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Considering Warren


Elizabeth Warren fans and Elizabeth Warren foes will both want to read Brady Dennis's profile of the consumer-protection advocate. To make the political point, it seems to me that the importance of Warren's nomination is being dramatically overblown. And that seems great for the administration.

I'd prefer to see Warren appointed, but it's hard to be incredibly confident about something as unpredictable as agency leadership. Think of it this way: You're a credit-card industry trade group and you're given two choices to lead the consumer protection agency: The first is an aggressive, charismatic and media-savvy regulator who seems likely to clash with the administration and thus is likely to lose some important bureaucratic battles. The other is a less charismatic and media-savvy regulator who is still substantively aggressive, skeptical of your business, but who has great internal administration relationships and seems likely to win a lot of internal battles on behalf of the agency. Who would you pick? The answer isn't obvious to me.

But the elevation of the Warren appointment into a major priority for liberals gives the administration something easy they can hand to their base. It's not like the public option, which seemed capable of sinking the health-care bill. Financial regulation has already passed. If Warren runs into Republican opposition in the Senate, then all the better: All eyes will focus on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and since the administration believes it hasn't gotten enough credit for financial regulation and also believes the CFPB is the most popular part of the bill, that's a gift for them -- particularly so close to the election.

It's of course possible that Republicans will filibuster her nomination and Democrats won't be able to break their hold. But so what? In that case, Warren will either be recess appointed or replaced. Which is why, at this point, it seems pretty likely that Warren will be appointed. If she's not, I think it'll be substantive fears -- there are those who think she's much too skeptical of financial products and her presence will chill lenders at a time when we want them to start pushing money out again -- not political concerns, that derail her. But given that the administration can't actually say "we believe Warren will protect consumers too much," it'll be hard for them to act on that concern.

One last point: It's worth taking a moment and marveling at how much one well-crafted policy proposal published in a little-read journal can lead to.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh-AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 13, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Regulation  
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--"Who would you pick?"--

Easy: Neither. In a free country consumers don't need a nanny to watch over them.

Posted by: msoja | August 13, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, you make it sound like the administration isn't terrified of the republican's itchy filibuster finger....

Posted by: nomadwolf | August 13, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

"Ezra, you make it sound like the administration isn't terrified of the republican's itchy filibuster finger...."

Nominating her is a no-brainer. Like the Financial Reform bill, it's tough to oppose. They're not "terrified" of the filibuster from a policy perspective, though ...

It seems like a perfect world for Obama political types is one where big interests would be served and they'd pass tons of laws. Because it's not a perfect world, pushback from the left is super annoying (don't they know we're passing stuff!) *but* pushback from the right is super useful -- you can blame everything on the right as a way to preemptively chip away at your own policies (Baucus was a master at this...) without ever claiming responsibility or offending the interests that support you.

Warren is an winnable fight that gets them political points even if they lose. The only reason we are still talking about her is because we can't "compromise away" her views that are damaging to powerful interests like you can in a bill, so we have to have this Baucus like slow-walk to make it seem she's not nominate-able because she's supposedly so controversial.

Posted by: Chris_ | August 13, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"The other is a less charismatic and media-savvy regulator who is still substantively aggressive, skeptical of your business, but who has great internal administration relationships and seems likely to win a lot of internal battles on behalf of the agency."

Substantively aggressive and skeptical of your business? There's more of a possibility of seeing a unicorn than spying any such animal in the Obama Administration, and Ezra's disingenuous spin that this is all about effectiveness is BS. Ezra's candid admission later in his post that the administration (like our first commenter) doesn't give a rat's ass about consumers and is concerned about the banks' bottom line explains the administration's reluctance to nominate her far more credibly.

I'm still waiting with breathless anticipation for another of Ezra's frequent posts about how dreamy Paul Ryan is.

Posted by: redscott1904 | August 13, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

The continuing debate about Warren/not-Warren is profoundly depressing to those of us who care passionately about consumer protection. What's depressing is that evidently there's room in the administration for only one pro-consumer appointment, so we're fighting over it.

We're like dogs fighting over a single bone. (This is a variation on the time-honored psychological game of "Let's you and him fight.")

We have entire Cabinet-level departments -- Treasury, Commerce, the Fed, et al -- devoted to the care and feeding of investment bankers, but the people are reduced to a single mid-level appointment? It's no wonder the "left" is furious at the administration's actions. The wonder is that we aren't all in the streets.

Posted by: rkarraker | August 13, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

--"The wonder is that we aren't all in the streets."--

Yes, it's a freaking wonder that you aren't out there in the dangerous streets begging for another government agent to come protect you from the big bad wolves howling outside your door.

Posted by: msoja | August 13, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

yes, consumers really do need an active government acting on their behalf:

"In a decision handed down late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup accused Wells Fargo of "profiteering" by changing its policies to process checks, debit card transactions and bill payments from the highest dollar amount to the lowest, rather than in the order the transactions took place. That helped drain customer bank accounts faster and drive up overdraft fees, a policy Alsup referred to as "gouging and profiteering."

Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | August 13, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Dodd and Rep. Frank did their dirty work by setting up a toothless Consumer Protection Agency. Now the Republicans will block the only nominee (Warren) who has the cahones to work on behalf of consumers.

Posted by: Paaa | August 13, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

--"Wells Fargo"--

Yes, obviously, that and similar cases can never be resolved without the meddling of a federal Consumer Protection Agency. Uh huh.

Seriously, though, once the stupid consumer protection agency has imposed its various and sundry regulations, and Wells Fargo is in full compliance with said regulations, what is one's recourse for remedial action when one feels wronged in the implementation of The Regulations? Try to elect more Democrats in four years?

And it won't even do you any good to dump Wells Fargo and head to some other bank, because they all be operating under the same regimen of federally imposed regulations.

And that's just the outer shell of it. There are umpteen layers of nonsense and incompetence built into it all, from every angle, but once again, people are looking to an intransigent, incompetent, self-serving bureaucracy to protect what ought to rightfully be their own responsibility to look after. And no one in the bureaucracy is going to care about *you* any more than you ever do.

Posted by: msoja | August 13, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

It's not possible to read that profile of Elizabeth Warren and not enthusiastically want her to head the new CPA. She's not in it for the power, money, or glory like Obama, et al.

Posted by: goadri | August 13, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

May be a bit off topic here, but those far left "progressives" biting their nails and slamming their keyboards about Elizabeth Warren are NOT "the base" of the Dem Party. The "professional left" that we keep hearing about are much whiter, older, and wealthier (and fewer in number) than the actual base. They just have a loud megaphone thanks to their websites and/or talk shows.
Pres Obama knows who the real base is. Average, middle class, working Americans of all races, but with a hell of a lot more African Americans and Latinos than the GOP. President Obama doesn't need and shouldn't cater to the so called "professional left". And yeah, of course Warren will get the gig...and should.

Posted by: MrInternational | August 13, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

--"It's not possible to read that profile of Elizabeth Warren and not enthusiastically want her to head the new CPA."--

Really? It's not possible?

And if it is possible, then how many other things that you're entirely sure of will the revelation of it throw you into doubt about?

Posted by: msoja | August 13, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

--"The idea for an independent federal agency to protect ordinary borrowers from abuses by lenders was largely Warren's idea"--

There. I despise her on basic principles. I don't have to read another word to know she is an enemy of freedom and of personal responsibility.

Posted by: msoja | August 13, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ezra

Yoour ignorance is appalling. The base of the Democratic Party is AfricanAmerican voters. White voters and now Jewish voters vote for Republicans as a whole. The former because of their age or education. The latter for Republicans unthinking slavish positions on Israel. Liberals are not a large part of the base.

Posted by: teddy1 | August 13, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

"The base of the Democratic Party is AfricanAmerican voters. "

First, the GOP always tries to claim Jewish voters are swinging their way but it just never happens. Still solidly Democratic, despite the hugely divergent groups in Washington. Second, "white voters" doesn't include the educated or young voters -- they're still solidly Democratic. There's just a whole lot of while, mid to upper class people who vote and vote for the GOP.

Posted by: Chris_ | August 13, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I am very impressed by Ms. Warren. I have watched her on talk shows,and she certainly seems to know what she is talking about, and no doubt she is on the side of the consumers. She is practical and so down to earth that you just know she is brilliant and at the same time she is concerned about the consumers.

Posted by: beccajo | August 14, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

This is yet more evidence as to why this whole story, and Ms Warren's essentially being wasted on this petty partisan bickering, is little more than a political boondoggle. The bureau has been rendered useless before it's even begun, and now no one is going to take proper responsibility.

Posted by: varapetra | August 19, 2010 1:34 AM | Report abuse

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