Acknowledging the perception that she was walking into “hostile territory,” Washington’s newest consumer watchdog appeared at a conference sponsored by her nemesis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to argue that both sides want the same thing: competitive financial markets.
“I know this won’t come as a shock to you, but the chamber and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on issues,” Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s special advisor charged with setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a prepared statement.
The CFPB was created last summer by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act to perform the same watchdog function for financial products that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission serves for toasters and toys. Since then the chamber, major banks and Republican leaders have made numerous attempts to kill the new agency, limit its funding or restrict its regulatory power.
[Related article: The CFPB and Congress’ Need for an Adult Conversation]
The chamber’s current push is to limit Warren’s power over the agency by changing its leadership structure from a single director to a five-member bipartisan committee.
“I think this is a matter we could interest both parties in,” Chamber President Tom Donohue told Fox Business. “There are a lot of Democrats who would not like to have one Republican sitting in that seat.”
In her comments to the chamber, Warren argued that both she and the bureau already have significant limitations on their power. Under pressure from Republicans, President Obama declined to name Warren the bureau’s first director, instead giving her the more limited role of presidential advisor.
“The CFPB is the only bank regulator—and perhaps the only agency anywhere in government—whose rules can be overruled by a group of other agencies,” Warren said in her statement, referring to the Financial Stability Oversight Board, which can overturn the bureau’s rules with a two-thirds vote. “This is an extraordinary restraint.”
Warren, who has been a strident critic of Wall Street practices that caused the Great Recession, struck a conciliatory and sometimes humorous note with the chamber.
“I need to tell you that I’ve had more teasing about this meeting than I’ve had in a long time. You can imagine the analogies: Nixon to China, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Sen. John Kennedy speaking before Protestant ministers,” Warren said. “All of that’s in good fun, and although I’m not here to minimize our differences, it’s important to begin with common ground.”
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Image: Peter Harrison, via Flickr