By Lucas O’Connor
cross-posted from IssaWatch
When Professor Elizabeth Warren made her first appearance at the Oversight Committee in May, it was contentious from the word 'go' and ended with top Issa lieutenant Rep. Patrick McHenry twice accusing her outright of lying to Congress. Despite calls from other committee members and the public at large, McHenry has never backed off those accusations and has been supported by Chairman Issa. As Congresswoman Jackie Speier said at the time:
It was grossly irresponsible, inflammatory and defaming in nature…Had it happened at a junior high student council meeting, it would have been stopped by the faculty advisor. Unfortunately, though, our subcommittee is without that kind of adult supervision.
Professor Warren now returns for a second round of questions before the Oversight Committee, this time facing the full committee instead of just Rep. McHenry's subcommittee.
Professor Warren and her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which hasn't even begun to operate yet) represent a major threat to the traditional power of Wall Street firms and the members of Congress that protect that power. Why? Because it's the only place in the entire federal government that would be expressly tasked with protecting consumers instead of corporate profits. Guardians of those profits like Issa and McHenry lost the first round when they couldn't block the CFPB from being created or Professor Warren from being appointed to shepherd its initial organizing.
Rep. McHenry led the first hearing with Professor Warren, which led to the original accusation of perjury (video). As the point man for financial issues on the Oversight Committee, McHenry has been a staunch defender of Wall Street against all challengers and regulation, even refusing to allow testimony on this issue from Congressman Barney Frank — who co-wrote the legislation creating the CFPB. McHenry, of course, has received the bulk of his campaign funds from the financial industry — including the very companies he's supposed to be investigating and overseeing. Like the Campaign for America's Future did, you can just look at his top donors in the last election to see the evidence:
#1: Wells Fargo – $15,550
#3: Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu – $11,500
#5: American Bankers Association – $10,000
#5: Bank of America – $10,000
#5: Ernst & Young – $10,000
#5: PricewaterhouseCoopers – $10,000>
#5: Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America – $10,000
In fact, McHenry has received more than twice as much campaign funding from the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sector as any other sector. And since McHenry is the only non-rookie Republican on the finance subcommittee, he has a lot of power to set the tone of his hearings.
Issa, of course, has been a great friend to Wall Street during the ongoing foreclosure crisis in his own right. He proposed legislation that would eliminate the federal program to help homeowners facing foreclosure and suggested replacing it with nothing. He has resisted four separate requests from committee members to investigate major mortgage firms who may be involved in fraudulent foreclosures. And Issa's resistance comes despite representing a district where one in ten households faces foreclosure – one of the hardest-hit in the nation.
Our military and veteran communities have been hit by the foreclosure crisis at four times the national rate, devastating their communities disproportionately. And even within that devastation, Issa's district stands out:
Eight Southern California cities ranked among the top 20 towns near military bases with the highest foreclosure rates in the nation in 2010, according to RealtyTrac. Half of those – Murrieta, San Diego, Oceanside and Fallbrook – are by Camp Pendleton.
Issa represents all four of those towns near Camp Pendleton and says "I work for CA-49," yet Democratic lawmakers are left begging for an inquiry into military foreclosures that Issa has thus far refused to pursue.
But Issa has been smack in the middle of a disturbing conflict of interest throughout the process. While he was leading the charge to block an SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs last year, he was also stocking up on high-yield Goldman Sachs bonds worth up to $50,000 a piece. Not only has he not answered for that conflict, he's proceeded to investigate the SEC for conflicts of interest. In fact, Issa has strongly opposed any effort to hold major Wall Street financial firms responsible for the economic downturn.
Instead, Issa has scheduled two more hours of testimony from Professor Warren and the impact of having consumer protection. After Rep. McHenry got his first crack at Warren during a Financial Services Committee hearing, Joe Nocera zeroed in on why House Republicans are so interested in these hearings at the expense of everything else:
And thus the real purpose of the hearing: to allow the Republicans who now run the House to box Ms. Warren about the ears. The big banks loathe Ms. Warren, who has made a career out of pointing out all the ways they gouge financial consumers — and whose primary goal is to make such gouging more difficult. So, naturally, the Republicans loathe her too. That she might someday run this bureau terrifies the banks. So, naturally, it terrifies the Republicans.
The banks and their Congressional allies have another, more recent gripe. Rather than waiting until July to start helping financial consumers, Ms. Warren has been trying to help them now. Can you believe the nerve of that woman?
Now, of course, it is July. And Republicans haven't been able to stop Professor Warren yet. Issa will take one more spin at it though, an opportunity to put on a show and perhaps stymie the grassroots push for Obama to officially appoint Warren as the CFPB head. But it won't do anything for the many thousands of constituents back in Issa's district facing foreclosure and countless other desperate financial problems. If Darrell Issa won't be their champion in Washington, the least he could do is let someone else do it.