The CFPB and the latest in hostage-taking tacks

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a pretty terrific idea. The whole point is to have a separate agency that would look out for our interests — banks and other financial institutions have had little oversight when it comes to consumer credit and fees, and the CFPB will exist to serve as our advocates.

I say “will exist” because it hasn’t yet taken shape. The bureau is already part of the Wall Street reform package that became law last year, so it would appear to be too late for a protracted debate over whether or not it should be allowed to function.

But that’s not how Republicans see it. The White House is trying to find someone to lead the consumer watchdog agency who can get confirmed by the Senate, but GOP officials have said they’ll block literally any nominee, regardless of qualifications, until Democrats agree to gut the framework of the agency itself.

[A]n aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that the lawmaker stands by his vow to block any candidate. Late last month, McConnell led 44 senators in a letter to the White House calling for structural changes to the bureau. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has accused GOP opponents of discriminating against Warren because she is female, but McConnell’s complaints are much broader.

“It’s not sexist. It’s not Elizabeth Warren-specific,” McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said. “It’s any nominee.”

This is a very straightforward proposition. Republicans have always hated the very idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because, to borrow Elizabeth Warren’s analogy, the agency would be a “cop on the beat,” looking out for our interests. The GOP believes there should be no cop at all — in their minds, the 2008 crash simply never happened, and need not be addressed — and even having a cop around might discourage reckless financial institutions from screwing over consumers.

And as Republicans see it, we can’t let that happen.

GOP officials will consider letting the agency exist just as soon as Democrats weaken its powers. As Ezra Klein explained this morning, “It’s rare for parties to attempt root-and-branch reform of an agency from the minority position. Republicans don’t hold the Senate or the White House. They cannot vote their changes into law. So instead, they’re taking the agency’s leadership hostage, threatening to withhold stability and staffing from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless the Obama administration gives into their demands.”

There’s that “hostage” word again; I feel like I see it quite a bit. It’s almost as if Republicans keep taking hostages all the time, as if the entire political party is some sort of organized crime syndicate.

In this case, the White House and Senate Dems don’t intend to cave, but as a practical matter it may not matter — the CFPB is supposed to get to work in just six weeks. If Republicans refuse to let it function, it can’t do its job, and consumers will remain without an advocate looking out for us. It’s quite a racket — the Republican Party, which makes no effort to hide its devotion to Wall Street’s interests over ours, will either gut the agency or let it whither on the vine.

When we talk about the Senate nomination/confirmation process being completely broken, we can add this fiasco to the indictment.