Senate blocks recess appointments next week

David Gura May 27, 2011

Senate blocks recess appointments next week

David Gura May 27, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Memorial Day weekend, three days off for most of us. A week for members of the Congress of the United States. They’re on their Memorial Day recess next week.

Except they’re not really in recess. Senate Republicans are worried the president might use a recess appointment to make Elizabeth Warren the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while they’re out of town. So the GOP’s keeping the Senate technically in session, and the protection bureau technically without a director.

Elizabeth Warren’s been busy setting the agency up. And they have been able to get a lot done — except writing and enforcing any new rules.

From Washington, Marketplace’s David Gura reports.

David Gura: I asked lawyer Donald Lamson where things stand today. He’s with the firm Shearman and Sterling.

Donald Lamson: It’s a bureau that is in its infancy.

But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a birthday coming up, and this is already one precocious kid. Elizabeth Warren has hired more than 175 employees.

Lamson: They’re beginning to populate the senior managerial positions, and they’re working their way down.

She’s brought in academics and consumer advocates, and folks from financial services firms and credit unions. Warren has talked to all the players, from bankers and congressmen, to reporters and attorneys general. She’s set up one office for scams that target elderly Americans, and another to work with military families.

The CFPB is almost a year old, and like most one-year-olds, it’s missing teeth. Right now, it can’t go after “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Things like jacking up interest rates overnight that may be legal, but are unfair to consumers.

Attorney Joseph Lynyak is with the law firm Venable. He says that, in the future, the bureau will be able to say:

Joseph Lynyak: ‘That’s simply wrong. You can’t do it that way anymore.’

And that’s a new power.

Lynyak: It’s going to be a very, very big stick they’re going to be able to carry around in order to ensure fairness to consumers.

July 21st is an important date: Whether or not the CFPB has a Senate-approved director by then, federal agencies transfer authority over almost 20 laws to the new bureau.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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