- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2012

President Obama’s appointments to two key agencies during the Senate’s year-end break ensures that GOP senators will return to work Monday in an angry and fighting mood.

Less clear is what those furious Republicans will do to retaliate against Mr. Obama’s “bring it on” end run around the Senate’s role in confirming nominees to major jobs.

While Republicans contemplate their next step, recess appointee Richard Cordray is running a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board, with three temporary members, is now at full strength with a Democratic majority.

Mr. Obama left more than 70 other nominees in limbo, well aware that Republicans could use Senate rules to block some or all of them.

The White House justified the appointments on grounds that Republicans were holding up the nominations to paralyze the two agencies. The consumer protection agency was established under the 2010 Wall Street reform law, which requires the bureau to have a director in order to begin policing financial products such as mortgages, checking accounts, credit cards and payday loans.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the five-member NLRB must have a three-member quorum to issue regulations or decide major cases in union-employer disputes.

Several agencies contacted by the Associated Press, including banking regulators, said they were conducting their normal business despite vacancies at the top. In some cases, nominees are serving in acting capacities.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., at full strength, has five board members. The regulation of failed banks “is unaffected,” said spokesman Andrew Gray. “The three-member board has been able to make decisions without a problem.” Mr. Cordray’s appointment gives it a fourth member.

The Comptroller of the Currency, run by an acting chief, has kept up its regular examinations of banks. The Federal Trade Commission, operating with four board members instead of five, has had no difficulties. “This agency is not a partisan combat agency,” said spokesman Peter Kaplan. “Almost all the votes are unanimous and consensus driven.”

Republicans have pledged retaliation for Obama’s recess appointments, but haven’t indicated what it might be.

“The Senate will need to take action to check and balance President Obama’s blatant attempt to circumvent the Senate and the Constitution, a claim of presidential power that the Bush Administration refused to make,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is his party’s top member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Grassley wouldn’t go further, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky hasn’t tipped his hand after charging that Obama had “arrogantly circumvented the American people.”

Before the Senate left for its break in December, Mr. McConnell blocked Senate approval of more than 60 pending nominees because Mr. Obama wouldn’t commit to making no recess appointments.

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