Friday, August 13, 2010

More Elizabeth Warren.

Ezra Klein, following up on the possibility of appointing Elizabeth Warren to head Consumer Protection Agency. ( You should be familiar with itIt's not like we haven't been covering it).

Elizabeth Warren fans and Elizabeth Warren foes will both want to read Brady Dennis's profile of the consumer-protection advocate. To make the political point, it seems to me that the importance of Warren's nomination is being dramatically overblown. And that seems great for the administration.

I'd prefer to see Warren appointed, but it's hard to be incredibly confident about something as unpredictable as agency leadership. Think of it this way: You're a credit-card industry trade group and you're given two choices to lead the consumer protection agency: The first is an aggressive, charismatic and media-savvy regulator who seems likely to clash with the administration and thus is likely to lose some important bureaucratic battles. The other is a less charismatic and media-savvy regulator who is still substantively aggressive, skeptical of your business, but who has great internal administration relationships and seems likely to win a lot of internal battles on behalf of the agency. Who would you pick? The answer isn't obvious to me.

But the elevation of the Warren appointment into a major priority for liberals gives the administration something easy they can hand to their base. It's not like the public option, which seemed capable of sinking the health-care bill. Financial regulation has already passed. If Warren runs into Republican opposition in the Senate, then all the better: All eyes will focus on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and since the administration believes it hasn't gotten enough credit for financial regulation and also believes the CFPB is the most popular part of the bill, that's a gift for them -- particularly so close to the election.

It's of course possible that Republicans will filibuster her nomination and Democrats won't be able to break their hold. But so what? In that case, Warren will either be recess appointed or replaced. Which is why, at this point, it seems pretty likely that Warren will be appointed. If she's not, I think it'll be substantive fears -- there are those who think she's much too skeptical of financial products and her presence will chill lenders at a time when we want them to start pushing money out again -- not political concerns, that derail her. But given that the administration can't actually say "we believe Warren will protect consumers too much," it'll be hard for them to act on that concern.

One last point: It's worth taking a moment and marveling at how much one well-crafted policy proposal published in a little-read journal can lead to.

I still think she's the best candidate, but there are others out there. It's not a disaster if she's not appointed. But Ezra may be right, the fight may be worth it.