Why Is The White House Afraid Of The Elizabeth Warren Fight?
So I'm reading today's Congress Daily dispatch from National Journal, about the back-and-forth lobbying over who should head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and I get to this line, way down, about Elizabeth Warren:
"Industry privately grumbles that Warren would be their least favorite candidate to head the agency."
You also learn that Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) basically oppose Warren taking the post. Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) thinks she'd have a hard time being confirmed in the Senate. So, basically, here's the out-front opposition to Warren: the entire financial industry, Republican lawmakers and the worst deliberative body in the history of Western civilization. That, to me, seems like the best of all possible enemy-collections. If I had my choice as to whom I'd get into a protracted street fight with, circa post-crash 2010, I'd count myself very lucky.
But the Obama administration -- and this is going to be really shocking news -- don't really have the stomach for a street fight, unless it's the sort of fight where you bloody your opponent on the very day it becomes no longer possible to lose. As things sit, the White House is hesitating, looking for all the world like it is going to veer away from tapping Warren for the sort of job she was born to do. In so doing, Obama is picking some weak allies over some great enemies.
One of those nominal allies is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I'm sure that Geithner recognizes how depressing it is when every time someone on Wall Street commits a wealth-dissolving cock-up, their first resort is to ask the federal government to put billions of taxpayer dollars on a forklift and meet them at the loading dock. But Geithner doesn't much want to change the way that particular world works. And he essentially hopes that he can just pass the buck here, saying through a spokesman: "Secretary Geithner believes that Elizabeth Warren is exceptionally well-qualified to lead the new bureau, and, ultimately, that's a decision the president will have to make."
of course, I'm guessing that the choice he's hoping Obama will make -- by which I mean, telling him to make -- is to appoint Michael S. Barr to the CFPB. Barr would be an exciting choice to head up the agency! I mean, you remember how exciting it was when the derivatives market collapsed and nearly destroyed the entire economy, right? Well, Barr wanted no part of reforming derivatives, no sir! So, he'd be an ideal choice to head up this agency charged with protecting consumers, I'd imagine.
Also working against Warren's nomination are the people who have chosen to support her. As Sam Stein reported earlier today, labor organizations are furtively trying to lobby support for Warren. But, if you cast your mind back just a month or so ago, you might recall that the White House and Big Labor had a falling out over that time labor backed Bill Halter in a primary against incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). The White House got so steamed at their effort to supplant Lincoln after she spent a year and a half trying to water down or block the very agenda that the White House ran on! And so, cowardly anonymous bleats were farted in labor's direction.
So there are a lot of reasons why the White House isn't exactly itching to get into a protracted battle over appointing Warren, a person who would actually protect consumers, to the CFPB. But the biggest reason they don't want the fight is because they are totally effing stupid.
In lieu of making the sort of passionate case on the merits that is likely to fall on deaf ears, let me instead do what everyone in Washington prefers to do -- marshall the forces of election year cynicism!
You say that Warren's appointment is likely to be very contentious? And draw a lot of opposition? Well I am interested in hearing the other side of that argument! How is that going to do? Will it be, "We are worried that Elizabeth Warren has philosophical opposition to the Wall Street practices that led to the largest economic meltdown in the last half-century?" Or is it going to be more like: "If Elizabeth Warren gets her way, some consumers may end up getting protected?" If it were up to me, this wouldn't be a fight I'd be looking to actively avoid. I'd be looking for a way to drag it out for the next three months. (Unless I missed the part where Americans have suddenly rekindled their love for big banking institutions!)
When I think about the sorts of political fights that (I assume!) the White House wants to have, I think about that crazy time Representative Joe Barton (R-Tex.) apologized to BP for how terrible the oil giant was being treated, being held responsible for the tremendous disaster it caused and everything! That was what the tennis pros refer to as an "unforced error," and the White House dined out on that for a solid fortnight. What might happen if the White House went looking to pick a fight with opponents, daring them to defend the indefensible?
The answer is, of course, they might fare better in the coming elections. Then again, they might actually have to follow through and appoint Warren to the consumer protection agency, thus stealing the White House's most "bipartisan achievement": blanket opposition to changing the financial industry in any meaningful way, or preventing a future financial crisis through reform.
That's the problem with arguments that seem like "no brainers." They actually don't work when you ask people without brains to make them!