In what his opponents have called an “unprecedented power grab” President Barack Obama has used the power of the recess appointment to install former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The CFPB is an agency whose formation was approved and passed into law along with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms in 2010 but cannot operate fully or exercise its full authority without an appointed director. With this fact in mind Congressional Republicans have effectively blocked Cordray’s confirmation since his name was put forth in July of this year.
Let’s examine the implications. At its core the refusal to even allow the appointment of a director to the CFPB to come to a vote represents selective enforcement of the law of the land. It allows an agency already formed and approved by the existing machinations of representative democracy to sit hamstrung based on ideological preference. This juvenile act of sabotage is best described as the organized kicking and screaming of a legislative sore loser.
More heinously it looks the American consumer in the eye and states that the obstructionist stance of the current Republican Congress extends directly to the day to day business of surviving in the shrinking American middle class. As stated in its government website the core functions of the CFPB are as follows:
- Conduct rule-making, supervision, and enforcement for Federal consumer financial protection laws
- Restrict unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices
- Take consumer complaints
- Promote financial education
- Research consumer behavior
- Monitor financial markets for new risks to consumers
- Enforce laws that outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance
To put it simply, the CPFB was created to further specify and codify the practices that had led to the catastrophic economic events of 2008 and reign them in. It was an action that perfectly illustrates the frontline in the battle between those who recognize the need to create and enforce legislation to regulate a lending industry and banking system that is unsustainably predatory, and those who believe that a reshaping of the vocabulary and a reframing of history that depends on collective amnesia regarding the legislative history of the Bush years will somehow be anything other than deadly to the economic well-being of the country.
While Obama declared, “I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans.” Republicans have labeled the recess appointment an egregious abuse of power. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said, ‘The President has arrogantly attempted to circumvent the American people.” GOP Presidential front runner and beneficiary of millions in anonymous campaign contributions via his ostensibly non-affiliated super PAC, Mitt Romney has dubbed the move akin to “the worst kind of Chicago politics.”
Understand American voter that the hair they split is the use of the recess appointment, an often employed political maneuver used in response to the filibuster and other outdated mechanisms of obstruction. The implication is that in appointing a director to an agency already receiving taxpayer funding but blocked from providing the full benefits of its service, the President has somehow gone back room with his politics. They reach for the technicality that it has been decades since an appointment was made during a recess less than three days old. They threaten a legal challenge based on this pretext despite the fact that the last President to employ the tactic was a little known and seldom revered Republican named Teddy Roosevelt.
A recess appointment is never ideal, it is not the product of diplomacy but trench warfare. As such it is the big stick that sits so well with the speak softly end of that thought. Furthermore it is Obama’s 29th such appointment in reaction to the stonewall tactics of the current congress (George W. Bush had made 171 such appointments by the way). It’s hard not to see this as a disappointing evolution in the capital, but also a necessary show of strength by the White House in a year when the politics of deception and entrenched corporate interests are being heralded as the exact opposite and the exact practices that lead to financial ruin are being repackaged and represented as something new.