CFA News Update- May 26, 2011

Rising Gas Costs Drive Support for Tough Fuel Economy Standards

The vast majority of Americans are concerned about gasoline prices (85 percent), think it is important to reduce oil consumption (87 percent), and believe it is important to increase fuel economy standards (75 percent), according to a survey released last week by CFA. The survey, which is analyzed in a report by CFA Research Director Mark Cooper, found bipartisan support for requiring car companies to meet an average 60 miles per gallon fuel economy standard by 2025, assuming a five-year payback period during which lower fuel costs pay for higher car costs.

“Concern about volatile gasoline prices and support for higher standards is driven by the huge and rising bite gas expenditures are taking from household budgets—from less than $2000 in 2009 to more than $3000 this year,” Cooper said. “Pain at the pump, along with the country’s oil import dependence, has produced a growing consensus that the federal government should substantially increase fuel economy standards. And among independent technical experts, there is a growing consensus that committed car companies could meet these higher standards.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency issued new fuel economy labels that CFA Public Affairs Director Jack Gillis said will go a long way to helping consumers make better vehicle purchases. “Our surveys make it clear that consumers not only want more fuel efficient vehicles, but are willing to pay for them. Any time you provide consumers with the ability to make comparative choices, you empower them in the marketplace,” Gillis said.

CFA Releases Gas Savings Tips

With gas prices near $4 a gallon and 31 million Americans taking to the road for Memorial Day weekend, CFA released the top 10 gas savings tips from CFA Public Affairs Director and The Car Book author Jack Gillis. “We estimate that, if Americans practiced these tips, gas mileage could be improved in total by about 13 percent,” Gillis said.

House Panels Vote to Defund and Delay Derivatives Regulation

House Republicans continued their attack this week on the derivatives reforms adopted as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. In separate votes on Tuesday, House panels voted along party lines to deny regulators the funding needed to implement the rules and to delay implementation of most of the new rules for more than a year.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee voted to cut $30 million from the budget of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 2012, denying this tiny agency the funds needed to provide effective oversight of the risky, opaque, and abuse-prone over-the-counter derivatives market. The House bill would cut the agency budget to $171.9 million from its current funding level of $202.3 million. In contrast, the president’s 2012 budget would increase agency funding to $308 million.

Meanwhile, the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 1573, a bill to prevent implementation of the new derivatives regulations until late in 2012. Americans for Financial Reform, of which CFA is a member, wrote to House members in advance of the vote urging opposition.

“Delaying and defunding derivatives regulation would expose the financial system to enormous risks, would leave market participants without protection against pervasive abuses, and would tie the hands of regulators attempting to restore safety, transparency, and integrity to this vital marketplace,” said CFA Director of Investor Protection Barbara Roper. “Once again, we must look to the Senate to ensure that these irresponsible measures do not advance beyond the House.”

Groups Offer Advice on How to Get Debt Help

Four national consumer groups – CFA, Consumer Action, Consumers Union and National Consumer Law Center® – issued new tips this week that explain how people can avoid scams and get real help with their debt problems. “Not all companies play by the rules, so it’s important for consumers to know what to watch out for when they are considering debt relief or mortgage assistance relief services,” said CFA Director of Consumer Protection Susan Grant. “No one, especially debt-strapped consumers, can afford to lose money to scurrilous companies that don’t deliver on their promises.” The tip sheet, Get Real Debt Help, Not Empty Promises, is available here in English and here in Spanish.

CFA Says Bolder Action Needed to Address Housing Crisis

The collapse of the housing bubble need not destroy homeownership as the anchor of the middle class, but much bolder government action is needed, CFA Housing Director Barry Zigas argues in a recent article in The American Prospect. “The confidence Americans once had in home-ownership as a path to family wealth has been shaken. And a backward conservative narrative has capitalized on regulatory and market failures to launch an all-out assault on any government role in housing,” Zigas writes. “But the very scale of the crisis provides an urgent opportunity to rethink and reset housing policy – to learn the right lessons from the mess and to focus on the needs of both homeowners and renters.”

In the article, Zigas suggests that a “stable and durable policy platform” could and should emphasize:

• safe and sustainable opportunities for homeownership;

• restoration of housing as a source of family asset accumulation, especially for less affluent Americans;

• policy shifts to focus tax subsidies where they are most needed;

• a mortgage finance system that supports a deep and liquid market without inviting or tolerating reckless practices; and

• renewed attention to the needs of renters, especially low-income and working renters.