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Congress in a war with several fronts

With his speech Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan., President Obama laid out the philosophical difference between Republicans and Democrats that has Washington mired in a stalemate.

While Democrats want more economic remedies to specifically address the plight of the middle class and poor, Republicans don't want that to be at the expense of those who already pay the most taxes in this country.

This war has several fronts, the most prominent last week being the battle over extending a payroll-tax holiday. Democrats want to pay for it with a surcharge on incomes above $1 million. Republicans would cut entitlement spending and freeze federal workers' pay.

A separate battle is over Obama's pick of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to direct the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans have no argument with Cordray's credentials. But the nomination has been blocked by senators who want the CFPB to be stripped of some of its power.

The consumer agency is little more than a bone tossed to taxpayers for bailing out the financial industry. Even with an interim director in charge, it has already clarified mortgage and credit-card rules so it's easier for consumers to see what they're getting into. But its leadership needs to be set before taking on non-bank financial institutions.

That includes those mortgage lenders accused of falsifying documents and using hidden fees to trick consumers into taking loans that they never had a realistic chance of paying back. Bad mortgages written by a barely regulated industry triggered the foreclosure crisis that led to this nation's financial meltdown.

As important, the CFPB has been assigned to regulate the payday lending operations that are prevalent in most urban areas and have started cropping up in the suburbs, where census figures show poverty has risen 53 percent. These are the guys that charge an average of $16 on a two-week $100 loan. They set up shop in poor neighborhoods and near military bases to prey on the desperate and gullible.

Forty-four Republican senators signed a letter saying they will block Cordray's appointment unless the CFPB's powers are reduced and it is funded through Congress. Their intransigence jeopardizes the agency's effectiveness.

It makes no sense to put the CFPB under the thumb of Congress, which in its current state would likely cripple that agency as it has been crippled by rancorous partisan politics.

It is time for the CFPB to run at full power. Americans suffering through the aftermath of the financial industry's greed frenzy need this agency on their side.