The White House appears finally ready to make a number of financial regulatory picks, readying nominees to replace the heads of the FDIC and the OCC, who have left or are in the process of leaving. This is added to the speculation about Raj Date as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The Obama administration, moving to fill vacancies at several financial regulatory agencies, is considering nominating Thomas J. Curry to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees most of the nation’s large banks, according to several people with knowledge of the deliberations.
Mr. Curry, a lawyer who served as state banking commissioner in Massachusetts, now sits on the board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
The White House would like to send Mr. Curry’s name to the Senate at the same time that it moves on its widely reported plan to nominate Martin J. Gruenberg as the new chairman of the F.D.I.C., those people said. Mr. Gruenberg, a longtime Democratic Senate staff member, has served since 2005 as the vice chairman of the F.D.I.C.
With his recent foreign policy shakeup (Panetta to Defense, Petraeus to CIA), the President announced those and other picks on the same day. You could see the President doing the same with these financial regulatory choices. And it makes sense from their perspective; any analysis would have to include all of the selections, blunting criticism of any particular one.
So let’s speak up about the specific choices. Gruenberg, a longtime staffer for Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), would be a continuity selection at the FDIC, without much difference from Sheila Bair except a lack of seniority and therefore stature. Curry, a registered independent, was nominated to the FDIC board by George W. Bush in 2003. You can almost not get worse than bank lobbyist John Dugan, the previous OCC Commissioner, and the bank-friendliness of that outpost is well-documented. But Curry’s selection wouldn’t herald a sea change.
These picks are incredibly late in the game. OCC has been under an acting director for almost a year, and without a director, CFPB loses powers in just a month when it transfers to the Federal Reserve. There are multiple other financial regulatory positions unfilled (FHFA, two Fed Governors, the Office of Financial Research, several Treasury slots), and these two selections of FDIC board members would create two more vacancies on the FDIC board.
And then there’s the Raj Date speculation. As part of the all-out attack on financial regulation, Republicans reasserted their vow yesterday to block any nominee to the CFPB, regardless of whether they are considered a “compromise” choice. So picking Date will not alleviate that. And whoever Date is, he’s no Elizabeth Warren. He doesn’t have the same public profile and cannot leverage attention. He doesn’t have the same single-minded commitment to the middle class and he didn’t invent this agency. He’s not even really a consumer finance specialist.
But it appears clear that we’re under, in the words of Paul Krugman, a “rule by rentiers,” where the concerns of the creditor class – bankers and wealthy bondholders – are paramount, and frankly those people could give a rip about consumer finance. In fact, from the perspective of the big banks, they want to exploit ignorance in consumer finance to make back their losses on risky lending. To step outside of CFPB, rule by rentiers means that inflation is a bigger fear than mass unemployment. It means that lenders should never have to face the consequences of their lending by taking haircuts or holding more capital reserves to guard against future risk.
So all of these potential announcements for regulatory positions – for the people who will have the most control over whether the rentier class must sacrifice for the good of the economy or have their every need met – must be judged through that lens.