December 6, 2011

Collins, Snowe stall on consumer chief pick

BY JONATHAN RISKIND, MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON -- A new federal agency can't protect consumers properly from financial industry abuses such as sky-high payday loans or overly risky mortgages unless Senate Republicans agree to confirm its director, two White House officials said Monday.

However, a White House lobbying effort to win the votes of Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine so far is not working.

"Every day we wait, consumers continue to be at risk," said Brian Deese, deputy director of the White House's National Economic Council.

Most Senate Republicans have vowed to block the nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, or any nominee, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until changes are made in the bureau's structure.

Deese and Obama senior adviser David Plouffe spoke Monday at the White House with reporters whose papers are based in the states of a handful of GOP senators the White House is trying to persuade to vote for Cordray. The Senate is expected to hold a vote Thursday on his nomination.

Plouffe noted the bureau was created by the 2010 financial regulatory reform law and charged that many Republicans want to "roll back Wall Street reform."

Neither Collins nor Snowe appears to be budging.

Collins said last month that it is "absolutely unacceptable that Congress has no ability to control the budget of the bureau," and hasn't changed her mind.

Collins has met with Cordray and found him to be "an intelligent, qualified individual," said Kevin Kelley, Collins' spokesman; but in addition to her concerns about the agency's budget, Collins also thinks the power of the director's position should be checked by a board or a commission, Kelley said.

Collins is disappointed "the White House is choosing to make this a partisan issue," Kelley said.

Snowe said via email Monday night that she remains "concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability" in how the bureau is structured.

The White House officials said the bureau's structure is needed to maintain its independence and a director needed for it to exercise all its consumer protection responsibilities.

Without a director in place, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau isn't allowed to fully supervise nonbank financial institutions such as mortgage service companies, credit reporting agencies and independent payday lenders, the White House officials said. Payday lenders offer small loans generally without stringent credit requirements and often to people needing money between paychecks, Deese and Plouffe said.

While banks are closely overseen by federal regulators, payday lenders aren't subject to federal oversight, Deese said. Some 20 million Americans use payday lenders, which can charge fees of $16 for a two-week $100 loan, or roughly a 400 percent annual interest rate, Deese said, citing figures from a White House report aiming to push Cordray's nomination.

Jonathan Riskind -- 791-6280

jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: MaineTodayDC

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