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Elizabeth Warren’s Ally

In response to:

Elizabeth Warren’s Moment from the May 22, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

Readers of John Cassidy’s review of Elizabeth Warren’s book [NYR, May 22] may be puzzled by how she succeeded in winning congressional approval of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

His only reference to Congress is:

The banking industry and its allies weren’t enthusiastic about this proposal; but neither, initially, were many Democrats…. To Tim Geithner…, Barney Frank…, and Chris Dodd…, the first task was to repair the banking system and beef up the existing regulatory regime to prevent another blowup. Consumer protection could wait.

Given this description readers must wonder how the fight succeeded. The answer comes from Senator Warren herself.

While I had told her in 2007 that I did not think we had the votes, my views changed after the election of 2008 provided many more Democrats. In April 2009, I told Warren that we would include this in the bill. In contrast to Mr. Cassidy’s depiction, Warren writes that from April on, “[Barney] fought like a tiger to keep the consumer agency in the financial reform package. With Barney on board, the agency wouldn’t be left at the station like someone’s unclaimed baggage. We had a new champion, and the best we could ever hope for.” Mr. Cassidy similarly leaves the impression that Senator Warren had to achieve this over the indifference of Democrats in general. While there was opposition from conservative Democrats, the vote against dropping the bureau from the bill was 208 to 223, with 223 Democrats siding with the consumer bureau, and thirty-three Democrats and every Republican voting to kill it.

Warren concludes by noting that “Barney cajoled and badgered and cut deals and ultimately he nailed down the key pieces to make the agency work. Barney was amazing.”

Admittedly part of my reason for trying to correct this assertion of my indifference to consumer protection is my ego, but since I was last a candidate for public office in 2010 that consideration has receded in importance. What concerns me most is that Mr. Cassidy’s discussion omits anything positive about any elected officials and leaves the impression that there was no difference between the two parties on the issue. When voters are told that no elected officials helped achieve reform and that there were no significant party differences on such an important matter, the incentives for liberals and progressives to vote diminish.

Senator Warren understands this, which is why she is explicit about both who hindered her efforts and who helped. One of her great strengths is that she recognizes that her fight against excessive inequality requires the support of like-minded elected officials. By omitting her references to her allies, the reviewer gives a picture that is incomplete to the point of inaccuracy.

Barney Frank
Former Representative of Massachusetts
US Congress (1981–2013)
Newton, Massachusetts

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