Republicans Vow to Hold Up Consumer Financial Bureau Nominee’s Confirmation

Richard Cordray, President Obama’s nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,  took the hot seat before the Senate Banking Committee today. Most of the Republicans’ concerns have to do with the structure of the bureau  and the accountability of its eventual director, not Cordray himself, who seemed to avoid most of the heat.

“You’re caught in a big substantive debate,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., one of the fiercest critics of the bureau’s creation, told Cordray during the hearing today.

Republicans today repeated that they would not confirm Cordray or anyone unless the bureau, created to protect consumers from fraud and abuse by financial service companies, is restructured. In May 2010, before Cordray was nominated, 44 Republican senators wrote a letter to  Obama saying they would not confirm anyone to head the agency unless the bureau was restructured.

Shelby repeated that threat again today.

“We do not believe that the committee should consider any nominee to be the director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection until reforms are adopted to make the Bureau accountable to the American people,” Shelby said. “It is regrettable that the president and the majority have chosen to ignore our request rather than work with us to improve the bureau’s accountability. It may be good politics for them, but it is certainly bad policy for the American people.”

Shelby said the director of the bureau would be granted “unprecedented authority over the lives of the American people without any effective checks,” with “all of the bureau’s power” concentrated on the director in its current form.

“It is staggering the amount of control the director will exert over the daily financial choices available to Americans. Despite having such broad powers, however, there is no meaningful check on the director’s authority,” Shelby concluded. “No one person should have so much unfettered power over the American people.”

Responding, Cordray assured the committee that he has not sought to “inject” himself into the legislative discussions around the bureau but added that he had spoken to the White House about the concerns of Republicans in Congress. He said he would be accountable to Congress if confirmed.

Democrats at the hearing today expressed displeasure for Republicans holding up Cordray’s confirmation, likening it to hostage taking.

“Work must go forward and should go forward, to block this appointment simply to express displeasure is the wrong way entirely,” Sen.  Jack Reed, D-RI., said.

Sen. Chuck  Schumer, D-N.Y., called Cordray a “pawn in a cynical Washington game.”

Senators have until Sept. 9 to submit additional written questions to Cordray.