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Bill to revamp consumer agency passes U.S. House, unlikely to become law

By Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday to overhaul the U.S. consumer financial watchdog, although the politically charged legislation stands little chance of becoming law.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, was created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to help protect Americans from financial scams.

Republicans say the agency is unaccountable to lawmakers because its funding comes from the U.S. Federal Reserve, not congressional appropriations. Democrats, on the other hand, staunchly support the agency's independence.

"The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is not responsive to Congress because it doesn't get its funding from Congress," said Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy, who sponsored the bill.

"We think it is appropriate when you have an agency that is so powerful and so unaccountable that we give the elected members of the American people the power to say how much money they should have."

House members voted 232-182 for a bill that would replace the bureau's director with a commission and subject it to the appropriations process.

The vote was split largely along party lines, with most Democrats objecting.

"Today's vote is just the latest chapter in a relentless Republican attack on consumer protection," said California Democrat Maxine Waters.

There is little chance the bill will pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, which overcame Republican opposition and confirmed Richard Cordray last July as the bureau's first director.

The White House has said President Barack Obama's advisers would recommend he veto the bill if it did pass, saying it would "undermine critical Wall Street reforms and weaken important consumer protections."

But its passage in the House shows that Republicans, after blocking Cordray's confirmation for two years, have not given up their attempts to revamp the bureau.

They want the consumer bureau to function more like the Securities and Exchange Commission or Commodity Futures Trading Commission, both of which have bipartisan representation and are funded by Congress.

The bureau's supporters say those agencies are paralyzed by politics and move more slowly than bank regulators such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which has external sources of funding and a single leader.

The bill, which would rename the bureau as the Financial Product Safety Commission, also would force the agency to get permission from consumers before collecting non-public data.

Republican lawmakers say the CFPB's efforts to get more insight into financial markets invades consumers' privacy. The bureau says it needs better data to track financial products and spot problem areas in the markets.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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