No, it’s not Sarah Palin, who seems these days to be on the outs with the Washington Republican establishment. And it’s not Hillary Clinton, who at one time did hold the title for several years as the woman whom the Republicans loved to hate. According to Joe Nocera, Talking Business writer for The New York Times, Elizabeth Warren has become the punching bag for the new found Republican power legislators in Congress. Warren is President Obama’s adviser on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The New York Times -The piñata sat alone at the witness table, facing the members of the House subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit.
The Wednesday morning hearing was titled “Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” The only witness was the piñata, otherwise known as Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor hired last year by President Obama to get the new bureau — the only new agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law — up and running. She may or may not be nominated by the president to serve as its first director when it goes live in July, but in the here and now she’s clearly running the joint.
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.
The banks and their Congressional allies have another, more recent gripe. Rather than waiting until July to start helping financial consumers, Ms. Warren has been trying to help them now. Can you believe the nerve of that woman?
At the request of the states’ attorneys general, all 50 of whom have banded together to investigate the mortgage servicing industry in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, she has fed them ideas that have become part of a settlement proposal they are putting together. Recently, a 27-page outline of the settlement terms was given to banks — terms that included basic rules about how mortgage servicers must treat defaulting homeowners, as well as a requirement that banks look to modify mortgages before they begin foreclosure proceedings. The modifications would be paid for with $20 billion or so in penalties that would be levied on the big banks.
Naturally, the banks hate these ideas, too. So the Republican members of the subcommittee had another purpose as well: to use the hearing to serve as a rear-guard action against the proposed settlement.
“Under what statutory authority are you currently acting?” demanded Representative Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina, questioning the legitimacy of her role in setting up the consumer bureau. He also questioned whether the government had the right to impose a $20 billion penalty on the banks — and then use that money for (heaven forbid) mortgage modifications.
Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, the new chairman of the Financial Services Committee, wanted to know how closely Ms. Warren had been consulting with the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about naming a director for the bureau — and whether she would accept a recess appointment “knowing the type of blowback from that.” (A recess appointment is a temporary appointment the president can make when the Senate is in recess, thus avoiding the need for Senate confirmation.)
Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico, said that he fully expected the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be no better than “the S.E.C. and Mr. Madoff.” “Within two years,” he added, “your agency is going to be operating exactly the same, that it’s simply out there grinding wheels away.”
Representative Scott Garrett, Republican of New Jersey, zeroed in on the proposed settlement. Where in the statute did she have the authority to consort with the attorneys general? he demanded to know. “Are you making recommendations to government regulators about the dollar amount?” he badgered. “Is that part of your role, to make recommendations about dollar amounts?”
On and on it went, until the hearing sputtered to a close, two and a half hours after the browbeating had begun.
To listen to the House Republicans, you’d think the financial crisis of 2008 was like that infamous season of the long-running soap opera “Dallas,” the one that turned out to be a season-long dream. Subprime mortgages? Too-big-to-fail banks? Unregulated derivatives? No problem! With the exception of their bête noire, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Republicans act as if nothing needs to be done to prevent another crisis. Indeed, they act as if the crisis never happened.
Read the New York Times article here.
Elizabeth Warren has been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate against Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Professor Elizabeth Warren is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard University. She has written eight books and more than a hundred scholarly articles dealing with credit and economic stress. Her latest two books, The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth, were both on national best seller lists. She has been principal investigator on empirical studies funded by the National Science Foundation and more than a dozen private foundations. Warren was the Chief Adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, and she was appointed as the first academic member of the Federal Judicial Education Committee. She currently serves as a member of the Commission on Economic Inclusion established by the FDIC. She also serves on the steering committees of the Tobin Project and the National Bankruptcy Conference. The National Law Journal has repeatedly named Professor Warren as one of the Fifty Most Influential Women Attorneys in America, and SmartMoney Magazine recently designated her one of the SmartMoney 30 for 2008. She was also one of eight law professors to be named on the Leading Lawyers in America list compiled by Law Dragon.