Senator Elizabeth Warren, in office for less than two months, remains a breath of fresh air. She comes to the body with experience, intellect and relative sophistication for a newcomer to the club. She has been there before but is now calibrating her new role at the table.
She is frustrated by the impending sequestration cuts, and decries the "mindless across-the-board approach" that makes no sense. There are alternatives to the sequester, she noted, including a plan by President Obama, but a minority of elected officials are determined to go over the cliff. All we can do is keep making the case for a balanced approach, she said, adding she's sorry she can't be more encouraging. There's plenty to warrant her exasperation, and not just (though mostly) recalcitrant Republicans.
Speaking to the New England Council this morning, her speech was geared toward the business audience the Council represents. Government, she said, helps create conditions that make markets work. We all have to do the hard work for ourselves and our companies, but government needs to provide a level playing field through clear and consistent rules. Step One for her was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that consolidated 18 previous agencies, which Warren conceived, helped to get enacted, and failed to be named its head when Obama caved to GOP resistance. The question now is: can she help keep the Bureau from getting eviscerated.
Government, she said, has a unique role to play in investing in education, infrastructure and research and development. China, she noted, is investing nine percent of GDP in infrastructure, building a competitive advantage for its businesses. Europe is investing five percent. We are investing just two percent and that is slated for cuts. Without federally funded R & D, she observed, we'd have no Internet, no GPS, no genome spin-offs. Last but not least, she added, we need a strong middle class, to contribute to economic growth.
Asked specifically about the scams of reverse mortgages, Warren indicated a Banking Committee's subcommittee on aging intends to look into the problem. On consumers' difficulties correcting errors in their credit reports, the new CFPB is just starting to have serious conversations with credit reporting agencies about their stonewalling. She said that, while things are always surprisingly slow to move, she is optimistic on these two issues.
"I really will learn something about being a Senator eventually," she joked, and her audience was left with no doubt that this would be the case. For proof, they have only to look at her grilling of banking regulators at last week's hearing on banking abuses. No shrinking violet newcomer, she pressed them for over-relying on settlements with banks rather than taking them to trial. The regulators looked really lame in response.
"You look around the place and see so many opportunities," she reflected. But we may need fundamental filibuster reform if we're going to be about more than "hold-up politics" and, for the sake of our children, make ours a better run government and a better run country. Our new senior Senator is off to a good start.
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