When it comes to finding someone to head the Financial Consumer Protection Bureau that opened its doors this week, the Republicans remind me of that Groucho Marx bit: “Whoever it is, we’re against them.”
The Republicans have a pretty straightforward position: they’ve made it clear they’ll only be satisfied with one kind of financial consumer protection agency: one that’s dead, buried and incapable of causing the big banks any trouble.
Meanwhile, President Obama is caught between his promises to create a powerful new agency to rein in Wall Street and his need to raise $1 billion to fuel his reelection campaign.
So the president dissd the highly articulate Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea for the new agency and who has been a down-to-earth, no-nonsense advocate for consumers for decades, in favor of the former Ohio attorney general, Richard Cordray.
Republicans don’t like Cordray, who enjoys a decent enough reputation any more than they liked Warren. Obama could have waged a political popular fight in favor of Warren and real protection but he didn’t.
How come? On the one hand President Obama would prefer not like to see one of the signature achievements of his financial reform effort strangled in its crib.
On the other hand Wall Street doesn’t like even the whiff of anybody implying that the bankers might take advantage of their customers let alone anybody actually trying to do something about it.
Based on his weak negotiating efforts so far, Obama and the Democrats are perfectly capable of accepting some form of the proposal offered by Sen. Jim Moran, R- Kansas, which would turn the real power over the CFPB to a committee, preserving consumer protection in name only. Obama and the Democrats can run on that with the same gusto the president is pretending that the faux financial reform actually reined the Wall Street fraud and excess that led to the 2008 financial collapse and bailout.
Democrats and Republicans are competing hard, less for the affections of voters and more for the mountains of cash beckoning to them from Wall Street and corporate coffers.
In calculating whether to keep their promise to protect consumers or whether to bend to Wall Street, the president and the Democrats know that the Democratic voters have no other place to go right now; they are unlikely to swing to the “We’re against it” party even as much as Obama disappoints them
But Obama and the Democrats know Wall Street, which was generous to them in 2008, does have a choice. The Republicans are wooing Wall Street hard, though the Republicans’ knuckleheaded stance on the debt ceiling makes them look more like surly juvenile delinquents than a party with an interest in actually governing.
Time will tell whether the Democrats or the Republicans will actually allow the new agency to do real consumer protection or if they will thwart the majority’s will in favor of Wall Street’s.