With President Obama expected to sign into law the financial reform bill this week, one of the most critical and outstanding questions is just who will he nominate to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and will the nominee face a protracted confirmation struggle thanks to GOP obstructionism?
The answer to the second question seems to be a clear yes, which makes the President’s next move all the more interesting and why both the left and the right have come out swinging at the mention of the obvious choice: Elizabeth Warren. Warren is a Harvard Law Professor and fierce consumer advocate. Big banks hate her and consumer advocates adore her. She has the unique talent of being brilliant at political messaging and policy crafting. As bailout watchdog she has tirelessly criticized the administration’s lackluster efforts to keep middle-class families in their homes and has been a vocal opponent of Treasury’s soft-touch with Wall Street. She is both the obvious choice and the political lightening rod the administration may want to steer clear of. And interestingly, none of that may matter because Warren’s nomination could live and die by one man alone, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
According to the language of the bill the Treasury Secretary has sole authority to build this new agency before its ultimate transfer to the Federal Reserve. Within that authority is the power to chose a person to head those efforts on his behalf and under his authority. This interim head would serve until the President’s nominee is confirmed by the Senate. That means that Geithner could appoint Warren and she could create the culture and set the agency’s wheel’s in motion without any confirmation battle at all.
The problem, according to some reports, is that Geithner is not in favor of Warren as the nominee. Some on the left have characterized this as flat-out opposition, but I’m not sure that is quite the case. Geithner has come out and said that Warren is well-qualified, though he is said to publicly prefer Michael Barr, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial institutions for the role. Barr is also a noted consumer advocate but one who has been, for obvious reasons, less critical of Treasury as Warren has been.
But even as Warren has criticized the administration she has worked hard at defending the administration’s record when she’s seen fit. In short, she’s proven herself an independent thinker with a broad vision and a problem solver that does not tip-toe around politically charged decisions. That alone makes her a perfect fit to shape the agency and get it off the ground. Whether or not that makes her the ultimate bureaucratic fit is another question and, quite frankly, one that will less of a difference once the culture of the agency is set.
Let’s make sure the administration understands just how critical the Warren nomination is–even if that nomination comes in the form of an interim appointment by Treasury. Sign here and let your voice be heard. Stand up for Elizabeth Warren the way she’s stood up for working American families and help craft a consumer protection agency that refuses to bend to Wall Street.
photo courtesy of david shankbone via Flickr
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