Policy-Based Evidence-Making at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

New mortgage rules released by the CFPB show why heightened oversight is necessary.

The BadgeThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is one of the most powerful and least accountable regulatory agencies in American history.  Immune from budgetary oversight by Congress and headed by a single director who cannot be removed by the President, the agency wields unconstrained, vaguely-defined powers to regulate virtually every consumer and small business credit product in America.  The Bureau has defended its extraordinary independence by claiming that its regulations will be “evidence-based” on unbiased, unimpeachable economic evidence, and thus is above the usual political concerns that justify bipartisan commissions and engaged congressional oversight.

The Rules

Last week’s issuance of its new rules on residential mortgages (summarized here), however, shows why the new regulator can’t be trusted to regulate itself. The rules impose new burdens on lenders to ensure borrowers’ “ability to pay” their loans and create a safe harbor for so-called “qualified mortgages” that are perceived as especially safe by regulators, such as fixed rate mortgages and—don’t laugh—loans issued according to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s underwriting criteria. 

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