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October 06, 2011 1:10 PM Why Richard Cordray matters

By Steve Benen

Richard Cordray got some good news this morning. He should enjoy now, because it will probably be the last positive development he sees for quite a while.

The Senate Banking Committee voted along party lines Thursday to approve Richard Cordray as the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a move that will have little effect since Republicans have vowed to scuttle the nomination.

Cordray’s nomination was approved 12-10 and now moves to the full Senate. But Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and other GOP senators intend to block the former Ohio attorney general from final approval unless the bureau is structurally reformed.

The committee vote was 12 to 10, with every Democrat supporting Cordray’s nomination and every Republican opposing it. GOP members freely admit that Cordray is qualified and is more than capable of excelling in the position, but they rejected him anyway as part of a larger opposition to consumer protections.

More important than the votes against Cordray today are the Republican plans to prevent his nomination from ever reaching the floor.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently explained, “Cordray’s record as attorney general of Ohio puts him in a small group of people able to act effectively to deal with the mortgage crisis. No one has raised any questions about his intelligence, integrity or dedication. Yet his nomination will not even be fairly considered by the full Senate. Forty-four Republicans have announced that in disregard of their constitutional duty to consider nominations on the merits. They will not confirm anyone until the Senate majority reverses itself to once again put bank regulators in a position to overrule virtually all of the policies that would be set by the consumer agency.”

Quite right. Congress passed legislation creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the president signed it into law. Republicans are now saying they’ll allow the agency to function, but not until Democrats agree to weaken the law in ways the financial industry likes.

It’s all part of the normalization of extortion politics. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and might not work. Instead, we see the latest in a series of GOP extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to meet its legal mandate.

Our system of government has never worked this way; it wasn’t designed to work this way; and it can’t work this way. As Jonathan Cohn recently explained, “The consumer protection agency exists because a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting procedural rules (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect. That’s undemocratic. And I mean that with a small ‘d.’”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Senate Banking Committee, “If the Senate fails to confirm [Cordray], what will happen is it’ll leave a vast array of non-bank financial institutions … outside the scope of consumer protection, which was exactly the same mistake that left us so vulnerable to the financial crisis we went through.”

For Republicans, who’ve decided to take dictation from industry lobbyists, apparently that’s the idea.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Burr Deming on October 06, 2011 1:18 PM:

    When you combine scorched earth tactics with a loyalty to anti-regulatory ideology that is so intense it overrules even common sense, you get some crazy stuff. Here in Missouri there is a serious effort to abolish child-labor laws that have protected kids for generations.

    Crazy.

  • max on October 06, 2011 1:24 PM:

    "But Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and other GOP senators intend to block the former Ohio attorney general from final approval unless the bureau is structurally reformed."

    This would be a legislative change using only Senate procedural rules, which has to be both illegal and unConstitutional.

  • martin on October 06, 2011 1:25 PM:

    Let me once again apologize for the politicians my state inflicts on the rest of the country.

    That, said, I thought the Republicans were all about enforcing The Law! Or did that go away when they got over their fetish for An Up Or Down Vote?

  • k l m on October 06, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Obama addressed the nomination in his press conference this morning...drew yet another line in the sand for the GOP to trip over. I wonder if they notice he is weaving a web of lines in the sand which is going to trip them up mightily.

  • Josef K on October 06, 2011 1:52 PM:

    I agree with Steve and this country can't keep running on auto-pilot while its policy machinery is frozen. I'm left to wonder, once again, if the Republicans (and Democrats come to it) really understand how stretched things are becoming outside US395.

    But then again, a fair number of this year's freshmen are borderline nihilists (or at least come off that way), so perhaps anarchy is their ultimate goal.

  • c u n d gulag on October 06, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Godwin forgive me:

    But if you want to see the precursor for this kind of legislative (in)activity, take a look to see what happened when the Nazi's started to get elected in Germany.

    My apologies, Bitte...

  • stormskies on October 06, 2011 2:04 PM:

    But let's remember that Senator Reid and the Democrats had a chance to change the rules of how the Senate operates relative to the last election.............and they didn't. So here we are yet again.

  • jjm on October 06, 2011 2:11 PM:

    @stormskies: Does anyone have ANY idea why they did not do so? I really wish I knew. Were they so shocked by the tea party takeover of the House that they were afraid they'd soon be a minority? If so, they are very, very stupid.

  • stormskies on October 06, 2011 2:16 PM:

    jjm...........

    If I remember right they seriously considered this within a small time window that they could do so, and after this they had a 'gentleman's agreement' .. or handshake..with Mr Turtle in which he promised not to continuously use the filibuster to obstruct anything they wanted to obstruct .. sure worked out great, eh ?

  • max on October 06, 2011 3:45 PM:

    From Senator Tom Udall's paper in the Harvard Law & Policy Review, January, 9, 2011:

    "There is a solution to this entrenchment that has been supported by members of both parties for almost a century. What has become known as the “Constitutional Option” is based on a simple premise: at the beginning of each new Congress, the Senate is not bound by the rules of any previous Congress.[10] In accordance with the Constitution, the Senate is free to end debate with a simple majority vote and move to a final vote on the rules.[11] By adopting its own rules by a majority vote at the beginning of each new Congress, the Senate will have the reasonable and constitutionally-supported opportunity to make necessary reforms to the Senate Rules."

    Of course after taking a few hours off to read the Constitution for the first time and having it translated for them they would then need 60 votes to agree to even debate the issue.

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