Surprise! Senate reaches compromise
The Senate, when it rouses itself to do so, does work. Slowly, inefficiently, maddeningly, but it does work.
Proof of that was the Republicans’ decision this week to allow quick votes on seven of President Barack Obama’s nominees to top administration posts.
Senate Republicans, after a rare closed-door session with their Democratic counterparts, agreed to subject the nominees to a simple majority vote in return for the Democratic leadership forsaking the “nuclear option.”
That option required the majority Democrats to round up 60 votes to allow the Senate to proceed on any given issue. Democratic Leader Harry Reid had threatened to overturn that rule, returning the Senate procedural votes to the old 50 votes plus one, thus depriving the GOP of its most powerful tool to obstruct legislation.
The first vote under the new agreement was to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray had been waiting two years as of this week for a vote. Once he got one, he passed easily, 66 to 34.
President Obama was so pleased by the vote that he introduced his newly confirmed consumer watchdog at the White House State Dining Room. As Obama noted, the opposition was not to Cordray personally but to the law that set up the regulatory agency in the first place.
Cordray said he saw the agency’s role as standing on the side of consumers and seeing they’re treated fairly by lenders, mortgage brokers, debt collectors, credit reporting agencies and other players in the consumer finance field.
The need for such an agency, the brainchild of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren who rode the idea to a seat in the Senate, became glaringly apparent during the financial meltdown.
Even without a confirmed leader and little publicity about its watchdog role, the CFPB in its first two years addressed 175,000 complaints and won $400 million in refunds from unscrupulous lenders for 6 million Americans, according to the White House. Clearly there’s a need for this agency.
The next vote under the compromise was even more lopsided, an 82-18 endorsement of Fred Hochberg for a second term leading the Export-Import Bank. A closer 54-46 vote Thursday confirmed Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and coming up are votes on the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and two new nominees to the board, replacing Obama recess appointments that a federal appeals court ruled invalid.
The punditry consensus was that this compromise was a major victory for Reid, marked the emergence of GOP Sen. John McCain as an essential powerbroker and left GOP Leader Mitch McConnell with nothing to show for his acrimonious two-year battle to stymie Obama’s appointees.
The Senate does work, but it doesn’t always work for everybody.