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TARP Cop Elizabeth Warren Already Under Fire From Right Wing

Even before she poses her first question to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner when he testifies before her panel for the first time today, expect Troubled Asset Relief Program oversight head Elizabeth Warren to come under fire. That’s because conservatives have been gunning for Warren, who was an outspoken advocate for consumers before she became chair of the congressional TARP oversight panel. And her warm reception from Jon Stewart during her recent appearance on “The Daily Show,” while cementing her popular appeal, only provided more fodder for critics.

At Naked Capitalism, Yves Smith notes how the right wing increasingly has turned on Warren:

The move to clip the wings of TARP overseer Elizabeth Warren was predictable. The fact that it took so long, and the angle is that she is anti industry (as opposed to anti industry bad behavior, a distinction that will hopefully be lost on the masses) and it took comparatively long to mount the salvo (Warren has been a critic of predatory lending for a long time, and hasn’t been too happy with the Treasury’s handling of the TARP since she first took an official look) suggests that attempts to find real dirt on her did not pan out.

Given that banks have an increasingly bad name in mainstream America, this effort to denigrate her may not stick. But the attempt to paint her as biased is nevertheless a nasty bit of work.

Here’s the conservative argument against Warren, according to Politico:

While the bubbly and brilliant 59-year-old professor is a darling of Democrats, Warren has become the scourge of conservative Republicans, who question her panel’s exploration of more-liberal approaches such as nationalization and bank liquidation.

Financial services lobbyists, who’ve long disliked Warren for highlighting predatory lending and abusive credit card fees, argue that she’s using her post to push her own, anti-industry agenda.

“A number of people wonder if this is the new Warren commission or the congressional oversight panel,” said Wayne Abernathy, executive director for financial institutions policy at the American Bankers Association. “It’s looking more like the former than the latter.”

I think the anti-Warren movement is growing in response to the popularity of some of her ideas. Warren has long pushed for a Financial Products Safety Commission, modeled after a commission for consumer products. Her idea is to provide safeguards so consumers would more clearly understand what they might be getting into when they buy financial products from mortgages to car loans. President Obama has publicly expressed his support for the idea. Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to implement it.

It’s been a long time since consumer advocacy has had such a high profile. But it’s important to remember that Warren didn’t suddenly become an advocate in response to her new role. These are issues she’s always pushed – from highlighting credit cards with sky-high interest rates to chronicling the rise of consumer debt.

Maybe it’s just easier these days for critics to call Warren biased, then to listen to the substance of her complaints about TARP. In particular, her concern that banks may need to be nationalized is fueling much of the controversy. Warren is among a group of economists who worry that the United States could end up in the same situation as Japan did, propping up ailing banks for years as the economy stagnates.

It would be helpful if those kinds of questions dominate today’s hearing, and it will be illuminating if Warren and Geithner have a useful debate about about TARP’s goals and its effectiveness. But given the way right-wing critics have already politicized Warren’s position, expect her to become an even bigger target if she tries to take on those kinds of substantive concerns.

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