2/23/2017

My Visit to Senator Toomey's Office

"Tuesdays with Toomey" at Sen. Toomey's Philly office (www.facebook.com/tuesdayswithtoomey/)
Today, I joined two other members of my local Women's March Huddle to visit Senator Toomey's office in Philadelphia. I just wanted to give my account of how it went, so anyone else interested in visiting their members of Congress (MoC) can get an idea of what to expect.

First of all, we were not able to meet with the senator himself. Instead, we met with a member of his staff, who calls himself Phil (he did not give his last name). Phil is a young, slick-looking guy who smiles a lot and reminds me of a car salesman. He was one of only two people in the small, quiet office. We're not sure if it was so empty because they're moving to a new office on March 1st, or if it's always that way.

My group met with Phil to discuss the Dodd-Frank Act and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We started by telling our personal stories of how the 2008 financial crisis affected us. All three of us poured our hearts out about the difficulties we faced when the crisis hit, and those faced by people we knew. We then began asking questions.

Phil was pretty unresponsive to our questions about the elements of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB that Sen. Toomey wants to change or dismantle, and what he wants to replace them with. He kept stating that he's "not an expert" and that he would have to check with a legislative aide. He did not provide the name of the legislative aide because he said that he didn't know which one would review our questions. Fortunately, we had prepared a list of questions and a leave-behind fact sheet for him to pass on to them (definitely do this if you plan to visit your MoC's office). Phil also repeatedly stated that there would probably be some "disagreements," before we even started asking our questions.

Phil cited a bill proposed by Sen. Toomey called S.1861, which he claimed would prevent banks from being designated "too-big-to-jail." Further research found that this bill never made it out of committee in 2013, and that the bill number has been reused for a 2015 proposal by Rand Paul to de-fund Planned Parenthood (go figure). When asked why Sen. Toomey didn't call for the CEO of Wells Fargo to be prosecuted for defrauding customers for 11 years (since he's so opposed to "too-big-to-jail"), Phil essentially said that that wasn't the Senate's job, and that it was up to the Judiciary branch.

On a side note, Phil also claimed that Sen. Toomey has spoken out against 45 on many points, and that he had been one of the first MoC to demand an investigation into 45's ties to Russia. We all stated that we hadn't heard or read about that in the news; Phil blamed the media. "I can't speak to the extent that they do their job or don't do their job," he said with a smirk that seemed to indicate that he thought it was the latter (did he just play the "fake news" card?). He directed us to the senator's social media accounts and website, all of which I have reviewed extensively and have seen no evidence of this alleged demand.

I read out a list of the big banks that the CFPB has fined for fraudulent and illegal lending practices. Phil interrupted me to ask, "But how are these fines being collected?" He smirked again, as if this was some sort of revelation that would blow our whole case wide open. We all exchanged confused glances. "How are they being collected?" I asked, wondering why in the world that would matter.

Phil went on to say that he had heard that the CFPB wasn't actually collecting on any of their imposed fines, and that this was apparently one of the biggest criticisms of the CFPB. None of us had heard or read anything like that in our research. Further research found that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been keeping a close eye on the CFPB to ensure that their fines are in fact being collected.

I asked, "Then why not strengthen the CFPB instead of dismantling it?" He kept repeating that Sen. Toomey thinks that the CFPB needs to be "reviewed" by a committee, and that he was against "over-regulation" because it apparently hurts businesses. He seemed totally unconcerned about protecting consumers and only focused on businesses.

I went on to note that the CFPB has returned $11.7 billion in relief to 27 million Americans and list other ways in which it has helped protect consumers. Phil once again interrupted me to aggressively say, "I've heard about the so-called accomplishments of the CFPB." He then re-iterated (again) that Sen. Toomey wants the CFPB to be "reviewed."

He also kept repeating that a court had ruled that the leadership of the CFPB was unconstitutional because it only has one director who could supposedly "abuse his power." He cited no evidence that the director's power was actually being abused. We pointed out that the ruling was recently overturned, and that the Court of Appeals is planning to hear the case again, which Phil apparently didn't know. Nevertheless, he continued to repeat this as if it was his only argument.

Phil stated that Sen. Toomey wasn't in office during the 2008 financial crisis, and we pointed out that he was working for big banks, selling misleading interest-swaps to American cities and towns (which later caused them to lose billions of dollars). Phil dismissed that and claimed that he didn't know what the senator was doing at the time. At that point, the receptionist knocked on the door and reminded Phil that he had a "conference call" coming up, so he had to wrap up the meeting.

As we were leaving, I gave Phil a letter from my friend who has cancer and depends on the ACA to cover her life-saving medication. He looked it over and said, "Have you written to us before on this issue?" In fact, I had faxed and mailed that exact letter over the weekend. It led me to believe that while Toomey's offices aren't answering their phones, they are reading their faxes and letters. Clearly, Phil recognized my letter, and he even seemed annoyed that I was giving it to him again. He jokingly said that they're a little backed up right now, but that they would respond to everyone "eventually."

My advice to anyone thinking of visiting their MoC:

Go for it! I was very nervous and tired, and the last thing I wanted to do on a Thursday afternoon was get up early and drag myself into the city to talk to a slick guy in a suit who mansplains things he doesn't know anything about, but I did it, and I'm glad I did. It's very important that we let our MoC know that we're here, we have some serious concerns, and we're not going anywhere. Even if they're not there in person to listen, go anyway and talk to someone on their staff.

Go with a group. If I was alone, I never would have been able to carry that meeting. The two ladies who went with me were total rock stars who knew their stuff and didn't back down when Phil challenged them. We were stronger together.

Schedule in advance. Sen. Toomey's office has a meeting request form that anyone who wants to visit must fill out. Call your MoC's office and ask how to schedule a meeting. Suggest several dates and times when you're available. Find out if you'll be able to record the meeting while you're there. If not, take notes so that you can share your experience later.

Do your homework. Make sure you research whichever topic you want to discuss ahead of time, and take notes. Make a list of the questions you want to ask and a leave-behind sheet that briefly lists the main points you want to make. Include the names and contact information for each member of your group on both sheets. You won't have a lot of time at the meeting, and most likely you'll get a Phil who isn't an "expert" and needs to check with a legislative aide. It's important to have printed materials for your Phil to pass on.

Good luck to everyone visiting with their MoC! Keep up the resistance!

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