A CFPB deadlock is forming
A House subcommittee cleared three bills this week to amend how and when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will govern lenders. But legislation along with a vote on a possible director will most likely hit a deadlock in the Senate. Republicans introduced the bills and ushered them through subcommittee on party-line votes. Since then, Republicans facing an uphill battle to push them through the Democrat-controlled Senate sparred with the White House over a director nomination. The CFPB is scheduled to launch July 21, as stipulated by the Dodd-Frank Act. But less than two months out, there is no nomination for director. A group of Senators said they will not vote for one until their demands are met. Among them is whether or not a director will be leading the agency at all. One of the bills passed this week is H.R. 1121, introduced by Rep. Spencer Bachas (R-Ala.), would establish a five-member commission to replace the director. Each member would require Senate confirmation and serve staggered five-year terms. "We continue to be concerned about the amount of power vested in the director's position and, as we indicated in a letter to Congress today, we support legislation that replaces the director with a five-member commission," said American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating said. Another, H.R. 1315, introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) would make it easier for the Financial Stability Oversight Council to overturn rules made by the CFPB. Other regulators will sit on the FSOC, and, under Dodd-Frank, overrule the CFPB on a two-thrids vote. Duffy's bill would reduce the required votes to a simple majority. Rep. Shelley Capito (R-W.V.) introduced the third bill, H.R. 1667. It would delay the entire agency from opening until a director of the bureau is confirmed by the Senate. Elizabeth Warren, the special adviser to the Treasury Department in charge of building the CFPB, said the bills were merely attempts by Republicans to water down the agency. Republicans maintain the CFPB has too much power, according to guidelines, and necessary checks and balances need to be put in place. Analysts at the Washington think tank MFGlobal said there is little chance of any bill to pass the Senate before the 2012 election. "The one wild card is Thursday’s threat by Senate Republicans to block any CFPB director unless the banking regulators get the power to void CFPB rules," MFGlobal said. Analysts there raised their odds that Warren would get the nomination, but depending upon the reaction, the White House may find it more politically advantageous to nominate a less controversial director and charge the GOP with opposing consumer protection, MFGlobal said. If Warren gets a recess appointment, she would serve about 18 months through the end of 2012. The first Senate recess after July 21 begins Aug. 8 and lasts the entire month. But analysts said this would cramp the amount of time she would have to implement disclosure initiatives and other policies. "This is because the agency needs to grow massively as it becomes the primary consumer protection regulator for most of the consumer banking business on July 21," MFGlobal said. "It also gains power over nonbank financial firms and will write the consumer protection rules for the entire banking industry." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.