The New York Times
June 13, 2011
Without strong leaders at the top of the nation's financial regulatory agencies, the Dodd-Frank financial reform doesn't have a chance. Whether it is protecting consumers against abusive lending, reforming the mortgage market or reining in too-big-to-fail banks, all require tough and experienced regulators.
Too many of these jobs are vacant, or soon will be, or are filled by caretakers. So it was a relief last week when President Obama said he had decided on a well-qualified nominee to be the new chairman for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and would make other nominations soon. The White House needs to move quickly and be prepared to fight.
Much of the blame for the delays lies with Republican lawmakers who have consistently opposed qualified candidates. In the case of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they have vowed to obstruct any nominee unless Democrats first agree to gut the agency's powers. Until now, the administration hasn't pushed back.
Mr. Obama's choice to lead the F.D.I.C., Martin Gruenberg, is a solid one. Mr. Gruenberg has earned widespread respect for his work as vice chairman of the F.D.I.C. since 2005. His confirmation could be eased by the fact that he is well known to senators from his long previous tenure on the staff of the banking committee.
Thomas Curry, reported to be under consideration to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is also a strong choice. A lawyer, former state bank regulator and current F.D.I.C. board member, he has a firm grasp of federal and state regulation. That is a crucial attribute for running the historically antiregulatory O.C.C. If nominated, Mr. Curry's confirmation could be smoothed by the fact that he is a registered independent who was chosen for the F.D.I.C. by President George W. Bush.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will just-say-no to even uncontroversial candidates like Mr. Gruenberg and Mr. Curry. Any potential fight pales compared to the one under way over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where, as ever, the Republicans are more interested in protecting bankers than consumers.
As their price for confirming a director, they want to vastly expand the power of bank regulators to veto the bureau's decisions and put controls on the bureau's financing that will make it more vulnerable to political pressure. They have also made clear their particular disdain for Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor and prominent reformer who has been working as a presidential adviser to set up the bureau.
The White House has recently floated another possible nominee, Raj Date, a former banker who is now working with Ms. Warren. Mr. Date has an impressive résumé, but not nearly as impressive as Ms. Warren's.
Why go with a compromise candidate when Republicans have vowed to block any nominee? Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats should back Ms. Warren and expose to American voters just exactly whose interests the Republicans put first.
Mr. Obama has been criticized for not doing battle for another excellent nominee, Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics who withdrew his name after Republicans vowed to block him from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. They said his background in labor economics made him unqualified, even though full employment is one of the Fed's mandates. Mr. Diamond clearly could have served ably, but Republicans were more interested in obstruction. It's past time for President Obama to take off the gloves.