White House doesn’t have votes for nominee for consumer bureau chief

A White House push to secure support for President Obama’s nominee to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looks to be well short of the 60 Senate votes needed to move forward. 

Senate Republicans offered a public show of unity Tuesday against former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray’s nomination, suggesting centrist Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) might remain the lone GOP defector. 

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It’s also unclear whether the White House can count on all of the 53 senators who caucus with Democrats. 

The party is defending 23 seats in the 2012 elections, and many of them are in red states where Obama’s healthcare and Wall Street reform bills are unpopular.

Among the Democrats not rushing to show support for Obama’s nominee on Tuesday was Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), who faces a difficult race for a second term. She said she is still thinking about her vote and hasn’t decided whether to support Cordray. 

An aide to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who likewise faces a tough reelection fight, said the senator hasn’t completed a staff briefing on the Cordray nomination. 

The GOP effort follows a public push by the White House in support of Cordray’s nomination to lead the new bureau created by last year’s Wall Street reform law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a vote to end debate on the nomination for Thursday. 

Republicans on Tuesday insisted they would block Cordray’s confirmation in the procedural vote unless the White House agrees to significant changes to the agency’s framework. 

The unity was expressed at a GOP news conference, where several senators from states the White House targeted in pushing for Cordray lined up to explain their opposition. 

GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Susan Collins (Maine) attended the public event. 

When the White House launched its latest public push for Cordray, spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration would target senators from seven states — Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah.

The appearance by Collins was notable in that she broke with her party last week to support an extension of the payroll-tax cut. Collins also voted for the Wall Street reform bill, but she said she would be a “no” vote on Thursday because she is “completely opposed to appointing a nominee to head this bureau until we correct the very serious structural flaws that are in the bill.”

Republicans have three key demands for changes to the agency, which was spearheaded by liberal Elizabeth Warren, who is now a Democratic Senate candidate challenging Brown in Massachusetts. 

The GOP senators said the agency should be led by a board and not one person, arguing that a single individual would have too much power without any congressional oversight. 

Republicans also said the agency should be part of the appropriations process and should not be funded by the Federal Reserve, as set up under the Wall Street reform law. 

Allowing the bureau to be funded by the Fed gives it a “funding stream that’s completely unique in government, entirely without a check from the American people … making it one of the least transparent agencies in Washington,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said at the news conference.

The GOP’s third demand is that congressional committees get oversight jurisdiction for the bureau. 

Senate Banking Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the changes are needed “to prevent this from being a completely runaway, unaccountable agency, which is exactly the way it was crafted to be.”

While the Republicans said they regard Cordray as “qualified,” they argued that the lack of congressional oversight of an agency that could spend $500 billion is unacceptable. 

“It makes no sense for a structure to be created, no matter how noble the cause may be, where there is simply no accountability, no oversight for the budget,” Collins said. 

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Hatch said the fact that Obama originally nominated Warren, whom Hatch termed a “partisan” nominee, shows that the position could be misused in the future, even though Cordray seems a “decent person.”

Lugar, who faces a difficult primary fight, said he has not wavered in his opposition because the White House hasn’t made a move, so far, to make what he deemed necessary changes to the agency. 

“It is ridiculous. I think everyone in Indiana agrees with me on this one,” Lugar said of the White House push in his state. 

“I stand with my colleagues on this issue, because clearly this is a case of tremendous overregulation without any control by the Congress.”