The headline over Timothy Noah’s piece in TNR: “And Now, the Republicans Are the Party of Defending Businesses That Rip People Off: Biden was right to talk about junk fees in his SOTU. And Republicans are playing into his hands.”
What are these fees? They’re the seat fees you pay on airlines—$20 or so to get a quantity of legroom that airlines once furnished free of charge. They’re the “safe fees” that budget hotels charge even if you don’t use the safe in your room, and “resort fees” pricier hotels charge for a pool you didn’t use. According to The Wall Street Journal, resort fees (which are not confined to resort hotels) can actually sometimes exceed the price of the room. There are airport fees that a car rental company will charge you for being idiot enough to rent your car at an airport. Cable companies are among the worst offenders, probably because so many people are “cutting the cord” and moving to streaming, leaving cable companies desperate to raise revenue any way they can.
So yes, I was wrong about junk fees’ ubiquity.
I was also wrong that Republicans wouldn’t dare defend a business practice that pisses off 96 percent of all Americans, many of whom presumably vote. While I wasn’t looking, Republicans fashioned themselves the party dedicated to protecting the right of American businesses to prevaricate about price and rip people off.
A lot of this has to do with Republican loathing for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis. The main reason Republicans hate the CFPB is that it was dreamed up by Elizabeth Warren, then a professor at Harvard Law School. Congressional Republicans barred Warren from becoming the CFPB’s first director, prompting Warren to instead run successfully for Senate in Massachusetts, which annoyed Republicans even more. Conservatives have been especially critical of the CFPB’s funding structure, which sidesteps the appropriations process and instead draws its budget from the Federal Reserve. Sidestepping the appropriations process isn’t unusual for a bank regulator (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also do so, in those instances relying on bank fees), but Republican legislators find it intolerable that they lack control over Warren’s creation, and in October, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled CFPB’s funding structure unconstitutional, leaving its future in question.
A year ago, Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee, then in the minority, wrote CFPB director Rohit Chopra to gripe not that he had proposed a regulation limiting junk fees, but merely that Chopra had the temerity to invite public comment about them in anticipation of perhaps proposing such a regulation. The Republicans protested that bankers gotta eat, too (“There is … always a cost associated with providing financial services and access to credit. These costs … may be offset in part by certain fees”). The Republican members also professed not to understand what the phrase “unexpected fees” meant. It was an entirely ridiculous letter that put the GOP on the side of bait-and-switch practitioners. The CFPB has since issued an advisory opinion against “convenience fees” paid to debt collectors when a debt is paid online or by phone (banks sometimes do this, too) and a guidance advising banks not to charge surprise overdraft or bounced-check fees when the customer is not at fault.
Republicans don’t limit their defense of junk fees to actions taken by the CFPB. In October, the Federal Trade Commission issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on junk fees. Again, this wasn’t a regulation—just an announcement that the FTC intended to issue a rule in the future and sought public input on what it should do. Issuing the notice required a vote from the four-member board, three of them Biden appointees and one a Trump appointee. The vote was 3–1, with the Trump appointee, Christine S. Wilson, voting no. In a written statement, Wilson said, “I recognize that some of these fees may be inadequately disclosed” but griped that “I was given less than three weeks” to consider the matter. She also protested that “fees sometimes viewed as unnecessary by consumers reflect attempts by businesses to recover incremental costs.” Never mind that these are supposed to be built into the sticker price.
I am of the mind that it’s overall a good thing that Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership required him to put so many of the inmates in charge of the asylum.
These are people who reflexively support crazy anti-consumer, anti-democratic policies and positions because it’s not about governing. It’s about owning the libs and feeding fascist red meat to a MAGA base that increasingly requires 100% fealty to anything that Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson say they should support.
We all know that giving Marjorie Taylor-Greene the speaker’s gavel, even just intermittently, was going to be farce. I’ll bet she and the rest of them (Gosar, Jordan, etc.) are going to be ongoing train wrecks because it’s all about them individually, and who will eventually be the leader of MAGAs now that the Trump train is losing steam.
Someday someone has to be the new Trump and you know MTG and the rest all see themselves as the heir apparent.
That means they will have to do increasingly crazy things that have nothing to do with good governance.
The GOP’s junk fees stance is just the start of it. I’m with those who predict that junk fees are going to the least of the weird things they defend or promote.