“There is only one person who should lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and that is the brilliant advocate who championed it, the remarkable administrator who has helped get it off the ground, and the middle class champion who will make it work – Elizabeth Warren.”
That is a statement that even Republicans couldn’t argue with–with the small exception that Republicans view these as negative qualifications. The rest stands, however, because no one is arguing that Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t be appointed director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because she isn’t the best person for the job. No, the opposition to her comes from the exact opposite position:
Republicans oppose Elizabeth Warren because she is too good at her job.
Since when is being too good at your job–too qualified, too committed–a bad thing? Well if you are a conservative, bankrolled by Wall Street and beholden to their interests, these are all bad qualities because what you really want is to destroy all financial regulation.
The CFPB was a key part of the 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that sought to rebuild the regulatory framework established as a response to the Great Depression that had been slowly dismantled by conservatives over the years. All honest observers, even many prominent conservatives, have acknowledged the role of financial deregulation in contributing to the financial collapse and subsequent recession. Wall Street reform and the CFPB were an attempt to make sure such an economy-devastating collapse never happened again. Wall Street had to be reined in. No more playing roulette in the Wall Street casino with the US economy. What could be more sensible than that?
Jump back to now–the CFPB has been without a director at the helm since it was established, and it is legally mandated to fill that position by July. During this time, Elizabeth Warren has proven “her value as an advocate and as an administrator” while setting up the “only financial bureau dedicated to the protection of consumers.” Meanwhile, Wall Street lobbyists and the best minority party they can buy have been hard at work trying to cripple the bureau, to make sure the financial sector remains the dangerous and lawless Wild West that made a handful of people incredibly rich while it wrecked the economy for the rest of us. In short, they want to make sure there is no sheriff in town.
Of course we have a sheriff, ready and waiting, and she just happens to be incredibly qualified and dedicated. She set up the bureau and she has persevered in the face of intense resistance from the Right. She is great at her job. She is fearless.
That has the outlaws (and their henchmen) terrified.
Thus we have Tuesday’s Republican-led House Oversight Committee hearing entitled “Who’s Watching the Watchmen?,” which will again put Warren in the interrogation seat. (Note the irony that after the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Republicans are more concerned with who is watching the sheriff than who is watching the outlaws who collapsed the system. Talk about distorted priorities.)
In case you were wondering how a committee could be so focused on shackling the sheriff while ignoring the outlaws, you need only look at who is running the show: Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC). One has ample reason to question the motives of Warren’s inquisitor. Even before McHenry convened the hearing to question Warren about the CFPB he had already co-sponsored a bill that seeks to eliminate her position entirely! (Talk about a rough crowd.) So Mr. McHenry is already coming into this hearing with a clear agenda, one that includes hog-tying the sheriff and shipping her off on the first train out of town–but why? For whose benefit? What’s the motive? Well, let’s just look at Rep. McHenry’s top campaign funders in 2010 (show me the money!):
#1: Wells Fargo – $15,550
#3: Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu – $11,500
#5: American Bankers Association – $10,000
#5: Bank of America – $10,000
#5: Ernst & Young – $10,000
#5: PricewaterhouseCoopers – $10,000
#5: Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America – $10,000
#5: American Society of Anesthesiologists – $10,000 (seems relevant, since you’d have to be sedated to not see the quid pro quo going on here)
Well it looks like McHenry has a posse of his own! And I see a trend: McHenry’s financial backers read like a laundry list of people who have a vested interest in seeing the sheriff run out of town (and the police station burnt to the ground). Perhaps there might be a connection between what the outlaws want and committee’s agenda? Hmm..
Political puppetry aside, it is also important to note that the CFPB isn’t some all-powerful agency that is single-handedly restructuring the entire financial sector. It is simply one modest and sensible part of a larger set of reforms that were viewed by many as too moderate too begin with. We are talking about making credit lenders more accountable for their practices–cutting down on the fine print, outrageous fees and other abuses that have turned all too many Americans households into money farms for large banks. You can’t get less controversial than that.
Nevertheless, the sheriff is going to be put on trail, to be berated and heckled in the town square, again. This has become a bit of a theme for the Republican-led House Oversight Committee–attack the humble defender of the middle class while pretending that the financial crisis never happened. This game is no secret either. After her first appearance before the
tribunal congressional hearing (entitled “Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau”–notice the consistent hang up on horribly misplaced priorities), Joe Nocera identified the true agenda of the committee in The New York Times:
And thus the real purpose of the hearing: to allow the Republicans who now run the House to box Ms. Warren about the ears. The big banks loathe Ms. Warren, who has made a career out of pointing out all the ways they gouge financial consumers — and whose primary goal is to make such gouging more difficult. So, naturally, the Republicans loathe her too. That she might someday run this bureau terrifies the banks. So, naturally, it terrifies the Republicans.
You can be certain that Tuesday’s hearing will be no different.
Lest I give the impression that this is all about Elizabeth Warren, it should be pointed out that the Senate Republicans have vowed to filibuster any nominee to head the CFPB until the majority concedes to their demands to gut the fledgling bureau. They may be terrified by the prospect of a strong, competent leader like Warren running the CFPB, but that doesn’t mean they would be satisfied with a weak leader either. No, the whole bureau must fall to their quest to erase financial reform and keep the Wild West of Wall Street alive and well (until the next completely preventable meltdown).
So the agency needs a leader to be truly effective, however Republicans refuse to allow any leader until the bureau is made completely ineffective. What’s a president to do? That much is simple:
The president should stand up to this outrageous extortion. He has the power to make a recess appointment when the Senate goes out of session at the end of this month. He should use that power to appoint Elizabeth Warren, a true champion of working families to head up the agency. It is time to act.
President Obama must stand up to the right-wing obstructionists and make the case for Elizabeth Warren and financial reform. Then, after Republicans again declare they don’t care about protecting the country from another financial meltdown and recession, President Obama should use his constitutionally authorized authority to use a recess appointment to make Elizabeth Warren the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. We need it. She deserves it. President Obama can do it. Outlaws be damned. Sign the petition to the President calling for a recess appointment for Elizabeth Warren.
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Update: To give you an idea of how good (and completely non-controversial) Elizabeth Warren is, the head of the Oklahoma Banker’s Association, who at one point (before he knew her) described Warren as “akin to the Antichrist” has been completely won over by her abilities and is now pushing President Obama to give her a recess appointment to direct the CFPB. Really.
Update #2: The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:15pm today (Tuesday). Streaming video should be available on the committee website. As you watch the hearing, see if you can guess which members of Congress have pocketed wagon-fulls of cash from the banking industry. @OurFuturedotorg will also be live tweeting the hearing.
Update #3 (2:40pm): Wow, that hearing got nasty. It was clear from the very beginning that Rep. Henry wanted to attack Elizabeth Warren & the CFPB (his campaign contributions preordained that), but it got so bad that Rep. Yarmuth actually had to apologize to Warren for the rude and disrespectful behavior of the chair (Rep. Henry) and his snarky comments. After watching that circus it is even more clear just how much Republicans fear Elizabeth Warren and financial reform.
Kudos to Rep. Maloney for pointing out that the title of the GOP’s hearing should have actually been “Let’s Pretend the Financial Crisis Never Happened.”