivers from a bank witness. It certainly would be helpful if Congress had more detail about banks -- profits from bank fees, distribution of bank fees across customer base, internal marketing strategies, copies of all consumer phone calls and letters complaining to the bank -- to help it do its business. I cannot even remember the last time I saw a footnote in testimony from an industry witness, let alone significant supporting documentation.
Elizabeth Warren's concluded, in her TPM Cafe post titled "Let Consumers Speak" that Credit Card companies should be forced to release all their data as well:
Surely it wouldn't be fair for the credit card companies to make factual assertions that no one could challenge because no one else had any access to their underlying data. If the new rule is that everyone has to release everything so others can challenge it, when the card issuers want to testify as to "facts," shouldn't they have to back up their claims by showing us the numbers?
So let's contact the offices of Patrick McHenry or Walter Jones and let them know that we support the idea of documentation and waivers and are so thrilled they didn't sully our airwaves with those awful stories from individual citizens. After all, bankers never get a chance to have their side of the story expressed in public. I'm glad they've found people who care about them.
Pat and Walt should keep up all their good work defending bankers who have no other voice. Like last week, when Pat defended Countrywide and Payday predatory lenders. We know we can trust that Pat McHenry will save us from having to listen to whiny abused customers. We know he will support weak and frightened industry professionals so that they will feel loved as they testify to the trials and tribulations of having to figure out how to make money off people who are quickly becoming broken and bankrupted citizens of a 3rd world debtor nation. By the time the year is over we'll pretty much have no more money to be stolen by either the credit card companies, Payday loan sharks or subprime lenders. So, it's all good.
Also, I think we should encourage McHenry to continue using the slimy underhanded partisan tricks he was taught by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and Lee Atwater. After all, a year ago, people thought the 10th was unwinnable. Now, a Democrat is practically out-fundraising an incumbent Congressman with close ties to the sitting President and the former Majority Leader Tom Delay. Thanks, Pat. Keep up the good work.
Here's more on the story:
MoJo Blog summation:
At the outset of the hearing before a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, Maloney explained that "there have been fairness concerns raised about having consumers testify this morning without a waiver that allowed their credit-card issuers to respond publicly." Translation: The credit card companies wanted the consumer witnesses to make their financial records public so the banks could "rebut" their complaints, i.e., trash them in the press.It's not unusual for Congress to ask hearing witnesses to sign privacy waivers. When Sen. Carl Levin held a hearing on credit card abuses in the Senate last year, witnesses also signed privacy waivers, but they were designed to allow only the Senate staff to access some of their financial information so they could verify it in advance of the hearing. It was basically for the Senate's own due diligence.
But the waivers that Weatherspoon and the others were asked to sign were far broader, and they were foisted on the witnesses only hours before the hearing. Some of the witnesses didn't get them in advance at all. The credit-card executives, of course, weren’t asked to sign any waivers at all that might allow Congress to actually verify the claims they were making
Mike Lillis reported Sunday from the Washington Independent:
What made these waivers unique was just how vague they were. For Susan Wones, the Denver woman who was prepared to testify about her tough experiences with her Chase card, the entire waiver read:
I hereby authorize Chase Credit Card Services to publicly discuss my Chase credit card account(s) in connection with the March 13, 2008 and April, 2008 credit card hearings by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.
The use of waivers is rare, if not unheard of, in the Financial Services Committee, but other committees do employ them in situations when privacy is a concern (commonly when a hearing is investigative in nature or involves victims.) Compare the Financial Services waiver language to that used by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) during a recent investigative hearing involving credit card users.
I hereby authorize Chase to give all bills, correspondence and other records with respect to XXXXXXXX’s credit card account(s) to U.S. Senate staff, and to discuss such accounts with U.S. Senate staff, in connection with the credit card investigation by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Wones said that when she tried to negotiate with GOP aides about tailoring her waiver language to the hearing, one aide got "belligerent." Another witness, Steven Autry, said he was ignored when he made a similar request:
I asked the person I spoke with if they could re-word the language to be a little more restrictive, and I never heard back. And there was no interest there. But I would have signed a waiver, had it been reasonable and limited to the scope of this conversation they were trying to have today.
From ABC news, here are four of the five witnesses gagged by committee Republicans:
Christy Mylar Smith and her husband paid their Citibank card bill on time for years -- but when they paid late twice in one year, their interest rate increased from 12.9 percent to 31.4 percent overnight.
Steven Strachan has a FICO score in the high 700s, has always paid on time, has never gone over the limit, yet Chase increased his rate from 10.99 percent to 24.99 percent.
Steve Autry accepted a fixed rate for life of 9.9 percent from Capital One. Now Capital One tells him that the cost of business and rising interest rates will cause his rates to increase, even though he has been a customer in good standing for many years.
Marvin Weatherspoon took advantage of a low introductory rate from Bank of America, but because he was a few days late in paying one month, his interest rate has been increased from 4.25 percent to almost 25 percent. Only $108 of his $347 monthly payment goes to the principal. He has tried to work with the bank, but felt "he had no voice."
Rep. Judy Biggert (IL), Ranking Member
Rep. Tom Price (GA)
Rep. Deborah Pryce (OH)
Rep. Michael N. Castle (DE)
Rep. Peter King (NY)
Rep. Edward R. Royce (CA)
Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (OH)
Rep. Walter B. Jones (NC)
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
Rep. Tom Feeney (FL)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX)
Rep. Scott Garrett (NJ)
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (FL)
Rep. J. Gresham Barrett (SC)
Rep. Jim Gerlach (PA)
Rep. Stevan Pearce (NM)
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX)
Rep. Geoff Davis (KY)
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (NC)
Rep. John Campbell (CA)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA)
Rep. Dean Heller (NV)
Patrick McHenry contact info:
Washington, D.C. Office:
224 Cannon House Office Building 224 CHOB
Washington, D.C., District of Columbia 20515-3310
Phone: (202) 225-2576
Fax: (202) 225-0316
87 4th St. NW, Ste. A
Hickory, North Carolina 28603
Phone: (828) 327-6100
Fax: (828) 327-8311
Note: Edited to add Walter Jones
Walter Jones Contact info:
Greenville N.C. Office:
1105-C Corporate Drive
Greenville, NC 27858-4211
Washington, DC Office:
2333 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC 20515
Support Democrat Daniel Johnson for US Congress, NC-10.