Don’t like the White House appointee? Sue ’em!

An original Congressional sin sets up a brawl over CFPB.

Over Thanksgiving, my granddaughter was playing with a toy Model T I’ve had forever. The metal car is a bank for which I lost the key decades ago. Coins still rattle around inside it.

Back before they were evil, local banks gave away such items if you made a certain-sized deposit. For $100, the Needham Cooperative Bank would give you a toy car, a bundle of firewood or an electric can opener.

This was in the 1960s and early 1970s, when you had passbooks. A gigantic typewriter-like device would record each transaction — withdrawals in red, deposits in black, interest accruals (at 5 percent) in blue. I still remember my account number.

Today banking is the subject of angry debates, billion-dollar fines and ceaseless calls for more regulation. Or less. It’s hard to understand exactly what a bank even is anymore.

Now a new lawsuit underscores the ferocity of debate around the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A federal employee sued the White House over an appointment to her regulatory agency. Somehow, that seems like a watershed.

Some see the CFPB as an unconstitutional menace, badly conceived by Congress and out of control. Others see it as a crucial bulwark against greedy banks and other lenders who poach on people. By extension, its recently departed director, Richard Cordray, is either a gifted public servant or a horned, scaly swamp creature. Take your pick.

My own feeling is, if the majority of Congress felt CFPB was necessary, fine. That’s how representative government works. But I also feel Congress should have made it a regular agency, subject to Congressional funding, oversight and executive branch appointment. That conception is at the heart of the lawsuit, and the nasty debates that will have broken out by the time this column is posted.

Agencies sometimes do controversial, even bizarre things. But they operate in a complex of accountability. I’m not so sure about CFPB, however worthy its mission and actions might be. Congress practically ensured this donnybrook in the way it set up the agency.

In her lawsuit against the Trump administration, Leandra English claimed she’s the rightful acting director of CFBP, and not President Trump’s appointee Mick Mulvaney. She seeks a restraining order from the U.S. District Court of D.C.

Cordray just last week had appointed English as deputy administrator and then appointed her acting director.  English claimed the Dodd-Frank law means the president cannot appoint Cordray’s successor.

The Trump administration cites the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to say it can.

Agency counsel reportedly told employees to presume that Mulvaney is in charge. Imagine the water cooler talk today at headquarters.

In working professionally for 40 years, and in watching the federal government closely for the past 25, I cannot recall a person ever declaring themselves into a promotion. Unless a person owns a company, few CEOs have ever had the authority to appoint their own successors.

This isn’t quite the Haft vs. Haft drama of Washington lore, but its a doozie.

Presuming honest motivation on everyone’s part, one law or the other will prevail. A court will end up deciding this case. But Congress has to fix the fundamental problem it created.

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