Elizabeth Warren Called Liar At CFPB Hearing By Republicans Who Botched Facts On Agency (VIDEO)
WASHINGTON -- Republicans attempting to grill Elizabeth Warren on the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had to be schooled repeatedly by the former Harvard professor Tuesday for botching basic facts and accusing her of lying.
Warren, appointed by President Barack Obama to implement the consumer watchdog mandated by last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform law, testified at a House Oversight subcommittee hearing dubbed "Who's Watching the Watchmen?"
But those overseers seemed to lack the basic facts about the new agency they were trying to oversee, with the hearing dissolving at the end in a remarkable dispute over how long Warren was supposed to testify.
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) betrayed the first misunderstanding, quizzing Warren on why people getting hired at the CFPB earned better salaries than the average government employee. Warren eventually noted that federal financial regulators are usually paid better (but not very well compared to the people they regulate).
Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) mistakenly thought the CFPB was unique among financial regulators in having a leader with a five-year term and in not being subject to annual congressional appropriations -- neither of which is true.
"I don't believe anyone else in history has had that period of time as an appointment," Guinta contended of the five-year term.
"Congressman, I think many terms are five-year terms," Warren answered, pointing out that the head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had just finished such a term.
Guinta then suggested that the agencies Warren compared to the CFPB actually had more oversight from Congress through annual appropriations.
"Those entities I think are at the discretion of Congress," Guinta argued. "There's an oversight process through appropriations -- you're excluded from that."
"No, Congressman, I'm sorry," Warren answered. "There is no banking regulator who is subject to the political process or to appropriations." Regulators such as the FDIC and others take fees from financial institutions for their budgets. The other bank regulators are the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) grilled Warren on whether the bureau would make public the complaints it gets. She answered that the complaint issue was a work in progress, but that at the very least, there was progress in creating a system for large credit card companies.
"Are any of the complaints public?" Gowdy demanded.
"Congressman, we don't have any complaints yet," Warren said of the still-nascent agency. "What we're trying to do is build the system."
Gowdy also seemed to think that Warren had written the Dodd-Frank law, and he was determined to know what Warren meant by defining "abusive" practices as something that "materially interferes" with the ability of a consumer to understand a term or a condition.
"That suggests to me that some interferences are immaterial. Is that what you meant by that?" he asked a momentarily perplexed-looking Warren.
"Congressman, I believe the language you are quoting is out of the Dodd-Frank act," she said. "This is the language that Congress has adopted."
Still, Gowdy insisted on her answer, although the definitions and regulations required by the law are still being written.
"You don't want me standing here shooting from the hip about how I might want to interpret individual language," she said.