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An attempted GOP sabotage

1/17/2012, 8:42 a.m.
“If we stop these appointments, then Obama can’t get his...
“If we stop these appointments, then Obama can’t get his job done.”

An attempted GOP sabotage

Polls indicate that public support for the U.S. Congress is at historical lows. The intransigence of the Tea Party-dominated Republicans has closed the door on customary bipartisan negotiations. As a consequence, many Americans feel insecure about the adequacy of efforts by government to solve the nation’s problems.

The Constitution has established a tripartite structure of government — executive, legislative and judicial. The role of each division is also set forth. Article II, Section 1 states that “the executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

While the president has the sole authority and responsibility to be CEO of the nation, the Constitution imposes some counter balances on his power. He can appoint individuals to major government posts only with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.”

Ideally, Congress would evaluate only the competence and judgment of presidential appointees to the courts and high government agencies. In more collegial times there was a sense that the president was entitled to an administration of his choosing in order to implement his agenda.

When a presidential appointee could not get the approval of the Senate, the usual procedure was for him or her to withdraw and the president would appoint someone with broader support. However, when the rejection is for purely political reasons, the president might decide to fight for his appointee. One strategy is to make the appointment when the Senate is recessed.

The Constitution states: “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

President Obama has recently appointed Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, as the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Senate had refused to approve the president’s choice, so Obama named Cordray as a recess appointment. That agency was organized by Elizabeth Warren, the candidate for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, to protect consumers from credit card, mortgage and payday loan abuses.

The Senate’s failure to approve Cordray was not because he was unqualified. The reason is that Senate conservatives do not approve of the new agency. Their objective is to impair the president’s ability to implement fully the responsibilities of an agency that was properly voted into law by Congress.

In order to prevent recess appointments, Congress has been holding pro forma sessions that last for only minutes rather than taking an actual recess. Obama asserts that this is a subterfuge that prevents him from meeting his constitutional duties as executive. In opposition, conservatives complain, with considerable press coverage, that Obama’s move was the first step toward an imperial presidency.

The legitimacy of Obama’s appointment will probably be thrashed out in federal court, but the more significant question is why conservatives are unwilling to protect Americans from predatory financial practices. There is a broad conservative opposition to government regulations that are deemed necessary by many to protect consumers in a number of areas.

Citizens had better stay informed so that they can join the battle that is looming in this election year.