Mother Jones, By Andy Kroll
Not even two weeks have passed since Democrat Elizabeth Warren rode a wave of grassroots support to victory in the US Senate race in Massachusetts, ousting Republican incumbent Scott Brown. Senator-elect Warren has not yet hired her staff. She has not yet moved into her Senate office. But the banking industry is already taking aim at her, scurrying to curb her future clout on Capitol Hill.
Lobbyists and trade groups for Wall Street and other major banking players are pressuring lawmakers to deny Warren a seat on the powerful Senate banking committee. With the impending departures of Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Democrats have two spots to fill on the committee before the 113th Congress gavels in next year. Warren has yet said whether she wants to serve on the committee. But she would be a natural: she’s a bankruptcy law expert, she served as Congress’ lead watchdog overseeing the $700 billion bank bailout from 2008 to 2010, and she conceived of and helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a banking committee member, has been angling to get Warren on the committee, “but there are many bank lobbyists pushing to keep her off,” a top Democratic Senate aide told Politico‘s Morning Money tipsheet. But the aide added, “If she really wants banking, it will be very tough politically to keep her off.”
Several banking trade groups—including the American Bankers Association, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Mortgage Bankers Association—declined or didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Warren also declined to comment.
The big banks’ opposition to Warren, a fierce consumer advocate, is no shocker. She supported the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and she blasted Brown, who did vote for Dodd-Frank, for launching a “guerrilla war” to undermine its implementation. She backs the Volcker Rule, a limit on how much banks can trade with their own money. What may trouble the big banks most is Warren’s call for revisiting the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated riskier investment banks from more staid commercial banks. Reinstating Glass-Steagall would mean breaking up sprawling Wall Street institutions such as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America.
Warren has also struck a hard stance on the foreclosure fraud epidemic. During negotiations last year between state attorneys general and bank executives over a foreclosure fraud settlement, Warren suggested the banks cough up $20 billion. The figure angered members of the banking industry, who saw it as far too high. But Warren’s view prevailed—and then some. The banks paid $25 billion in their settlement.
“At exactly the time that big banks don’t want more oversight—or another potentially activist regulator—that’s what they’re getting,” hedge fund manager Shah Gilani told Forbes.
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