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Occasional Common Sense

Elizabeth Warren 1, Patrick McHenry’s Oversight Subcommittee 0

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On Tuesday Elizabeth Warren, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created last year, testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform’s TARP and Financial Services Subcommittee hearing called “Who’s Watching the Watchmen? Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,”  chaired by 4-term congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC).  Something rather astonishing happened near the end of Warren’s testimony:

What happened to make McHenry so angry that he would actually say that Warren was “making this up”?  Read on.

Warren’s entire panel video is here.

Based on statements from McHenry and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), here’s what seems to have happened.  The hearing was originally scheduled to begin at 2:00, following a floor vote scheduled for 1:30.  At some point the 1:30 vote was rescheduled for 2:30 (the House record shows the first roll call vote of the day at 2:32).

Warren says that the hearing time was changed four times in the prior 24 hours, including “waking people up” the night before.  McHenry stated that without reschedule her testimony, recognizing that she otherwise would be sworn in, listen to opening statements and, and then wait while the members traveled to and from the Capitol for floor votes.  What was originally envisioned as an hour or so would have been closer to two hours, so they tried to reschedule.

Makes sense, right?  So how was the 1:15 start time determined?  Let’s back it out from the 2:30 floor vote, which I assume McHenry intended to attend — considering that he’s missed just 3% of floor votes during his time in Congress.  Votes take place on the floor of the House, and it would take a little time for members to walk from the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, down to the subway, get over to the Capitol and to the House chamber.  What’s the logical increment to assign for this travel?  Probably not more than ten minutes?  So they started at 1:15, expecting it to be about an hour.

What was conveyed between McHenry’s staff and Warren and her staff will never be known. I’m sure Warren and her staff were pressing for limits, since her schedule is pretty full.  The committee staff may not have intended to say that the meeting would be over at 1:15.  And Warren, who it seems was involved in the discussions, was adamant that she and/or her staff were given a hard 2:15 end time.  I’m sure all of the staff involved on both sides are competent professionals and somehow there was a miscommunication.

But what happened from that miscommunication demonstrates a fundamental flaw, if not in this Congress then certainly in this Congressman. McHenry at one point admonished Warren for saying “you” while addressing him when she actually meant his staff.  He flatly stated that he never made any phone calls about rescheduling the hearing.  Nonetheless, he felt comfortable accusing Warren of “making up” her account of those conversations — of which he had no direct knowledge.  Rather than even entertain the idea of a miscommunication, he plainly accused Warren of lying.

I think he was just frustrated because the hearing had been a complete failure.  The whole point was to pick a fight, and Warren easily parried all of the feeble attacks thrown at her.  Warren demonstrated again and again not only that she’s done nothing wrong, but that she knows a hell of a lot more about the subject matter than any of the Republicans on the committee — or their staffers.

In McHenry’s opening statement he implied that Warren had been less than truthful during a previous appearance.  He then spent his time trying unsuccessfully to frame her prior advice to non-Treasury entities as somehow contradictory to her earlier testimony that she had advised Treasury. It was first-order buffoonery.

Then came Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, who asked about pay scales. She cited a “Consumer Response Policy and Procedure Analyst” CFPB job with a salary range of $72K-$149K, saying that a GS-9 with a range of $41K-$54K would be equivalent elsewhere in the government.  But Buerkle apparently doesn’t know that the GS regional cost-of-living adjustment for DC is 24.22%, making the GS-9 range $51,629-$67,113.  And she apparently didn’t read the qualifications for the CFPB job: “one year of specialized experience at or equivalent to the CN-4B level in the Federal service (the CN-4B level is equivalent to the GS-9 level)… or… A Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree…”   This is equivalent to a GS-11, not a GS-9.  Starting salary at GS-11 in Washington DC: $62,466.  Doesn’t completely close the gap, but it’s a better starting point.  But then Warren naturally had the real answer: these ain’t typical GS employees.  These are bank regulators, which are on a different scale, and the scale is higher because the people you need to do these jobs make more; you have to pay more to get more capable people.

Next up from the Republicans was Frank Guinta of New Hampshire. This might have been the most embarrassing exchange of the day:

Guinta: “Can you tell me why there is a necessity for a five-year fixed term when I don’t believe anyone else, in history has had that period of time as an appointment?”

Warren: “Um, Congressman, I think  many terms are five year fixed terms. It’s my understanding is that the head of the office of the comptroller of the currency finished his five-year term last August…”

Guinta: “But I think those entities are at the discretion of Congress – there is an oversight process through appropriations – you’re excluded from that.”

Warren: “No, Congressman, I’m sorry, but that’s not the rule with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. There is no banking regulator who is subject to the political process or to appropriations.  All banking regulators are funded independently and indeed, all of the other banking regulators — not the consumer agency, but all of the other banking regulators are able to set their own funding level. So for example, if the office of the Comptroller of the Currency decides they need more money to run exams or  they need more money to engage in their other activities,  they up the assessment on banks and simply raise more money. There’s no oversight from Congress in that process.”

Next Republican up was Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, whose high point was when he quoted text from the Dodd-Frank Act and asked Warren what she meant, as if she was responsible for the language in the law. When she pointed out quite nicely how stupid the question was, he tried to pin her down on her opinion of the meaning of the statutory language; she reasonably demurred, citing the process for developing regulations in response to the statute.

That was it.  Warren 4, Republicans 0. She didn’t even allow a baserunner.

But in all fairness, these congressmen were probably fed the data (mis)informing their questions by their staff.

Perhaps the same staff that claims they never told Warren the hearing would be over at 2:15.


Written by David Clayton

May 26, 2011 at 2:23 am

Posted in Punditry

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