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Warren Warns of Gutted Reform

Tom Asbhrook and Elizabeth Warren in Boston, June 7, 2010. (Credit: Josh Lavine for WBUR)

The fate of effective financial reform remains precarious right now, with the possibility that Washington lawmakers could produce a final bill that has “no real impact,” said Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel.

Warren, a consumer advocate and Harvard Law School professor who was appointed to monitor the Wall Street bailout, said that “herds” of lobbyists are trying to pick apart the pending legislation.

 “…[T]hey’re going to get one line changed, and they’re going to get one little provision dropped, and they’re going to get one more piece compromised out,” Warren said in an interview Monday night with “On Point” host Tom Ashbrook, as part of a WBUR event. “And at the end of the day, we can all congratulate ourselves that we got something that has the right title and has no real impact.”

This week, House and Senate negotiators are coming into conference committee to begin working out a final reform bill.

Warren said the odds are “good” that substantial reform, including the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, could still come out of the Congressional negotiations. But she also warned that the process could prove a “complete waste of time.”  

“If you pick all of the worst parts from the House version and the Senate version, walk out, because it’s not worth it at that point,” she said.

Elizabeth Warren before the Senate Finance Committee in 2009. (AP)

Asked how she was dealing with pressure from Democrats who might want her to “bless” any compromise bill they produce, she said she would call it as she sees it.

“Just once in a while, there have to be independent voices that are really willing to say, ‘I’m sorry, you guys labored hard and you’ve brought forth a mouse. This one doesn’t work.’”

Ashbrook also asked her about the role of prominent women in Washington who are trying to address the financial crisis and its fallout. Time magazine recently featured Warren on its cover as one of three female “Sheriffs of Wall Street,” along with SEC chair Mary Shapiro and FDIC chair Sheila Bair.

“Let’s face it. There’s still no line in the ladies’ room,” Warren said. “My view on this is that…if you’re my age, and you get to where I am, you’re an outsider…You’ve actually either decided you’re going to get tough or die.”

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  • Jerry Smetzer

    In this whole financial deal since the crash, there has been a lot of use of the term “derivatives.” In this program with Ms. Warren, you said you remembered the term from literature. That is mis-leading and takes focus away from the real source of the term in today’s financial industry which is the Calculus. A derivative is a way of determining a future point of change over time. In other words a way of mathematically predicting a future point of change (think interest rates, or money exchange rates) in a way that enables betting on the outcome. Since it is mathematics it can be computerized, and since it is computerized, the financial managers of the world can think more about making exciting new investments, and less about the details of managing money, and current investments. Let the computers do the grunt work. How about a show with mathematicians on this topic?

  • Ann Beardsley

    I’m definitely an Elizabeth Warren fan; the interview was fantastic.

    Re Jerry’s comment, a derivative is also a grammatical construct, so the literature comment wasn’t totally misleading.

  • ThresherK

    Elizabeth Warren is the kind of guest which NPR should have more of. Her ideas can talk their way out of a paper bag and stand up to scrutiny, and are sorely underrepresented by commercial media without “balance”.

    And my gut tells me that CNBC and Marketplace don’t have her on their speed dial.

  • Julie Heath

    Dear On Point,

    What a great show with Elizabeth Warren! I would like to listen to it again. When will it be available in podcast?

    Thanks,
    Julie Heath

  • John Wihbey

    Julie – The podcast has been made available on ITunes. At the top of this page you will see “Subscribe to Our Podcast.” Or, go to ITunes and search for “On Point.” You’ll see the show called “Elizabeth Warren…” Regards, John, producer

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