WASHINGTON — After losing a contentious battle last year over creating an agency to protect consumers against deceptive financial products, Republicans are fighting the battle again, determined to rein in the independence and financing of the agency.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been one of Washington’s drawn-out passion plays, featuring bankers and finance companies that want to undermine the agency and have villainized Elizabeth Warren, the hard-edged Harvard professor President Barack Obama picked to start it.
Warren has characterized the fight as one in which opponents are trying to stick “a knife in the ribs of the agency.” In a recent interview, she said, “the fight has now shifted. It didn’t stop, it just moved from being a fight out in the headlines, out in the middle of the street, to a fight in the back alleys.”
But on Thursday, the fight returned to the open as 44 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Obama saying they “will not support the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation,” to direct the bureau until the agency is restructured.
With 44 of 47 Republican senators digging in against the bureau, Democrats would be unable to gather the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster and bring a vote on a nominee for director of the agency. That leaves the president with the option of a recess appointment, a move that would anger legislators whose support the president is likely to need to tackle other issues, like cutting the deficit and raising the debt ceiling.
Three bills are pending in the House of Representatives to alter the agency’s charter, making it easier for other regulators to overturn the bureau’s rules and replacing its director with a five-person commission.
“This is about accountability,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Banking Committee. “The bureau, as currently structured, lacks any semblance of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution. Everyone supports consumer protection, but we should never entrust a single person with this much power and public money.”
The White House defended the agency’s structure, saying it provided “the strongest consumer protections in history.”
“The consumer agency’s sole mission is to protect American families and provide the tools they need to make smart financial decisions,” said Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman.