What does the middle class need?

It needs Richard Cordray, and it needs him now!

This is what President Obama said in appointing Mr. Cordray, the Eliot Spitzer of Ohio (I refer to Mr. Cordray’s penchant for high-profile lawsuits as Ohio's attorney general, not anything personal) to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau yesterday:

[We] know what would happen if Republicans in Congress were allowed to keep holding Richard’s nomination hostage.

More of our loved ones would be tricked into making bad financial decisions.

More dishonest lenders could take advantage of some of the most vulnerable families. And the vast majority of financial firms who do the right thing would be undercut by those who don't….

Now is not the time to play politics while people’s livelihoods are at stake.  Now is the time to do everything we can to protect consumers, prevent financial crises like the one that we’ve been through from ever happening again.  That starts with letting Richard do his job.

Appointing Cordray yesterday, the president employed his now-trademark “make-or-break moment for the middle class” theme that he debuted in Kansas.  

So we may infer from his remarks that the president sees the middle class as pining for yet more job-killing regulatory activity from a new agency that was created by sometime Occupy Wall Street admirer Elizabeth Warren. This helps the middle-class? Nicki has a great piece on how this unnecessary agendy is not going to help consumers.

Oh, yeah, and the president says that “just this week” the CFPB launched a new 1-800 number “you can call to make sure you’re getting a fair deal on your mortgage, and hold banks and brokers accountable if you’re not.”

Alas, the the president didn’t give out the number yesterday. I wanted to call it immediately and hold banks and brokers accountable. Also, I wanted to see how long it would take for somebody to answer.

(Let’s hope calling the CFPB number will help somebody get a fair deal on a mortgage before noon today. But I can’t help remembering what happened when the president unhelpfully told an Illinois farmer worried about “more rules and regulations” to just call USDA.)

The irony is that excessive regulation is one reason the economy hasn’t recovered at a better pace. Recovery and jobs are what the middle class really needs. This agency has enormous power to get financial companies tangled in unnecessary red tape, thus slowing recovery more. The GOP had wanted to make some structural changes before appointing a head.

The president's recess appointment yesterday, if indeed it was a legitimate recess appointment, was breathtakingly ruthless. A Wall Street Joural opinion headline called it “contempt for Congress:”

Eager to pick a fight with Congress as part of his re-election campaign, Mr. Obama did the Constitutional equivalent of sticking a thumb in its eye and hitting below the belt. He installed Richard Cordray as the first chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and named three new members to the National Labor Relations Board. He did so even though the Senate was in pro forma session after the new Congress convened this week.

A President has the power to make a recess appointment, and we've supported Mr. Obama's right to do so. The Constitutional catch is that Congress must be in recess.

Was Congress in recess? Most representatives are not in Washington right now, but the House had not formally adjourned and was in pro-forma session. Both Democrats and Republicans have resorted to holding such pro-forma sessions to block appointments when the other party has the White House. Senator Harry Reid kept the Senate in pro-forma session several times during the George W. Bush administration. Bush rejected advice to make recess appointments during these intervals.

President Obama also used this time to appoint three new members of the National Labor Relations Board, which has become increasingly anti-business during the Obama administration.

The constitutional interpretation of the president's actions can go either way. (Anna had a clear and cogent piece on the legal ramifications yesterday.) But here is something that is quite clear to the untrained eye:

These appointments are brazen enough that they have the smell of a deliberate, and politically motivated, provocation. Recall the stories over the New Year's weekend, clearly planted by the White House, that Mr. Obama planned to make a campaign against Congress the core of his re-election drive. One way to do that is to run roughshod over the Senate's advice and consent power and dare the Members to stop him.

Mr. Cordray's appointment also plays into Mr. Obama's plan to run against bankers and other plutocrats. The President justified his appointment yesterday by saying that Senate Republicans had blocked Mr. Cordray's nomination "because they don't agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog."

Yet he knows that Senate Republicans haven't called for the dissolution of the consumer financial bureau, or personally attacked Mr. Cordray, as Democrats like to claim. Republicans have said they'd be happy to confirm him if Mr. Obama agrees to reforms of the bureau that would make it more accountable to elected officials and subject to Congressional appropriations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also disappointed with the way the appointment was made. The Chamber may be sufficiently disappointed to challenge the legality in court.