Senate Banking Panel Running Out of Time on Obama Nominees

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.,has continued his long-standing tactic of blocking or slow-walking Obama financial regulators. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.,has continued his long-standing tactic of blocking or slow-walking Obama financial regulators. Brynn Anderson / AP

With only weeks to go before election-conscious lawmakers adjourn, prospects for filling vacancies on financial agency boards remain iffy.

Vacancies continue to slow action at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But the Export-Import Bank of the United States—where three vacancies on a five-member board prevent a quorum for major decision-making— is perhaps least likely to see a break in the logjam.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee, has continued his long-standing tactic of blocking or slow-walking Obama financial regulators, and in the case of the Ex-Im Bank, he has shown no signs of giving up.

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Obama nominated Patricia M. Loui-Schmicker in March 2015, but the absence of even a hearing prompted her to withdraw. 

Last January, he nominated J. Mark McWatters to the Ex-Im Bank, with a similar lack of action.

In April Shelby reiterated won’t approve Ex-Im nominees because he’s ideologically opposed to “corporate welfare,” despite Congress having voted in December against proposals by some to not renew the bank’s charter. Political analysts also noted that Shelby may have stalled nominations until after he faced a primary challenger in March.

 “Without a quorum,” an Ex-Im Bank spokesman told Government Executive, “the EX-IM Board of Directors cannot consider applications for medium- and long-term transactions exceeding $10 million, the very transactions that benefit thousands of American small-business exporters and suppliers. EX-IM currently has more than 30 board-level transactions, valued at more than $20 billion, pending in the pipeline.”

Democrats on Shelby’s committee have been blasting him for denying appointees not just to the Ex-Im Bank, but to the Fed and the SEC, among others. “We respectfully ask that you clear the backlog of nominees without further delay," the minority senators wrote Shelby in a February letter.

They complained that Shelby for months had not taken action on Obama’s 2015 nominations of Allan Landon and Kathryn Dominguez to become Fed governors. (Shelby said he was waiting, under the law, for Obama to also nominate a vice chairman for supervision at the Fed.)

They brought up Adam Szubin, who was nominated in April 2015 to serve as Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes (he’s now acting in the post); two nominees for the SEC; and Therese McMillan, then-acting head of the Federal Transit Administration, who had been waiting since July 2014 for confirmation. (In March she withdrew.)

The Democrats stressed that some of the nominees are Republicans or nonpolitical and that, as shown in a database going back to 2001, Shelby moved quickly on nominations during the George W. Bush administration. A spokesman for Senate Banking Minority Leader Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told Government Executive, that “Brown favors any and every way to get Ex-Im back up and running to full capacity so it can continue to create jobs.”

 Asked for comment, Shelby’s banking committee spokesman Torrie Matous noted that the committee did vote out two SEC nominees -- Hester Peirce and Lisa Fairfax -- on May 19. “The chairman has made it clear,” she said, “that he does not plan to hold a hearing/vote on the Ex-Im nominee.”

Another financial agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is muddling through without a quorum on its five-member board. But its committee of jurisdiction is the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry panel, led by Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

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