I like idea of having someone like Elizabeth Warren, who is the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, watch our financial system. But her advice to the Obama Administration about Wall Street was largely ignored. Now she is predicting that commercial lending woes will severely inhibit the little bit of momentum our economy seems to be gaining. Is Warren just window dressing for the White House? Could she just be a source for earnest sounding quotes and media friendly photo ops whenever someone starts wondering if the White House is working for Wall Street?
Warren is as populist as they get in Washington, and as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, she is arguably the best choice, hands down, that the Obama Administration could make for this newly formed group charged with keeping an eye on the banking bailout. A Harvard Law professor, her work has championed the average American citizen from the beginning. A year ago, when she called for the removal of the top brass of the banks who received money in the bank bailouts, everyone inside the Beltway began wondering how long it would take for her to be run out of town.
But Warren is still in the nation’s capitol. And after the upset Senate win in Massachusetts by Scott Brown, the White House is sending signals that it might be ready to listen to her. However, it remains to be seen whether or not or not they will be able to fully accept Warren’s perspective. As she described on the Daily Show with John Stewart recently:
"Well, these guys really do get it." Warren told Stewart -- the CEOs, bankers, and people in power -- "They get it. And they work best behind closed doors." If the decisions are in their hands, she said, "Nothing, nothing will change. You know, I want to turn to these guys sometimes, and I want to say: what part of 'we bailed you out' do you not get? These are people who would not have their jobs because they would not have their companies."
"The chips are all on the table," Warren added. "We are going to write what the American economy looks like for 50 years going forward. And right now the CEOs have any real change bottled up in the Senate."
But is it possible, in a climate where corporate lobbies spew campaign cash like broken fire hydrants, for anyone in the White House or Congress to begin to take action on any of her family-friendly economic policies without dying a painful political death?
Bill Himpler, executive vice president of the American Financial Services Association, says Warren's commission would "take us essentially back to the 1970s, where we had double-digit interest rates...and one-third the consumer credit available that we have now."
Himmler is one of the nice guys when it comes to the kind of people Warren will have to deal with as she fights against the demise of Middle America. "We are at serious risk in America of having 'middle class' no longer synonymous with the old notions of security and solid,” Warren says, “but instead meaning living one paycheck to the next, living one bad diagnosis or pink slip away from financial collapse."
Most of Warren’s ideas are simple consumer-minded ones aimed both at effecting real reforms and at eliminating the loopholes that often make such legislation ineffectual. But there is no “simple consumer reform” lobby that is waiting in the wings to back her ideas with the kind of TV and internet ad campaigns the financial industry is ready to unleash.