President Obama's choices to run the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received a cordial welcome yesterday at their joint confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.
Mary Jo White, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, assured the senators that her previous work as the legal counsel for major Wall Street companies would not create a conflict of interest if she was confirmed to chair the SEC, adding that the scope of recusals would be ‘quite narrow.’
‘I don't think there's anything more important than vigorous enforcement of the securities laws,’ she said. ‘I'll be very focused on that throughout my tenure.’
White stated that a primary focus of her work at the SEC would be the Volcker rule, which is still in the process of being written. ‘[This] is one thing I'm going to turn my personal attention to,’ White said.
White's appearance received a generous show of support from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. ‘The more I find out about you, the more I like you,’ Coburn said, adding that he would support her nomination.
In comparison, Cordray received somewhat less attention from the senators. In his prepared remarks, he cited his career and detailed several of the achievements that took place during his time with the CFPB. However, neither Cordray nor the senators called attention to the lingering questions over the constitutionality of Cordray's directorship, and Cordray made no overt attempt to challenge the efforts by Senate Republicans to block any CFPB confirmations until the agency's leadership structure was redesigned to accommodate a bipartisan committee.
Coburn also extended praise to Cordray's work over the past year. ‘I think you've done a wonderful job in carrying out your duties,’ he said.
But Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., complained that the CFPB was not being held accountable to Congress for its actions.
‘We are elected to provide oversight,’ Toomey said. ‘In fiscal year 2012, the CFPB spent about $150 million on contracts and support services, which is more than what was spent on employees. That's nearly half of the money that you received from the Federal Reserve that year. There's no public accounting on how those monies were used for contract services and support services.
‘I think we have a right as U.S. senators to probe into this information,’ Toomey added. ‘It is important to tell our constituents, 'Don't worry, this money has been spent wisely.'’
Cordray acknowledged Toomey's concern. ‘We try to be as transparent as we can,’ he said.