Carla Decker can thank James Madison.
When she raises her right hand this week before her confirmation hearing at the Senate Banking Committee, she will continue a tradition that dates back to the 18th century.
Madison and the other men who wrote the Constitution wanted to ensure that the American president never gained absolute power in the tradition of British monarchs at the time. As a result, they put in a check on the president’s appointment power by making it subject to the “advice and consent” of the Senate.
Nominees have to get the support of 51 of the chamber’s 100 members, but given the rules the nominee really needs 60 votes if the minority party wants to make mischief.
To be sure, President Obama doesn’t have much in common with King George III. Further, it’s unlikely that an appointment to the NCUA would become a vehicle for excessive use of presidential power.
Nevertheless, Decker’s confirmation is a good opportunity for lawmakers to examine credit unions and be sure that she is up to task of helping to regulate the industry.
Even nominations for high positions don’t usually generate messy confirmation hearings. While the well-known confirmation battles of Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas are legendary in the nation’s political history, they achieved their status in part because they are exceptions to the rule.
Decker isn’t particularly controversial. She has had extensive experience as a credit union leader and doesn’t seem to have made many enemies during her career. Unlike Bork, she doesn’t have a paper trail of controversial writings. In contrast to Thomas, she hasn’t been accused of sexually harassing an employee.
Therefore, even though partisan tempers run high these days, there probably won’t be inflammatory rhetoric from those on the Republican side of the aisle.
Even if the GOP went on a rhetorical rampage, it would be hard to top the comments that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) made when President Reagan appointed Bork.
“Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government,” Kennedy predicted.
During Decker’s hearings, the harshest thing that will probably be said about her is that her credit union has had some financial difficulties during the past few years. However, a couple of senators might well use the hearing to point out the problems of the corporate credit unions.
Perhaps the American Bankers Association’s Keith Leggett, its in-house credit union critic, will submit a statement that says, “If Carla Decker had her way, credit unions would make more business loans and do other things to continue their taxpayer subsidized destruction of community banks that are the fabric of this country. Also, by picking someone steeped in credit unions with no regulatory experience, President Obama has given the agency an industry lapdog rather than a watchdog.”
Then again, perhaps not.
Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) will ask her about the overall health of the industry and inquire about her regulatory philosophy. Since she wasn’t on the board during the corporate credit union mess, she probably won’t be asked much about how the agency handled the rescue, except perhaps its impact on natural person credit unions.
While Decker hasn’t spoken to the media since she was appointed last month, it’s safe to say that in her opening statement she will speak about what a privilege and honor it is to be named to the board. Further, her description of her views of regulation could well include the phrase tough, but fair.
Sen. Richard Shelby, the panel’s top Republican, has been critical of credit unions’ efforts to get Congress to allow them to make more business loans. Shelby (R-Ala.) might well ask Decker what she sees as the fundamental distinction between credit unions and banks and how as a regulator she would ensure that credit unions don’t engage in mission creep.
The process should be painless for Decker and relatively straightforward. Chances are she will likely be confirmed by the end of the year. However, in politics as in other walks of life, things don’t always go according to plan. Just ask the World Series Champion Texas Rangers.