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News Opinion Editorial

Cordray appointment: A win for Obama -- and the public

President Barack Obama owes congressional Republicans at least a thank-you card for their efforts to block Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That GOP leaders continue to howl over Mr. Obama's decision on Wednesday to elevate Mr. Cordray to the post as a recess appointment shows theirs is the gift that keeps on giving.

Only in the Bizarro World that is Washington these days is the fight over the Cordray appointment understandable. Republicans claim to be holding it up because they want to see the 18-month-old consumer watchdog agency reorganized (that is, weakened). And since they haven't got the votes to do that in a forthright manner, they'll settle for gumming up the appointment process which, in turn, denies the agency legal standing to do much of its job.

But here's where it really gets nonsensical. Republicans want to make the claim that the president didn't have the authority to make a recess appointment because Congress wasn't technically in recess. They've been holding periodic "pro forma" sessions (often for a minute or less) over the holidays to back up the claim.

These same lawmakers even go so far as to say they have nothing against Mr. Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general. Got that? He was a hostage. Nothing personal. Not like Elizabeth Warren, Mr. Obama's preferred choice for the post way back in 2010, who couldn't get a fair shake from those in Congress who take their cues from Wall Street and big corporations.

Most Americans probably wouldn't know Mr. Cordray from fellow Ohio native Martin Sheen, but they do recognize gridlock when they see it. And this isn't just any gridlock, it's a particularly loathsome effort to block the actions of a consumer agency at the behest of a financial industry that nearly brought the U.S. economy to its knees but still doesn't care to be regulated.

Does the GOP really want to argue procedure in order to stand up for payday lenders or the people who market rip-off prepaid credit cards? You know, the folks who extract usurious interest rates and hidden fees from working class people? Are these the "job creators" that House Speaker John Boehner loves to protect from excess regulations?

Surely, the White House has to be delighted with this turn of events. It's practically a campaign commercial. Mr. Obama could scarcely have been provided a better example to put to voters in a swing state: "A minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people we were elected to serve," as Mr. Obama himself observed yesterday in northern Ohio.

No wonder congressional approval ratings hover in the single digits. It's not just ordinary obstructionism — you know, the kind that House Republicans already employed last year to drive down the nation's credit rating and nearly raise payroll taxes — but it's taking the side of finance companies (including those predatory lenders) over everyday American consumers.

Admittedly, a recess appointment is hardly the best way to install someone in such an important job. But it's even more unreasonable to abuse the Senate's advise and consent function to shut down an entire agency. Ultimately, the public is not likely to be sympathetic to the GOP's scorched earth strategy to protect 400 percent interest rates.

And the cherry on top of this particular political sundae is that Ohio voters may well determine the outcome of the 2012 election. They know Mr. Cordray. They elected him to statewide office and watched him stand up for their financial interests (including questioning Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2009).

Let the Republicans sue. Let them take their case to the Supreme Court if necessary. And let them argue that an agency with the mission of preventing "unfair, deceptive or abusive" practices by lenders and mortgage servicers who have been so poorly regulated in the past (and have done such harm to consumers) is somehow not acting in the nation's best interests.

We'll see how that plays in Columbus, Ohio or Jacksonville, Fla. or Scranton, Pa., where families are still hurting and just want to be able to trust that their mortgage or credit card is fair and square. Mr. Obama won't have to demonize Congress during his reelection campaign, the rigid leadership of the GOP will have already done that for him.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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