In the spirit of the bipartisan, but toothless rules reforms the Senate passed last week, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell and over 40 of his members are vowing to block confirmation of a permanent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director unless Democrats agree to pass legislation dramatically weakening the agency.
Republicans pulled the same trick in 2011. It was a back door attempt to nullify an existing law they didn’t like because they couldn’t change it via normal democratic processes. But at least back then they had a decent case for slowing Obama’s legislative juggernaut ahead of a referendum in 2012. They lost, of course, but that hasn’t deterred them one bit.
For now, Richard Cordray remains CFPB director, thanks to a recess appointment. But that appointment expires at the end of the year, and could come to an end earlier thanks to the DC circuit court, which ruled that similar appointments to a different regulatory body were unconstitutional.
This is a real problem. Without a director, the CFPB loses a lot of its power. But the milquetoast rules reforms that passed last week give Harry Reid no parliamentary tools to pry the GOP off its position. Short of battling it out with Republicans in the public sphere and hoping they crack, President Obama will see one of his signature accomplishments neutered by what amounts to an ad hoc legislative line item veto…by a congressional minority.
Unless Reid decides to play hardball. The court decision, and McConnell’s renewed filibuster threat seem to have caught him by surprise somehow. But if at some point later this year it becomes clear Republicans will continue to block Cordray past the end of his recess appointment, Reid could in theory revisit the filibuster reform fight.
And for what it’s worth, Republicans won’t be able to claim they weren’t warned. Here’s what he said after the rules reform package passed.
“It is my hope that these reforms will help restore a spirit of comity and bipartisan cooperation. If these reforms do not do enough to end the gridlock here in Washington, we will consider doing more in the future.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.