The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) opposes a 20% downpayment on low-risk mortgages. The agency will not use its special rule-writing powers to undermine the Dodd-Frank Act, director Richard Cordray told lawmakers Thursday.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Cordray made clear that he opposes a proposal backed by the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators that would require a minimum 20% downpayment on loans classified as low risk.
“The 20% downpayment is not part of our proposal,” Cordray said, in response to a question from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, about whether lenders should get relief from the CFPB’s pending mortgage requirements if they provide proof of a borrower’s ability to repay.
A 20% downpayment “would not make sense as some sort of rule that would be imposed on the mortgage market,” Cordray said.
Crapo urged Cordray to convene a small business advocacy review panel to discuss the impact of the proposal, due in January. There is not enough time to hold one, Cordray said.
Meanwhile, Richard Shelby of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, grilled Cordray about the extent of the CFPB’s powers.
The bureau is “completely immune from congressional oversight,” said Shelby, who asked several questions about whether it has the authority to modify, or grant exemptions from, certain statutory requirements of Dodd-Frank and bypass congressional will.
Shelby singled out a mortgage disclosure requirement in Dodd-Frank that the CFPB recently said would be difficult to explain to consumers and that it was considering exempting some companies from the requirement.
“In this case, the bureau could ask Congress to amend the statute,” Shelby said. “Instead, the bureau has interpreted its exemptive authority so broadly that it believes it can just ignore the statute. After all, if the bureau can easily ignore a statute, it raises the more serious question of whether Congress or the bureau has the final say over what the law is.”
Cordray sought to defuse the matter with a polite—yet firm—reply.
“I absolutely do not think we can rewrite statutes,” Cordray said. “I will say, interestingly enough, there are many requests for us to consider our exemption or modification authority... but we do not believe we have the authority to ignore or rewrite the law.”
Senate Democrats generally praised Cordray, giving him an opportunity to describe how the bureau has responded to the 72,297 complaints it had received from consumers as of Sept. 3. At that rate, the CFPB is expected to field 120,000 consumer complaints a year, the majority of them on mortgage lending and servicing. “The volume of complaints we’re receiving is heavy, and it’s hard work to keep up with it,” Cordray said.