By Suzanne Barlyn
(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Banking Committee has set a hearing date for President Barack Obama's two nominees to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a move that follows Democrats' complaints about a backlog of nominations.
The committee's hearing for the nominees, Democrat Lisa Fairfax and Republican Hester Peirce, will take place on March 15, more than five months after Obama announced their selection, according to a schedule published on Tuesday.
Senate Banking Committee Democrats, in a letter on Feb. 22, asked the panel's chairman, Republican Senator Richard Shelby, to "clear the backlog" of 16 nominations by Obama to posts related to financial oversight, national security and other areas.
If confirmed, Fairfax and Peirce would restore the SEC's commission to five members. The agency has been overseen by three commissioners since last year when Republican Daniel Gallagher and Democratic Luis Aguilar stepped down.
The situation has heightened the agency's challenges in recent years of getting a consensus. Only three SEC commissioners remain: Kara Stein is a Democrat; Mike Piwowar, a Republican; and Chair Mary Jo White, an independent.
On Feb. 22, White said that she intends to wait until the SEC once again has a full five-member panel before moving forward to appoint a new head of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a body created in the wake of the Enron scandal to police corporate auditors.
Another topic that has proven particularly controversial at the SEC are regulatory waivers. Banks and other companies that break criminal laws or face civil fraud charges must apply to the agency for waivers to keep operating normally.
Last year, Commissioner Stein began publicly dissenting on waivers, saying the agency was too often rubber-stamping them and creating a policy of "too-big-to-bar."
Obama tapped Fairfax and Peirce after months of delays and pressure from liberal groups to nominate someone who will be tough on Wall Street.
(Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Alistair Bell)