The normalization of extortion politics, cont’d

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) had a very good piece in the Washington Post last week about the ways in which Senate Republicans have broken the confirmation process. Of particular interest to Frank is the inability of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s choice to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to even get a vote.

Cordray’s record as attorney general of Ohio puts him in a small group of people able to act effectively to deal with the mortgage crisis. No one has raised any questions about his intelligence, integrity or dedication.

Yet his nomination will not even be fairly considered by the full Senate. Forty-four Republicans have announced that in disregard of their constitutional duty to consider nominations on the merits. They will not confirm anyone until the Senate majority reverses itself to once again put bank regulators in a position to overrule virtually all of the policies that would be set by the consumer agency. The president is being told that the price of having a nominee confirmed is reversing himself on a major policy initiative that has already been enacted.

Quite right. Congress passed legislation creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the president signed it into law. Republicans are now saying they’ll allow the agency to function, but not until Democrats agree to weaken the law in ways the financial industry likes.

It’s the normalization of extortion politics. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and might not work. Instead, we see the latest in a series of GOP extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to meet its legal mandate.

And sure enough, Cordray appeared before the Senate Banking Committee as part of the confirmation process. True to form, Republican Sens. Richard Shelby and Bob Corker said they’re impressed with Cordray’s background, but said they feel the need to block his nomination indefinitely anyway.

Our system of government has never worked this way; it wasn’t designed to work this way; and it can’t work this way. As Jonathan Cohn explained, “The consumer protection agency exists because a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting procedural rules (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect. That’s undemocratic. And I mean that with a small ‘d.'”

The status quo is untenable.