Friday, December 9, 2011

Dueling Piano Players

Anyone who has been to New Orlean's French Quarter, San Antonio's Riverwalk, or any of a number of other tourist traps, er, destinations, is familiar with the dueling piano players. These are musicians who took Billy Joel's Piano Man way too seriously. They set up shop with a couple of grand pianos in bars and play a series of pop songs, show tunes, naughty nursery rhymes and other ditties that well liquored tourists sing along to. It's a non-techno version of karaoke.

So we had dueling piano players this week in the Senate Banking Committee following the Democrat's unsuccessful vote to break the Republican's filibuster over the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Products Bureau.

First up was the ever intemperate Dick Durbin (D, IL) who chairs the Banking Committee. Sen. Durbin decried the Republican's successful filibuster of Mr. Cordray's confirmation. In full throat and a belligerent baritone Sen. Durbin rounded up the usual suspects on which to pin the blame: "...the big banks and their backers in Congress have done all they can to hamstring [the CFPB] and prevent it from having the tools and leadership necessary to be an effective consumer watchdog."

Not so! Not so! mellifluously sang Alabama's Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Committee chaired by Sen Durbin. On the Senate floor he sang a woeful tale of a Bureau with nearly unlimited power, funding that amounts to a virtual unchallenged blank check, and a Titan director to whom lesser gods would answer.

"It should be common sense that the more power an agency has the more accountable it needs to be," sang out Sen. Shelby.

But in a second verse, Sen. Durbin accused his opposite number and the Republican conference of voting "to protect the status quo rather than...putting consumers interests first."

Not to be outdone Sen. Shelby's baleful rejoinder told of the need to broaden the governance of the Bureau by replacing the sole Director with a Board of Directors and to make the funding of the agency more transparent and less CIA-like. " In light of the reasonableness of the reforms we have requested, the question remains: why are the Administration and the [Democrats] so insistent that the Bureau be unaccountable?" he crooned. 

I think I can answer that. The Administration and the Senate Majority have little faith that the American people know what's in their best interest. They believe that consumers need a deus ex machina, on standby 24/7, to swoop down and save us from ourselves.

I'll go even further. I think the CFPB shows how little respect some in Congress have for the American people and, frankly, for the institution of the Congress itself. By their design of the agency and by their attempt to jam Richard Cordray through the confirmation process, they are telling American financial consumers and their elected representatives, we're going to put a bunch of smart people in a room and they're going to figure all this out. Don't bother your pretty little heads about it.

Well, we don't need more regulation and we don't necessarily need less regulation. We need the right regulation. And a bunch of smart people unanswerable to the institution of the Congress and led by a Director answerable to no one ain't it.

And the boys and girls gathered round Sen. Shelby's keyboard don't get a pass here. Granted, there's nothing more limiting than being the minority party in the House or Senate, but they're in the minority right now for a reason. They were sent to Washington to govern, not to tickle their keys.  This he sang-she sang, dueling piano routine gets old fast.

So pardon me if I don't stick around. I'll do my drinking elsewhere. Maybe a little dive where there's an old guy with 12 teeth and a beat up Gibson belting out the blues from somewhere between his gut and his heart.

That's my opinion. What's yours?

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