Timmy And Lizzy, Having A Tizzy

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up

Shahien Nasiripour at The Huffington Post:

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner’s views.

The financial reform bill passed by the Senate on Thursday mandates the creation of a new federal entity charged with protecting consumers from predatory lenders.

But if Geithner has his way, the most prominent advocate for creating the agency may not be picked to lead it.

Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School whose 2007 journal article advocating the creation of such an agency inspired policymakers to enact it into law, has rocketed to prominence since the onset of the financial crisis as one of the leading reform advocates fighting on behalf of American taxpayers.

Warren has been an aggressive proponent for the bureau in public and behind the scenes, working regularly with President Barack Obama’s top advisers and the Democratic leadership in Congress. Since 2008, she has overseen the Congressional Oversight Panel, a bailout watchdog created to keep tabs on how two administrations spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street while struggling to keep distressed homeowners out of foreclosure and small businesses from collapsing.

Yet while her work on behalf of a federal unit designed solely to protect borrowers from abusive lenders has been embraced by the administration, Warren’s role as a bailout watchdog led to strained relations with the agency her panel has taken to task with brutal reports every month since Obama took office: Geithner’s Treasury Department.

It’s no secret the watchdog and the Treasury Secretary have had a tenuous relationship. Geithner’s critics have enjoyed watching Warren question him during his four appearances before her panel. Her tough, probing questions on the Wall Street bailout and his role in it — often delivered with a smile — are featured on YouTube. One video is headlined “Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm.”

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

With his track record of survival, Geithner and his team apparently feel they can push hard against Elizabeth Warren and give the new consumer protection job to someone closer to their philosophy – which is much more sympathetic to the banking industry.

This would be a bad mistake – trying the patience of already exasperated Congressional Democrats.  If the Obama administration can’t even complete the deal they implicitly agreed with Senators over the past months, this will set of a firestorm of protest within the party (and with anyone else who is paying attention).

Financial “reform” is already very weak.  If Secretary Geithner gets his way on consumers protection, pretty much all of the Democrats efforts vis-à-vis the financial sector’s treatment of customers have been for naught.

Tim Geithner is sometimes compared to Talleyrand, the French statesman who served the Revolution, Napoleon, and the restored Bourbons – opportunistic and distrusted, but often useful and a great survivor with a brilliant personal career.  In the end, of course, no one – including Talleyrand – proves indispensible.  And everyone of this sort eventually pushes their luck too far.

If the Democratic leadership really wants to win in the November elections, they should think very hard about the further consequences of Mr. Geithner.

Dean Baker at TPM:

Undoubtedly her actions made many people in positions of power uncomfortable. But, that is exactly what we need in order for the new consumer protection agency to be effective.

The Federal Reserve Board already had the power and the responsibility to do the job that the new consumer board has been assigned. The problem was that Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and their colleagues on the Fed board (with some notable exceptions) never took this responsibility seriously. As a result, consumer protection was a joke.

Shifting the responsibility to a new board does not by itself guarantee that consumer protection in financial matters will now be treated seriously. Just ask the folks at the Mineral and Management Service about their oversight of deep-sea drilling.

Ensuring that the new board carries through its responsibilities in the way that is intended will require a leader with integrity, intelligence and independence. Elizabeth Warren clearly fits that description. Selecting anyone else will be an insult not only to her, but to all the individuals and organizations who worked so hard to bring the Consumer Financial Protection Board into existence.

Felix Salmon:

Shahien Nasiripour says, plausibly enough, that Tim Geithner is opposed to tapping Elizabeth Warren for the job, despite the fact that she’s the obvious choice. I hope he doesn’t get his way. The bureau would never have come into being without Warren pushing it hard; it’s only fair she gets a chance to run it at inception, and shape the way it does business. Even if she has been harsh in her public questioning of Geithner.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Boy, and bloggers are called the immature ones. Geithner gets his fee-fees hurt because Warren dares to tell the truth about the Wall Street cartel and the woefully inadequate job Treasury has done, particularly on the foreclosure crisis, and so that makes her unacceptable for a position she literally dreamed up. I think it’s time to end the fiction that the Treasury Department is in any way interested in fundamentally changing the balance of power between Wall Street and consumers. If this report is correct, Geithner is using his power to block someone who would actually make Wall Street nervous from having a position of authority.

At least one progressive group is already fighting back. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has blasted an email to their supporters demanding that Warren be named the head of the CFPB.

As a Harvard professor, her credentials are impeccable. And she was the one who came up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — perhaps the best piece of this bill — in the first place.

In short, Warren is perfect for the position and most financial insiders have just assumed she would get it. That’s why it’s so outrageous that Geithner — a longtime Wall Street insider — would attempt to sabotage her appointment.

I will be in a position to gather more information about this in the near future, not only from Treasury, but from Elizabeth Warren. It turns out I’m on a panel with her next week at Netroots Nation. We’ll talk about the Forgotten Foreclosure Crisis along with Sen. Jeff Merkley and the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim. So if you’re in Vegas, please come out as I speak with the next head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – unless Timmeh has something to say about it.

Matthew Yglesias:

I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in a story based on “a source with knowledge of Geithner’s views” but the two of them have clashed in the past so this could be the case. For example, speaking on the record earlier today Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Institutions Michael Barr said Narisipour’s report was wrong, and that he and Geithner both regard her as “exceptionally well-qualified.”

I’m firmly of the view that nobody is indispensable ever, and Warren is no exception to that, but there’s a good prima facie case for her. That’s because good agencies not only need good people at the top, they need good people in the middle and the bottom too. Once an agency’s been up and running for a while, this is largely a question of lock-in. Effective, high-prestige public agencies (the United States Navy, the Federal Reserve) attract a lot of motivated applicants and thus get on a self-reenforcing path of effective personnel and high prestige. But when you start something new, everything is wide open. Launching the agency with someone like Warren—a reasonably well-known high-status individual whose status among people interested in consumer financial protection is very high—will draw other committed people into the new bureau.

Paul Krugman:

There’s also a political aspect. The Obama administration suffers from the perception that it’s been too much in the pocket of Wall Street — partly because there’s at least a grain of truth to the accusation. Appointing a prominent pro-consumer crusader would have to help repair the image, while appointing somebody unknown to the public, especially when expectations are running high, would hurt.

And bear in mind that Warren really is a pioneering expert on household debt and financial distress, who has also shown an ability to work effectively in an official position. Against that, whatever personal quarrels she may or may not have had shouldn’t count at all.

Brian Beutler at TPM:

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, President Obama’s top political adviser David Axelrod sought to calm the waters. “Elizabeth is certainly a candidate to lead it,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed this morning by Michael Barr, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Institutions. “I don’t know where that came from,” he said on a conference call. “She’s been working closely with me and Secretary Geithner for a year and half to push for this consumer protection bureau. I believe and Secretary Geithner believes that she’s exceptionally well-qualified to run it.”

Geithner and Warren haven’t exactly had a warm public relationship, so the news that he has reservations, and may be trying to block her, is no surprise. Just ask Sheila Bair. But this puts the White House in a tricky spot now if it turns out Obama does not nominate her.

More Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

It’s one thing to block Elizabeth Warren from heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s quite another thing to deny in public, for the record, that any such blocking is going on (e.g., see this report; Michael Barr apparently said something quite similar today).

There is a strong groundswell of opinion on this issue from the left – see the BoldProgressives petition.  But the center also feels strongly that, given everything Treasury has said and done over the past few months, it would be a complete travesty not to put the strongest possible regulator in change of protecting consumers.  (See Ted Kaufman on the NYT’s DealBook, giving appropriate credit to the SEC, and apply the same points to broader customer issues going forward.)

This can now go only one of two ways.

  1. Elizabeth Warren gets the job.  Bridges are mended and the White House regains some political capital.  Secretary Geithner is weakened slightly but he’ll recover.
  2. Someone else gets the job, despite Treasury’s claims that Elizabeth Warren was not blocked.  The deception in this scenario would be nauseating – and completely blatant.  “Everyone was considered on their merits” and “the best candidate won” will convince who exactly?

Despite the growing public reaction, outcome #2 is the most likely and the White House needs to understand this, plain and clear – there will be complete and utter revulsion at its handling of financial regulatory reform both on this specific issue and much more broadly.  The administration’s position in this area is already weak, its achievements remain minimal, its speaking points are lame, and the patience of even well-inclined people is wearing thin.

Failing to appoint Elizabeth Warren would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  It will go down in the history books as a turning point – downwards – for this administration.

UPDATE: John Talbott at HuffPo

Jim Newell at Gawker

UPDATE #2: Jonathan Karl and Matthew Jaffe at ABC News

Felix Salmon

Mike Konczal

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator

UPDATE #3: Pat Garofalo at Think Progress

UPDATE #4: Noam Scheiber at TNR

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2 Comments

Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, Political Figures, The Crisis

2 responses to “Timmy And Lizzy, Having A Tizzy

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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