Madam President, I rise today to support the Senator from Florida, my dear friend Senator Bill Nelson, and to thank him for his leadership in working on a bipartisan basis to enact the Military Lending Act in 2006, which caps the annual interest rate for an extension of consumer credit to a servicemember or his or her dependents at 36 percent. Because of his efforts, servicemembers and their families have strong consumer protections that defend them against unscrupulous lenders who unpatriotically, in my view, prey upon these young men and women while they are selflessly and valiantly serving this nation. It has been my honor to work with the Senator from Florida in enacting, protecting, and strengthening the Military Lending Act since 2006.
I must say that my experience is not just as a legislator. I had the privilege of commanding a paratrooper company in the 82nd Airborne Division, and before that I was the executive officer. I spent many, many hours with young soldiers who had been taken advantage of by—not all businessmen, but, in fact, very few—unscrupulous operators who would prey on them, who would leave them in a financial condition that ruined their careers and their lives. Because of Senator Nelson’s efforts in passing the Military Lending Act, we took some steps to protect these young men and women who are protecting us, and we owe the Senator a great deal of regard and respect for what he has done because he, too, has recognized the demands of service to our nation by men and women in uniform.
For generations, Americans have set aside partisanship and have made every effort to provide servicemembers and their families with all the resources and protections they deserve. Indeed, it should not matter to servicemembers whether the Commander in Chief is a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, and there should never be a question whether an administration will make every effort to support men and women in uniform. Unfortunately, this administration is forcing servicemembers to question whether the administration has their backs in light of recent reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under OMB Director Mulvaney’s leadership, will no longer make every effort to protect servicemembers and their families under the Military Lending Act due to their claim of a purported lack of authority. Let me be clear. The CFPB has all the authority it needs, and it should not be abandoning its duty to protect our servicemembers and their families and ensure that they continue to receive all their MLA protections. We should not forget that the CFPB’s routine examination of at least one payday lender already uncovered Military Lending Act violations, where a payday lender extended loans at rates higher than 36 percent to more than 300 Active-Duty servicemembers or their dependents. Let me also put this in perspective. The requirements of the Military Lending Act set an interest ceiling of 36 percent. In this environment, 36 percent is more than an adequate return, and the idea that businesspeople would be trying to engage soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in lending arrangements that went beyond 36 percent is, on its face, not only deplorable but flabbergasting. That is what CFPB was able to further prevent. Because of their supervisory activities, they were able to discover these violations, alert the appropriate authorities, and stop these individuals from continuing to prey on service men and women. In an April 2018 DOD letter I received, the Department of Defense stated: ‘‘initial indications are the new MLA rules . . . are having their intended outcomes . . . the use of highcost credit products and associated readiness problems appear to be decreasing.’’ We are making progress under Senator Nelson’s MLA and under the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect servicemen and servicewomen. Why would we turn our backs and retreat? Servicemembers wouldn’t turn their backs and retreat. Why is Director Mulvaney suggesting we do that? Indeed, DOD has stated that losing a servicemember due to personnel issues, such as financial instability, cost taxpayers and DOD more than $58,000 for each separated servicemember.
Again, recalling my service, dealing with young men—and at that time paratroopers were all males in the 82nd— dealing with these young men, their whole lives were ruined. They were reported for being late for formations or missing formations because their car had been repossessed or they were so overwhelmed by debt they didn’t realize they were accumulating, they couldn’t function. They could lose their security clearances because one factor of maintaining a security clearance is having no credit problems. They could be dismissed at a cost to taxpayers of $58,000 per servicemember for each separation. So in addition to saving the Department of Defense and taxpayers money, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs—again, on a bipartisan basis, working with Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, I cosponsored legislation that created within the CFPB an organization that is exclusively devoted to protecting servicemembers. The first Director was Holly Petraeus. She did a superb job. She was succeeded by a career JAG officer, Colonel Kantwill, who also did a superb job. This organization, the CFPB, with their Office of Servicemember Affairs, has all the authority it needs and an obligation to protect the men and women in uniform who protect us. Their website says it has ‘‘helped return hundreds of millions into the pockets of servicemembers affected by harmful practices.’’ The CFPB, through the Office of Servicemember Affairs, has returned hundreds of millions of dollars to men and women in uniform who were being victimized by unscrupulous operators, and we are going to stop that? We are going to walk away from success? As I said before, are we going to turn our backs and retreat on people who don’t turn their backs and retreat on this nation? That is why it is frustrating, and it is inexplicable that the Trump administration would tout its dedication to servicemembers in one breath and roll back military consumer protections with the next.
To set the record straight, rolling back MLA protections prioritizes the interests of predatory lenders over the interests of servicemembers and their families. If you can’t make a decent return with a limit of 36 percent interest, you shouldn’t be in business—you shouldn’t be a legitimate business. This is not what any administration, Republican or Democratic, should do and certainly not what the CFPB should do. As the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and also having had the highest privilege of serving this nation in uniform, I stand with my fellow veterans, my colleagues, and all Americans to call on the administration to do the right thing, honor our nation’s commitment to provide servicemembers and their families with all the protections they have earned. Again, I thank the Senator from Florida for his efforts. Because without his efforts, we would not have the Military Lending Act. Service men and women would be victimized even more grievously. So to Mr. Nelson, I salute him and thank him and urge him to continue his valiant efforts. With that, I yield the floor.