Thursday, December 8, 2011

Headless Agency

How can any member of Congress justify passing a statute creating a new consumer agency, and then refuse to allow a vote to confirm the appointed head of that agency? It would be one thing if the opponents of Richard Cordray's appointment to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opposed confirmation on the ground that he is unqualified, or even that they disagree with some of his views. Instead, the opposition is based on the ground that Senate Republicans don't like the agency that Congress created. According to Steve Benen's column on the Senate's blocking of the Cordray appointment, which he called part of the normalization of extortion politics:
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) checked with the Senate Historian’s office this week, and found that this is the first time in history that a party has blocked a qualified nominee solely because it does not like the existence of the agency the nominee was selected to lead.
Is this really the kind of historical precedent the Senate Republicans want to be known for? As the president explained in his news conference (video below), if these Senators want to modify the Act creating the new consumer agency, they can introduce a bill. Don't hold up the nomination of the head of the agency Congress created. It's illegitimate. It's anti-democratic. It's irresponsible. It's shameful for the minority to abuse its power in this way.

(Also a nice response from the president about whether he could be considered an appeaser: Ask the top Al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field, including Osama bin Laden, about that. And then he hesitates a second, remembering, oh yeah, they're dead. You can't ask them. So ask whomever is left out there.)


  1. Minority? The Republicans are a minority, by a small margin, in only one house of congress, the senate.

    In 2008, the popular vote was *not* a landslide, and it was split very nearly down the middle.

    How can you say that one group should be allowed to impose it's will simply because it's slightly larger than the "minority"? So every 4 years half the country is supposed to sit down, shut up, and just be ruled by the other half?

    My guess is that if you were in the "minority," you'd be complaining that the majority is tyrannical and should fairly consider the viewpoints of the minority.

    This is not a democracy where the majority simply rules. This is a republic in which multiple factions are supposed to hammer out their differences for the common good. It's precisely the attitude that the losers just have to deal with it for four years that has landed American politics where it is today.

    And don't pretend like the Democrats have never, ever tried to subvert the process to push through their agenda. It wasn't that long ago that they considered using budget reconciliation to pass the HCR act.

  2. It might be interesting to have a nice long philosophical discussion about the extent to which the majority party is supposed to consider the views of the minority, etc. But in this case I am only talking about the U.S. Senate and its power to confirm presidential appointments. The House is another story, but by the way, in the House, the majority does simply rule because the majority can call up anything they want for a vote, and they can cut off debate. In the Senate there are greater protections for the minority.

    But anybody who has looked at this issue objectively has to conclude that the Republicans in the Senate have abused these protections to an extent never before seen in history. It has been an escalating battle, as Republicans started blocking a lot of Clinton's agenda in the 90's, then the Democrats struck back by increasing use of the filibuster to block some of Bush's appointments. But we have never before seen anything remotely like what has been going on under Obama. The minority now uses the filibuster routinely to block anything and everything. And the minority party votes in lockstep, because they have decided that is in their political interests, even though there are a few moderate Republicans who sympathize with a few of the Democrats' initiatives.

    When we are talking about presidential appointments, the Senate is supposed to confirm them except where the nominee is truly deemed unqualified or unacceptable for some other powerful reason. Cordray is extremely qualified. Hardly anybody says otherwise. And what happened to him yesterday has never happened before in American history.

  3. I would also add that the financial regulation bill has to be considered as bi-partisan as just about anything that has come out of Congress during this administration. Critics on the left have screamed that it was grotesquely watered down to please conservatives in both parties. And the final bill passed with four Senate Republicans voting in favor, and two Democrats opposed. The vote was 59-39.

    So this agency was authorized by a very large majority that included some Republicans. It is not fair to try to cripple it now when Republicans don't have the votes to eliminate it or water its powers down some more. The only fair thing is to try it out, and see how it works. Republicans will get their chance someday to rein it back if they want, when a Republican president gets to nominate the head of the agency, or when a Republican Congress can pass another bill to change the powers or structure of the agency.

  4. The difference between the house and senate is not majority vs. minority, uit's proportional vs. equal representation.

    If we care about what the founders thought, then we should heed Federalist 10 (Ithink) in which the idea of the tyranny of majority is addressed, and the solution is having a large republic with multiple factions.

    And Democrats have never, ever filibustered anything?

  5. Jack, I think you're just arguing with me for the sake of arguing now. Read my first comment. I acknowledged that Democrats increased use of the filibuster under Bush. And there was a gigantic hue and cry from Republicans when Democrats held up a number of Bush's judicial appointments, demanding that these appointments be allowed to proceed to an "up or down vote."

    There are two differences now. Republicans in the Senate currently do not allow ANYTHING of substance simply to proceed to an up or down vote in which the majority would rule. No, first we need a cloture vote which requires a 3/5 majority. (You will not find that anywhere in the Constitution or the Federalist papers.) And the number of cloture votes required in the last Congress far, far exceeded anything ever before seen in any previous Congress.

    Second, with respect to the Cordray appointment, the objection is not to him personally in any way, as it was with both Republican and Democrats' past objections to other presidential appointments. Republicans in the Senate admit that they have no problems with Cordray. They are just using this tool to try to cripple the agency that Congress created. That is illegitimate, and also unprecedented.