A boost for good governance

A boost for good governance

January 8th, 2012 in Opinion Times

President Obama's recess appointments of a director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board has, predictably, left Republican obstructionists harping about his welcome decision, finally, to fill these slots. The president's action significantly advances the public interest in consumer protection and employees' increasingly threatened rights, however. If Republicans want to grouse about the method, voters should know they're being hypocrites: they have long used recess appointments when they controlled the White House to circumvent political stalemate.

In fact, Obama patiently waited for six months for Republicans to come to terms on these appointments. But all they've done is filibuster against a majority of the Senate to kill such appointments, while arguing for wholly unreasonable conditions to shackle these agencies.

The appointment of Richard Cordray, a respected former Ohio attorney general, as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finally gives the agency the teeth and jurisdiction to do what it was established to do under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. It's past time for that to happen.

Though enough Senate Republicans had finally agreed in 2010 to provide the margin to pass the reform law, they did so only on the devious condition that the CFPB could not exercise its full powers to protect consumers' interest in various financial products until a director was named. And then they stalled, and kept stalling, on appointment of a director in order to get Democrats to agree to weaken the laws for which the agency was created to oversee.

The legislation had let the agency assume authority for existing regulations for consumer products from banks and credit unions, but it was not legally authorized to establish new consumer protection regulations for a range of financial companies until a director was appointed. Republicans, predictably courting rich financial lobbyists, were simply willing to cripple the new agency and let banks, payday lenders, mortgage brokers, money transfer agencies, credit agencies, student loan issuers and other vendors of financial products continue to profit through deceptive lending practices and a lack of transparency.

Obama decision finally to appoint Mr. Cordray is encouraging. The new director noted in a blog post after his appointment that the bureau had not been able to develop new regulations for such products as credit cards and mortgages.

"Now, with a director, the CFPB can exercise its full authorities -- with respect to both banks and non-banks -- to help those markets operate fairly, transparently and competitively." That's a welcome change from the predatory practices that greatly harmed consumers in the run-up to financial crisis of 2008.

Obama's appointments of three well-regarded people to the five-member national labor board is equally heartening. Republicans had rejected previous candidates, and the board faced the threat of being left with just two members -- and without the power of a quorum to act on critical workplace issues.

Republicans' backlash was predictable, especially in an election year when they are determined to see as little helpful action as possible from the administration. But that's not a fair reason to cripple the ability of government to act responsibility.