Original Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/29/the-cash-committee-how-wa_n_402373.html
By Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney
The question was simple: Should the lending practices of auto dealers be regulated?
It was already October and the 42 Democrats and 29 Republicans on the House Committee on Financial Services had spent the better part of the year hashing out the details of a new federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers from dangerous and deceptive financial products.
Auto dealers seemed like an obvious target for the new agency; nearly every time someone buys a car, the dealer also sells them an auto loan, complete with promises like zero per cent interest and a pile of cash back. Americans hold some $850 billion in car debt and dealers are responsible for marketing roughly four-fifths of that amount. They pocket lucrative commissions with little oversight, and the committee seemed poised to change that.
Enter Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), a former Saab dealer from Orange County, who according to his latest financial disclosure statement still collects rent from some of his former auto dealer colleagues. Campbell downplayed the importance of his industry partners and proposed an amendment to the bill exempting dealers from the new agency's purview. On October 22, it came up for a vote.
As usual, the members filed into the high-ceilinged first-floor hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building. Committee Chairman Barney Frank oversaw the vote atop four tiered rows of seats, a full story above the witnesses and the audience. The longest-serving Democratic members of the panel -- informally known as the banking committee -- sat to the right or just below the chairman; it can take years, if not decades, for a freshman representative to ascend up the risers.
The clerk called the roll, starting from the top. Senior Democrats roundly rejected Campbell's amendment. It appeared as if the Democrats would beat back the effort and apply the same standard to car dealers that was applied to everyone else.
Then came the bottom two rows, the place where reform goes to die. Despite the disapproval of the powerful chairman and nearly every consumer group in the country, the Campbell amendment passed by a 47-21 margin.