Look around you. The economy is getting better, but very slowly. Why aren’t things improving more rapidly? In part, because Republicans in Congress don’t want them to get better quickly. They figure that if the economy is in shambles, voters will blame President Obama, and he won’t be re-elected in 2012. And so, the GOP resists every attempt by the administration to get people back to work and improve the economy.
Think about that. The Republican Party is putting its selfish interests ahead of the economic well being of the nation. Some patriots.
The latest attempt by the GOP to torpedo administration policies involves the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Regulatory Act which was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama. According to the New York Times (12/7/11), “The law gives the consumer agency authority over nonbank financial companies that were barely regulated, if at all – entities like payday lenders, credit reporting agencies, mortgage companies and debt collectors.”
“These institutions have been accused of preying on lower-income families, prodding them into mortgages with escalating interest rates, charging high rates of interest for short-term loans and using abusive debt collection methods.”
So, a very real need existed for this bureau. Yet Republicans in Congress have fought its implementation tooth and nail. Elizabeth Warren was primarily responsible for creating the agency. The GOP threatened to filibuster her appointment as director of the bureau. Gone are the days when bills and appointments passed the Senate by simple majorities. Now, Republicans in the Senate filibuster virtually everything. Because a 60 percent vote is needed to end a filibuster, not a simple majority, that allows the minority of Republicans in the Senate to filibuster and block all manner of legislation and appointments.
Seeing that the Warren nomination was doomed to defeat by the filibuster, the administration substituted the name of Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans had no problem with Cordray’s qualifications. Cordray (a five-time Jeopardy champion) is a former attorney general of Ohio who is known for his aggressive investigation of mortgage foreclosure practices.
GOP senator Orrin Hatch said of Cordray (New York Times, 12/8/11), “This is not about the nominee, who appears to be a decent person and may very well be qualified.” Well, then, what was it that Republicans didn’t like? They didn’t like the rules under which the bureau operated, and wanted to change them.
Full stop. Let’s pause for a moment. The Dodd-Frank Act, under which this bureau was created, was duly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. It is the law of the land. But now, after the fact, Republicans want to change it by threatening to flibuster and reject an otherwise competent director of the bureau.
Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said (New York Times, 12/7/11) “the Republicans’ strategy of denying an appointment because they dislike the way a law was structured carried a dangerous precedent. It’s not typical and not desirable in lots of ways,” he said, “because that would mean no legislation is good after the Congress passed it.”
Republicans keep changing the rules to benefit themselves. Instead of a filibuster being used only under extraordinary circumstances, the GOP routinely uses it to defeat legislation it doesn’t like. Instead of voting appointments up or down on the basis of the qualifications of the candidate, the nominee becomes a hostage to pressure changes in previously-passed legislation.
What changes in the law did Republicans want? They said that the bureau wasn’t accountable to anyone and drew its operating money from the Federal Reserve, rather than having congressional oversight. Well, duh. If the bureau had to look to Congress for its money, it would soon become the timid lapdog these obstructionist Republicans want.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin disputed Republican claims of lack of accountability. He said (Boston Globe, 12/9/11) “it must consult with other bank regulators before issuing rules, has to assess the effects of its rules on small businesses and can have its rules overturned by the Financial Stability Oversight Councll.”
So, really, what is Republicans don’t like about the bureau? Andrew Rosenthal notes in the New York times (12/8/11). “Republicans, of course, consider this agency a grave threat to the financial system. By which they mean it’s a threat to their donors.”
Cut to the chase. Cordray’s nomination as director was defeated by a Republican filibuster. Even though a majority of senators, 53, voted for him, the number didn’t reach the 60 needed to shut down a filibuster. Among the 45 opposing Cordray’s nomination was New Hampshire’s newly-elected senator Kelly Ayotte, who as time passes, has proven not to be the hoped-for breath of fresh air, but rather a loyal member of the Republican obstructionists.
Well, how can the Obama administration function effectively if the GOP won’t allow it to fill positions within the government and pass useful legislation. It can’t, and for congressional Republicans, that’s the name of the game.
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