Clinton highlights consumer protection, antitrust enforcement as key economic priorities

31 January 2017 9:54am

3rd October 2016. By Can Celik

Consumer protection would be a top priority of a Hillary Clinton administration, the Democratic presidential nominee said Monday.

During an economic speech in Toledo, Ohio, Clinton touched on a number of topics — from empowering the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to strengthening antitrust enforcement to trade — that she would tackle if elected president.

Clinton said she would “make consumer protection a top priority across the entire government,” starting by “defending and empowering” the CFPB.

The CFPB is the agency making sure consumers get paid back when they’re ripped off, including making sure customers defrauded by Wells Fargo get their money back, Clinton said. Its success is why Republicans in Congress keep trying to shut it down, she said.

“Instead of gutting consumer protection, we should be expanding it,” Clinton said. “And we should build on the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and go even further because Wall Street can never be permitted to threaten Main Street again.”

— Arbitration, trade agreements —

Returning to the Wells Fargo issue, Clinton turned to the question of binding arbitration clauses that require consumers to waive their right to pursue claims in court. The clauses, which she refered to as “fine print gotchas,” force consumers into “a closed-door arbitration process without the important protections that you get in a court of law,” she said.

Such clauses exist across many industries, from nursing homes to for-profit colleges, Clinton said, “so we’re gonna rein in that abuse across everybody.”

Arbitration clauses have drawn scrutiny for disadvantaging consumers and limiting the availability of meaningful recourse, and US lawmakers have introduced legislation seeking to prevent their use in certain types of cases, including antitrust.

A similar problem exists in international trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Clinton said. The dispute resolution system in TPP “favors large corporations over everyone else,” the former Secretary of State said, citing it as a reason why she opposes the agreement.

Consumer advocates and Democratic members of Congress also have criticized the TPP’s provisions for investor-state dispute settlement, arguing that it would give foreign corporations an opportunity to override US laws regarding public health, worker safety and environmental standards.

Separately, Clinton later said that she will “ramp up enforcement of trade rules by appointing a new chief trade prosecutor and tripling the number of enforcement officers.”

— Mergers, antitrust —

Clinton also said there need to be fair rules of the road so large corporations can’t use their power to gain unfair advantages, and called for arming businesses with tools to level the playing field.

“Part of the problem is that large corporations are amassing so much power in our economy,” she said.

Whether that power is called market concentration or monopoly, it threatens businesses of all sizes and consumers, she said. With less competition, large companies can raise prices, limit consumer choice and crowd out startups and small businesses, she said.

Clinton pointed to the insurance industry.

“In most of the country, the three largest health insurance companies in each state control 80 percent of the market — no wonder premiums are going up,” she said. “As president, I will appoint tough, independent authorities to strengthen antitrust enforcement and really scrutinize mergers and acquisitions so the big don’t keep getting bigger and bigger.”

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