WASHINGTON (WISH) - 24-Hour News 8 anchor Debby Knox carried viewers frustrations over inaction in Washington straight to the top Thursday in her one-on-one interview with President Barack Obama. He told her he can relate.
When asked how high his personal frustration level with gridlock in Washington is, on a scale from one to 10, he replied: “Oh, it’s off the scale.”
One thing he specifically cited as frustrating delay was the ongoing battle over confirmation of his nominee to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – a battle that escalated Thursday with Senate Republicans blocking the confirmation.
“I’ve got a consumer finance protection board that we created as part of financial reform to protect people from unscrupulous payday lenders and mortgage brokers. I’ve got a guy whose been nominated for director right now, who everybody says is qualified, but they’re not confirming him,” Obama told 24-Hour News 8. “That’s the kind of thing that just gets the American people frustrated.”
Senate Republicans were near unanimous in voting to stop a former Ohio attorney general, Richard Cordray, from becoming director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency they said had too much power and too little accountability. They said that until the Obama administration agrees to changes at the agency, they will keep blocking the president's pick from taking charge.
The vote had immediate consequences. Without a director, the agency designed to shield consumers from the excesses behind the 2008 financial crisis is unable to operate at full strength. While the agency officially began business in July, the deadlock limits what it can do. It can oversee existing bank regulations. But without a director, it cannot issue new rules dealing with entities beyond banks, such payday lenders, private student loan providers and mortgage servicers that have been the source of predatory lending practices.
Democrats framed the standoff in political terms, saying Republicans wanted to gut an agency created to look out for consumer interests.
"Cordray and consumer protection are being blocked simply because Republicans want to protect Wall Street," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, at a White House briefing Wednesday, disputed the argument that the agency lacks accountability. He said it must consult with other bank regulators before issuing rules, has to assess the effect of its rules on small businesses and can have its rules overturned by the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
Responding to GOP demands that Congress control the agency's purse strings, Wolin said no federal bank regulators have congressionally appropriated dollars. "The reason for that is we want to make sure that our bank regulators are free of political influence," he said.
The deep partisan divide is the type of road block that Obama would like to see D.C. politicians overcome.
“What I’m really trying to communicate to both parties – but particularly the Republican Party right now – is let’s put country ahead of party. Let’s make sure that, on a whole host of issues, find the common sense solution. There’s usually some common ground to be had.”
Already this year, one committee in the GOP-led House has voted to slice $200 million from the White House request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has a major enforcement role. The House has voted to hold the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees derivatives, to $171 million, less than two-thirds of what Obama sought.
Cordray, a five-time "Jeopardy" champion, was nominated to be the agency's first director in July. Obama bypassed Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard University law professor and consumer advocate who was instrumental in conceiving and setting up the agency.
Warren drew sharp opposition from Republicans who considered her too much of an activist. She is running for a Senate seat against Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the only Republican to support Cordray.
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