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“We Were Wrong”: What If Republicans Had Come To This Realization Sooner?

It took over 700 days, a recess appointment, and a nuclear-option showdown, but a prominent Republican senator yesterday took stock of his party’s efforts to reject Richard Cordray and nullify the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He reached an interesting conclusion.

“Cordray was being filibustered because we don’t like the law” that created the consumer agency, said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment. We were wrong.”

That’s not a phrase we often hear from politicians, especially congressional Republicans, and it’s a welcome concession. Indeed, since I made the same argument on Monday, I’m delighted by Graham’s candor.

Perhaps, if Senate Republicans had come to this realization just a little sooner, Elizabeth Warren would be at the CFPB right now and Scott Brown would still be making Wall Street happy as a senator.

Regardless, the question many Senate Democrats are asking right now is whether yesterday’s breakthrough — which overwhelmingly tilted in their favor — can help lay the foundation for broader progress, at least in the upper chamber. Greg Sargent reported this morning:

Democrats plan to seize on yesterday’s events to exacerbate what they hope is a developing schism between the GOP leadership/hard right alliance and a bloc of GOP Senators who (Dems are betting) are genuinely fed up with that alliance’s continued flouting of basic governing norms. They hope to renew the push for a return to budget negotiations, with an eye towards replacing the sequester.”

Greg added that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chair of the Banking Committee and an influential member of the Democratic leadership, is set to deliver a pointed message on the floor this afternoon: “There is a group of Republicans — led by Senator McCain — who are very interested in ending the gridlock and working together to solve problems…. I am really hopeful that the bipartisanship we’ve seen this week will carry over into the budget debate, and that rather than listening to the Tea Party, Republican leaders will listen to the Republican members who prefer common-sense bipartisanship over chaos and brinkmanship.”

There are obviously a whole lot of hurdles between the painful status quo and competent governing, and even if there’s a Senate GOP contingent prepared to be responsible the odds in the House are far worse, but between low expectations and the events of recent years, “we were wrong” is a step in the right direction.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 17, 2013

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“In The Thicket Of Fine Print”: Elizabeth Warren Rips NRA And GOP For “Keeping The Game Rigged”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (R-MA) used her speech at the Consumer Federation of America Thursday to make a wide-ranging argument defending the role of government and ripping Republicans and the National Rifle Association for intentionally keeping the American public in the dark.

After calling out the NRA’s “armies of lobbyists [that] are fighting to rig the system so that the public remains in the dark,” the senior senator from Massachusetts attacked the organization’s efforts to stop public research into gun violence.

“If as many people were dying of a mysterious disease as innocent bystanders are dying from firearms, a cure would be our top priority,” Warren said. “But we don’t even have good data on gun violence. Why? Because the NRA and the gun industry lobby made it their goal to prevent any serious effort to document the violence.”

Her defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which she first conceived and helped create as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, was especially pointed.

“This agency is about making consumer credit clear — no more hiding tricks and traps in a thicket of fine print. It is about letting consumers see the deal — and not worrying about the things they can’t see,” Warren said.

Senator Warren discussed the creation of the CFPB in a 2010 speech at the Consumer Federation of America that you can watch here.

Republicans have praised the work of CFPB director Richard Cordray, who President Obama installed via recess appointment after the GOP blocked his nomination. But they are blocking him again because they are bent on increasing congressional oversight of the bureau, while weakening its power.

“Blocking Rich Cordray is about keeping the game rigged, keeping the game rigged so that consumers remain in the dark — and a few bad actors can rake in big profits,” Warren said.

Republicans are basically working to void a federal law simply because they don’t like it. And by abusing the filibuster, they’ll likely be effective.

Senator Warren called out this unprecedented obstruction at Cordray’s nomination hearing:

“What I want to know is why every banking regulator since the Civil War has been funded outside the Appropriations process, but unlike the consumer agency, no one in the United States Senate has held up confirmation of their directors demanding that that agency or those agencies be redesigned.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, March 14, 2013

March 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Friends of Fraud”: An Open Attempt By Republicans To Use Raw Obstructionism To Overturn The Law

Like many advocates of financial reform, I was a bit disappointed in the bill that finally emerged. Dodd-Frank gave regulators the power to rein in many financial excesses; but it was and is less clear that future regulators will use that power. As history shows, the financial industry’s wealth and influence can all too easily turn those who are supposed to serve as watchdogs into lap dogs instead.

There was, however, one piece of the reform that was a shining example of how to do it right: the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a stand-alone agency with its own funding, charged with protecting consumers against financial fraud and abuse. And sure enough, Senate Republicans are going all out in an attempt to kill that bureau.

Why is consumer financial protection necessary? Because fraud and abuse happen.

Don’t say that educated and informed consumers can take care of themselves. For one thing, not all consumers are educated and informed. Edward Gramlich, the Federal Reserve official who warned in vain about the dangers of subprime, famously asked, “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” He went on, “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”

And even well-educated adults can have a hard time understanding the risks and payoffs associated with financial deals — a fact of which shady operators are all too aware. To take an area in which the bureau has already done excellent work, how many of us know what’s actually in our credit-card contracts?

Now, you might be tempted to say that while we need protection against financial fraud, there’s no need to create another bureaucracy. Why not leave it up to the regulators we already have? The answer is that existing regulatory agencies are basically concerned with bolstering the banks; as a practical, cultural matter they will always put consumer protection on the back burner — just as they did when they ignored Mr. Gramlich’s warnings about subprime.

So the consumer protection bureau serves a vital function. But as I said, Senate Republicans are trying to kill it.

How can they do that, when the reform is already law and Democrats hold a Senate majority? Here as elsewhere, they’re turning to extortion — threatening to filibuster the appointment of Richard Cordray, the bureau’s acting head, and thereby leave the bureau unable to function. Mr. Cordray, whose work has drawn praise even from the bankers, is clearly not the issue. Instead, it’s an open attempt to use raw obstructionism to overturn the law.

What Republicans are demanding, basically, is that the protection bureau lose its independence. They want its actions subjected to a veto by other, bank-centered financial regulators, ensuring that consumers will once again be neglected, and they also want to take away its guaranteed funding, opening it to interest-group pressure. These changes would make the agency more or less worthless — but that, of course, is the point.

How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. On the right, it’s now complete orthodoxy that do-gooder liberals, especially former Representative Barney Frank, somehow caused the financial disaster by forcing helpless bankers to lend to Those People.

In reality, this is a nonsense story that has been extensively refuted; I’ve always been struck in particular by the notion that a Congressional Democrat, holding office at a time when Republicans ruled the House with an iron fist, somehow had the mystical power to distort our whole banking system. But it’s a story conservatives much prefer to the awkward reality that their faith in the perfection of free markets was proved false.

And as always, you should follow the money. Historically, the financial sector has given a lot of money to both parties, with only a modest Republican lean. In the last election, however, it went all in for Republicans, giving them more than twice as much as it gave to Democrats (and favoring Mitt Romney over the president almost three to one). All this money wasn’t enough to buy an election — but it was, arguably, enough to buy a major political party.

Right now, all the media focus is on the obvious hot issues — immigration, guns, the sequester, and so on. But let’s try not to let this one fall through the cracks: just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 3, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Financial Crisis, Financial Institutions | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Public Be Damned”: GOP Senators Threaten Obstruction Unless Consumer Protection Bureau Is Weakened

When the Dodd-Frank financial reform law first passed, Senate Republicans refused to confirm a director for the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They promised to block any nominee — regardless of that nominee’s qualifications for the job — unless the Bureau was weakened and made subservient to the same bank regulators who failed to prevent the 2008 financial crisis.

President Obama was thus forced to recess appoint Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to be the Bureau’s first director. Now that Obama has renewed Cordray’s nomination, the Senate GOP is again promising to block any nominee unless the Bureau is watered down:

In a letter sent to President Obama on Friday, 43 Republican senators committed to refusing approval of any nominee to head the consumer watchdog until the bureau underwent significant reform. Lawmakers signing on to the letter included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee.

“The CFPB as created by the deeply flawed Dodd-Frank Act is one of the least accountable in Washington,” said McConnell. “Today’s letter reaffirms a commitment by 43 Senators to fix the poorly thought structure of this agency that has unprecedented reach and control over individual consumer decisions — but an unprecedented lack of oversight and accountability.” […]

In particular, Republicans want to see the top of the bureau changed so it is run by a bipartisan, five-member commission, as opposed to a lone director.

They also want to see the bureau’s funding fall under the control of congressional appropriators — it currently is funded via a revenue stream directly from the Federal Reserve.

Republicans want to implement a commission (instead of a lone director) and subject the CFPB to the appropriations process in order to stuff it full of appointees with no interest in regulating and starve it of funds. The other financial system regulators that have to go before Congress for their funds already don’t have the resources to implement Dodd-Frank, thanks the House GOP, leaving large swathes of it unfinished. There are also a host of other reasons that the CFPB needs to be both independently funded and have a strong, independent director.

The CFPB has done important work on behalf of consumers, winning wide praise from consumer advocates and the financial industry. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have made it abundantly clear that they believe that blocking any and all nominees is an acceptable strategy.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, February 2, 2013

February 4, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is A Judicial Confirmation Crisis, And The GOP Is Causing It

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama called on the Senate to “put an end” to the unprecedented obstruction of his judicial and executive branch nominees, insisting that “neither party has been blameless in these tactics.” He was right to call out the problem, but he was wrong that it’s a bipartisan issue. It’s fine for the president to be magnanimous, but the fact is only one party has systematically held hostage even the most basic tasks of governing in the hopes of making minor political gains. And that party is not the president’s.

The nominations crisis that we face today exists largely because it can easily fly under the radar—and the GOP politicians behind it know that. This Republican Congress’s intransigence has caused harm beyond the very public battles over the debt ceiling and tax cuts for millionaires. Under the unglamorous cover of judicial and executive branch confirmations, the Senate GOP has launched a campaign of strategic obstruction to prevent parts of the federal government from functioning at all.

This became clear in the relatively public battle to confirm Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans admitted they had no problem with Cordray himself. Instead, all but two stated in a letter to the president that they would refuse to confirm him unless the new, congressionally created agency he was nominated to head was first substantially weakened. It was an unprincipled attempt to legislate via the Senate’s power of advice and consent, which the president rightly sidestepped by installing Cordray with a recess appointment.

But the Cordray nomination was just the tip of the iceberg. With far less public attention, the GOP has been decimating the nation’s courts, causing the judicial branch to face a historic vacancy crisis and Americans seeking their day in court to face unconscionable delays. This crisis is largely due to the chronic inaction of the Senate, which has been crippled by the Republican minority’s abuse of the chamber’s rules to block even consensus nominees from getting a yes-or-no vote.

More than 10 percent of all district and circuit court seats in the country are now or will soon be vacant, in what is the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in 35 years. Thirty-two of these open seats have been labeled “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The term isn’t bureaucratic hyperbole. As the number of criminal cases surges—a 70 percent increase in the past decade—civil cases are necessarily put on the back burner, resulting in often years-long delays for Americans seeking justice in consumer fraud, copyright infringement, discrimination, civil rights, and other civil claims. Judges in their 80s and 90s have continued working to keep the system running. One told the Washington Post last year,  “I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, ‘You need to reduce your stress.’ I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.”

Outside of the Senate, there’s near-unanimous agreement that the current pattern of obstruction needs to end. Legal groups and prominent judges across the political spectrum—including Chief Justice John Roberts—have urged that  partisan politics be set aside for the good of the justice system. But instead, Senate Republicans have dug in their heels. Once being confirmed by the Judiciary Committee—usually without opposition—President Obama’s circuit court nominees have waited a staggering average of 136 days for a vote from the full Senate, compared to just 30 days for President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his presidency. For district court nominees, historically confirmed quickly and easily except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, the average wait after committee approval has been 90 days under Obama, in contrast to 22 days under Bush. Even among the nominees who were fortunate enough to be confirmed last year, more than a quarter were holdovers from 2010, denied votes from the full Senate until the year after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile the dry numbers of the vacancy crisis obscure its devastating impacts. Cases that require urgent resolution face grueling delays and occasionally put on indefinite hold. In Utah, Dave Calder’s two-year-old daughter died in 2005, when a gas can exploded inside his trailer, leaving him with severe burns over a third of his body. After he sued the maker of the faulty can in 2007, he had to wait two and a half years for a jury verdict. In Merced, California, 2,000 citizens who filed suit over toxic chemical contamination stemming from a 2006 flood are still awaiting resolution, and only one civil trial has been held in the matter.

Republicans in this Congress have again and again put the politics of obstruction over the good of the American people. President Obama was right to call out the problem, but he should have put a name to it. Americans deserve a Senate that, at the very least, does the basic job it was hired to do. When it comes to confirming nominees, it is clear which party has been shirking its duties.

 

By: Marge Baker, U. S. News and World Report, January 27, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Senate | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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