Senate Republicans renew blockade of Obama's Consumer Bureau pick

Senate Republicans are renewing their vow to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless major changes are made to its structure.

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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.”

The two GOP senators who did not sign on to the letter were Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Rob Portman (Ohio). Corker is instead looking at legislative ways to boost the bureau's accountability, according to his spokeswoman. And Portman sent a letter to Cordray Friday calling on him to back the GOP-preferred changes as a way to prove his independence from the White House.

The refreshed blockade comes just days after President Obama re-nominated Richard Cordray to serve as CFPB director. The president installed Cordray in the position one year ago, using a controversial recess appointment after running into similar Republican opposition.

"The American people need Richard to keep standing up for them," the president said when he made the pick. "And there’s absolutely no excuse for the Senate to wait any longer to confirm him."

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) dismissed the latest GOP pronouncement as "just politics at play."

"The CFPB enjoys overwhelming public support, and there is no evidence that the bureau is unaccountable and that structural changes are necessary," Johnson said. "The market needs certainty, and blocking Richard Cordray's nomination is a disservice to consumers and industry alike."

Cordray's recess appointment, due to run through the end of 2013, has come under fresh scrutiny, with many believing the move could be ruled unconstitutional. One week ago, a federal appeals court ruled that a trio of recess appointments made the same day to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional, leading many to believe it is only a matter of time under Cordray's appointment faces a similar fate.

GOP lawmakers originally agreed to block any nominee to head the agency in May 2011, before Cordray was even nominated and the CFPB began operations. 

Republicans argue the new agency lacks accountability, particularly from Congress, and want to see major changes to how it is run before they would be willing to consider a nominee.

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, and its funding levels cannot be altered by Congress. Republicans also want to give other regulators greater power to veto CFPB rules that could pose a threat to the safety and soundness of financial institutions.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) filed legislation today to achieve those goals.

The demands are the same as the ones Republicans made roughly a year and a half ago, but there is little indication that there has been much movement from either side. Democrats and CFPB backers have dismissed the demands as less an attempt to bring more accountability to the bureau than an effort to weaken it. They have refused to consider the changes.