The following is an op-ed from Celeste Meiffren, field director for Illinois PIRG.
Since July 21, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB – a centerpiece of the 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act -- has been up and running. It’s the nation’s first federal financial regulator with only one job—protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. Yet, until the bureau has a director, it does not gain all of its new authority to protect the public.
Along with civil rights, labor, senior and consumer groups, we have long urged the Senate to confirm the president’s well-qualified nominee, Richard Cordray, the former Ohio Attorney General, to direct the CFPB. Recently, 37 state Attorneys General, on a bi-partisan basis, sent a letter to the Senate urging confirmation.
Yet, in December, 45 Senators used Senate filibuster rules to reject his nomination. This result wasn’t surprising, as in May 45 Senators including Illinois’ own Sen. Kirk had written the President and told him that they would block confirmation of any director until and unless the CFPB’s independence and authority are first restricted. They want the CFPB weak and powerless and with a tin cup in hand.
Further, the House and Senate opponents of financial reform argue that as long as the Congressional bodies stay in nominal, or pro-forma, sessions, even though they’ve actually gone home to the districts, that the President cannot use his constitutional authority to make a recess appointment.
Opponents of the CFPB are wrong on the president’s constitutional authority to make recess appointments; it is not limited by the Congress pretending to never recess. The President can force a recess, or, as Teddy Roosevelt once did, can make a recess appointment during the recess, no matter how short.
The path is clear. President Obama should make a recess appointment of Richard Cordray immediately. Only with a director does the CFPB gain its full authority to investigate and examine big banks, payday lenders, private student lenders, credit bureaus, mortgage companies and other financial firms. Only with a director can the CFPB fully protect the public.
Opponents are also wrong to use the confirmation process to seek to eliminate the agency. Any disagreements over the power of the CFPB should be resolved through separate legislation, not by preventing it from doing its job. The recent rejection of the Cordray nomination, however, shows that Senate reform opponents, backed by Wall Street, don’t want a regulator that protects consumers.
Opponents claim that the CFPB is “unaccountable.” Actually, the CFPB is already fully accountable to Congress and the American people. Its powers are similar to those of other bank regulators, although more limited in some ways that opponents don’t like to admit. For example, while all other bank regulators have independent budgets that they can increase on their own, only the CFPB’s independent budget is capped. Only the CFPB’s decisions can be vetoed by other regulators.
The failure of the current bank regulators to stop predatory lending and other reckless Wall Street practices is widely recognized as a primary cause of the 2008 mortgage meltdown that caused the loss of millions of homes, millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in lost retirement income and triggered the current recession.
Many consumer advocates and experts consider establishment of the CFPB in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as the most significant consumer financial protection since deposit insurance after the 1929 Great Crash.
Yet, without a director, the CFPB cannot fully do its job. To date, too many members of the Senate have failed to do their job, which is to confirm qualified nominees. They’ve backed Wall Street’s needs, not the needs of families, soldiers, seniors and students in the financial marketplace. The President can fix this with a recess appointment of Richard Cordray to direct the CFPB. Then, it can do its job, protecting the public.
Celeste Meiffren is a field director for Illinois PIRG.