You are hereNYT: An Advocate Who Scares Republicans

NYT: An Advocate Who Scares Republicans


March 18, 2011- 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.

FULL STORY HERE:

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