Of right and wrong Distrust in the nation’s capital

Published 8:02 am Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The banks are howling and so are some of their allies in Congress over President Barack Obama’s naming of Elizabeth Warren as a “special adviser” to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s probably a good sign for consumers.

Obama has put the outspoken Harvard law professor in charge of setting up the bureau, which grew from financial reform legislation that passed over the summer. Warren has long warned, correctly in our view, about the “tricks and traps” of the banking industry. Placing her in charge of setting up the new agency, which she conceived, was a logical choice. After some of the shenanigans in lending over the past decade, robust advocacy on behalf of consumers is long overdue.

Having said that, we don’t like Obama’s end run around the normal Senate confirmation process.

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The legislation that established the bureau gives Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner authority over the agency until next July when it is to become fully operational. In theory, Warren will work for Geithner. In effect, she will be the czar — with a free hand to shape the new agency as she sees fit and give it breath.

The president likely calculated that Senate Republicans would filibuster Warren’s nomination. That’s no credit to them if they are really so in the pocket of the big bankers, but they do have a beef with the president’s action. The confirmation process is a check against presidential power — in this case an important check for a new office with the potential for so much clout.

Warren, a consumer bankruptcy expert, is superbly qualified — the right woman for the job. An Oklahoma native, she has a strong sense of her roots and of the inherent common sense and goodness of average Americans. She has been a tireless advocate for the working class, needling the big financial institutions for what she believes are abusive and unfair practices. Usually, she has been right.

But this is still a system of checks and balances, and Obama shouldn’t play hide the ball, even when it’s for a good cause. Such actions only contribute to the already palpable feeling of distrust in the nation’s capital.

Only weeks before the latest brouhaha, Obama saw his chief of staff, Rahm “Rahm-bo” Emmanuel, and his national security adviser, Jim Jones, walk away from the White House. More end runs, and he might see more.