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49 Senators Want To Keep Protections Of Military Lending Act In Place


The Trump administration is taking aim at a law designed to protect military service members from getting cheated by shady financial practices. After The New York Times and NPR reported about this, 49 U.S. senators - all Democrats and independents - signed a letter to the Trump administration asking it to change course. Here's NPR's Chris Arnold.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a watchdog agency that monitors payday lenders and other firms to find out if they're breaking the law. But the Trump administration's acting director of the bureau, Mick Mulvaney, is planning to have the bureau stop looking for violations of what's called the Military Lending Act. It's a law designed to protect service members. Democratic Senator Jack Reed does not like that.

JACK REED: It's outrageous. We are all standing up and talking constantly as we should about the service and sacrifices of men and women in uniform around the globe. And then to go ahead and take away a defense that they have back home against unscrupulous lenders and unscrupulous products is outrageous.

ARNOLD: Reed wrote the letter that the other senators signed onto. He's the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee. And he was an Army paratrooper and says that troops are often young, away from home and easy prey for unscrupulous lenders and shady financial products. If they get too mired in debt, they can lose security clearances or even get kicked out of the service. That's why he helped to create an office to protect service members at the Consumer Protection Bureau. So he says if Mulvaney backs off enforcement this way...

REED: The industries that promote these products will basically say listen; there's no more cops on the beat. It's just sort of cutting loose these men and women in uniform saying go out there and defend this country, but when it comes to your financial well-being at home, you're on your own.

ARNOLD: Likewise, Reed doesn't like a White House proposal uncovered by NPR that would loosen the rules for auto lenders. Critics say it would let them sell overpriced insurance products to service members when they buy cars.

REED: I don't think they should loosen the regulations. If they're successful here, there'll be other enterprises that'll come to them and say, oh, this is a product that really shouldn't be underneath the act.

ARNOLD: And he says that would unravel the act. This week, President Trump praised troops and veterans at Fort Drum, N.Y., where he signed next year's defense spending bill.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, when we find somebody not treating our vets properly, you know what we say, right? You're out. Get out. You're fired. Get out.

ARNOLD: Reed says given what Trump's appointee Mulvaney is doing to weaken protections for service members...

REED: Well, I would hope we could pick up the phone and call Mr. Mulvaney and tell him that this is not right.

ARNOLD: For his part, Mulvaney's claiming that he doesn't have the authority to enforce the law the way that the bureau has been enforcing it. In the letter, the senators are calling upon him to make a commitment to continue protecting service members under the act. So far, Mulvaney is not offering a response.

Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.