Republicans in the Senate say they have no problem with Richard Cordray, the man President Obama appointed to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They just won’t allow a vote to confirm him until his position is weakened enough to please their allies on Wall Street. It’s a cynical attempt to neuter a law that Republicans don’t have the votes to change, and it is so frustrating to Senate Democrats that they are threatening to roll back the minority’s power to filibuster nominees. Should that happen, Republicans would have only themselves to blame.
Congress created the bureau in the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, a measure to stiffen financial regulations and prevent future Wall Street bailouts. The law put a single director in charge of the bureau and gave it a dedicated funding source to make it less susceptible to political pressure. But Dodd-Frank also gave Congress and a panel of other regulators the power to veto rules adopted by the bureau, and arguably barred the bureau from adopting new rules unless it had a director in place.
Although Republicans have praised Cordray, they’ve refused to let the Senate vote on his nomination unless Congress changes the law to ensure the bureau’s “accountability and transparency.” According to the official Senate historian, lawmakers have never before blocked a nominee because they didn’t like the way an agency was structured.
Obama circumvented the first GOP filibuster in 2011 by giving Cordray a temporary — and controversial — recess appointment while the Senate was on its holiday break in early 2012. He renominated Cordray this year, setting up a replay.
The GOP’s demands are just a pretext to make the bureau more susceptible to pressure. As Georgetown University law Prof. Adam Levitin explained to a Senate committee two years ago, the bureau comes under at least as much oversight as any other financial industry regulator, and there’s nothing unusual about having either a single director or a dedicated funding source.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to try to force a vote soon on Cordray, along with nominees to the National Labor Relations Board that the GOP has been blocking. In both cases, the Republicans are using the Senate’s filibuster rule to nullify laws by refusing to let Obama fill key positions. If the GOP continues down this path, Democrats shouldn’t hesitate to change the rule.
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