Unchecked power

Congress created a new federal bureaucracy to oversee consumer rights, but the agency itself has no overseers.

The U.S. Senate this week, after a protracted battle, confirmed the nomination of Richard Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio, to be the director of a relatively new federal bureaucracy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Cordray is just another bureaucrat who comes and goes. His predecessor in the post, former Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, didn't stay in the job long before she launched a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

So who runs this consumer protection bureau is less important than the fact that it's up and running and, given the immortality attached to even the most incompetent, corrupt and out-of-date government bodies, it will be with us forever.

Considered in that context, the unique nature of this agency raises a serious concern.

There is no serious oversight. Given the danger of unchecked power in government, that's a problem.

Adhering to the preference of President Barack Obama, Congress in 2011 created this agency while simultaneously abandoning any real authority over its operation. That kind of congressional power is generally exercised through the power of the purse, in other words appropriation.

If Congress doesn't like how a particular agency or federal department is run, it can get the attention of executive branch employees by exercising its proper oversight through the budgetary process.

In the case of the consumer bureau, however, Congress doesn't provide funding. It's cut out of the loop because money for the bureau is funneled through the Federal Reserve.

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution is based on a simple premise — no one can be trusted. That's why multiple checks and balances are built into our system of government — the most basic of which is three separate and coequal branches of government that guard their individual turf jealously and watch each other like hawks.

In forfeiting its legitimate oversight powers over the consumer bureau, Congress has essentially left this executive branch agency to act as it pleases without any fear of repercussions on Capitol Hill. That raises an interesting question of constitutional law about the fundamental legitimacy of this special breed of cat: Does Congress have the right to forfeit its power? A lawsuit on that issue is pending. A more immediate problem, however, is that the oversight so important to effective and limited government is nonexistent in this instance.

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