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GOP Nullification of Consumer Protection Bureau Law Easily Nullified By a Recess Appointment

Describing the blockade of Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a form of nullification sounds accurate to me. Cordray is almost an afterthought to this issue. Republicans disagree with the concept of a federal agency that looks out for consumers. So they plan to stop any effort to staff the agency with a director, which has the added benefit in this case of holding off consumer protection regulation of non-bank financial institutions, unless it is gutted.

In other words, Congress passed a law inaugurating a consumer protection agency, and Republicans in the Senate want to re-litigate that. So they’re using the means at their disposal to stop the agency from functioning.

They actually haven’t stopped the agency from functioning. CFPB just set up its credit card and mortgage consumer complaint hotlines. They released a sample credit card agreement with the emphasis on clarity. They released a sample mortgage agreement earlier. They involved themselves in an effort to stop loan modification scams. Having no confirmed director is a nuisance, but no different than the other agencies of the government, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, operating without a director for years. Senate Republicans are protecting payday lenders and other non-bank lending institutions by blocking a director, which is completely outrageous, but Democrats haven’t made that case directly.

Moreover, Democrats and the President have an option here. They can simply force a recess appointment. The President has all the tools at his disposal to get a director in place, whether by forcing Congress to adjourn, or using the inter-session period as a recess to use his appointment power. These may seem like power plays, but as power plays go they pale in comparison to Senate Republicans hijacking an entire agency and blocking anyone from serving as its director until their demands are met. In other words, a recess appointment would be a proportional response at this point. And Republicans would grumble about it, but I don’t see why anyone should care about that. Putting a greater spotlight on their intentions here should be the goal.

So yes, Republicans are using a nullification strategy. But it cannot be successful without Democratic toothlessness, a form of complicity. Democrats could have Cordray in place by the end of the year. All they have to do is make choices they have decided, for whatever reason, not to make to this point.

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David Dayen

David Dayen