Elizabeth Warren should be a no-brainer as President Obama’s choice to head the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). She is a long-time advocate for the rights of consumers, the person most responsible for the Bureau’s inclusion in the recently-passed financial reform legislation, and its most notable and vocal supporter. She has this crazy notion that a consumer protection agency should actually…you know…protect consumers against the abusive practices of the big banks.
As chair of the TARP oversight committee Warren regularly clashed with what those banks consider to be in their best interests, as well as those in the administration who make a habit of carrying the banker’s water, namely Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Which is why it wasn’t surprising when Huffington Post reported last week that Geithner opposed Warren’s nomination.
Then came this, a piece by John Talbott (also in the Huffington Post) on Sunday. The reason for the treasury secretary’s opposition:
“The [financial reform] bill has been written to put a great deal of power as to how strongly it is implemented in the hands of its regulators, some of which remain to be chosen. The bank lobby will work incredibly hard to see that Warren, the person most responsible for initiating and fighting for the idea of a consumer financial protection group, is denied the opportunity to head it.
But this is not the only reason that Geithner is opposed to Warren’s nomination. I believe Geithner sees the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as a threat to the very scheme he has utilized to date to hide bank losses, thus keeping the banks solvent and out of bankruptcy court and their existing management teams employed and well-paid.”
The “scheme” to which Talbott refers began with Geithner’s predecessor as Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson, and is being continued by Geithner and his partner in crime in the Obama administration, Larry Summers. In short it goes like this:
The $700 billion in TARP money was originally supposed to go to get bad loans, the so-called toxic assets, of the bank’s books. Immediately after TARP was passed, Paulson did a 180 and decided to use it as a direct cash infusion into the big banks rather than buying bad loans. (Nothing to do with him being a former Goldman CEO, I’m sure).
That left the banks with trillions of dollars of toxic assets still on the books, where they remain today. Geithner’s plan is for the banks to:
“…earn their way out of their solvency problems over time so the banks are continuing to slowly write off their problem loans but at a rate that will take years, if not decades, to clean up the problem.
And this is where defeat of the nomination of Elizabeth Warren becomes critical for Geithner. For Geithner’s strategy to work, the banks have to find increasing sources of profitability in their business segments to balance out their annual loan loss recognition from their existing bad loans in an environment in which they continue to recognize new losses in prime residential mortgages, commercial real estate lending, sovereign debt investments, bridge loans to private equity groups, leverage buyout lending and credit card defaults.
The banks have made no secret as to where they will find this increase in cash flow. They intend to soak their small retail customers, their consumer and small business borrowers, their credit card holders and their small depositors with increased costs and fees and are continuing many of the bad mortgage practices that led to the crisis
It is exactly these types of unwarranted fees on small consumers and poorly designed products that Elizabeth Warren will fight against as head of the new consumer finance protection group. And it is why Geithner sees her as so threatening. Unless the banks are allowed to raise fees and charges on their smaller consumer customers, Geithner’s and Summers’ scheme for dealing with the banking crisis by hiding problem loans permanently on the banks’ balance sheets will be exposed for what it is, an attempt at preserving the jobs of current bank executives at the cost of dragging out this recovery needlessly for years in the future.”
After much thought and careful consideration (which took about 1.5 seconds) I have a suggestion for how President Obama can resolve this conflict. Warren’s in, Geithner’s out. Problem solved.