Conservative Obstruction Crippling Two Key Watchdogs

Derek Pugh

Though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened shop almost three years ago, it has yet to be fully functional because of the financial industry lobby and its allies in Congress.

Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren along with Americans for Financial Reform held a tele-town hall meeting to discuss the main tactic being used to weaken the agency: Blocking the confirmation of a director.

President Obama nominated Richard Cordray to head the CFPB on July 17, 2011, and he still has yet to be confirmed. Director-less, the agency is very limited in its rule-making and enforcement authority.

Warren said the agency was created to “fight for a level playing field for working families,” and that “we knew that the big banks were out of control.” She added: “This is a real David vs. Goliath fight. And we won.”

Even in the face of adversity, the consumer agency has retrieved half a billion dollars for consumers thus far. And just last week, it got back $6.5 million for faulty car loans made to military families. With full force, the CFPB could do even more to fight for millions of middle-class Americans.

As Warren put it, “The agency has become the watchdog that we fought for.”

Although the newly formed agency has made significant headway in a short amount of time, the financial industry and its lobbyists’ efforts to delay or dilute several crucial provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law have proven effective. As The Washington Post reported last week, fewer than half of the laws mandated by the Dodd-Frank have been implemented since it was signed into law in 2010.

“About 70 percent of the 398 deadlines have passed, and out of those, 62.7 percent have been missed. So as the law’s third anniversary approaches, less than half of it has been actually implemented.”

Congressional Republicans have made it clear that they would block any and all efforts to confirm Cordray. During this year’s Senate confirmation hearing, 43 Republican senators— three more than needed to sustain a filibuster— signed a letter saying they “will continue to oppose the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation, to be the CFPB director until key structural changes” are made to the bureau.

Polls already show that there is broad public support for the CFPB and its mission. A vast majority of small business owners share the same sentiment as well.

Republicans in the Senate need to stop blocking Cordray’s nomination and start advocating on the behalf on American consumers instead of big banks. It’s time to confirm Cordray, fully implement Dodd-Frank and fight for the middle class.

Warren ended by saying “We got a consumer financial agency because we worked hard to get it. We know that when we fight together we can win.” She also thanked progressives for their hard work and support, urging them to keep the pressure on.

“Thank you for the fight, that’s what we have to keep doing.”

Cohen Updates the NLRB Confirmation Fight

After Sen. Warren spoke, the Communications Workers of America’s Larry Cohen spoke about similarities between the CFPB fight the fight to get a full five-person panel at the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB decides on labor-related cases in the United States for all Americans working in the private sector. Cohen spoke on the importance of the National Labor Relations Board and the impact of blocking members to the panel.

While last week’s rally focused on the rights of union workers at CNN, the NLRB’s domain extends to eighty million Americans that work in the private sector. Cohen emphasized that this includes six million unionized workers, but also 74 million non-unionized workers, whose only recourse is to go directly to the NLRB in cases of labor abuses.

The panel, which was designed to be five members, evenly split with the chair being appointed by the President’s party, currently has three members, two of which were appointed in recess. The rulings of this board have been challenged because there is only member who is seen as having legitimacy, having made it through confirmation, chairman Mark Pearce. His term will expire August 27, leaving the board without a quorum and without any Senate-confirmed members.

Without a quorum, the NLRB cannot render any decisions, weakening one of the few agencies in the U.S. that fights for the working-class American. Cohen called on Majority Leader Harry Reid to stop the Senate Republican filibuster threat by changing the rules of the Senate for nominees. Cohen reiterated that the filibustering party need not actually hold the floor by talking for hours on end, but rather just the threat of filibuster has made the Senate into a body that must receive 60 votes to pass any bill.

On August 28, if no more members are confirmed to the NLRB, there will be no one to protect the rights of American workers from abuses by their employers. It is a scary thought indeed that in this day and age, American workers will be without protection when they need it most.

Richard Long contributed to this post.

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