The Senate confirmation vote on Richard Cordray this week won’t have much to do with Richard Cordray.
As I wrote when the Senate Banking Committee considered the Cordray nomination back in March, nobody disputes the idea that the former Ohio Attorney General, who has led the CFPB since January 2012, is highly competent and supremely qualified to continue in his position. Nor is the impact of the agency itself in doubt: in 2012 alone, 6 million U.S. consumers received refunds from financial services companies as a result of CFPB enforcement actions, according to Americans for Financial Reform, and the agency has handled more than 130,000 consumer complaints since it opened its doors less than two years ago.
Whether it’s protecting consumers from the type of reckless and deceptive mortgage lending that sparked the economic downturn or beginning to oversee the massive credit reporting companies that shape the financial lives of American consumers, the CFPB has proven itself to be a critical consumer watchdog.
But back in February, 43 Republican Senators sent President Obama a letter asserting that they would refuse to permit a vote to consider any nominee to lead the CFPB unless the agency was restructured in ways that would significantly weaken it. This despite the fact that the agency’s creation and structure was determined by legislation passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the president nearly three years ago. Since February, the GOP caucus hasn’t moved an inch. Last month, the House Financial Services Committee refused to allow Cordray to testify on behalf of the CFPB, as Chairman Jeb Hensarling insisted that he was not the legitimate director. The opposition is absurdly petty.
Polls show strong and broad public support for the CFPB and its mission. The vast majority of small business owners support the CFPB and many leaders of financial firms overseen by the agency appreciate the CFPB’s transparent procedures and the chance to operate in a marketplace with clear and predictable rules. But it’s making little impact in the face of Senate blockades.
The battle is yet another face of the broader Republican obstructionism Robert Kuttner decried on this blog last week. “Obama's term still has more than three and a half years to run and Democrats still have a 55-45 majority in the Senate,” Kuttner noted, “but the Republicans are treating him like the lamest of lame ducks.”
To fight back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly considering the “nuclear option” of filibuster reform if Cordray, along with President Obama’s nominees to head the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency, are blocked from receiving up-or-down votes on their appointment. President Obama’s slate of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board—which has not had a full Senate-confirmed, five-member board since August 2003—merit the same treatment.
Noting that even CFPB foes in the financial services industry are tired of the debate over Cordray, Politico nevertheless observes that “House Republicans have recently ramped up efforts to highlight their opposition to the bureau.” It’s time to pull the curtain on a show that’s putting even bank lobbyists to sleep: the Senate must confirm Cordray and give Americans the financial watchdog we need.