Thursday, January 05, 2012

Meanwhile in Ohio

While the Romney and the anti-Romneys blathered, President Obama acted.  Directly defying the GOPer minority in the Senate that has been using its filibuster power to thwart the will of the majority, President Obama appointed Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  It was a bold use of the recess appointment that has GOPers in a furious tizzy.

President Obama made the announcement and stated his case in Ohio, where Cordray served as a popular attorney general and before that as state treasurer.  After explaining that the only reason Cordray hasn't been confirmed is GOPer attempts to subvert the consumer protection law itself (which no one disputes), and after re-stating his continuing intent to work with GOPers in Congress to do the people's business and accelerate economic recovery, President Obama said:  "But when Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them.  I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve. Not with so much at stake, not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans."

It was in many ways a brilliant political move: it puts Cordray in place and gets the work started, which GOPers will have to somehow go to court to stop.  It highlights congressional obstructionism, and challenges GOPers to continue.  The President also made the appointment on a day when the new Congress technically begins, which means that under the law, Cordray can serve until the end of 2013, instead of only a few months--which is what would have happened if the appointment had been made just yesterday.

But the substance of the appointment is the most important.  Cordray's appointment means the law can be fully implemented to protect consumers from fraudelent practices by fly-by-nighters but also by the biggest banks and Wall Street institutions (which have all poured millions into trying to defeat the law.)  It is in essence an action that carries out a fundamental role of government: to set and enforce rules of fairness as well as health and safety. 

President Obama stated the principle simply:  "We cannot allow people to be taken advantage of. And it’s not just because it’s bad for those individuals. All that risky behavior led -- helped to contribute to the economic crisis that we’re all still digging ourselves out of. All those subprime loans, all those foreclosures, all the problems in the housing market -- that’s all contributing to an economy that’s not moving as fast as we want it."

President Obama talked about an older Ohio couple who had been tricked by dishonest lenders and almost lost their house. "They earned the right to retire with dignity and with respect, and they shouldn’t have to worry about being tricked by somebody who's out to make a quick buck. And they need somebody who is going to stand up for them, and millions of Americans need somebody who is going to look out for their interests. And that person is Richard Cordray. 

And we know what would happen if Republicans in Congress were allowed to keep holding Richard’s nomination hostage. More of our loved ones would be tricked into making bad financial decisions. More dishonest lenders could take advantage of some of the most vulnerable families. And the vast majority of financial firms who do the right thing would be undercut by those who don't.

See, most people in the financial services industry do the right thing, but they're at a disadvantage if nobody is enforcing the rules. We can't let that happen. Now is not the time to play politics while people’s livelihoods are at stake. Now is the time to do everything we can to protect consumers, prevent financial crises like the one that we’ve been through from ever happening again. That starts with letting Richard do his job."

The "vast majority" is maybe an overstatement, but the principle of regulation is precise: the function of rules and enforcing them is to put noone who plays by those rules at a competitive disadvantage.  Businesses know that bad practices are ultimately ruinous for everybody--but there has to be government to make sure that the bad guys pay the price, and not the guys who are trying to do the right thing.  This is a logic that nearly everybody understood and accepted, until opposing gubment regulation became a mindless mantra.  It taps into the frustration of anyone who has to deal with impossibly complicated or onerous regulations, administered by cynical incompetents.  The answer is to improve regulations and government administration, not turn the world over to the predatory lawless.

President Obama concluded his Ohio remarks:  "I know that you're hearing a lot of promises from a lot of politicians lately. Today you’re only going to hear one from me. As long as I have the privilege of serving as your President, I promise to do everything I can every day, every minute, every second, to make sure this is a country where hard work and responsibility mean something and everybody can get ahead. Not just those at the very top, not just those who know how to work the system, but everybody."   It is the aspiration of being President of the 100%.

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