Dec 08 2011

USA Today: Shelby: Make consumer bureau accountable

By Richard Shelby

The Senate will confirm the first leader of the newly created Bureau for Consumer Financial Protection as soon as President Obama agrees to make it accountable to the American people.

The bureau was designed to be unaccountable to Congress. Its vast powers are vested in a single director who cannot be dismissed by the president for terrible policy decisions. During his five-year term, the director can determine not only how the bureau spends its more than a half-billion-dollar budget, but also how it regulates much of the American economy.

Because the director will decide whether and how consumers can obtain credit, the economic lives of nearly every American will be touched by this new federal bureaucracy. A bureaucracy with that kind of power must be accountable to the American people.

Republicans and Democrats agree that our financial regulators should be free from political pressure to favor certain financial institutions. But Congress must assert its authority over the regulators it creates to hold them accountable for their failures.

Our Founding Fathers knew that the best way to prevent abuses of power is to subject government institutions to checks and balances. That is why 44 of my Republican colleagues and I will insist that the bureau be made accountable before granting anyone, Republican or Democrat, such immense power.

Gridlock is not inevitable. Republicans are willing to preserve the bureau's broad authorities as long as Democrats agree to enact some common-sense reforms to its structure. The only obstacle would be if Democrats are more interested in a political issue than in the best interests of consumers.

Financial institutions should be accountable to regulators. Regulators should be accountable to elected representatives. And elected representatives should be accountable to the American people at the ballot box. Anything short of that is unacceptable.