By Gabe Rubin
December 9, 2015 at 3:51 pm ET
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to fight over more than a dozen Obama administration nominations hanging in limbo before the powerful panel.
Thirteen nominations, including two Federal Reserve Board members, the Treasury Department’s top economic sanctions official and several other high-ranking economic posts, are pending before Shelby’s panel. The Banking Committee is the only Senate panel that has yet to vote on a single Obama nominee during this Congress.
On Wednesday, Brown attempted to force votes on five of those nominations. Shelby, present in the chamber, scuttled each attempt with an objection.
“There have been hearings. They’ve been vetted. They are qualified. There’s no dispute about how important these positions are,” Brown said on the floor. “Apparently the Republican majority doesn’t want anybody in the Obama administration, because I guess the president they don’t much like has nominated these people.”
At issue is a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act that requires the president to nominate a Federal Reserve vice chair for supervision. That person is supposed to oversee the Fed’s banking regulatory operations, which have expanded significantly since the financial crisis of 2008.
The Obama administration has yet to nominate someone for the position, and it has not provided a clear reason why not. Daniel Tarullo, a Federal Reserve governor, often fills the role of vice chair for supervision without a specific appointment to the position, and Fed chair Janet Yellen recently stepped into the role to testify on regulatory matters before the House Financial Services Committee.
But Shelby wants an actual nominee, not a pinch hitter. “If [the Obama administration] obeys the law and appoints a vice chairman of the Fed, then we can hold a hearing on the Fed nominees,” Shelby told reporters after the floor scuffle. “We haven’t talked about the others.”
The record of the Banking Committee’s action on nominees during the 114th Congress contrasts starkly with previous Congresses. Twenty-two nominees were confirmed by the Senate in the 113th Congress, and 31 were approved in the 112th, for example.
Shelby dismissed the prospects of committee actions on any nominations besides those for the Federal Reserve. “Those are the most important,” he said, referring to the pending Fed governors. “We won’t move on anything until we have some serious dialogue.”
That dialogue, it would seem, has not advanced much over the past year. In an interview with Morning Consult earlier on Wednesday, before Brown took to the Senate floor, Shelby did not seem to know that there was a pending nomination for a board member of the Export-Import Bank.
“They haven’t nominated anyone yet,” he said. When he was told that that the nomination for Patricia Loui-Schmicker to the Ex-Im board has been pending before the committee for months, Shelby said, “Well, that’s a controversial body.”
Among the many unfilled financial regulatory slots, the open seats on the bank’s board are particularly pressing. The bank, which went without a charter for five months, still cannot make loans above $10 million without a quorum of its board of directors. Since the bank currently has only two active members on its five-person board, it cannot do the majority of its work unless Shelby acts.
As an opponent of the Export-Import Bank, Shelby is unlikely to make any effort to speed Loui-Schmicker’s nomination along. When asked later in the day about that particular nominee, he grinned. “It looks slow right now.”
Other than pressuring the Obama administration to nominate someone as Fed vice chair for supervision, there is little Senate Democrats can do to force Shelby to act on the nominations. Brown had to resort to floor theatrics to make his point. His frustration with that state of affairs was on display as he concluded his floor speech Wednesday.
“Some of my colleagues don’t seem to want to recognize that he is the president of the United States, and the way we’ve always done it here in this country is that the president gets to nominate people,” Brown said. “And if they’re qualified, they should be confirmed.”
—Will Dobbs-Allsopp contributed.