By Peter Schroeder - 03/29/12 06:09 PM EDT
Time is not healing the wounds Republicans feel over the president's contentious decision to recess appoint Richard Cordray as the first director of a new consumer protection agency.
When Cordray appeared before the House Financial Services Committee Thursday, he was met with blistering criticism from GOP lawmakers, who contend that the president's January move was not valid, and as a result, neither was his appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) called the White House's move proof of "arrogance and flagrant disregard for the Constitution," going on to call it "extremely offensive and a violation of the highest law of the land."
Since taking over the agency in January, Cordray has tried to steer clear of the controversy over his appointment, instead highlighting his work getting the agency up and running.
He did the same Thursday, making no mention of how he came on the job, instead discussing what he hoped to do there, including making consumer financial products easy to understand while cracking down on unfair, abusive, or deceptive products.
"I am honored to serve as the first director," he said. "Our mission is of critical importance to making life better for Americans."
Meanwhile, Democrats sought to paint the CFPB as a model government agency, highlighting several times the multiple trips agency officials have made to Capitol Hill to discuss its operations.
"Your agency has come before Congress 16 times over the short course of its life," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). "It's clear that this agency is setting the gold standard in terms of transparency and accountability."
"Welcome to one of the longest-running series in Washington, the hearings on oversight of your agency in which my [Republican] colleagues complain you lack oversight," added Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the committee.
Cordray has been at the center of the hotly partisan debate over the bureau, ever since it was included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Republicans contend that the agency is too powerful and lacks checks on its authority, and could hinder the financial sector with onerous rules. Democrats contend the financial crisis proved a bureau devoted solely to consumers was sorely needed.
Republicans in the Senate blocked Cordray's confirmation, and congressional Republicans kept the Senate in brief pro forma sessions in an attempt to prevent a recess appointment. However, Obama and his attorneys concluded that since the sessions, which lasted less than a minute, did not constitute legitimate work periods, they could be ignored for purposes of making a recess appointment.
The move set off a partisan furor, and a promise of legal challenges to the CFPB's authority from industry groups affected by a Cordray-helmed bureau.