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Planned Floor Action on Cordray Will Highlight Senate Impasse

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada plans to press for a vote the week of May 20 on the nomination of Richard Cordray as permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in a move that is sure to divide the parties.

Senior Democratic aides said Reid would start the process of bringing up the nomination early in the week and would be ready to set a cloture vote in the case of expected GOP objections just before the Memorial Day recess. That floor action will put on display an impasse between the parties over both Cordray and the agency that was created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul (PL 111-203).

Republican lawmakers adamantly oppose confirmation of Cordray, who holds the post at least through the end of this year under an appointment President Barack Obama made in January 2012. It was a high-profile attempt by the White House to challenge the use of pro forma sessions to block recess appointments when lawmakers are out of town.

But GOP senators say Cordray’s appointment is under a cloud, since a court ruled that three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made at the same time were not valid. That decision has gone to the Supreme Court and although Cordray does not face a similar legal challenge, Republicans contend that his appointment does not pass constitutional muster.

In March, the Senate Banking Committee approved Cordray’s renomination on a party-line vote, 12-10, but some Republicans on Capitol Hill are effectively refusing to recognize his legitimacy as an agency chief. Last month, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, voicing concerns about the legitimacy of the appointment, said he would not allow Cordray to testify at an oversight hearing.

A Senate vote to confirm Cordray would eliminate such legal questions. But Republicans also are taking jabs at the mission of the watchdog agency, pushing to transform the bureau, which operates as an independent agency funded by the Federal Reserve, into a multi-member commission subject to annual congressional appropriations.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has introduced a proposal (S 205) that would replace the agency director with a five person commission consisting of presidential appointees with staggered terms of one, two, three, four and five years.

That’s part of what Democrats say is an ongoing bid to undercut the Dodd-Frank law, in this case by leaving the CFPB subject to political interference.

And while Reid prepared for action on the nomination, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, ranking member of the Banking Committee, complained in a letter Thursday that officials had not responded to GOP requests for information about the bureaus’ plans to collect consumer lending and credit data. “Congress and the public have the right to know how broad this data collection is, how consumers’ financial information is being used by a government agency and how sensitive information is stored and protected,” Crapo said.

Even amid the battles in Congress, however, Cordray has won praise in the financial services industry for what business says is a measured, thoughtful approach to regulations. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, offered praise for Cordray, while also urging changes to the agency’s structure. “He’s as good a pick as Obama could have made for the agency,” Stivers said.

But Stivers said he doubts Cordray’s nomination would survive an expected GOP filibuster. “I’m glad he’s getting a vote. I don’t know if you can get 60 votes, without some kind of compromise on the budget and the structure of the agency,” Stivers said.

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