This is Elizabeth Warren's moment

tags: Elizabeth Warren

Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and the forthcoming book, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

After spending several years championing the cause of the consumer and railing against the power of big banks, the Massachusetts Democrat may be perfectly positioned to react to the revelation of secretly taped conversations within the Federal Reserve that have exposed the cozy relationship that exists between the regulators in Washington and the regulated on Wall Street.

The tapes, which were made in 2012, involve examiners for the New York Federal Reserve who are heard being protective and deferential to Goldman Sachs when discussing some financial transactions that the firm had undertaken. Their actions were said to be "legal but shady."

One of the Federal Reserve officials on the tape explains that they should not be too tough with the banks to make sure the lines of communication remain open in the future: "We don't want to discourage Goldman from disclosing these types of things in the future and therefore maybe you know some comment that says don't mistake our inquisitiveness, and our desire to understand more about the marketplace in general, as a criticism of you as a firm necessarily."

The tapes have shocked many listeners because they reveal how weak the rules are and, even worse, how the regulators don't have much interest in being tough with the banks. Years after the horrendous financial collapse of 2008 that led to international economic havoc, Washington is not doing very much to improve the situation. There have been many critics of the Dodd-Frank legislation who have warned that the law fell short, but to actually hear these conversations has a more powerful impact.

As Warren said on an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, when people listen to the tapes "for a moment, [they] get to be the fly on the wall that watches all of it, and there it is to be exposed to everyone: the cozy relationship, the fact that the Fed is more concerned about its relationship with a 'too-big-to-fail' bank than it is with protecting the American public."

Warren, who was instrumental to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reacted to the substance of the tape by arguing that "the point of these tapes is that the regulators are backing off long before anyone's in court making a legal argument about whether or not they came right up to the line or they crossed over the line." She has called for oversight hearings as soon as possible.

The weakness of our regulatory system for finance is an issue that deserves attention, and it is a policy problem that attracts the interest of liberals, conservatives and moderates, all of whom have been stung by the economic toll of the financial meltdown...

Given the widespread concern about this problem and Warren's skill at handling this issue, these could shape up to be hearings that have the same kind of impact as Sen. William Fulbright's classic interrogation of officials about Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policies in 1966 or the select committee investigation of Watergate in 1973 when Sen. Sam Ervin revealed all the wrongs that Richard Nixon had committed...

Read entire article at CNN

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