Obama Trades a Likely Consumer Bureau Loss for a Political Win

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Now that President Barack Obama has embraced his inner populist, he’s finding all kinds of weapons lying around to beat Republicans with. The payroll tax cut is getting a lot of attention. If his success with conservative appellate court judges is any indication, the constitutionality of ObamaCare will be another. The latest weapon Obama is wielding against Republicans is the fate of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Back in May, nearly every GOP Senator signed a letter saying that they intended to block the appointment of a director because of “the lack of accountability in the structure” of the bureau. The bureau, they said, would have too much authority and would not have sufficient oversight. As the bureau was conceived under Dodd-Frank, the director might create “ill-conceived regulations” the GOP Senators worried. Blocking the appointment of a director is largely symbolic: under Dodd-Frank, the Treasury Secretary gets most of the authority the CFPB director would. But some powers depend on a confirmed director, and late on Sunday the Obama White House released a “report” outlining the consequent limits on regulation of payday lender  and other non-bank consumer finance providers.

At first the left thought it was only about Elizabeth Warren, the outspoken interim director who had conceived the bureau and scared the pants off Wall Street. Then she dropped out of contention to run for Senate against Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Obama nominated the former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, but the GOP stuck to their guns on limiting the bureau’s authority. Cordray’s nomination is due for a vote on Thursday and it’s expected to fall to a GOP filibuster. Obama is taking the opportunity to cash in the setback in governing as a campaign win, attacking in seven red states where he either hopes to pressure Senators to flip, or perhaps improve his own party’s electoral chances.

The Obama presidential campaign is in on the act too. Says GOP lobby shop Blank Rome: “The Obama 2012 campaign website includes a tool enabling supporters to send one of four prewritten messages to the 44 GOP Senators who have vowed to block Cordray’s confirmation until the CFPB is restructured. Last week, The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to Senate leaders supporting Cordray’s nomination. Thirty-seven state attorneys general signed the letter, which they said was intended to put pressure on Senate Republicans to explain ‘why they aren’t acting.'”

All of which gets at an underlying shift in the landscape over the last six months, whereby political defeats that were supposed to cost Obama support among disillusioned lefties who thought he hadn’t been tough enough with Republicans have become useful tools for Obama as he tries to mobilize supporters and try to win centrists. That is very much the Obama that will be on display today in Kansas, where he is set to embrace Teddy Roosevelt’s message of standing up for the little guy.