Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Disappointing Consumer Report Card for President Obama and Congress in Year One

by Thomas Hinton

With the new year and decade just one month old, consumers are twitching nervously over the slow progress President Obama is making with his Democratic majority in Congress to jump-start America’s sluggish economy. Promises have been made and the president and his party have been very slow in delivering results. From a consumer perspective, the president fairs no better than a C+ while the Congress barely earns a passing grade of D.

Despite all the posturing, politics and rancor on Capitol Hill, not much has been accomplished to give consumers hope that a new era is upon us. The expression “herding cats” comes to mind when one thinks of the challenges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) faces in getting his Democrats lined-up to support vital consumer legislation including Financial/Banking Reform, Consumer Protection, Health Care Reform and Mortgage Relief.

These issues should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats, but a lack of leadership and lax discipline has allowed the opposition to muddle the process and paint Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Reid into a very uncomfortable corner labeled non-performance. At least that’s how a majority of consumers responded when asked recently about the performance of President Obama and the Democrats for the past year. Certainly, the president and his party must do better if they expect to win the hearts and minds of concerned consumers.

Despite his gift for oratory, his persuasive personality and political charm, it appears Mr. Obama drifted from his Change theme in the 2008 election and allowed Congress to derail his legislative agenda. These are tough times and they call for strong-arm tactics similar to what LBJ used to push through his Great Society legislation and Civil Rights reform. Instead of wasting his time trying to build a consensus with Republicans, President Obama needs to produce results. As demonstrated by the stunning election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, voters have a short memory and will always vote their pocketbook, especially in tough economic times.

From a consumer perspective, the president needs to get out in front of the band and start leading the change he promised to deliver. If consumer confidence is any indicator, Americans remain seriously concerned about three issues: the lack of jobs and high unemployment; mortgage delinquencies and foreclosure rates; and, the rising cost of health care. With the exception of giving our military what it needs to win the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, everything else can wait. It may be important, but it’s not vital to our economic recovery.

Trying to win the hearts and minds of the opposition is a waste of the president’s time. With all due respect to the opposition, I would say the same thing if the Republicans occupied the White House. Of course, when Mr. Bush was president, he was deferential to Democrats, but plowed ahead to get his legislative issues passed by Congress. And, the Democrats controlled both chambers!
So, my advice to the president and the Democrats can be summed up in the words of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Sorry. No more Mr. Nice Guy!”

There’s much work to be done and the time is now for President Obama to refocus his priorities and redouble his efforts to put Americans back to work, solve the mortgage and foreclosure problem in favor of struggling homeowners and get health care reform approved. If he can accomplish these three things in 2010, his Consumer Report Card grade will improve significantly. But, the clock is ticking!

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president & CEO of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization dedicated to helping consumers make safe, reliable purchases of products and services that strengthen the American economy. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

America Needs Consumer Protection and Financial Reform Now!

It’s hard to believe that a year after the American financial system nearly collapsed due to corporate greed, shady lending practices and shoddy regulatory oversight, Congress has yet to pass a financial reform bill. However, we are moving in the right direction with the recent passage by the House of Representatives which approved a financial reform bill intended to re-regulate Wall Street and increase protections for Main Street.
The bill, which passed in a 223-202 vote, would create a new federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers that would police consumer credit products like mortgages and credit cards. It also establishes new rules for the trading of derivatives and increases the transparency of the credit-rating process -- two previously under-regulated parts of the economy that played a large role in last year's economic collapse.
What is very disturbing was that not a single Republican voted for the bill. Twenty-seven Democrats broke with the rest of their party to vote against it. I would think there would be bipartisan support for financial reform because, without it, America’s economy is vulnerable and susceptible to another financial disaster of epic proportions. But, politics and lobbyists continue to undermine this important legislation.
Despite the millions Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce spent fighting the will of the American consumers, the House of Representatives found the political will and courage to pass the proposed financial reform legislation and send it on to the Senate for their deliberation and vote.
While the proposed legislation will disappointed some consumer groups, the American Consumer Council strongly endorses the reform legislation and encourages the United States Senate to pass it.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization which administers ACC’s Green C™ Certification Program. He can be reached at