Senate Republicans are poised to block yet another one of President Obama's nominees as they threaten to filibuster his choice for the first director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in what's turning into a fight over the agency's accountability and oversight.
On Thursday, the Senate will vote on whether to approve former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the new director of the CFPB. His chances are slim. He has wide Democratic support, but more than 40 Republicans are expected to block his confirmation vote.
"If you ask me, the American people should be getting more transparency out of this administration, not less," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "We dont need any more unelected, unaccountable czars in Washington."
But Senate Democrats are painting this as an attempt to kill the CFPB while it's still in its infancy. They held a press conference Wednesday to denounce the Republican efforts. Banking committee Chairman Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, called it "an attempt to destroy the bureau's ability to do its job of protecting American consumers."
This would be the second time Senate Republicans pushed back against a CFPB director. President Obama earlier in the year pulled back and decided against nominating Elizabeth Warren for the position because of Republican pressure.
Republicans have no specific problems with Mr. Cordray, but they don't like what his nomination represents.
"My opposition to the nomination has nothing to do with the person, but rather to the lack of accountability of the position and the new agency as it's currently structured," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. "The law gives Washington bureaucrats an enormous amount of unchecked power."
The Senate GOP is demanding lawmakers change the structure of the CFPB, before they approve a director to include a bipartisan board of directors rather than a single director. They argue that's the same model that most agencies have, and it would prevent one unelected director from wielding too much power.
GOP lawmakers also want to subject the CFPB to the appropriations process. When the agency was created as part of the Dodd-Frank law, it was exempted from the oversight of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate. They want to change this, so there is more transparency in the process.
"We just think that nobody should be above oversight - including the overseers," Mr. McConnell explained.
But Democrats say Republicans are just trying to water down the CFPB.
"For the first time in Senate history, Republicans are poised to block a qualified nominee solely because they don't like the federal agency he will lead," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.
"Senate Republicans have no problem with Richard Cordray. He has bipartisan support and a long history of fighting unfair practices by financial predators," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "Instead Republicans are trying to cripple the new consumer agency altogether by depriving it of a director."
At least one Republican plans to vote with Democrats in favor of Mr. Cordray.
"I disagree with Republicans on this issue," said Sen. Scott P. Brown, Massachusetts Republican. "Mr. Cordray deserves an up-or-down vote, and I look forward to supporting his nomination. Having a leader at the helm is critical at a time when the agency is getting up and running."
Senate Republicans on Tuesday succeeded in blocking the confirmation of judicial nominee Caitlin Joan Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
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