An uncommonly bitter brawl in the halls of Congress, complete with accusations of lying, may dim hopes of compromise regarding the new Consumer Financial Protection Board. On two separate occasions during the one-hour hearing, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) accused Elizabeth Warren, the agency’s leader, of lying to Congress.
“You’re making this up, Ms. Warren. This is not the case,” McHenry said during the hearing, as members of the audience gasped in surprise, during a disagreement over the hearing’s scheduling.
“You just accused the lady of lying. You need to clear this up with your staff,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-MD), interjected, trying to calm the debate.
While it’s not entirely unheard of, “I would say it’s very unusual” to have the decorum of Congress devolve into such accusations, says Travis Plunkett, lobbyist for the Consumer Federation of America.
The fight concerns the Consumer Financial Protection Board, created last summer by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act to monitor mortgages, credit cards and other financial products for abuse, deception or fraud. Congressional Republicans were nearly unanimous in their opposition to Dodd-Frank in general and to the financial protection board in particular, and they are fighting on multiple fronts to limit the new agency’s power.
McHenry is “skeptical that the bureau’s creation, structure and broad discretionary powers are warranted,” he said in his opening remarks to Tuesday’s hearing. “(T)he bureau will possess virtually unchecked discretion to identify financial products and services that the director determines to be ‘unfair, deceptive, or abusive.’” McHenry’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
Warren shot back, stopping just short of accusing McHenry of lying.
“While making baseless claims might be shrewd tactics for those who want to undermine the Bureau’s work, they are flatly wrong,” Warren said in her prepared testimony.
So far Republicans have tried to limit the board’s reach by signaling they would block any attempt to name Warren the agency’s new director. Warren, a former Harvard law professor, came up with the idea for such a bureau and lobbied for its creation. Republicans have vowed to filibuster every nominee by President Obama if the administration appoints Warren to lead the agency, especially if he uses his power to appoint her during the Congressional recess next week.